How to Ensure Your Website is Optimized for Top Speed

Websites that load at a snail’s pace are the worst. The Internet is supposed to be instant and should exceed or at least keep up with our fast-paces lives! So it should come as no surprise search engine spiders that crawl websites also hate to be kept waiting and frown upon sites that take a long time to load. Because both human visitors and search crawlers absolutely hate slow websites, any delay in the loading of your page could result in a reduction of traffic and revenue; something every Webmaster wants to avoid.

There are ways to ensure your website is optimized for the fastest speed possible, ultimately avoiding the loss of traffic due to slow loading times. To assist Webmasters, HostLabs has compiled its top ten suggestions to improve site speed:

  1. Lower the Number of HTTP Requests
    Anytime someone visits your website, the related files must be sent and loaded into that person’s browser. This includes all CSS files, Javascript library references, images and more. A Webmaster must know that every file used to enhance the design of a page can also hinder its performance. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your website’s coding only lists what is necessary. For instance, if you’re using a plugin simply because you like the way it looks, make sure to check how it impacts your code. If it requires extra load time the plugin itself may not be worth the hassle, regardless of how stellar it looks.
  2. Correctly Optimize and Display Images
    Virtual images, depending on their format, are notorious for containing extra Meta data that dramatically increase the file size. Because most website designers neglect to resize their images prior to uploading them, the loading speed of the website can be drastically affected, particularly on image-heavy pages. Inexperienced web designers also tend to upload an image to their server that is far bigger than what is required for the design. Unfortunately, user-friendly servers such as WordPress enable uninformed Webmasters to make this mistake by allowing them to upload images straight from their digital camera and resize it within the post. While this may be easier for the Webmaster, it creates a lot more work for the browser, ultimately slowing the site down. Instead, use free applications such as Picnik to resize and optimize images. Trust us, your visitors (and server) will be happy you did!
  3. Minimize HTML, CSS and Javascript
    Remember that the spaces, tabs and structure set forth in code is only there to make it readable by humans. Servers, browsers and search crawlers don’t care what your coding looks like as long as it’s valid and error-free. If you’re trying to quicken the pace at which your files download, consider removing this whitespace before serving your code. Just because whitespace is ideal for web design, doesn’t mean that it’s best for coding.
  4. Use a Content Delivery Network to Lighten Your Server’s Load
    If you have a website with a lot of files for download, giving your server a little help can greatly increase your site speed and your traffic as well. Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) allows websites to utilize a high-performance network of servers across the web that is able to replicate the static assets of your website and deliver them to visitors. Therefore, less work is required by your server increasing the speed at which your site loads. One such product that HostLabs is currently evaluating is CloudFlare. Stay tuned for more information on this soon.
  5. GZIP Files and Compression
    Before sending files to the browsers for human viewing, you should compress them at the server level first. By just adding a few simple lines of code, a Webmaster can eliminate unnecessary coding and make files smaller. Compressing as much as possible in a website can greatly increase the speed at which a server can upload a page, regardless of what browser a visitor is using.
  6. Choose Linking over Import
    When working with a site’s stylesheets, it’s a better idea to connect files using linking instead of through the import reference. The import reference loads site differently, automatically assuming that they are located at the bottom of the document even if it’s not. This can prevent some of your most important files from loading as quickly as you need them to.
  7. Place Stylesheets at the Top
    As we always want to display styled content to visitors, files that are responsible for the appearance of a webpage should be placed in the header section. This way, the visual components of a site can be applied to the HTML coding as it loads, ensuring that users see the webpage’s design and content at the same time.
  8. Place Scripts at the Bottom
    When building a website, it is essential to keep your priorities straight. In plain English, make sure that tools related to functionality are placed at the bottom of a webpage. As users can’t interact with content before they see it, functionality tools are not nearly as important as getting designed content to viewers as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, load all files required for interaction last.
  9. Use Browser Caching
    Think of browser caching like a refrigerator. Instead of wasting time running to the store every time you want a glass of milk, it’s easier to store a carton in the fridge and pour a glass when needed. Browser caching works similarly as it holds particular files for a period of time specified by the Webmaster. Whenever the file is needed, the browser can easily (and quickly) grab it from its local cache instead of requesting it from the server. This is a good idea for files that are popular or frequently accessed so that it doesn’t take as long to load them online.
  10. Consider Utilizing CSS Sprites
    Instead of attempting to load several images, consider serving one highly optimized picture for your web design to minimize the impact it has on the page’s performance. A CSS Sprite acts like a map of your images for the server. As a picture comprised of other images used by your design, it allows all of the files to be accessed from one place thus expediting the loading process.Using these simple but important tips can really improve a website’s overall speed and performance. If the terms used in this article seem difficult or confusing do not be dismayed or discouraged. You do not need to know every aspect of the HTTP request process. Just become familiar enough with these services and features to implement them on your website.

[image: ThinkStockPhotos]