Search engine rankings are influenced by a number of elements, from optimized headers and images to content quality and back links. But one factor that is often overlooked by website owners is page load speed. Since 2010, Google has been using the speed at which your content pages load as a rankings factor. Page load speed also affects other metrics like bounce rate and conversions. If your page takes too long to load, who is going to stick around to read an article or make a purchase? Most people will bounce before they even get to check out your content.
If your pages are taking longer than average to load (six to seven seconds in the U.S.), there are many different elements to consider, as a host of sources could be at fault. Here are the top seven reasons why your content pages could be loading slowly:
1. Unoptimized Images
Unoptimized images are typically the number one cause of slow page load time. By “unoptimized” images, I’m not referring to image and alt tags, but image size and unnecessary metadata. In many cases, images can be scaled down without a noticeable impact to your website visitors’ experience. This process, referred to as lossless compression, strips images of needless information and displays the same quality image, but much faster. The unnecessary information may have been helpful to those behind the scenes (like designers and web developers), but does not affect the end users’ experience. Lossless optimization usually reduces file size by 5 to 20 percent, but in some cases could reduce file sizes by up to 90 percent.
Additionally, when optimizing images for file size, you must also consider the type of image file you are using. Regularly PNG photos are used on the web when using a JPEG file makes much more sense. When you’re not showcasing a logo or icon (something that does not need a transparent background, or a narrow range of color), it is best to use JPEG files as they are usually much smaller.
Most website owners use a bevy of plugins and/or widgets for a variety of reasons. You may have a plugin for blog comments, social media sharing, and spam filtering, which are all very useful, but sometimes can do more harm than good. There are generally a number of plugins that achieve the same goal, but some get the job done without affecting other elements of your website—and those are the plugins you want. The best way to find out which plugins are optimal for your website is by experimenting. Research the best plugins for your purposes and test each one. If you think one (or a few) of your plugins are causing your content pages to load slowly, try deactivating one at a time and testing site speed along the way. Once you find the culprit, delete it for good and find a better replacement that doesn’t negatively affect your website speed.
When website traffic is booming, the allure of placing ads on your site increases. Making money from website ads is all well and good, as long as the ads don’t affect user experience or website speed. Unfortunately, they often do. Ads that do not fully load contribute to high bounce rate and can look like spam—not something you want your website visitors to encounter. Though profits from ads may make for extra cash, it typically isn’t enough to warrant widespread use. If you’re determined or need to include ads on your site, try removing a few and see if your site speed changes.
Despite the growing number of reasons not to use Flash (like it not being compatible with some mobile devices), it is still present on websites today. Though Flash may look great on your website, it is very likely to be contributing to your slow page load speed. Flash is just bulky software in general, and most Flash files can be rather large, particularly for media files. Of course, the bigger the file size, the slower your pages will load. As there are more reasons against the use of Flash than there are redeeming qualities, cutting back or eliminating it all together may improve more than just content page speed. Look for HTML5 alternatives for common functionality.
5. External Media
An additional offender of slow page load speed is superfluous use of external media like slideshows, videos and more. Though this additional content may be beneficial for your website visitors, it can’t help if your visitors never get to see it! When you embed external media on your content pages, you are relying on someone else’s site to serve that media. Therefore, if that site is running slowly, your site could end up running slowly as well. In some cases, external media may be essential a website’s success, but if it is not, consider displaying the content in an alternate way that doesn’t leave you relying on others.
6. Bulky Code
Cumbersome code is another common culprit to assess if your content pages are loading slowly. Frequently CSS coders include whitespace in order to make pages more comprehensible, but it oftentimes isn’t necessary. Much of the whitespace inserted by developers can be removed while still retaining website readability. Consider eliminating line breaks and unnecessary spacing as this will compress your code, reduce the size of files and improve website speed overall. Look at options like Minify to shrink code to its leanest.
7. Web Host
If you have looked into all of the factors listed above and your content pages are still slow to load, it’’s time to check out your website host. With shared servers there are fast days and there are slow days, so your slower-than-average page load time may not be directly your fault. However, switching hosts can be complicated and can cause website downtime, making it a last resort. But, if you have exhausted all other options, switching web hosts may solve your page speed problem.
Overall, page load and site speed can be affected by an array of factors. From unoptimized images, plugins and ads to Flash, external media and unwieldy code, it can be difficult to decipher what exactly is causing your site slowdown. Whatever the cause, it must be remedied as soon as possible, as slower load time increases site abandonment. With 40 percent of visitors abandoning pages that take more than three seconds to load, one second can make or break your traffic.
What have you found to most drastically affect page load speed? Let me know in the comments below.