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5 Non-Technical Tips to Speed Up Your Website

by Chinonye on August 4, 2011

Why try to optimize your website for faster loading times if it already loads fairly quickly? Well, first of all, Google uses site loading speed as a factor in its PageRank (PR) algorithm. The faster your website responds to requests, the better this is for your SEO. Secondly, we live in a world that is obsessed with speed. Millions of homes have high-speed internet connections, and cell phone networks have began to embrace 4G technology.

Also, with the explosion of wireless internet technology for mobile devices, a statistically significant portion of traffic to your site can come from mobile users. These people are on the go, and they expect web pages to load quickly. Luckily, decreasing your web site’s load time doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

1. Optimize Images

Reducing image size is one of the easiest methods for decreasing page load time. Many tools exist that will optimize images for you, such as Smush.It from Yahoo, ImageOptimizer.net, the ImageOptimizer from DynamicDrive and the ImageReducer from SiteReportCard.

At the Velocity 2008 conference, YSlow developer Stoyan Stefanov pointed out some mistakes to avoid when optimizing images for the web:

  • Mistake #1: Using animated GIF images instead of PNGs. GIFs are larger than PNGs and take longer to load. Since the goal is faster load times, choose the PNG format over animated GIF. Stefanov’s measurements concluded that if the top ten most visited websites converted all their GIF files to PNG, the average space savings would be 20.42%. The more images a page has, the more it benefits from using PNGs in place of GIFs.
  • Mistake #2: Not crushing PNG files. According to the PNG specifications, a PNG image stores information in what are called chunks. These chunks can be deleted without altering the image. Several programs can be used to do this, such as pngcrush, pngrewrite, OptiPNG and PNGOut. Stoyan found that “crushing” PNG files for the top 10 websites would yield an average savings (in size) of 16.05%.
  • Mistake #3: Not stripping metadata from JPEG files. JPEGs contain metadata that includes comments, a record of which programs modified the image (e.g., Photoshop), and EXIF data such as camera make and model, photo date and time, exposure time, lens focus, a thumbnail preview, and even EXIF audio information (RIFF or WAV headers) from certain cameras, such as the HP R607. Stefanov estimated that removing this data from JPEGs across the top 10 sites with the tool jpegtran would result in an average of 11.85% in saved space.
  • Mistake #4: Choosing Truecolor PNGs instead of Palette PNGs. Truecolor PNGs can display millions of colors, while Palette PNGs (aka, PNG8) have only 256. Most PNG files never use more than 1,000 colors – those that do are photographs and should be saved in JPEG format. Converting Truecolor PNGs to Palette reduces image size by as much as 50%. The human eye can almost never tell a Truecolor PNG has been converted to Palette because our vision is not that sensitive. Programs such as pngnq and pngquant are used for this kind of conversion.
  • Mistake #5: Serving dynamically generated images as-is. Images such as charts and graphs use very few colors, so PNG8 (256 colors) is the best format choice. When an original PNG image that allows 707 colors is crushed and converted to PNG8 format, this yields about a 38% smaller file size.
  • Mistake #6: Keeping images separate. Using CSS Sprites to combine images will reduce the number of HTTP requests that a browser must make to load your page.

2. Link to Internal Pages with a Trailing Slash

Let’s say your website is www.mysite.com, and a user wants to go to a specific, internal page on your site named “internal.” The final slash tells the web server that “internal” is a directory. When the trailing slash is left off, the web server searches for a file named “internal,” and when it doesn’t find the file, it issues a 301 redirect and searches for a directory named “internal.” Using a trailing slash for internal links will stop the web server from using those extra milliseconds to search for a file when it should be pointing to a directory.

Correct: http://www.mysite.com/internal/

Incorrect: http://www.mysite.com/internal

3. Identify Bottlenecks

If you want to get an idea of how fast (or slow) your website loads, use a free tool such as Pingdom. This is a bit technical, but your coder or designer will be able to easily interpret this information. Pingdom and similar tools show how long it takes for each element of a web page to load. This gives you a clear view of which elements can be tweaked or optimized to load faster. Using this data to make many tiny changes to your site can add up to create noticeable speed gains.

