It’s true, if your website loads slowly Google ranks it lower than those that load quickly. It’s not just speed, the way your website loads affects the experience your users have and the way they feel about your brand probably more-so than any other metric that’s used to rank your website by the search engines. Modern users expect rich content full of images and engaging animation. But the more images you want to show, the longer it’s going to take for them all to load. So how do you offer the rich experience that users expect, along with the fast load times that users expect? How do you accommodate that some people connect via slow shared WiFi from coffeeshops and on their mobile with poor signals.
Content Delivery Network
At it’s core, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a way of putting the content of your website at a number of key locations around the world. The aim is to reduce the physical distance between your user and your website’s content. Simply put, data travelling from London to Paris will go quicker than data travelling from London to Sydney.
As a small to medium sized agency, we’re not in a position to set up servers and manage spreading our content across the globe so we need an alternate solution. Our solution is to take a share of someone else’s CDN to spread our content, so we use Amazon Web Services’ CloudFront content delivery network.
For those who don’t know already, Amazon offers quite probably the most comprehensive solutions for web services for developers to use. From starting as a simple book shop, they’re now powering over a third of all websites, and sending rockets to space along with running the online store that everyone knows.
Our custom WordPress builds all make use of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) which moves all their images, documents and uploaded files to Amazon’s service. The files are then distributed by their CloudFront service which delivers that content around the world through Amazon’s network. Once it’s set up it acts seamlessly in the background and nobody would ever notice. All the data is encrypted, secure and safe. It allows for easy backup, versioning and cost effective storage.
To speed up website loads, we also use a technique called Lazy Loading – even though it sounds like something that would make your site slower, it’s designed to change the order in which your website loads to increase the speed. Lazy Loading has always been a concept on the web, but only recently picked up such a widespread deployment as sites get more and more content and speed becomes so important.
Lazy Loading is the act of delaying loading certain parts of the website until after other parts have completed. What this means in practice is that you only need to load what’s visible to the user first, then the rest of your content sits and waits. Once it’s needed then it’s downloaded and put into view.
In the past, it’s been a matter of splitting your content over a number of pages but the more modern approach is to do the dynamic load of content as it needs to come into view. With all our sites we ensure that only what’s needed loads first, and anything needed later can load later. That increases speed and the user experience for our sites.
Third in our bag of tricks for page speed improvements is compression. Compression is the art of making something use less data but still retain the same information. How it actually works is a bit of a dark art to me, but basically you make the file smaller so that the size of the transfer is considerably reduced.
Less data mean faster load times, so we put in place programs that automatically compress the content served on our websites, from text to images.
These methods form part of an overall strategy to improve page load times on websites, and offer a number of other benefits outside of just search engine optimisation.
We offer a free report for anyone wanting to know how your website performs, or get in touch if you want more information.