How to Speed Up a Website

It’s essential that site owners know how to speed up a website – after all, sluggish sites frustrate visitors, costing sales and revenue and hampering your business’ growth.

A fast-loading website enhances user experience and can bolster your search engine rankings, leading to better engagement and conversion rates.

To help you speed up your site, our experts have compiled a comprehensive guide with actionable tips to help you optimize your site’s performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Optimizing images and enabling browser caching are essential steps for improving website load times and user experience.
  • Deferring the loading of CSS and JavaScript can significantly enhance page speed, especially for first-time visitors.
  • Implementing “lazy loading” for images and videos ensures resources are only loaded when necessary, conserving bandwidth and speeding up page rendering.
  • Using external platforms like CDNs to host large files can reduce server load and improve website performance, leading to a better overall user experience.

What Is Page Speed and Why Does It Matter?

Page speed is the time it takes for content on a webpage to fully display. Though a fast-loading website is essential for keeping visitors engaged, there are other compelling reasons to speed up your site:

  • User experience (UX): A fast website provides a smooth experience for users. According to Google research, as page load times go from one to five seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Search engines like Google prioritize user experience, including page speed, in their algorithms. A slower site may be penalized with lower rankings.
  • Conversion rates: Page speed directly impacts conversion rates. A study by Portent found that conversion rates drop by an average of 0.3% with each additional second of load time.
  • Mobile users: With over half of internet traffic coming from mobile devices today, a fast-loading site is essential for mobile user engagement. According to Akamai, a delay of just one-tenth of a second can cause conversions to drop by 7%.
  • Competitive edge: A speedy site can set you apart from competitors, as users tend to stay on and return to websites that load quickly.

To improve page speed, you first need to understand what factors can slow down your website. These can range from unoptimized images and excessive HTTP requests to poorly coded themes and overloaded databases.

By identifying and addressing these issues, you can take significant steps toward speeding up your website and enhancing its overall performance.

What Can Cause a Slow Website?

Several factors can turn your zippy site into a slowpoke, frustrating users and diminishing your online presence. Here are some typical factors to look out for:

  • Large images and media files: High-resolution images and videos can be data-heavy, slowing down page load times. Unoptimized media files are one of the top issues for sluggish websites.
  • Excessive HTTP requests: Each element of your site, like scripts, stylesheets, and images, generates a separate HTTP request – a message sent from the web browser to your web server requesting a specific resource. More requests can mean it takes longer to load.
  • Inefficient code: Bulky code, such as excessive white spaces, inline stylings, and unnecessary comments, can increase page load time.
  • Web hosting: The quality of your web hosting service is pivotal. Shared hosting or a server with limited resources can lead to slow response times.
  • Unoptimized caching: Caching stores data so future requests for the same data can be served faster. If these aren’t correctly set up, caching won’t be utilized to its full potential.

Recognizing these factors is the first step toward a speedier website experience for your users.

How to Measure Website Speed

Measuring website speed is essential to diagnose performance issues and benchmark improvements. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use online tools: Services like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, and Pingdom provide a comprehensive analysis of your website’s performance. They offer insights into load times and recommendations for improvements.
  • Real user monitoring (RUM): RUM tools collect data from actual site visits, reflecting real-world performance. Google Analytics is a popular option that includes site speed reports.
  • Web developer tools: Browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have built-in developer tools. The “Network” tab can help you monitor loading events and identify bottlenecks.
  • Test on different devices: Ensure that you measure site speed across various devices and connections, including mobile, to fully understand the user experience.

Regularly monitoring your website’s speed enables you to maintain awareness of its performance and be better positioned to take proactive steps toward optimization.

How To Speed Up Your Website

Here are 12 actions you can take to increase your website’s page load speed and provide the best experience possible for your readers.

1. Choose a Performance-Focused Hosting Provider for Your Needs

DreamHost control panel
DreamHost control panel

Selecting the right hosting provider is essential for website speeds and performance. A good host will provide the necessary infrastructure to ensure fast load times and a reliable online presence.

Server Types and Their Impact on Speed

Different server types offer varying levels of performance and resources.

