Blog : Speed matters - How well your website performs weighs in on search rankings.
Website performance now weighs in on search engine results. But there is a lot more to it than that...Your brand perception for example.
If you are a website owner, webmaster or a web author you likely have, or will spend a significant amount of time, money and energy on your website. Exhaustive amounts of time are spent making it look great, writing catchy content and pulling your hair out trying to make it search engine friendly. But very little thought is often put into the issue of performance and what's going on under the hood. Unless the site is painfully slow or otherwise difficult to use it’s likely that you really don't care. But you should.
Why You Should Care About Performance
This post was started off with a slightly misleading introduction. Search ranking is a hot topic and a convenient way to bait interest. It's true that Google has recently confirmed it now officially uses website speed as weighting factor
, but it is a small factor (for now). The real reason you need to care is that your users do.
Web users judge a website or web application (typically subconsciously) based on: how easy the website is to use and find information; visual appeal; and performance. At one time or another I’m sure you have been adversely impacted by a difficult to use, amateur looking or slow website. Any one of those three problems can ruin your experience and therefore the product or brand being represented by the website.
Usability expert Jakob Nielson has spent the last 2 decades researching how and why individuals browse the web. On the topic of response times he notes:
"It was striking to hear users complain about the slowness of certain sites. Slowness (or speed) makes such an impact that it can become one of the brand values customers associate with a site."
The Speed Problem - Apathy and Lack of Expertise
As broadband access slowly became the norm, a weight was lifted off the web developer world. Gone are the days of last minute website speed tests. No more plugging in your modem and dialing in to your development server, secretly sending up a prayer that things at least aren't terribly slow. Thank goodness! But with that new freedom, web developers were able to get lazy. Images slowly got bigger, rich features and functions were more commonly implemented and a general apathy grew for any performance issues. The impact on performance of adding more photos, videos, rich media or fancy animations is rarely (if ever) a part of the discussion in marketing meetings
Then came the explosion of development frameworks and CMS tools, which have made it even easier to distance creation of a website from the real development process. Many "web developers" now deploy websites using WordPress and other tools with virtually no understanding of how a website is actually built. These tools can be powerful timesavers for a skilled developer but they can also be a tempting trap allowing a level of extraction that removes the need to understand or get involved in the inner workings of the website. Need a photo gallery? No problem, plug it in. Want Twitter fed into your homepage? No problem, plug it in! Plug it in, plug it in… Very little thought is put into the impact of adding these elements and in many cases no understanding of what is even happening from a technical perspective.
So What Can You Do About It?
Detailed steps to tune your website is outside the scope of this article. There is a ton of resources available with a simple Google search that can get a web developer on their way. If you are wondering if your website is performing properly, here are some free tools that you can use to evaluate the speed of your site:
If you don't care to test things yourself but are wondering if your developer is giving proper attention to performance, just ask a few questions. A tuned website will take into consideration AT LEAST the following:
- Sprites: Don’t know what sprites are? That’s fine, but your web developer should. If they don’t - get a new one (or at least a less lazy one). Sprites are one of the easiest ways to cut down on front end loading but do take work, effort and planning to implement properly.
- Gzip, compression and other server settings: Make sure your developer and/or your IT provider understands how best to host the website. Some simple server settings and web server tuning will impact how much data is travelling over the network to the client side. At a minimum make sure your developer knows what web compression is and how to work with it. If your website traffic is large enough, and geographically disperse in nature, you may need to look into the physical location of your hosting including the posibility of using a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
- Check your images: What’s a few extra bytes here and there? Maybe not much, but it can add up. In extreme circumstances we’ve seen websites with 100k or even 200k banner images. There is no excuse for huge image files and there are some great tools to compress your images. See Yahoo Smushit.
Guard Your Brand
This article just scraped at the tip of the iceberg on website performance. There are many more important ways to tune your website depending on the development framework, scope, scale and audience. The most important thing for a website owner, web author or webmaster is to understand that performance matters and to ask questions to make sure that your project is the best it could be. The speed of your website does impact your brand perception and I’m sure that’s very important to you.
If you have any questions feel free to contact us, we’d be happy to discuss your specific project.