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A study performed by Ericsson early last year found that delays in loading a mobile website caused, on average, a 38 percent increase in heart rate, and an increased stress level roughly on par with watching a horror movie or answering math problems. We don't want to put anyone through that.

Ericsson Study on delays in mobile site loading, January 2016

Why Does Website Speed Matter?

If concern about frustrating your users with a slow loading website isn't enough of a reason to improve speed, consider the fact that Google cares. A lot. Google acts upon what is intuitively obvious: A poor performing website results in a poor user experience, and sites with poor user experiences deserve less promotion in search results.

An average website (at the beginning of 2014) required 75 different downloads to display a page, adding up to 1054 KB of total transferred bytes. The total number of downloaded bytes grew at a steady pace throughout the previous year. This increase has important performance implications: internet speeds are getting faster, but they are getting faster at different rates in different countries, and many users are still subject to data caps and expensive metered plans--especially on mobile.

  • 13% of Americans own a smartphone but don't have home broadband--up from 8% in 2013. -Pew Internet Research
  • Among Americans who have looked for work in the last two years, 79% utilized online resources in their most recent job search and 34% say these online resources were the most important tool available to them. -Pew Internet Research
  • 51% of smartphone-dependent Americans frequently (or at least occasionally) reach their max monthly data allowance. -Pew Internet Research

What Can We Do?

The amount of data downloaded by each website continues to increase. To deliver great performance, we need to optimize delivery of each and every byte! We can:

  • Reduce the number of downloaded files
  • Optimize each downloaded file
  • Cache everything you can

Reduce the Number of Download Files

The fastest and best-optimized file is a file not sent. Think about it!

Too often, pages contain files that are unnecessary, or worse, that hinder page performance without delivering much value to your readers.

  • You've decided to display a photo carousel on your homepage to allow your reader to preview multiple photos with a quick click. All of the photos are loaded when the page is loaded, and the user advances through the photos.
  • - Question: Have you measured how many users view multiple photos in the carousel? You might be incurring high overhead by downloading resources that most visitors never view.
  • You've decided to install a widget to display related content, improve social engagement, or provide some other service.
  • - Question: Have you tracked how many visitors use the widget or click-through on the content that the widget provides? Is the engagement that this widget generates enough to justify its file download needs?

Determining whether to eliminate unnecessary downloads requires careful thinking and measurement. For best results, periodically inventory and revisit these questions for every file on your pages.

Optimize Each Downloaded File

The next best thing you can do to improve website speed is by minimizing the overall download size by optimizing the remaining files.

The process of reducing data size is data compression. Many people have contributed algorithms, techniques, and optimizations to improve compression ratios, speed, and memory requirements of various compressors. A full discussion of data compression is beyond the scope of this article.

Suffice to say that text, images, fonts, and so on, can all be optimized. For example, the popular JavaScript library, jQuery (version 3.2.0), is 268 KB. Optimizing this file can reduce the file size to 87 KB. Additional optimization on the server level can reduce the file size further to 32 KB! Every one of those bytes add up.

Or images:

Original image

Original image: 268KB

Optimized image

New image: 32KB

Click on the thumbnails to open the full-size images (warning, very large files). The optimized file size was reduced by 79%! Can you tell?

Cache Everything You Can

Fetching a file is both slow and inefficient. Large responses require many round-trips between the client and server, which delays when they are available and when the browser can process them, and also incurs data costs for your readers. As a result, the ability to cache and reuse previously fetched resources is a critical aspect of optimizing for performance.

The good news is that every browser ships with an implementation of an HTTP cache. HSS can help you refine your caching strategy such that your web server response provides the correct instructions for the browser to determine when and for how long the browser can cache the file.

There's no one best cache policy. Depending on your traffic patterns, type of data served, and application-specific requirements for data freshness, you must define and configure the appropriate per-resource settings, as well as the overall "caching hierarchy."

Do You Need Speed?

Sometimes you just know that your site is slow and inefficient when it hangs, or you get complaints from staff or visitors on a routine basis. But if you're not sure where you stand, Google makes it easy to run a quick test to assess your website's speed using their PageSpeed Insights tool - this tool will help you find out how to make your website faster and give you a performance score along with tips for speed optimization on both desktop and mobile devices.

Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check your website >

You should take these test results with a grain of salt, as automated tools are not perfect, and there are a number of variables and trade-offs that can impact your site's speed relative to design and functionality. Nevertheless, it's a practical way to get a sense of your site's speed performance in the eyes of Google, and to identify any low-hanging fruit that can help make your site faster.

If you have questions about the results of your PageSpeed test, or would like some input on your site's performance, feel free to contact us and we'll be happy to conduct a complimentary assessment.

What Next?

Ultimately, making your website faster isn't about speed for speed sake - it's about providing the best possible user experience for your site visitors. If you have questions about how to optimize your website's speed and performance while still maintaining your desired design and functionality, we're happy to help. HSS is well-versed in the best practices for website speed optimization discussed here, as well as other tricks, like caching, minification, and critical CSS, to make your site smaller, smarter, and faster.

To learn more, simply complete the form below and we’ll be happy to follow-up with additional information, including:

  • Needs Assessment
  • Cost Estimates
  • Questions & Answers