OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 5: Speed

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Today’s post is about your website speed. Ironically, it’s being posted two days late. Although I enjoy posting here, and hope that you find these posts helpful and instructive, my first priority is always as the web guy, and duty called. Now that the fires have been put out, let’s get back to making sure your site gets the traffic you need to grow your business.

As one of their four core values, Google practices what they preach by making sure their service runs at lightning speed. When you search for something, your results are near instantaneous. Their recommendation to you to do the same should be taken to heart:

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”

Your website needs more hare, less tortoise.Understanding how Google values your site response time, open your web site, and use a stop watch to time each page load. If that number goes over 5, your site is losing both visitors and PageRank.

So, how do we get our load time down? Let’s start with the basics:

1. Optimize your images.

Photos, as a rule, should be in jpeg format, and unless there is a prevailing need for high resolution, should be compressed to ‘High’ (60%) quality. Non-photo graphics should generally be saved as pngs or gifs. Make sure that empty space around the image has been cropped, and that you have sized the image to the dimensions you want it to appear on screen. Many web content systems, including WordPress and Zen-Cart, create thumbnail or preview images by loading the full size photo, and displaying it with a width setting which makes it appear smaller. This slows your load time, so make sure you have already correctly sized your images before uploading.

2. Forget the Flash.

This is not a greater statement about whether Flash is a good method for providing rich content for your site visitors. I love to see a well designed and executed Flash site, since they can be very entertaining. I am saying, however, that Flash is not for you.

The uncomfortable fact is, 99% of sites using Flash do it wrong. They have lengthy Flash intros that delay users from getting to the content they need, including making them sit through loading screens. They encapsulate all the site content into a single Flash file, which looks pretty, but slows the delivery of the actual site value users are looking for, and hides its content from the search engines. Flash is generally inaccessible to mobile devices (Android has a slow and buggy implementation of Flash, and Apple famously rejects it entirely), so you are unnecessarily immediately cutting out a large chunk of internet visits. From start to finish, incorporating Flash in your website is almost guaranteed to have exactly the opposite effect you were looking for; it will hamper both your site usage and your search engine placement. Unless your site is a non-commercial art site which specifically requires Flash to execute some advanced artistic function, leave it out.

3. Streamline your landing pages.

With the prevalence of web widgets, it’s easy to place related content in your site sidebars, and there is a tendency to try to fit it all in on every page. Embedded tweets, Facebook posts, revolving galleries, book lists, recent links, recent comments, recent posts, recent bowel movements…while this level of available functions works (arguably) well for social networking and other community type sites, it is overwhelming and counterproductive to marketing driven pages, and creates a substantial and unneeded lag to your page loads.

Compare the overwhelming visual clutter of the landing page for HandMadeCraftShow.com (and the associated load time…I have it at about 10-12 seconds), with the clean and fast landing page of CupidsBowBook.com (which loads in just a couple of seconds, even including the non-recommended Flash!).

It’s a common mistake of new webmasters to try and wedge everything into the front page, but stop and consider all of the elements you’re including, and if they’re really necessary. The old adage “less is more” is particularly true when it comes to load times on your site page. If providing real time embedded social media updates is slowing your page load time down, all the work you’ve done to make that page a relevant response to your visitors’ needs are for nothing.

4. Break it up, already!

If you have a personal blog with a faithful readership, by all means, have all of your posts appear in their entirety on the front page of your site. However, if you’re a commercial enterprise, a leading paragraph with an interesting and inviting title and a ‘Read more’ link is all that needs to appear. Your goal is to entice the visitors to explore, not to hit them over the head with every bit of content you can slam them with the second they get to your site. MarketitWrite has this to say about your marketing text:

  • The role of the headline is to encourage the recipient to read the lead paragraph.
  • The goal of the lead paragraph? To invite the recipient to read the next paragraph.

If your landing page covers more than one topic, you don’t need to include more than a catchy headline and a well written paragraph for each topic introducing the content, and enticing the reader to click through for more. In fact, this simple change in approach not only decreases your load time, it begins the sales process by encouraging a “yes action” on the part of the visitor. Click for more info, click to customize, click to buy.

With speed, as with the other three points we’ve covered, the best practice approach is double sided; it not only enhances your search engine placement, it delivers a better user experience on your site, which leads to a feedback circle driving even BETTER search engine placement. If your site makes your users wait, unless you’re Reddit, don’t expect them to stick around until the hourglass disappears.

Check back tomorrow for our Boot Camp wrap up, and some Q&A with your questions and comments! Feel free to add your questions by commenting below.