Jan 03

Make Your Website Faster For Better User Experience And SEO Performance

Tag: SEO,Web Designadmin @ 8:08 pm

Do you find that your website loads slowly? Page load times dragging on? Or, maybe you have a high bounce rate? (One page visits)

If so, you may be in need of some new year tweaks to improve things.

Google announced back in April that page load times were a part of the ranking algorithm and hence can affect your rankings negatively.

Google are almost obsessive about speed, and for good reason. Slow websites are a pain, not only to users but also to search engines. Google and the other engines do not want to rank your site high in the rankings, only for users to experience slow load times and a poor overall user experience. This looks bad for the engines as they are in effect voting for your site.

If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account you will find some really important information in regards to site speed. Under “Labs” we have “Site Performance”. Here, Google reports on your overall site speed. This info is taken from a number of sources including the Google toolbar. I can’t confirm if the info is 100% accurate, but it does serve as a good overall guide.

Webmaster Tools Site Performance

Another important section of WMT is the section just underneath the load time chart above and is labelled as “Page Speed Suggestions”.

Here you can find info and advice on files on your site which Google believes can be reduced in size to provide better performance. This could be via one of the methods in the section further below.

So what to do?

Well, there are quite a few things that can be done to improve your sites load times and keep everyone happy. But in the interests of brevity, I will just cover three of the main suggestions here.

HTTP Compression

In its simplest form, HTTP Compression is where the data sent between a browser client and server host is compressed or reduced in size in order to speed up the transmission of the website files and data.

In order for this to be achieved, the server and the client have to agree when they first handshake and agree the protocol.

Live HTTP headers http://livehttpheaders.mozdev.org/ is a great piece of software that you can run in order to view the http header information when establishing a connection to a website. This can provide us with a lot of useful information. (Note: Live HTTP Headers is an extension for the Firefox browser)

In the image below you will see that on initially requesting the webpage my browser requested the page and also said that it can accept gzip or deflate encoding. These modules are typically installed as a part of the Apache web server software. So basically my browser is saying “throw me the page across, and if you can make it smaller using gzip or deflate and save us both time and trouble, please do so”.

Live HTTP Headers

The image below is the next part of the conversation between server and host. The server is replying OK, I have this page and includes other info such as last modified date and the server software. What we are looking for is the area highlighted in red which says “Content-Encoding: gzip”. Happy days! The server is saying OK, you said you can handle compressed content, so I will send it to you in gzip format. Job done!

Live HTTP Headers

If the server did not support HTTP compression of some sort then no problems, the data would still be sent, just not compressed.

For further information on setting up your Apache web server software have a read of this post on how to optimize your site with gzip compression.

To check if your website data is compressed already, use this http compression checking tool.

Combine JavaScript and CSS Code

Most websites today use JavaScript and CSS. JavaScript is a scripting language and can be used with many programs, widgets, graphics apps etc. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and is mainly used to render and format HTML.

Unfortunately when developers and designers work on websites they sometimes use code and place the code in multiple .css and .js files. This means that these files need to be “called” a number of times in order for the browser to run the required code.

Now. A better way is to copy and paste the code from any .css files and .js files and combine them into one file for each of the CSS and JavaScript.

For example I recently combined the JavaScript code from a few different applications into one file on one of my client’s site and call the main file combined.js

The reference at the top of the HTML code would look something like

<script src=”combined.js”></script>

Then something similar for all the CSS code.

<link href=”layout.css” rel=”stylesheet” />

So now, whenever any Javascript or CSS code needs to be run, it is all searched for and run from one file.

Reduce DNS Calls

Without going into DNS too much, DNS is the Domain Name System and is used to resolve domain names to ip addresses. So when you type in a URL in your browser, your browser goes off and checks with the server which is authoritive for that domain and asks for the ip address for that particular site. The server then returns something like Your browser then tries to connect to this server requesting the contents of the website and page. IP addresses are like postcodes in that they pinpoint the exact location of where the site is hosted. They are also unique.

So, anyway. The point is when someone connects to your site, if your code includes calls to things such as Google Analytics, Statcounter, Widgets, Chat, Banners etc these all have to be looked up and resolved before the page is fully loaded. The more calls that are made, the longer the page will potentially take to finish loading.

So, in this case, make sure that you are not making any unnecessary DNS calls. Keep it nice and clean.

For further tips and techniques for reducing page load times, take a look at http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html

EDIT: Google have recently offered on online page speed testing tool which also gives you advice on where you can speed your website up. Take a look at the Google pagespeed online tool page.

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