Website load speed is the bane of the user experience. We’ve all been there. You’re watching a silly cat video on Youtube, and suddenly, it pauses. You’re annoyed. 1 second passes. Then 2 seconds. After the 3rd second, you’re well on your way to the next video, or you’ll leave Youtube. Your experience here mirrors the experience most people have with any website that takes too long to load.
Once your website is live, take a few seconds to load it up from a private session browser. Take note of how long your site takes to load–if it takes longer than 3 seconds, then you’ve already lost half of your potential customers. If it takes longer than 5 seconds, most visitors would have already left in frustration. It can be frustrating to launch a new ecommerce website only to have it flop because your website takes 5 seconds to load. Your bounce rate, the number of people who leave your site after viewing just one page, will increase with each millisecond it takes to load your site.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss how you can optimize your website so that it loads as quickly as possible. We’ll have a list of suggestions that will help you reduce your page load times so that you can retain your visitors. This post is intended for beginners–people who aren’t knowledgeable about web design.
Many of the solutions here use WordPress since that’s popular, but plugins exist for other site builders as well. You’ll just have to search for them. If you’re using Shopify, then you may be out of luck, as there aren’t many settings you can change on your end.
One of the first steps you should take is to identify the weaknesses in your website. Below is one popular tool that can help.
You’ll want to check out what is causing the slow page loads. Enter Google’s Pagespeed Insights.
Just enter the URL of your store and see what the report returns. The results will show both mobile and desktop settings, but optimizations for mobile versions will translate to the desktop version as well.
You’ll get a screen with the results below.
Advanced users can click on the “Show me how to fix” to find out specific details, but if that’s all Greek to you, then continue reading below.
If you’re using WordPress, then you can cache your site using any number of popular caching plugins like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. What caching does is store files on the user’s computer to reduce server requests. That way, visitors will have the data on their devices, and the next time they visit, the page load time will be significantly faster.
Unfortunately, Shopify stores don’t have any ability to cache static files, but you can improve their load times in other ways.
Another way to improve page loads for your site is to use a content delivery network, or CDN, like Cloudfare. What Cloudfare does is cache your content across multiple servers across the globe. Visitors to your website will be served by the nearest server, reducing latency and load times.
Compression reduces the size of your website, making it load faster on devices. You enable this option on the hosting server. On older servers, allowing this may slow down page loads, but most hosting providers shouldn’t have this problem.
Minify HTML, Java, and CSS
Luckily, WordPress has some plugins that will reduce the transfer data. For example, the WP Minify plugin will minify HTML, Java, and CSS. Other plugins like WordPress Compress HTML and WP Super Minify will do the same thing. New plugins appear on a daily basis, so keep an eye out for one that will best fit your business needs.
Shrinking pictures is the most straightforward optimization you can perform for your website. If you can reduce the size of the pictures, then you’ll have less to transfer. Your customers will thank you for not taking up their limited data, and your site will load faster.
You can use these two websites to shrink your images:
Tinypng reduced the file size by 74%. The reduction alone for one picture will drastically reduce the data and speed up the page load time. The resulting image suffers little, if any, noticeable quality loss.
While the guide recommends plugins, loading too many plugins will slow down your website, so make sure you need the plugin before integrating it. WordPress plugins may be extremely helpful, but updates, along with support, may not necessarily be consistent.
In our Introduction to Domain Registration and Web Hosting, we discussed the WordPress hosting. This particular service automatically optimizes WordPress, so if you go this route, you’ll have an optimized website ready to go without much tweaking.
This option is best if you want control of your server. Otherwise, going with a service like Shopify may be more comfortable, though you won’t have as much control over your server.
The least you can do is to shrink your images. Doing this will drastically reduce your website and shorten the load time. In our example alone, the file size shrank from 214.5 KB to 55.5 KB. Even if you can shave half a second off your load time, then you’ve reduced your bounce rates.