Top Digital Agencies Know: When it Comes to Website Design – Speed Matters

Speed is by far the most critical metric to consider when re-designing an enterprise website – it won’t matter how beautiful your new site looks if nobody is going wait an extra millisecond for your homepage to load. In addition to providing a fast loading, responsive user experience – speed has a direct impact on your ability to optimize higher user engagement, conversion rates and SEO rankings – all of which drive better brand and marketing performance.

One of the primary signals Google’s algorithm uses to rank performance is site speed – but by extension it is really page speed that Google is measuring. According to Moz, page speed can be described as either “page load time” (the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page) or “time to first byte” (how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server).

Page speed is also vitally important to user experience – pages with longer load times tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page that result in an immediate negative impact on conversions. According to Google, 53% of users will abandon a site or web page if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds. This also has a direct impact on search rankings – with less than half a second separating the first and third pages of Google search results.

So how do you measure site speed? Google introduced its own web-based tool, accessible via Google Labs, called Page Speed Online. It’s available as a web-based tool as well as a Chrome extension. With it, you can quickly get an overview of high priority, medium and low priority fixes that can help increase your page speed.

Here are the top 5 for your digital agency implement to add instant horsepower right out of the gate:

  1. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Technology – AMP is a new open framework built entirely out of existing web technologies to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web by enabling code to work across multiple platforms and devices so that content can load instantaneously —no matter what type of phone, tablet or mobile device you’re using. With Google splitting its index into separate versions for mobile and desktop – the time has finally come to start prioritizing mobile
  2. Wrangle Your Javascript and Stylesheets – Have your scripts and CSS load in external files instead of cramping up each and every web page. This way, only the browser has to load the files one time, rather than every time someone visits each page of your site. Ideally, put your external CSS in the portion of your site, and your external Javascript file as close to the tag as possible. As a result, the browser isn’t bogged down wading through all those requests for external files right from the start. The only time you won’t want to do this is if the Javascript needs to load near the top of the page – such as to display a name or load up an image carousel.
  3. Optimize Your Images – In Photoshop or Fireworks, you can use the “Save for Web” option to drastically reduce image size. An image quality slider lets you see the visual trade-offs between graphic file size and crispness. Also – don’t rely on HTML to resize Images – while HTML makes it easy to create a smaller version of a larger graphic it doesn’t mean it’s taking up any less room on the server. The browser still has to go through the process of loading the entire image, checking the width and height you want and then resizing it accordingly.
  4. Use GZIP compression – You’ll want to ask your web host if they use GZIP compression and deflation on their servers. These are two techniques that can significantly speed up a site, reducing file size by as much as 70% without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site itself.
  5. Caching – Many content management systems now have plugins that will cache the latest version of your pages and display it to your users so that the browser isn’t forced to go back and dynamically generate that page every single time. Plugins like WP Super Cache can take a serious bite out of page load times.

You can also look beyond your website itself and consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that serves up pages depending on where the user is located. Faster access to a server near their geographical area translates into faster load times.

While speed is the most critical metric of any re-design effort – it’s not the only metric. Working with a smart digital agency to define KPIs for the re-design of your next generation website will significantly improve performance metrics across your digital marketing ecosystem right out of the gate.

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