I hope everyone is having a great week – me, I spent the past couple of days working on my website to dramatically improve page load times.
Why? Because when people come to a website and it takes more than a few seconds to load, they leave. And just like Peter said in his post last week, this is a huge waste of your marketing dollars. Don’t make the supreme effort to get someone to your site only to have them leave because it was unnecessarily slow.
Take a peek at this chart from KISSmetrics (click here for the entire infographic):
As you can see, slow load times lead to cart abandonment and low conversion rates.
What I Did to Improve Page Load Times
My website at My Athletic Life is set up using WordPress ; however if you are using a different environment, the concepts will still apply.
A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to deal with a high bounce rate on my site. I thought the problem was a result of a cheap hosting solution, so I decided to shell out a few more dollars and improve the database portion of my site. Performance was better, but not to the degree I expected.
To help with my analysis, I found a free tool called WebPageTest which loads a specific page and maps out where time is being spent. As an example, this page had been loading in a tortouise-like pace of about 8 seconds. However, by making a few tweaks and without spending additional money to upgrade my hosting, the average load time is now about 3.5 seconds. And this is for the first time the page loads. Subsequent loading of the page by the same user now takes under 2 seconds!
Here are the changes I made:
1) I installed a WordPress plugin called W3 Total Cache – by turning on the Page and Browser caching features, I made it much more likely that subsequent visits by the same user would be faster.
2) The W3 plugin also helped to speed things up by compressing much of the information that is sent between webserver and browser. I did have to make an easy configuration change to my webserver (enabling mod_deflate in apache), but this single change resulted in about 50% of the performance improvement.
4) I also installed a plugin called WP Smush.it to compress all of the image files on my site. I would estimate that this reduced the average file size for each image by about 45%. Huge savings.
5) Lastly, I de-cluttered my sidebar. Over the past few months, I had added a few images and features to the sidebar that didn’t add a lot of value and were slow to load. Goodbye.
I may look at some additional improvements like adding a Content Delivery Network (CDN); however it looks like I have already gotten a huge benefit from just a few hours of effort.
Let me know if you have other ideas about low cost ways to improve website performance.