Website loading times – Three top tips

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W

hen it comes down to what makes a website "good" or not, we might immediately think about content: good images, interesting text, videos to watch and simple navigation. While there’s no denying these are the most important, there are two very important reasons why you should be interested in ensuring your web pages load as quickly as possible too.

  1. Visitors are irritated by slow loading pages and will go to a competitors website if yours doesn’t load quickly enough
  2. Google include page load times as part of their algorithm when ranking pages and your site will be penalised if it doesn’t load quickly.

How do I find out how fast my website loads?

That’s easy, there are a myriad of web analysis tools online that you can use to check the performance of your website. One of my favorites at the moment is GTmetrix. They provide a very simple online form where you enter the address of your website e.g. https://advantagewebdesigns.co.uk. After a few seconds, BOOM, a summary report containing over 20 assessment criteria appears in front of you. There are overall and individual scores from Page Speed and Yslow, along with suggestions of where your website can improve. While not all of these are relevant to all types of website, they will highlight relevant areas of improvement that you can action. All of this without the need to create an account, supply an email address or subscribe to some kind of email marketing plan. The report can then be downloaded as a pdf so you have it as a permanent record, although as a nice touch they provide a history of your site, comparing basic metrics from each report you generate. My suggestion, and one which I’m implementing myself is to work on just one point at a time and then measure the improvement afterwards. That way you can see the value of each change you make, producing encouragement to keep slowly chipping away at the list of suggestions, point by point. How far you take it is up to you, but GTmetrix suggest any score less than a "B" is worth taking action on.

Three quick wins to improve page load speed

From testing and working on a few sites I’ve found there are 3 common problems that many smaller websites suffer from. Some of these are a result of restrictions placed upon them by the hosting company, especially if your website is being hosted on a shared server. Luckily, these can generally be fixed easily and quickly. These issues will be listed on your report as:

  1. Enable gzip compression
  2. Enable Keep-Alive
  3. Leverage browser caching

The key to fixing these is being able to access your .htaccess file. This is a file that is hidden by default and that sits within the root of your web directory. You will need to check with your hosting company whether you have access to it and permission to edit it. Basically, if you have FTP access to your web pages, or if you use a package like cpanel, you should be able to edit the file. Some hosting companies get twitchy about letting website owners edit this file, as one mistake will bring your website crashing to its knees. So you need to accept responsibility for changes you make and be very careful when doing so.

Here are the code snippets you need to add to your .htaccess file in order to fix the three issues above.

# enable gzip compression
<ifModule mod_gzip.c>
mod_gzip_on Yes
mod_gzip_dechunk Yes
mod_gzip_item_include file .(html?|txt|css|js|php|pl)$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^cgi-script$
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^text/.*
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^application/x-javascript.*
mod_gzip_item_exclude mime ^image/.*
mod_gzip_item_exclude rspheader ^Content-Encoding:.*gzip.*
</ifModule>

# enable keep alive
<ifModule mod_headers.c>
Header set Connection keep-alive
</ifModule>

# Specify caching
<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresByType image/jpg “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/jpeg “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/gif “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/png “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType text/css “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/html “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/pdf “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/x-javascript “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/x-icon “access 1 year”
ExpiresDefault “access 1 month”
</IfModule>

And that’s it, 3 simple fixes to improve your page load speed. In certain circumstances, these may not work as the host server settings may override these, so it’s worth checking by running your website through the GTmetrix analyser again.

I don’t feel confident about making these changes

If you don’t want to make these changes yourself, we can do it on your behalf for a fixed fee of only £49. Start improving your website page loading times.

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