Technology

Why You Need to Slim Down and Speed Up Your Website This Year

By / Jan 6, 2020 (izzetugutmen/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Slow webpages are growing increasingly unsightly as we start the new decade. For your audience’s sake, take a few steps to optimize things—and give them a better experience in the process.

Want to give yourself a little bit of heartache first thing in the morning? Go to this page and type in the URL of your association’s website. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

The site above, Google PageSpeed Insights, reflects the opinion of the world’s largest search engine of how fast your website loads. It’s a barometer of general performance, mixed with a data-driven advice column that offers up a few places where you can improve your site’s performance. And the mobile test, working within narrower parameters, is even more brutal than the desktop test.

Performance is an area where everyone can improve. Even Google! Their well-known properties like YouTube and Google News totally flunk this test—though considering the sheer scale of the content being delivered through those sites, it might be harder for them than most.

But just because it’s an area that even Google itself probably needs to improve on doesn’t mean they’re above a little naming and shaming. Last fall, the company announced it would use its Chrome browser to specifically label slow websites, though what exactly that might look like is a little unclear.

You might find this state of affairs a little frustrating, especially given the amount of work that already goes into your site—all the meetings about information architecture and content structure, the focus on design, the building of content—and now you’re getting dinged because it doesn’t load in 3 seconds?

On the other hand, I think there’s a case to be made that every website needs the occasional analysis to ensure things can load to the best of their abilities. After all, it has a direct effect on both user experience and, potentially, search engine performance.

A few places to eye as you’re looking to make your website a little faster:

Where possible, serve your HTML in a static format. Here’s a somewhat hidden secret of most modern webpages—they’re not really that interactive when you get down to it. Quite often, you may be serving up content in a blog format or on a resource page that doesn’t change very often. But your web server is still stuck rebuilding the page anyway because of something in the sidebar or some script that’s parsing data in your content management platform. But what if the site were built with the mindset that it’s likely to rarely change? Well, this would be what they call a static site, and you could take a lot of pressure off your server by serving content in a static format. This approach, possible with tools such as WordPress but also a key element of many JAMstack tools, could also help prevent problems with content injection—a growing issue on WordPress sites.

Use lazy-loading techniques. One reason your site may be loading slowly is that you’re loading too much of it at once. Often, images located at the bottom of the website aren’t necessary to display until a user is actually looking at them—but because of the design of your site, these may be getting loaded at the very beginning. By using a lazy-loading script, you can set up your site so that images, videos, and other types of content that aren’t being immediately seen get pulled in as they’re being viewed, which can speed up overall performance, especially on the initial site launch.

Evaluate your use of plug-ins and third-party scripts. Too often, you might find yourself experimenting with different pieces of JavaScript or other additions to websites to try to boost conversion rates or to test a new form of advertising. But these tools directly add to the overhead of your website, and that could come with some performance-related costs. If those scripts are significantly adding to the time it takes to load your site, they might be more trouble than they’re worth. Do an audit to consider the business case of your add-ons.

If the target audience is mobile, look to progressive web apps or Google AMP. We haven’t quite seen the surge of progressive web apps that was predicted a few years back, but there’s still a lot of value in the technology, which allows websites to load instantly because of the way they’re designed. It could offer a useful alternative in lieu of pushing everyone to download a dedicated mobile app, for example. And it can even do a lot, too: Microsoft just redesigned Outlook to work like a progressive web app. If you’re not in the mood for a full-on progressive web app redesign, there’s always Google AMP for shaving a few seconds off your load time.

Any site optimization tactics that have worked for you? Share them in the comments below.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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