  • Shared hosting is cost-effective but can lead to slower speeds during peak traffic times as resources are distributed among multiple websites.
  • Virtual private server (VPS) hosting provides a middle ground with dedicated resources at a lower cost than dedicated hosting.
  • Dedicated hosting, while the most expensive, offers the highest level of performance with exclusive server resources.

How Server Location Affects Your Site

The geographic proximity of your server to your audience can significantly impact site speed. Data has to travel physically, so the closer the server, the faster this data transfer occurs.

Choose a hosting provider with data centers near your primary user base, or consider using a content delivery network (CDN) to improve speeds for a geographically diverse audience.

Understanding Uptime Guarantees and Their Importance

Uptime refers to the amount of time a server is operational and accessible. Providers often offer uptime guarantees expressed as a percent – for example, 99.9% uptime – which is vital for maintaining your site’s reliability.

To check a hosting provider’s uptime record, you can use monitoring tools such as UptimeRobot, Pingdom, or Site24x7 that provide insights into historical and current uptime performance.

Support for Advanced Features

Modern web technologies can significantly speed up your website. When choosing a host, ensure it supports the following:

  • PHP 7 or higher: This version of PHP offers improved performance over its predecessors.
  • HTTP/2: This network protocol improves the speed of communications between the server and the client.
  • SSD storage: Solid-state drives (SSDs) are much faster than traditional hard drives, leading to quicker data retrieval.

By carefully considering these factors and using tools to assess server uptime and performance, you can ensure you choose a hosting provider that aligns with your needs and ensures a fast and reliable website. You can also check out our guide for more advice on how to choose web hosting.

2. Reduce Server Response Times

One of the pivotal factors influencing how swiftly your webpage loads is the duration of your Domain Name System (DNS) lookups.

How Does DNS Work?

The DNS is like the internet’s phonebook. It’s a server with a vast database that matches unique identifying numbers, or IP addresses, with their corresponding hostnames – the familiar web addresses we use daily.

Understanding DNS Lookups

Whenever someone enters a URL in their browser, the DNS server translates it into the IP address where the website is hosted. This process is known as a DNS lookup – essentially, your computer “looking up” a number in a phonebook.

For instance, if you want to visit “example.com,” your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the company that supplies your internet, performs a DNS lookup to retrieve the associated IP address for the domain, such as “83.124.216.24,” from the DNS server.

DNS lookups are important because they allow users to navigate the internet with easy-to-remember domain names rather than complex strings of numbers.

The Impact of DNS on Speed

The speed of this lookup depends on the efficiency of your DNS provider. A sluggish DNS can increase the time browsers need to find your site, leading to longer page load times.

Your DNS provider could be your web hosting company, a specialized DNS service, or even your ISP. If you’re unsure, services like DNSstuff or Whois allow you to input your domain name and find out which DNS servers are being used. Here’s how to optimize your DNS lookup:

  • Evaluate your DNS provider: Regularly check your provider’s performance. You can use tools for this like DNSPerf and SolveDNS, which provide monthly DNS speed comparison reports. They benchmark various DNS providers globally, giving you a picture of how your provider stacks up for response time and reliability.
  • Consider switching providers: If your current DNS provider is slow, it may be time to switch to a faster one – which might mean migrating your site. This can significantly reduce DNS lookup times and, consequently, improve your site’s loading speed.

3. Use a Content Delivery Network

A CDN is a globally distributed network of servers designed to deliver your website’s content more efficiently to users worldwide. Here’s how it works and why you should use one:

How a CDN Works

When a user visits your website, the CDN redirects their request from your site’s primary server to the nearest server in its network. This server, known as an edge server, will have a cached version of your website’s content, which it can deliver much more quickly as it’s geographically closer to the user.

By serving content from locations closer to your users, a CDN can significantly reduce latency, making your website feel more responsive.

Implementing a CDN can be straightforward. Many web hosting platforms offer integrated CDN services, or you can opt for a third-party CDN provider like Cloudflare or Akamai. The setup usually involves changing your DNS settings to point to the CDN and configuring your content to be served from the CDN.

