Website Speed & Page Load Times
Is your website running slow? Are your web pages taking a little bit longer to load than you would like? Well then, let’s dive in and see if we can find out the problem.
There are many factors and variables that can affect the load time of a website or indeed a web page, so lets have a look at some of the main ones to consider when reviewing a websites speed and performance.
Website or Web Page?
The first thing to bear in mind is that each web page on a website is different and load times will vary from page to page. Some of the things that can differ from page to page are the images, text content, widgets and the scripts that are used. Some web pages might rely on complex code being executed on the server or even database lookups before being displayed whilst other web pages might be simpler static pages. With this in mind it is entirely likely that one page will load at a different speed to another page on the same website.
So the first thing to do when reviewing your websites speed and performance is to determine what particular pages are loading slow or slower than the other pages. Is it just the one page? Is it a few particular pages? Or is every page on the website loading slow? Even if every page on the website is loading slow it’s best to focus on one page to try and narrow down what is causing the slowdown.
Before we go any further what realistically is a good or bad load time for a web page?
In general I would say (imo):
0 - 3 seconds is good
3 - 5 seconds might be acceptable for more complex or media heavy pages
6+ seconds is not so good
When testing load times you should try to get an average by loading the same page a few times. Bear in mind that a first load usually takes the longest as subsequent loads in the same session can benefit from browser caching and in some cases with a cms server side caching too. As well as testing on your local device(s) you should also use online website speed test tools to get a better overall picture of how your website performs from different geo locations.
If a web page is a static web page with just some text and images you should be looking for a load speed of less than 3 seconds. If a web page has more media or complex elements and functionality such as a blog or a shopping cart then a slightly longer load time should be allowed for, so 3 to 5 seconds might be an acceptable load time for a more complex page.
So now that we have an idea of what load times to expect lets have a look for some of the culprits that can cause web pages to load slow.
These are things on the web page that the web designer can for the most part control. Sometimes these can be optimised but at the very least the decision is there to add or remove elements as needed or requested. Remember that no matter how optimised content and on-page elements are, the more elements that are added to a web page the longer it will take to load.
Images are the first thing you should look at when analysing load times because of all the elements on a web page they usually contain the most data that needs to be downloaded. Lots of images, very big images or images that have been saved in the wrong format can have a big impact on load time so it’s important that the web designer optimises all images for the website.
If a cms is being used the cms admins should also bear in mind image size and quality when uploading any images, although in most cases a cms will optimise uploaded images automatically. Of course you don’t want small, low quality images on your website but you also don’t want unnecessarily large images that will bloat up load times.
When to use png, when to use jpeg and what compression to use are all important factors when trying to get the best image quality and performance.
Image & Content Sliders:
Widgets such as content feeds and media players etc. will also add load time to your page. Every time script has to be downloaded and executed and data pulled from a third party website it can impact load time. A widget providers website that responds slowly can cause your page to load slow or in worst case scenario completely timeout.
Websites that feature a cms, blog or shopping cart system serve content dynamically and will typically take a bit longer to load than a traditional static web page. This is usually offset by caching techniques built into the cms but the more complex and dynamic features that are on the page or happening behind the scenes the longer it will take to process and load.
Tracking Code & Other Scripts:
Website tracking code is essential for most websites but it can also contribute to the load time, therefore it is recommended to only use one or at most two services. Other custom scripts can also affect page load times.
Hosting & Server
Probably the most significant off-page factor that contributes to website speed and load times is the websites server and it’s response times. If a website is hosted on a dedicated server or cloud hosting it will usually give better speeds than a website on shared hosting. Shared hosting means the server hardware and resources are shared across more customers and their websites. If there are too many busy websites on the same server then the high traffic can take it’s toll on server resources and slow down your own website. The more traffic a website is getting the harder the server will have to work to serve pages to all of these visitors. Certain times of the day might result in more traffic and affect load times and on shared hosting this problem can be magnified. One solution to this is to upgrade to a faster dedicated server or a hosting package with more resources, usually such an increase in traffic will offset the cost of the hardware upgrade.
Servers may also run backups and maintenance at certain times, usually these automated tasks are carried out at off peak times but they can affect website performance whilst they are running.
The location of the server is another factor to consider. For example if a website is hosted in a different country to the one you are viewing it from, it will usually take a bit longer to load than if it is hosted in the same country. For this reason if you are a local business you should try to host your website in the same country to provide the best performance to the majority of your visitors. Some website speed test tools allow you to specify a location so you can get a better idea of how your website performs when viewed from different countries.
Web page load time is not only affected by on-page content and server hardware. Here are some more factors to consider which really are beyond the control the website designer.
ISP speeds and home/office network speeds can fluctuate so make sure if you are testing locally that you're on a good connection and nobody is streaming video in the next room. Website speed test tools can also be used to test from different networks and locations and provide you with a bigger picture.
The processing power of the viewing device can have an effect too. If you are viewing on laptop, pc or smartphone it probably won’t be an issue but if you are viewing on old hardware or a device with a weak processor or low memory it can play a part. In particular pages that contain animations, sliders, media players or other widgets are generally more processor intensive.
In general the browser shouldn’t be an issue although you should try to ensure you are using a recent or up to date version to ensure compatibility. Check for any installed browser add ons or plugins that might also affect page load times. Some anti-virus software can also affect page load times as they look for any recorded security data on the web page before displaying it.
So these are just some of the more obvious things that can affect website speed and page load times. There are many variables and things to consider, some are controllable and some are not but hopefully this will provide a basic guide to some of the most common issues and factors to consider when measuring your website speed.
These online tools can be used to analyse your web page load times and provide detailed reports. Bear in mind that online tools like these always highlight every minute detail and sometimes the suggestions aren't always necessary or benificial.