There’s this old adage that says patience is a virtue. In Japan, where waiting and queuing is less of a tradition and more like a badge of honor, there’s actually a phrase that refer to restaurants where the lines are long, “gyouretsu no dekiru mise”. There, waiting is the order of business for everything and the long lines have always been considered a status symbol for restaurants and retailers. When Japanese people are presented with two options, they’d go with the one having a longer line.
Sadly, this Japanese brand of patience and restraint has no place in the internet and web development where a mere 2 seconds is claimed to be the threshold for acceptability for an e-commerce page to load. In a society where everything can be accessed from anywhere and anytime and where page speed has been used as a ranking signal for Google, making sure that your website loads as fast as it should be is now a priority.
The importance of page speed
Even though 4G LTE networks have been widely available for almost a decade, the global penetration rate for LTE service remains relatively low. In North America, the most highly developed region in the world, the rate stood at 94%. In Central and Southern Asia, which includes India, one of the biggest mobile markets in the world, the number stood at an alarmingly low of 11%. In a region where population density is high, like downtown Mumbai, the lack of access to 4G networks could be detrimental.
It’s based on this reason why the Google-led Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project was started, enabling near instantaneous access to webpages that conform to these rules. Other internet giants too have followed in Google’s footstep, with Facebook offering lite versions of both Facebook and Instagram mobile apps for developing nations. Norwegian company Opera too has a mobile version of their browser, the Opera Mini, which came with built-in features that automatically compress webpages.
When we moved the discussion to fixed networks, things are actually worse. Unless you’re living in Japan or South Korea, odds are you don’t have access to a fiber-optic broadband network. The two Asian powerhouses are the only nations in the world to have a penetration rate of above 50% for fiber-optic networks.
Considering all of the facts presented above, we can safely draw the conclusion that yes, page load speed is indeed important for websites. If you are unsure of how to optimize this or feel that you lack the necessary technical know-how, don’t be afraid as there are quite a number of simple things you could do to improve the performance of your website. Here are 4 of them.
Use Google PageSpeed on your webserver
Ask whoever is handling the hosting for your website to set this up. Per Google’s own word, these PageSpeed modules are “open-source server modules that optimize your site automatically”. That’s right, all you have to is install these modules and they’ll do all of the heavy lifting for you. Basically, these modules optimize your webpage by modifying the resources to comply with what Google considers best practices. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty close.
Optimize your images
There are two ways you can achieve this. The first and most simple way is to actually scale them down before you upload them. If you upload an image consisting with a resolution of 4000 x 3000, that’s 12 megapixels rendered in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but scales them down to 1200 x 900 to fit standard full HD screens, your webpage will still load the bigger original image before scaling them down, which is a waste of data. Resizing the image before it is uploaded would solve this problem.
The other solution is to use the many image compression tools available online. For WordPress, there are several different plugins available that do this automatically for every image you upload to the website. These tools are usually able to be fine-tuned, where you can strive for maximum compression, quality or a balance of the two. Some also came with resizing features, enabling you to combine the two methods to further optimize your load speed.
Use a fast web host
Not all web hosts are equal, and some are even more unequal than others. Due to the popularity of WordPress, powering one-third of all websites, there are a lot of web hosting services that are optimized for WordPress, which you should seek out if you belong to those one-third. Other considerations would be whether they offer CDN or not.
CDN, short for content delivery network, is a method of serving web contents to remote customers by making use of regional servers. For example, if your server is located in Australia but you serve international customers from Japan, a CDN could push your content into a server that is geographically closer, such as Hong Kong, to better serve that customer. Global content providers like Netflix rely heavily on CDNs.
Enable browser caching
Instead of asking your customers to load all of your contents every time they visit your website, browser caching lets you store some of your data in their computers, as long as their browsers allow them to. How long this data is stored depends on how you set it up and the configuration on your customer’s browser configuration. Just like Google PageSpeed, you should contact your web host services to set this one up.
A Google report from 2016 states that 53% of users ditch a website when it takes longer than 3 seconds to load on their mobile devices. Balancing this with the fact that you want to present your customers with the best content you could make is not an easy act. The 4 methods listed above should help you in optimizing your website without having to sacrifice the quality of your contents.