As a user nothing can be more frustrating than waiting for a site to load. So when I saw a video near the end of 2009 I was excited to see that Google would be taking site speed into consideration, giving credit to sites that load fast and penalizing those that load slowly. I have to agree with Matt Cutts in the video when he says “The web should be fast”. The Internet should snap and respond quickly. So if you have clients with slow load time here is a short simple list to get started:
1. Use Flash Sparingly
I personally think flash is pretty cool. There are a lot of amazing things that can be done with it. But as with most good things, too much can be a bad thing. If a webpage is loaded with flash it can take some time to load. It is possible to build a site without flash, but if you must use it treat it as salt. Only to enhance, never to overpower. Should you choose to use flash heavily I’d compress the files as much as you can so they can load faster.
This last sentence about flash is more of a recent frustration but I think it still holds true.
As a side note, if you don’t have a link for visitors to update their flash player please add it. Nothing is more frustrating to me than visiting a website and having to go find what I need in order to enjoy the contents on said website.
My first experience with compressing images was a brutal one. I worked for a non-profit who sends numerous teams internationally to provide medical care. And each team that returned had at least a thousand photos. By this point they had a ‘designated web guy’, me, to crop and upload the photos. So when I got in to work and had 50 CDs full of photos waiting for me, I panicked a bit. Thankfully I only had to upload 50 photos from each team. But I quickly learned a few things about image load time:
- Be sure the dimensions for all images/photos is set within the code
- If thumbnails are used, set them to open in a new tab when clicked
In case the full size is really big the user can click the previous tab to browse while it is loading
- If the file is missing either find it, or remove the spot where the image is supposed to be
- When you have a lot of photos consider using something like Flickr
We had pretty good success with Flickr, but I have heard some who did not. What has been your experience?
There was initial resistance to use thumbnails, but as most things, once the administration experienced our site without thumbnails a unanimous decision was made to use them. While these pages I worked with weren’t meant to be landing pages, I did learn to integrate images efficiently.
3. Less Cookies
If you didn’t hear, Sesame Street taught Cookie Monster that cookies are a ‘sometime’ food. As funny as it may seem, we can learn something from this. If it is possible, reduce the amount of cookies on your site. This isn’t because of the cookies you’ve got, but you don’t know how many cookies that user’s particular browser has already ‘eaten’. A user can set his/her browser to accept/reject cookies, but then it is up to you to make sure they can access the site should they choose to not accept the cookie. No sense feeding someone that doesn’t want to be fed right? As with flash, minimize the amount of cookies and make it possible for users to enjoy your site whether they accept the cookies or not.
4. Less Widgets
Ah widgets, I remember the first time I learned how to add widgets to my website. By the time I was done I had 20 or so lining the right and left sides of my site. I was excited, then a friend from college called me, “Dude, your site is taking forever. What’s up?” I was on a pretty quick connection so I didn’t notice, but when I tried accessing my site on a slower connection, I realized it was taking a little long to load, around 15 seconds. So I took a second look and decided to reduce the number of widgets. Presently I’ve got 5 located on the right side of my site. Just in case you are debating about adding widgets consider the following:
- How many do I presently have?
- Which do I need?
- How will this widget enhance the experience on my site?
As with the previous methods to quicken loading time, too much can be a bad thing.
Hmm, there seems to be a common theme throughout these tips. Too much can slow a site down. No matter what connection speed a user is on, the internet experience should be the same for everyone. It’s one thing to have a site that has the right information a user is looking for, but if that site takes too long said user will settle for a faster site that might not have the ‘perfect content’. Sites can have a lot of information to provide users, and they can have a lot of things to entertain. When the two come together it’s best to have a good ratio so the experience is enjoyable.