21 Sep

Don’t go slow.

Have you been on any slow sites lately? If it took more than 4 seconds to load, you might have left the page? 8 out of 10 people do. Google ranks a good amount of a score on where a site ranks in search according to how fast a site’s pages load. Why? Because they equate some of the quality of sites based on the quality of the server performance and code. They feel that folks that don’t care about the way a site is built, use spaghetti code ‘do-it-yourself’ site builders, or run it on a $2 per month shared server that has 400 people on it don’t care about the quality of their site. If you own a website it makes good sense to be on their good side if you want to rank where people actually find you in a search. What can you do? Here are a few pointers.

Get a good server.

Servers are basically just a computer or in a secure location that your site is served from. One of the biggest factors for site speed is your server hardware and where it is located. Are most of your customers on the west coast? Go for a Portland, San Francisco or Los Angeles Data center. Both coasts? Go Dallas. The further away the longer it takes. Every second counts when you have clients ready to stay or leave based on fractions of a second. If you can afford it, get an SSD server. These use flash memory drives (like an SD card in a camera) that serves information at up to 20x a standard spinning disks speed, which is fantastic for load times. If you have been on a site that takes FOREVER to load, it is most likley on a cheap shared server. Not only are there hundreds of people sharing one machine on these cheapo plans, (which carries a separate issue about security in some cases) but others can serve video streams or file sharing services on your server that use the resources up and slow your site to a crawl. Avoid these if possible, and if you can, get your own dedicated server or a virtual private server (VPS).

Clean code.

When people ask why their site is so slow, or why they don’t appear Google search at all, the answer most of the time is that they built their site on a do-it-yourself-website-in-one-night or similar. In most cases these are bloated messes of code. They have to be with what they have to accomplish interface-wise. These sites carry tags basically telling search engines “I am a template, ignore me as easy-to-crank-out-low-quality-web-fodder.” These messes can be slow, look homemade in a lot of cases, and can cast a poor image on a business. WordPress and Joomla are exceptions as frameworks go, and can be very good to build on since have been refined for years, and are respected by search engines. Watch the bloat with these that can occur with too many addons or poorly coded plugins, which can really slow things down. Run them lean, and code what you can without extensions when possible, preferably with an HTML5 based template. HTML5 is the way to go for static sites, it can be quick and clean if built right, with great flexibility for mobile. You can also hire a seasoned developer to build or enhance your site, unless you want to learn become one for awhile, which can be a lot of fun for some people.

Good concise content and photo file reduction

While this does not necessarily affect speed in all cases, unnecessary or old content that does not need to be on a page should be cut. Good content is the bread and butter of SEO, so it should be engaging, informative and concise where it makes sense. Good content can mean photos too, cut what you don’t need and try to lower the quality of JPEGs to where they still look good, while cutting file size. You can make a 0.5Mb photo look the same visually as 15Mb photo, and the load time difference would be 20 seconds difference on broadband. Drastic example? Yes, but even at lower levels every bit counts. Use the Photoshop ‘save for web’ selection under the ‘file’ button and you will see a slider with a preview of what the minimizing will look like, then save and load to the site. You could also try out a free version of the JPEGmini software brand for a drag and drop approach with excellent no-brainer results.

Get a CDN (Content Delivery Network)

Using a content delivery network like MaxCDN or CacheFly makes your site pages sit virtually right outside a visitors door in major cities, with a copy of your site served locally. It basically turns your 1 server into 100’s of servers, and CDNs are used by the big guys like CNN and Netflix for a good reason. You can control updates and flush old content so your site stays updated and is served quickly. For several dollars a month you can cut load times in half or more, helping you to look good to search engines and customers alike.

There are many other small ways to boost speed and rank which will be covered in the near future, but these will get you headed in the right direction, and if you need additional help just ask your local web developer or do some detailed search. Every second counts when it comes to the web experience, so keep it lean and mean.