4. Get Rid of the Clutter

Are there any elements on your website that could be considered “distractions” for a reader? Widgets for current weather, a stat counter, etc.? Give your visitors what they want with as few distractions as possible. If you run a site via WordPress, look for any unnecessary plugins and remove them. Does your site really need animated GIFs? What about guest chat boxes, popup ads, and popup e-mail opt-ins? Some of those elements can be removed completely, while a newsletter e-mail opt-in can be placed in-page.

5. Use a Content Delivery Network

If your site reaches an audience that’s dispersed geographically, keep in mind that visitor distance from your server affects loading time for them. Regardless of how fast a server can handle requests, the speed of the network determines how fast content gets delivered. A Content Delivery Network (CDN) improves loading times for geographically dispersed audiences at far faster rates than a single server can achieve. This is because CDNs have servers that are physically closer than your web server to many visitors. According to developers at Yahoo, using a CDN for high-traffic sites “improved end-user response times” by over 20%. EdgeCast, level3 and Akamai Technologies are examples of CDN service providers.

Related posts:

  1. HTML5 And Your Website: What You Need To Know
  2. Top 10 Contemporary Website Designing Practices
  3. Tutorial: Adding products and categories to your new Magento website
  4. How To Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
  5. Search Engine Optimization 201: Off-Page SEO Issues

{ 7 comments }

Rusher August 4, 2011 at 9:13 AM

I had no idea how much space GIF’s took up. I think it’s good to be sparing with animated images anyway.

WrigleyF August 4, 2011 at 9:15 AM

Getting rid of distractions doesn’t just save space, it allows your visitors to concentrate on what you’re offering them.

PotsNPans August 4, 2011 at 9:18 AM

The bottleneck tip is a great idea, although you’re right that I’ll need someone to help me analyze that info!

Arthur Zey August 5, 2011 at 12:03 AM

I’ve encountered a number of customers who have very image-heavy pages on their websites (e.g., product listings, photo galleries). Most of these customers have their pages grab these objects from a single domain–usually the same domain as the page itself. And this is a completely innocent and understandable practice: these customers code their pages this way because the same server hosts both the page and all the images.

However, this can drastically increase page load times. Most browsers will open only a very small number of concurrent connections (or threads) to any single domain name. (Chrome opens 6, Firefox opens 8, and IE opens 4.) So, for example, if a site has 100 images all referenced relatively (i.e., the “src” tag begins with a “/” to pull from the same domain as the page itself) or all the references are to the same domain, a Chrome browser will begin downloading the first six objects, then start the seventh when one of the first six finishes, and so on.

One way to overcome this limitation–especially if the server hosting the objects can accommodate many simultaneous connections, as is the case with a CDN–is to create many subdomain aliases in DNS to the same server. For example, create images1.site.com, images2.site.com, images3.site.com, and so on, and point all of them in DNS to the same logical server (using A records to your own origin or a CNAME record if you’re using a CDN). Then, just rotate through all these different domains in your code, resulting in much faster download of your content.

With just one extra subdomain, you can cut the time in half to download all those images. With 25 such subdomains, you can cut your load time down to as little as it takes to transfer just one object–provided that your server and the end user has enough bandwidth! There are limitations and diminishing returns, so there’s no need to go overboard, but incorporating this strategy into your site architecture can yield significant performance improvement without much expense or time.

OfftheWall August 14, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Really interesting post, Arthur Zey. I had no idea a single subdomain could do so much to cut down on load time.

OhDonna September 13, 2011 at 9:42 AM

I agree. I’m always looking for ways to improve performance without spending a lot of time or money, so this was a really valuable post.

Rusher February 16, 2012 at 11:53 AM

I hadn’t considered getting 1 subdomain before, let alone 25. But for the kind of website speed and page load time that Arthur describes, they really sound worth it.

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