Website optimization – the biggest obstacles

One of the most crucial tasks for website operators is to make sure a visitor’s experience on their site is as smooth as possible. Factors such as how long it takes for the homepage to load are important to consider, especially with the increasing number of traffic coming from mobile devices. If the loading time takes too long, your website will lose a lot of visitors – and quickly. Here you should keep your website performance in mind: regularly strive to improve it, and you will soon realize that visitors are spending more time on your site and are viewing additional pages instead of just the one that brought them there. Improving your website’s performance will also have the added bonus of appearing more attractive to search engines, meaning you will ultimately benefit from better rankings.

You can measure your current website speed with free website speed tests such as Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom. These tools measure and evaluate performance; in addition, they can be helpful when taking network-independent aspects into account, such as media content or HTML code structures. The Google tool is particularly useful for an analysis of both the desktop version and the mobile version of your website, as it can give you suggestions on how to improve.

If you’re asking yourself which aspects affect the loading time of a website, you’ve come to the right place. We reveal what typically slows your website down; if your website speed has indeed been affected, we also go through possible solutions to improve it.

Hosting

You should first ask yourself: does your current hosting platform fulfil the requirements of your web project? In general, many website operators want to save money when it comes to server performance and capacity, and just go with the cheapest option. But there is a downside to such frugality: for instance, the platform could lack the necessary bandwidth to handle all user requests. With cheap hosting solutions, several parties share a server, which doesn’t allow much growth or increased visitor numbers to one particular website. Another typical mistake is to host your website on a server located abroad, which actually increases your website’s loading times.

What to do:

  • Use flexible hosting solutions with unlimited web space and traffic
  • Only hire servers that are located in the same country as most of the users
  • Take care of the hosting yourself so you can adjust it to how you see fit

HTML, CSS and JavaScript

When visitors click on your website, their browser requests the HMTL file on your server and displays it according to the contained CSS formatting. The same applies to integrated JavaScript elements, such as banners or news tickers. The loading process can last long, depending on how large the files are and how much code needs to be read and converted. Including design sheets and scripts are especially essential for dynamic sites – forgoing CSS and JavaScript in favor of a higher website speed is not advisable. As a result, the focus should mostly be on optimizing the website’s code.

What to do:

  • Use HTML only for instructions that aren’t possible with CSS 
  • Use separate files for CSS and JavaScript, and only write CSS and JavaScript code in the HTML in exceptional cases (JavaScript should always at the very end of the document, before the closing body element)

Images and external content

When building up a good website, multimedia content is an important part to include. Just like the design and layout, it dominates the appearance of your website and adds more expression to the text. In e-commerce in particular, it’s especially important to present your products using high-quality images. The loading time increases with each extra image or photo - especially if they are stored on a remote server, rather than your own. The same goes for other media files such as music, videos or PDFs.

What to do:

  • Load as few elements as possible from external sites
  • Avoid unnecessary images, videos, etc.
  • Specify the width and height of images (otherwise the browser will calculate the dimensions itself)
  • Use SVG icons (scalable vector graphics)

Caching

Many websites are slow because they forgo caching. But what many don’t realize is that a well-configured cache can really help to optimize your website - with very little effort involved. This is because cached content doesn’t need to be called up by the webserver every time it’s clicked on, which means the page loads considerably faster. It also lifts the burden on the webserver, since it has fewer requests to process. All static elements, such as JavaScript and CSS files, images or documents can be cached. Here the time for them to remain cached can also be defined.

What to do:

  • Use the visitor’s browser as a cache: activate the 'mod_expires' module on the Apache webserver and define how long the corresponding file types should remain in the cache; the rest is done by the respective user’s browser
  • Set up a reverse proxy server and use it as a cache. Alternatively, you can use a content delivery network, where you have access to a whole network of globally distributed reverse proxy servers
  • Use cache software like Memcached to temporarily store dynamic content in the memory, which allows you to minimize database access

Further tips and tricks for website optimization

In addition to the above-mentioned ways to optimize your website’s performance, there are many smaller steps you can take to help keep loading times down. These include:

  • Keeping redirects to a minimum
  • Specifying character encoding in the HTML document
  • Removing any faulty content
  • Avoiding excessive use of plugins in the CMS
  • Limiting collected information in cookies
  • Using favicons (since browsers always search the web server for the favicon.ico file)

If you haven’t yet used any of the measures to make your site run faster, you should start now to get ahead of the crowd. The Israeli technology company, Radware, published an infographic in 2015 on the topic of website speed in e-commerce. It shows the top 100 e-commerce providers and how fast their sites are.

What can be taken from this infographic is that approximately 50 % of all store websites don’t compress their images, and only twelve out of the hundred have loading times of less than three seconds. This is particularly important: anything more than three seconds of loading time can test a visitor’s patience, making them more likely to click off the site.

If you don’t want to lose potential customers due to inadequate loading times, you should optimize your website and make it ready for the mobile era.