4. Reduce the Number of Redirects on Your Site

URL redirects are instructions that automatically take visitors from one URL to another. While they’re useful for navigating traffic if content is moved or deleted, excessive redirects can slow down your site.

Every time a redirect occurs, it initiates an additional HTTP request-response cycle, increasing the time it takes for a page to load. This is especially problematic for mobile users with less stable connections.

Here are some tips to reduce redirects:

  • Audit your site: Use tools like Google Search Console to identify unnecessary redirects.
  • Avoid redirect chains: If one redirected URL directs to another, consolidate the chain into a single step.
  • Directly update links: When you change a page’s URL, update all internal links to point directly to the new URL rather than relying on redirects.
  • Use 301 redirects sparingly: While 301 (permanent) redirects are better than 302 (temporary) redirects in terms of SEO, they should still be used judiciously.

5. Remove Unused Plugins and External Scripts

WordPress Add Plugins page.
The WordPress Add Plugins page.

Plugins and external scripts can significantly boost the functionality of your website. However, they can also be guilty of impairing site performance.

Each plugin or external script you add requires additional resources to be fetched, which can increase load times, especially if they’re not optimized.

Here’s some guidance for streamlining your website:

  • Audit your plugins: Regularly review your installed plugins. If you find plugins that are no longer necessary or used, deactivate and uninstall them to prevent them from loading unnecessary scripts and resources.
  • Evaluate external scripts: External scripts, such as trackers, font loaders, and social media buttons, can add extra load time. Consider how essential each script is and remove or replace those that aren’t.
  • Choose quality over quantity: Opt for plugins and scripts with a reputation for quality and speed. Sometimes, a single well-designed plugin can replace several inefficient ones.
  • Stay up to date: Ensure your plugins and scripts are up to date, as updates often include performance improvements.

6. Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML

Minification is the process of removing all unnecessary characters from the source code without changing its functionality. This includes white space, new line characters, commented-out code, and block delimiters, which are helpful for human readability but unnecessary for browsers.

Smaller file sizes load faster, reducing the time a browser needs to download and render your website. Minification makes your website lighter, which can be particularly beneficial for users with limited bandwidth or operating on mobile networks.

You can implement minification on your website by using tools like UglifyJS for JavaScript, CSSNANO for CSS, and HTMLMinifier for HTML. These can be integrated into your build process or used as plugins with your content management system, essentially automating the process once they’re set up.

Ensure the minification doesn’t affect the functionality of your site by thoroughly testing it before going live.

7. Compress and Optimize Your Images

Large, unoptimized images are among the most common causes of slow load times. High-resolution images can consume a lot of bandwidth while loading.

Compressing and optimizing images can dramatically reduce their file size without significantly impacting visual quality. Compressed images load much more quickly, keeping site performance fast.

How To Optimize Images

Here are some tips to optimize the images on your site.

  1. Use the correct format

    Choose the appropriate file format, like JPEG for photographs, PNG for transparent graphics, and WebP for high-quality results with smaller file sizes.
  2. Compress images

    Use tools like Adobe Photoshop, TinyPNG, or online services like Compressor.io to reduce image file sizes without losing quality.
  3. Implement responsive images

    Ensure images are responsive by using HTML’s “srcset” attribute, allowing browsers to download the best-sized image based on the user’s device.

8. Enable Browser Caching

A2 Hosting cPanel Login
A2 Hosting cPanel Login

Browser caching is a technique that allows a browser to store frequently accessed resources on a user’s device for a set period.

When a user revisits your website, the browser can quickly load these resources from its cache rather than downloading them again. Resources loaded from the cache are accessed much more quickly, speeding up the website for returning visitors.

Setting up Browser Caching

Here’s how to go about setting up browser caching for your site.

  • Configure server settings: Set appropriate cache control headers through your web server configuration. This includes setting the “Expires” header and/or the “Cache-Control” header to determine how long resources should be cached.
  • Leverage.htaccess“: For Apache servers, you can use the “.htaccess” file to enable caching. For example, you can add directives to set the expiration times for certain types of files.

