Why should you care about Page Load Optimization?

Why should you worry about how long it takes for your website to load?

From a user experience point of view it is never good to have your users waiting for your website to load.  Also as all good SEO firms know, Google has hinted that they might just incorporate page load time into their page rank algorithm sometime in the future.  If you want to keep your page rank at the top of the Google search, your best bet is to have a fast-loading site.

How do I find my page load time?

There are quite a few tools available on the internet to help you benchmark your page load times and give you tips on how to improve them.  Yahoo provides an add-on for Firefox called YSlow and Google has released a tool called Page Speed.  These tools are great. They generate a report card for your site and can give you tips on how to increase your page load times.

What are some techniques to optimize your page load times?

Assuming that your hosting provider has enough bandwidth to support the number of simultaneous users your site is receiving, the most common reason for the status bar of your web browser to be constantly flashing “Transferring…” is loading of external resources javascript, css and image files by your sites HTML.

Your web browser starts rendering a page by requesting the HTML from the web server.  As it parses the page it makes further requests to the web server for the external files referenced in the HTML.  Your web browser will only make 3 requests at one time from any given web server and will block further requests until the previous requests have finished to not overwhelm the server.  All css, javascript and image files follow this 3-item limit.

There are 2 techniques that are very easy to implement that can be used to speed up a large majority of websites on the internet today. However, they are not being used because poor compatibility with older browsers and load times seem to be “accepted” on internet web pages.

Images

To fix the problem of sites including 100s of different image files, the css specification allows web designers to group images into resource files – this technique is called “css spriting”.  In using this technique, all image files are stored in one big file.  css is used to pull out the different images and place them on the page requiring the web browser to make only 1 request for 1 image file instead of 100s.  This is the No. 1 way to optimize most websites in the wild today.

Javascript Minification/Merging

Like images, most websites can use 5-10 different javascript files and they are typically included in the <head> of the site.  Putting them at the <head> of the site is very bad because it prevents the loading of the rest of the page and in turn the display of the page to user.  Google has released a tool to help compress your js files and simplify the process of combining the files together to create just 1 javascript file that merges the 5-10 files.  Closure is a great web-based service that accepts your javascript files as input, then compresses the javascript and outputs it on one line.  This one line can easily be copy/pasted into your editor, allowing you to compress and join these files to increase your load times.

While there are many other techniques that can be used to increase your page load times like:

  • minimizing the amount of dynamic content or database calls per page
  • implementing a separate static domain for static content
  • properly compressing images
  • optimization and selection of web server software

the techniques described here are common problems with many sites on the internet today that can be fixed without making large changes to your sites infrastructure or application code.

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Insight written by lrucinski@randgroup.com

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