How To Optimize Your Website’s Performance

By Mike Quinn, president, Yellow Bridge Interactive (YBI)

Web pages and websites are getting bigger and becoming more complex every day. But when a website does not load quickly, it affects visitors’ behavior, which leads to decreases in sales conversions and revenue.

A website can slow down for a number of reasons, including low server memory, competing resources or data influx. If a web server is slow, it will hinder the website’s performance. Likewise, a site receiving a great deal of traffic can also slow down load times or disrupt a visitor’s experience entirely. Navigation, site design, images and apps can also affect how quickly and effectively a website is displayed.

Bottom line: Your website’s speed can be the difference between generating revenue and not generating revenue.

You should not stop monitoring a website’s performance. Monitoring your site should be part of your daily web design workflow. Check home page load time, checkout process load time, and conversion rates at regular intervals.

Web Performance Makes a Difference in Sales

Don’t think a couple of seconds can make a difference? Think again. According to Jupiter Research (which has since been acquired by Forrester), the average online shopper in 2006 expected a web page to load in four seconds. Today, those same shoppers expect web pages to load in two. Poor web performance is one of the biggest reasons people are dissatisfied when shopping online. People who experience performance issues will abandon a site or switch to a competitor. Because page load time is important to web browsers, even Google GOOG +0.1% has begun factoring site speed into their algorithm when ranking websites.

Responsive Web Design Also Affects Web Performance 

Website visitors expect the same type of experience on their mobile device as they do on their computers.

So now, not only do you have to think about how a website performs in various computer web browsers, you also have to think about optimizing a website for the many types of mobile devices. This is where responsive web design comes into play. Responsive web design (RWD) involves creating a site that  adjusts depending on what type of device is doing the viewing. The text can be scaled down, to offer only the main text and images.

It’s important to note, though, that just because a site has responsive web design and looks good on a certain device, it does not necessarily mean that it will load faster. And just because it loads faster on a mobile device, does not mean a visitor or customer will stay on it longer.

Three Ways to Optimize Your Website

There are a few things you can do to make sure your site is performing at optimum speed. First, you can run a web page analyzer to help you see what is actually being loaded and what is taking the most time — and clean up any problematic HTML, CSS and Javascript code. Next , here are three best practices to consider:

  1. Get a dedicated server. One way to improve performance is to move to a faster server or get a dedicated server. Although it may cost more, being on a slow server can cost you even more in sales long term.
  2. Use a CDN. If your site has large amounts of content to display, consider using a content delivery network (CDN) — a company that employs a large system of servers placed in various locations to deliver web pages to visitors. Most CDNs are used to host static resources such as images, videos, audio clips, CSS files and JavaScript. The closer a CDN server is to a site visitor, the faster the content will be delivered to the visitor’s computer or mobile device. CDNs help improve global availability and reduce bandwidth. However, the main issue a CDN addresses is latency, or the amount of time it takes to deliver website pages to the visitor.
  3. Compress images and text. Another way to improve website performance and speed up page load times is to compress images and text. A server does not have to send out as much data this way. Some hosting providers automatically compress websites, and there are a number of tools you can use to test whether or not it is compressed. Most sites are image heavy, so if you want to optimize an image without losing visual quality, you can use a tool like Yahoo YHOO +0.17%’s For web graphics, use GIFs or PNGs rather than JPGs.

Just like a physical store needs organizing, websites need cleaning. When it comes to page-load optimization, every kilobyte counts. Web performance is a critical part of a customer’s experience. Don’t put optimizing a website’s loading time on the back burner, as it can be detrimental to loyal readers or repeat business.

For over a decade, Mike Quinn has been active in website design and development. After completing formal training in multimedia technologies in 2002, he became a founding member of a Pittsburgh based design company, Yellow Bridge Interactive (YBI). YBI’s focus is creating SEO-friendly websites that utilize the latest design and programming techniques.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.