At Digital C4, we often work with our clients to improve their page load times. It’s part of our SEO process. We’ll go through a list of things known to be killers when it comes to website performance and page load times. Below, I’m going to list, as a checklist of sorts, some things you should look into if you are experiencing page load time in excess of 4-5 seconds. But, first, let’s quickly chat about why page load time matters.
Why worry about page load time?
In short, if I try to pull up a page and it takes 5 seconds, 6 seconds, or 10 seconds (or more, seriously they’re out there) to come up I’m probably going to jump ship. My thinking would go something like this, “If it takes this long to load one page, It’ll be a nightmare to navigate through multiple pages on this site…I’m out!”
Another reason is that Google takes Page Load Time into account when they rank your site and pages. So, if you want to kill your rankings in the search engines then ignore high page load times. Google wants to provide it’s users a great experience and part of that is sending them to sites that don’t take forever to load. Google also knows that conversion rates suffer when a site’s page load time is slow. For one, a user may never end up on the site as they will go back to browsing before the page fully loads. Second, as mentioned above, the user may end up spending too much time on the site in total because the site is just slow. Here’s an interesting graphic, from Think With Google, showing data on conversions of a slow site.
The graphic above is specifically referencing mobile load times. As you should know, Google is a mobile first index now. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile then you’ll be missing out on being found in the search engine. Here’s another graphic that shows the probability of a bounce as page load time increases.
There are some things you have NO CONTROL over that you should keep in mind when you’re looking at your mobile page load times in analytics.
A users cell phone coverage
We don’t have control over where and when a user might be searching on Google, or trying to browse your site. There is a dead cell phone area on one of my regular driving routes. My wife and I often laugh because we always seem to be trying to make a call, or research something important on our phones, right in that area. Pages won’t load, or they load very slowly. It’s frustrating but, in our case, funny because it happens ALL the time. In actuality, we’re probably always on our phones and only notice this area every time because it always interferes with our groove.
If you’re a site owner and your site is loading slowly ALL the time, no matter where a user is, then you’ll lose users just as if they were driving in a dead zone. I feel I need to mention that in the case above, the user in the passenger seat is using the phone. Just so we’re clear. Don’t search Google and drive.
A user’s cell phone
We can’t make someone update their phone from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone X. We can’t make them update their operating system or apps. We can’t make them search from the fastest running mobile browser. Some of these things do make a difference in page load time and we have no control over them.
Would it be rude to display a message, when someone hits your site with an old phone or operating system, like “Please, by a new phone, update your OS, and update all your apps before browsing the internet, and our site.” It’s not a bad idea though, or maybe it is.
Anti-malware, anti-virus, and other software a user has installed
I’m thinking most of us has some sort of anti-virus and anti-malware software on our machines, mobile devices, or on our browsers. Depending on the settings this can change a user’s experience, and potentially slow down their browsing experience. If they have software scanning every page as they browse that is going to add to page load time.
I have a lot of things going on when I have my phone in my hand. I might have 20 or 30 apps open that I’m jumping in-between. I’m might have 10-20 browser tabs open at any given time. This is also something that a site owner can’t control. If I have all these things going on then I very well could be responsible for my poor browsing experience or the poor page load times of the site I’m trying to browse.
This is something that could also apply to a desktop experience. If your machine is chugging trying to keep up with your light-speed activity then it will slow down your internet experience.
“There is a dead cell phone area on one of my regular driving routes. My wife and I often laugh because we always seem to be trying to make a call, or research something important on our phones, right in that area.”
Those are just a few things, and I’m sure there are more, that can affect page load time and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. Now that I’ve pointed that out, let’s take a real look at the list of things that you can control. So, here’s a good list of items you should look into if you’re page load times are high.
Page load time checklist
1. Image Sizes
Are your images optimized for the web or are you serving up hi-res files that take forever to load? You might try image compression. There are tools out there like TinyPNG and WP Smush that can help you out.
2. 301 Redirects
Are you using lots of 301 redirects in your site? Every time your browser is redirected to a new page the load time goes up. Sometimes 301 redirects are necessary and good. You should try to limit their usage though.
3. Web hosting
Is your site on a shared server or a dedicated server? On a shared server your site will be competing for resources with other sites. If another site on the server is hacked or taking all the resources your site users will know. Choose a reliable host that is active in optimizing their own platform, has killer support, and is fast. We moved to WP Engine about a year ago and we love them. If your site’s built on WordPress you should check them out. Here’s their latest announcement about making their platform 40% faster! “Increase your site’s performance on WP Engine with Google Cloud Platform’s newest infrastructure. “
If you host your site internally, as some larger companies do, do you have enough bandwidth to your server? An internet connection that is too small or slow can be a bottleneck creating slow page load times.
5. Server resources
Much like the above “bandwidth” issue, if you host your site internally, or even externally, but don’t have a large enough server to sustain the amount of concurrent users you need, then you should look at upgrading your resources (CPU, RAM, etc). This is especially relevant, and potentially easy to remedy, in today’s world of cloud computing where virtual resources can be added with a few clicks of the mouse.
6. Hosted Third Party Applications
Does your site integrate with any third party apps, plugins, or services? An example with our client was they were using hosted web fonts. We’ve learned that, as a general rule, using hosted fonts can add a half to a full second to load times. This time could go up or down depending on the particular 3rd party service you’re using. Something to keep in mind, though. You may not want to mess with your fonts, but you should check all your integrations to make sure they are optimized.
7. CSS and HTTP Requests
If your site has an intricate interface with lots of images, icons, backgrounds, tables, etc., you can run into page load latency with the browser trying to fulfill all the requests. Think about using CSS Sprite to reduce the amount of HTTP and CSS requests.
8. Placing Your Scripts
9. Tracking Pixels/Tags
If you’re a marketer like I am then you may be using tracking pixels/tags to track campaign performance. Often, depending on how many campaigns you’re running you could be employing a large amount of tracking pixels that need to be loaded every time a page is. This can slow down your page load times. A couple options here are one, using a universal tracking pixel that eliminates the need for multiple conversion tracking pixels, and two, using asynchronous tagging, which allows a browser to load multiple tags in parallel, as opposed to waiting for each to load before the next can. We recommend Google Tag Manager.
There are many things that can affect load time and these are just a few of the biggies that are well within most folks abilities to change and affect.
We’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you’ve found that causes slow page load times and how you remedied.