9. Cache Web Pages

Web page caching is a mechanism that stores a version of a given web page so it can be served to users without being dynamically generated every time. This can significantly decrease loading times for users and reduce server load.

Cached pages are served up almost instantly, as they don’t require database queries or template rendering. Caching also allows your site to handle more visitors by reducing the number of processes running on your server. Here’s how to implement web page caching:

  • Use caching plugins or modules: Many content management systems, such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, have plugins or modules that make implementing caching straightforward. For example, W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache are popular choices for WordPress sites.
  • Configure server-side caching: If you’re not using a CMS or prefer server-side solutions, tools like Varnish Cache can be configured to cache content at the server level for lightning-fast retrieval.

10. Defer Loading of CSS and JavaScript

Deferring the loading of CSS and JavaScript means instructing the browser to hold off on loading these resources until after the initial render of the page. Why should you defer loading?

  • It improves first contentful paint (FCP): This is the time it takes for the user to see the first piece of content – a critical metric in user experience and SEO.
  • To prioritize the critical rendering path: Load only the essential styles and scripts needed for the initial page load, deferring all others.

This can significantly improve perceived load time, as users see content faster, even if full functionality isn’t immediately available.

To implement deferred loading:

  1. Use the “defer” attribute

    For JavaScript, add the “defer” attribute to your script tags. This tells the browser to execute the script after the document has been parsed.
  2. Leverage “async”

    Similarly, the “async” attribute can be used for scripts that are independent of the document object model (DOM) or other scripts, allowing them to be fetched and executed asynchronously.
  3. Critical CSS

    Put the most important CSS code directly in the HTML document and defer all other CSS stylesheets.

11. Use “Lazy Loading”

Lazy loading is a design pattern that defers the loading of non-critical resources during page loading, delaying them until needed. Lazy loading is typically applied to images and videos, ensuring these heavy resources are only loaded as the user scrolls down the page and approaches them.

By loading only the essential above-the-fold content, which is visible, the rest of the page’s resources are loaded as and when required. Lazy loading can conserve bandwidth for both users and your server, as only visible content is loaded. Here’s how to use lazy loading:

  • HTML attribute: Modern browsers support lazy loading with the “loading” attribute set to “lazy” on “img” and “iframe” tags.
  • JavaScript libraries: For more control, libraries like Lozad.js or LazySizes can be utilized to implement lazy loading with additional features and browser compatibility.

12. Host Large Files on External Hosting Platforms

Hosting large files, such as high-definition videos, large PDFs, or complex JavaScript libraries, can slow down your website. Using external hosting platforms or CDNs to serve these files can avoid this.

CDNs and external hosting platforms typically have optimized infrastructure for quickly delivering large files. Offloading large files to external hosts can reduce the burden on your server, improving performance for other aspects of your site.

External hosting solutions to consider include:

  • Video hosting: For videos, use services like YouTube or Vimeo, which provide efficient streaming capabilities.
  • CDNs: For static files like PDFs or large JavaScript libraries, use a CDN such as Cloudflare, Amazon CloudFront, or Akamai.
  • File hosting services: For miscellaneous large files, consider cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive, which offer direct links for downloading and embedding content.

The Bottom Line – How to Speed Up Your Website

In our pursuit of a faster website, we’ve explored a variety of strategies, from image optimization and browser caching to leveraging external hosting platforms and content delivery networks. Each technique contributes to the ultimate goal of creating a seamless, efficient, and enjoyable online experience for your users.

After implementing these changes, you should continually monitor your website’s performance to ensure that it remains fast and responsive.

While the process may seem demanding, the rewards – enhanced user satisfaction, improved search engine rankings, and potentially increased revenue – underscore the importance of optimizing your site’s speed.

FAQs

What is the most effective way to speed up my website?

How do I know if my website is slow?

Related How To’s

Related Terms

Richard Sutherland

Richard brings more than two decades of computer science, business operations, and full-stack development experience to Techopedia. A Computer Science graduate and former Samsung IT support manager, Richard has taught courses in Java, PHP and Perl, and created code for the public and private sectors. A prolific B2B and B2C tech writer, Richard has worked for Samsung, TechRadar Pro, and more.