Improving website speed can help improve search engine ranking and user experience
Improving website speed can help improve search engine ranking and user experience

5 ways to speed up your website

A quick website can help increase website rankings so that it appears higher up in the search results and also gives a good user experience.

Often, people assume that having a fast website is simply a matter of luck - that some websites are just naturally faster than others. But this isn't true. Fully optimising a website takes a lot of time and skill working on the "oily bits" of a website, the bits people don't see.

In this article, we'll discuss five ways to speed up your website and some of the best practices you should follow.

Server room
Server room

Choose a good web hosting company

When choosing a web hosting company, it is important to do your research. There are many hosting companies offering website hosting services, so it is important to find the one that is right for you. Some factors to consider include price, features, and customer service.

But one thing people often overlook when choosing a website hosting company, especially people new to website building, is the performance of the hosting company's servers and bandwidth. If the "response time" or "server response" of their servers is slow, then the website load time will be slow. And you want a fast site!

Shared web servers

If you choose a shared hosting service, this means that your website will be hosted on a server alongside many other websites, possibly hundreds of other websites. The server is having to deal with requests for hundreds of websites, website files, images and database searches. If there are some processor intensive websites on your shared server this can impact on the performance of your own website, even if you've spent time and money optimising your site.

Shared servers can be cheap, from ten or fifteeen Pounds a month.

Dedicated web servers

A dedicated server or dedicated hosting service is a type of Internet hosting in which the client leases an entire server not shared with anyone else. So your server isn't going to be slowed down by other, non-optimised websites.

This type of hosting is great for large websites with lots of pages, lots of visitors and lots of database queries.

But dedicated hosting is much more expensive than shared hosting, and may also take more server admin and maintenance.

Dedicated hosting will start from about 50 Pounds per month for a basic server.

Virtual Private Servers - A happy medium?

A Virtual Private Server, also known as a VPS, sits between shared website hosting and dedicated website hosting in terms of price, performance and administration overheads.

A VPS is a hosting service that uses virtualisation (virtualization for our American readers) technology to provide you with dedicated (or private) resources on a server with multiple users. But unlike with shared hosting, the resources dedicated to your VPS are not available to other virtual servers. So a VPS is a more secure and stable solution than shared hosting where you don't get a dedicated server space, memory and processors.

Should you choose a VPS for your website?

Without knowing more about your website, it's hard to say if a VPS is the right hosting option for you.

Virtual Private Servers can be more reliable than shared hosting as other websites won't impact on the performance of your own website. The resources dedicated to your VPS are dedicated solely to you, and the memory and processor are likely to be more generous than with shared hosting.

So if you have something more than a hobby website, with lots of pages, perhaps a database backend and many thousands or hundreds of thousands of visitors each month, but you're not ready to make the just to a dedicated server, then a VPS could be just what you are looking for.

Virtual Private Servers start from around 25 Pounds per month.

Using Optimizilla to reduce the file size of website images
Using Optimizilla to reduce the file size of website images

Optimise website images

When someone requests a web page using a Google search or by typing the website address into their web browser, the request is sent to the server on which the website is hosted and the server then gathers together all of the files that make up the web page and send them to the client's browser.

There are lots of different file types. These files include the website script making up the page, files controlling the style of the webpage (font sizes, colours, spacing etc.) and images.

Of all these file types, the image files are usually by far the largest and so take the longest time to download. Therefore, optimising images is one of the easiest ways to make your website load faster.

Optimising website images is the process of reducing the file size of the images to decrease the amount of time it takes to download them. This is especially important for mobile users on slow internet connections.

How do you optimise website images?

The first thing you should look at is the size that the image is displayed on the web page. If the displayed image is quite small, a thumbnail image for instance, then you want to make sure you size the image appropriately. Don't upload a photo directly from your phone which is 4000px wide by 3000px high if the thumbnail on the website is only 400px by 300px. You should resize the original image to closely match the size that it will be displayed on the website.

You can use software applications such as Photoshop and Affinity Photo to resize photos.

But resizing images isn't the only thing you should be doing to optimise them for your website, you should also look at compressing them.

