Chances are, you’ve visited a slow website and immediately been put off by the experience. Nobody wants to seek out a page only to wait for it to load. In fact, slow pages are so undesirable that Google actively prioritizes faster websites in search engines—meaning users are less likely to find slower websites in the first place. If your business or personal website is running slowly, you’ll want to take action.
In the rest of this article, you’ll learn about five of the most common factors that slow websites down, and you’ll also learn some specific strategies you can use to counteract those factors.
Factor 1: The Images
While images can make a web page look dashing and informative, they can also slow it down. That’s why web writer Kristine Schachinger singles out image optimization as a low-effort task that can boost high-end speed results. Schachinger recommends these two strategies for making your images behave:
- Make your image files no larger than they absolutely need to be. In other words, if an image doesn’t need to be larger than 600 by 400 pixels, then that’s the biggest size at which your website should be loading it.
- Prioritize the use of JPEG and PNG files. These are standard file types that tend to load well.
Other tactics include image compression and the use of certain WordPress plugins, which may be worth investigating if resizing and prioritizing JPEG and PNG files doesn’t have the desired effect. (Some plugins, though, may have drawbacks, as you’ll learn later in this article.)
Factor 2: The Host
Your web host can play a huge role in the speed of your website. Finding a fast and reliable host is key to making sure visitors can quickly access your site and find what they are looking for. Specific features matter. For example, a host with robust resources like solid-state hard drives will outperform a skimpier host. Additionally, opting for a virtual private or dedicated server instead of a shared hosting solution can also boost your website’s speed. Even the distance from the host’s servers to your website’s visitors can play a role.
Want to see how your host’s speed stacks up? Scala Hosting has put together a guide on the subject, but the big takeaways are this:
- Third-party testing tools are available online, which, combined with hosts’ trial periods, can let you test the speeds of hosts out at little or no cost.
- Two numbers correspond directly to the server speed. The first is time-to-first-byte, or TTFB, which reflects how fast a website can begin to load.
- The second is the distribution of web page components. This shows how quickly each part of your website loads. An element that is particularly slow can bog everything down, calling for a replacement or a tweak.
Factor 3: The Plugins
Like images, plugins can bring a lot to the table. The right ones can make your website more functional, boost its security, and increase its marketing power. Unfortunately, with plugins, it is possible to get too much of a supposedly good thing: Plugins add to the amount of code that a browser needs to interpret to load a website. Generally speaking, all other factors being equal, a simpler website will load more quickly than a complicated one.
Many plugins are valuable, but if one needs to perform complex duties or load lots of assets—that is, things like scripts—it may be a speed-sucker. Others may simply be poorly coded. And still another type of harmful plugin is one that you install, stop needing, and forget about: It may hang around, slowing down the website while not providing any value in return. Therefore, periodically check your website for “ghost” plugins that it no longer needs, then removes them.
On the other hand, some plugins can help in the area of speed. For instance, WPBEginner recommends caching plugins. As the next section shows, caching is critical.
Factor 4: Lack of Caching
Caching, as explained here, is “a technique that stores a copy of a given resource and serves it back when requested.” The result is that after someone loads the page once, each visitor that comes afterward won’t have to wait for the resources of the web page to return from the server. Instead, they can view the copy, which will appear much more quickly. Another benefit is that this reduces how much work the server has to do.
If you’re concerned that caching will result in your visitors seeing outdated copies, you can rest easy. Caches can be configured in a way that they periodically display new pages—for instance, after an update—rather than showing the same copies indefinitely.
Factor 5: Uncompressed Components
Like a lack of caching, a lack of compression can hamper your website’s speed. Compression helps ward off the problems caused by numerous large files by “grouping a lot of files together into one smaller file,” per WPBuffs.
The predominant website compressor (and de-compressor) is known as GZIP. Essentially, GZIP keeps the code functional but takes it down to its basics by removing layout elements that are “mainly used for human understanding.” The result is faster load times.
Testing Your Website
If you want to both figure out where your website stands and test changes over time, consider using a tool that measures the Speed Index. As covered on WP FixIt, this metric generates a picture of how well your site is performing in terms of speed.
It is good for establishing a baseline: By seeing how your website performs in the first place, you’ll know how speedy (or slow) it is. And it is also good for seeing if changes speed up your site: Each time you make a tweak, a fresh reading will tell you whether or not that tweak had a positive effect.
Too many plugins or not enough caching, the wrong image sizes and file types, and a host that isn’t meeting your needs can all contribute to a slow website. With this knowledge in mind, you can start the process of fixing it—and giving your users a great experience. And remember: The more you speed up your website, the more likely it is people will discover it through Google.