What’s slowing down your site?
Are you experiencing high bounce rates, low conversion rates, and other undesirable website metrics? While there are a multitude of different reasons as to why your site isn’t performing, one of the most overlooked reasons is site and page load speed.
First, let’s get the terminology down.
Site speed is how long it takes for your webpage to load from website hosting servers to the web browser that’s requesting the page. Page speed is slightly different, as it’s how long it takes for a page on your site to load after a link directing to it is clicked.
While load speed is increases bounce rates and creates a poor user experience, it also affects your appearance in search. Google’s John Mueller even says it’s one of the most important factors in search visibility for the upcoming year in SearchEngineJournal’s recent podcast interview.
You can find these metrics on your Google Analytics dashboard, or using a site speed tool.
In Google Analytics, go to “Behavior” on the left menu and click “Site Speed.”
To see site speed: Choose the first option “Overview.” From this page, you can see the average page load time, average server connection time, and other metrics on a broad scale. You can break this view down by browser, country, and page. Keep in mind, this report just shows averages, but what’s cool about this is you can view different time periods. By doing that, you can infer what changes caused slowdowns in the site.
To see page speed: Choose the second option under “Site Speed” on the left menu – ”Page Timings.”
In this view, you are able to see how each individual page loads. This report shows how the speed compares to your site’s average load speed, and you can even break it down by load time in seconds, bounce rate, page views, and more.
To see an overall report on all of your site’s pages, Google Search Console recently updated their dashboard to include a Speed Report. This is currently an experimental tool on the dashboard, but it will showcase which specific pages have errors and are loading slow, moderate, or fast.
As for site speed tools, Google has PageSpeed Insights, which gives a very vivid diagnosis on how long it takes for the first contentful paint to load, the first meaningful paint, and other speed data. It provides screenshots from the initial load and also provides very actionable opportunities based on the insights from the test.
WebPageTest is another tool for a quick overview of your site’s speed. This tool allows you to pick a device and a location to test from, and will provide a report that presents the site’s total load time, the load time for first contentful paint, speed index, and additional nichey data.
Now you’re probably wondering what a good speed to have is… however, every site is different. Obviously a simple single page site is going to load a lot quicker than a robust site full of animations, scrollytelling effects, and high quality retina visuals. It also depends on the server fetching the data, and other factors that you can’t actually see as a user. So if we’re talking about a good user experience, all excuses aside, anything longer than 3 seconds is too long – Google said so. And that’s still about 2.5 seconds too long, as Google also says users only want to wait about the length of a literal blink of the eye… 400 milliseconds. That’s asking a lot, though.
So, how do you get to a load speed that’s under 3 seconds? As you probably understand by now, a lot of factors go into this number. For site load speed, there’s not really an easy fix. To do this properly, you’re going to want to have your developer look into a few things…
- Remove old and unused code, themes, databases, apps and anything else that’s cluttering the backend of the site;
- Optimize site wide assets, like your logo, items that appear in the footer, badges, etc.;
- Reduce the amount of http/s requests, as the more files there are, the more requests are run and the longer the load takes;
Page speed is a little more fun (well... fun for me). You’re going to have to do some digging to figure out what needs to be optimized. Start by going to that “Page Timings” report in Google Analytics. Ask yourself these questions:
- What pages are the slowest? How slow?
- What pages have the highest bounce rates? And the lowest bounce rates?
- If bounce rates are high (at Electric Enijn, we like to see bounce rates under 40%), but the time spent on the page is also high – what’s keeping users on the page? Could that be slowing down the page?
Gather all of these insights all in one place and start looking at the pages on your site. Sometimes the answer is obvious, like the page has a lot of images, videos, and different fonts. But maybe the page looks the same as others, and it’s still a lot slower. This is when you’ll have to look a bit further into what makes up the page. If there are old scripts, font families, or anything else being pulled onto the page but not actually being used, take them out. We recommend using Google Fonts, which are also optimized for page speed. The same goes for plug-ins, tracking pixels, and any type of widget, similar to what you would want to look for sitewide to improve site speed.
As for images and videos on the page, try and shrink their size. One tool we often use for compressing PNGs and JPEGs is Tinypng. If they can’t be optimized any further, you might have to try lazy loading them in. This isn’t the best practice for SEO, but hey, site speed is SEO, too!
After optimizing your site to improve load speed, keep testing it and see if your metrics improve. If it doesn’t seem to be loading faster, it might be a deeper issue if your CMS or hosting platform. A lot of WordPress sites, for example, are weighed down by excess themes, scripts, and plug-ins, but the deeper site speed issue tends to be the hosting platform. While the promise of “unlimited” bandwidth, email accounts, and cloud space are appealing, what you should really be looking for from your site host is a high uptime, no less than 99%. Many self hosting CMS’ can offer unbeatable uptime, like Shopify promises 99.98%. We’re big fans of wpengine, which will monitor for bad plugins and ensure your website stays compliant.
I recommend you check your website’s site speed by digging into your Google Analytics or using one of the speed tests to see how your website is performing. While 3 seconds is ideal, your site is probably hovering around 15 seconds – and this wait time increases a user’s probability of bouncing by over 123%. While it’s important to get this metric down, it’s more important that you do it properly by keeping both your site’s structure and user experience in mind. If you need help with this part, just shoot me a message!