What is image compression

Image compression is the name given to the process of reducing the file size of an image without losing any image quality.

It works by using compression technology, such as lossy and lossless, which can remove extra information from the image without reducing the quality of the image viewed by people visiting your website. This results in a smaller file which will download quicker than the full-sized image.

The human eye can only perceive a certain level of detail and number of colours and, similarly, your screen only has a certain about of pixels and colours it can display. So compressing an image is often possible without being able to "see" what detail have been removed from the photo.

Most images can be compressed by at least 25% without a perceivable difference.

There are lots of online tools such as Optimizilla and TinyPNG that allow you to upload your photos and test out different levels of optimisation before deciding on the level of image compression you are happy with.

So by using a combination of properly sizing images and compressing them, page load speeds can be improved greatly.

Lazy loading

When you load a web page you only see the very top of the page until you start to scroll down. The page can sometimes be very long, with lots of text and images. Lazy loading is a technique for loading images on a website that defers loading until the image is needed. This can improve page load times, especially if the user is only interested in viewing a small portion of the page. So images lower down the page are never loaded if the viewer does not scroll down the page.

Lazy loading can be used for both "above-the-fold" and "below-the-fold content". For above-the-fold content, lazy loading can reduce initial page load time by deferring the loading of offscreen content. Below-the-fold, it can improve performance by allowing users to interact with the visible content before other content is loaded.

In general, lazy loading should be used for all non-critical resources such as images, videos, and comments.

Remove unnecessary plugins

Some websites, especially those created using tools such as Wordpress, can have lots of extra "plugins" installed. These plugins can add extra functionality or extend existing functionality on your site, allowing you to create virtually any kind of website, from ecommerce stores to portfolios to directory sites.

But extra functionality can mean extra processing is required, so if you have a Wordpres site and you installed some plugins but decided not to use them then make sure you disable or remove them.

Most website plugins are pretty simple, but some plugins will perform complex actions that are intensive in terms of backend processing, and will slow a website down. You could have a quickly loading website with 20 plugins, and add a single, complicated plugin and lose half a second (or more) of loading time! So choose your website plugins wisely.

Some website creation tools will install default plugins. Check through these to see if your website makes us of all of them. Remove any that are not used.

Reduce the size of your javascript and CSS files

Reducing the size of your website's Javascript and CSS files will help decrease the time it takes to download your website pages.

If your website is built using a CSS Framework such as Bootstrap then the CSS and Javascript files included with the framework have to provide all the functionality the framework offers even if your particular website doesn't use all of the features. Removing unused CSS and Javascript code will reduce the file sizes resulting in quicker download times.

There are online tools that can scan your website and tell you what CSS and Javascript code isn't used so that it can be removed from your website implementation.

Use a content delivery network

Your website may be accessed from all over the world. If your website is hosted in the UK and a visitor from the United States requests the website then website files have to be sent halfway across the world.

What if you could have multiple copies of your website located all over the world so that when someone requests your website the version hosted on the server closest to them is used to send the files. Wouldn't that be great!

Well you can. It's called a Content Delivery Network or CDN.

What is a CDN?

A Content Delivery Network, or content distribution network, is a geographically distributed network of servers and their data centres. The goal is to provide high availability and performance by distributing the service relative to end users.

Should you use a CDN for your website?

You should consider a CDN if you have a website that's accessed from beyond your country, your site is growing at an exponential rate, or you want to minimise the impact of server downtimes.

In addition a regular web server is going to have a tough time handling a spike in traffic, unless you prepare for it with a CDN.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while there are many ways to speed up your website, it's important to remember that not all of them are guaranteed to work.

Some tasks can produce huge improvements relative to the time its takes to implement them, such as image resizing and optimisation, while others can take a long time and result in fractions of a second of improvement.

Always test any changes you make to ensure that they don't slow your website down or even break it completely!. And lastly, never sacrifice the quality of your content in order to speed things up - for instance, overoptimised images can look unappealing.

By following the tips in this article, you can make your website faster, boost search engine rankings and improve the user experience for your visitors. Win, win, win!!