The time it takes a page to load has become one of the defining factors for website success. Web users are notoriously impatient, abandoning any site they feel is taking too long to load. Reducing page load time should be a strategic priority for all website owners, given that it impacts many other metrics such as pages per session, bounce rate, and conversion rate.
The good news is for page speed, there are quick wins. Here are six of the top issues causing your website to underperform—and ideal starting points for your optimization efforts.
1. Insufficient Bandwidth
One of the biggest issues your site faces is the inability to serve content because it’s been inundated with requests from more visitors than your infrastructure can handle. Every element on your website—from graphics to database access scripts to the very words visitors see—places demands on the finite amount of bandwidth you need to send content to their browsers.
When you’re sure the web server itself is functioning correctly, it’s worth checking bandwidth consumption. Is your existing broadband connection up to the demand, or are web requests outstripping your physical capacity to service that demand?
If you discover bandwidth’s the issue, you may need to reconsider your web hosting agreement to include more capacity. You may also learn the bandwidth your site’s consuming should be much lower, and the culprit is most likely page weight (see #4). To better understand what to pay attention to, read this guide on monitoring web servers.
2. Insufficient Server Resources
If your website uses a ton of animation or needs to retrieve a great deal of information from back-end databases, you may begin to encounter issues with how the server has been configured.
Shared hosting (used by the cheapest ISPs) allows several websites to share physical resources, such as CPU power, RAM, and hard disk I/O. But if one of the other operators experiences a spike in traffic, every other user of the shared platform may be affected, slowing down database queries and script execution.
If your site is regularly encountering resource issues, you’ll need to consider switching ISPs or upgrading your web hosting package to increase the amount of dedicated CPU power, RAM, and disk space available.
3. Poorly Performing Scripts
If your site uses multiple scripts in parallel or forces more web server calls than necessary, page load times will increase. Web developers will need to investigate whether all website scripts are properly optimized for speed. Consider “lazy load” techniques to delay triggering selected functions, such as heavy images, videos, or the comment section, until users are able to interact with them.
4. Page Size
The physical size of webpages continues to grow as site owners integrate more graphics and multimedia content. Even with an ultra-fast broadband connection, the larger the overall page size, the longer it’ll take to load.
There are plenty of techniques to reduce page weight. Every element on every page needs to be optimized to reduce its size. This is particularly important if your page is managed by non-developers through a CMS allowing them to upload image files. Rather than loading video content entirely, consider using streaming technologies, so content can load as it’s played. You should also consider the use of compression technologies like gzip to shrink content as it’s transferred to the visitor’s web browser.
Page weight needs to be diligently tested and monitored with a tool that checks every element for speed and optimization (SolarWinds® Pingdom® page speed monitoring, for example) and provides insight to benchmark against competition.
5. CMS Plugin Issues
One of the benefits of platforms like WordPress and Drupal is you can add additional features and functions using third-party plugins. This helps to dramatically reduce development time and lets you quickly deploy a new website.
Behind the code, not all plugins are equally well-built. Inefficient database queries and older technologies will affect page load speed. Also, many free plugins aren’t frequently updated to reflect how the internet changes.
You’ll also find the more plugins you install, the slower your website becomes. This is because your CMS needs to load more scripts and content behind the scenes, increasing calls to the back-end database and creating a bottleneck as multiple scripts compete to be launched.
Alongside updating plugins regularly, you should also consider reducing the total number in use. Even the official WordPress Codex confirms deactivating and deleting plugins is an effective way to improve website performance. Look for ways to combine plugin functionality, or even to build the same features into your website directly.
Read our guide to better understand which CMS provides the best performance.
6. Third-party Scripts
Third-party scripts are essential for many common tasks, such as displaying address locations on a map or tracking visitor activity. Usually these scripts are relatively efficient, but there are two factors of which you should be aware.
First, every call to a remote server to load a script takes time—this increases overall page load time. Second, popular third-party scripts, like Google Analytics, can occasionally experience bottlenecks of their own if there’s a temporary surge in global demand. If the third-party script is slow to load, the rest of your site will be slow to load as well.
You must examine each third-party script your website and its plugins use to assess their performance and whether they’re truly required. There may be ways to achieve the same functionality using locally based code, or to at least reduce the number of round-trip requests to remote servers.
Continual Improvement Requires a Baseline to Work From
All six of these factors create risks, but they also offer opportunities to improve page load speeds. It’s vital you complete a website speed test to see how it’s currently performing, and to create a benchmark against which to improve.
As you make changes and enhancements, you should continue testing using an in-depth suite of performance tools like Pingdom. This will show not only the outcomes of each improvement, but also reveal other areas of concern at the page element level. In this way, you can laser-focus your development efforts, instead of relying on best guesses to find issues to fix.