Website Speed Optimization: A Beginner’s Guide

Last updated on October 17th, 2020 by Samuel Ryan, copyright reserved

This is a thorough website speed optimization guide, which will explain why loading times are important, give you the tools to test your own site, and provide you with some simple steps to improve your website’s performance (no matter which platform your website is running on).

Remember the last time you visited a website that took forever to load? How long did you hang around for, before giving up?

Slow websites = bad user experience, which limits business opportunities, and negatively impacts search engine traffic.

Lady learning about Website Speed

A Complete Guide To Website Speed Optimization:

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Part 1: Understanding Website Speed Optimization

Website speed is simply a measure in seconds, of how long it takes for a web-page to load in a browser.

It doesn’t stop there though, as within that overall metric, you can narrow down how well different aspects of a website performs. For example, your blog post’s text may load quickly, whereas, your images may lag.

A website speed test will provide an overall score for your website’s speed, alongside a more detailed breakdown of how each element within it performed.

Testing how well your website performs is easy and FREE to do. Simply run your URL through Google’s own test-site here: PageSpeed, or use another favourite, here: Pingdom.

An important fact to be aware of, is that over 50% of internet traffic is from mobile devices. Source: Google. That means, you really need to focus on optimising your website for the small screen. This is important to Google, so it has to be important to you.

Here’s the result for one of my posts:

Google PageSpeed Website Speed Score

If you’re interested in learning more about website speed, I have an entire section dedicated to it. Be sure to subscribe.

Part 2: What Is A Good Website Loading Time?

More than half of all web traffic now happens on mobile. Yet the average mobile web-page takes 15 seconds to load. Source: Google (2018).

That’s great if you’re making improvements now, because you’ll be among the pioneers! It doesn’t take much to beat the competition on speed, especially if you’re taking it seriously, while they’re not.

This is Googles page-speed index table. Source: here.

Speed Index
(in seconds)
Color-codingSpeed Index score
0–4.3Green (fast)75–100
4.4–5.8Orange (moderate)50–74
Over 5.8Red (slow)0–49
Google / Lighthouse Speed Index Score

As you can see, to achieve a Fast score, your website must load within 4.3 seconds. That’s Google’s measure of what a good website loading time is.

Part 3: Website Performance, Google & Search Engines

Website speed directly impacts its usability, and that’s something that Google, and other search engines, consider when measuring the value of your site.

If your website is too slow, you may inadvertently reduce your chances of appearing on the first page of a search result.

Lady Using Search Engine Like Google

Google is the world’s most popular search engine, estimated to be handling over 5.8 billion web searches per day. And, they want their users to be satisfied with each and every search.

To achieve that, Google must continue to deliver the most relevant content, from the most viable source, every time.

Google has over 200 ranking factors involved in calculating how to value a web-page. One factor involves monitoring how many users abandon a site before it loads. If too many return to Google in search of another option, then #1 will quickly fall down the list. Source: Google.

In March 2016, Google Analytics research showed that 53% of mobile visits are abandoned, if it takes more than three seconds to load. Source: Google.

Google is in the business of matching users to content, and if your website is too slow, then you may miss out on the opportunity of free SEO traffic.

Part 4: Website Speed Optimization & Online Business

In 2015, Pinterest improved perceived page loading times by 40%. The result? 15 percent increase in SEO traffic and a 15 percent increase in the signup conversion rate. Source: Pinterest (at Medium).

According to Google, website speed effects the way users interact with a website. In short, if you have a quicker website you’ll likely benefit from:

  • Increased SEO traffic
  • Increased conversion signup rates
  • Increased sales
  • Increased traffic (due to fewer abandoned visits)

Conversely, a slower website might have a negative impact, such as, less SEO traffic, lower conversion rates, fewer sales, etc.

No matter what your website does, website speed is crucial to its overall success.

Part 5: How To Improve Website Speed

Note: Before making any changes to your website, create a backup. The following is not advice, simply information. Seek professional advice if you’re not sure.

It can be difficult to speed up a well established website. But, there are some quick fixes that don’t require too much of your time. Here are 3 tips that should significantly improve your website speed.

1. Image Optimization

When I review websites for speed performance, a common mistake I see is, large images which have not been optimized for the internet. It’s not unusual to find images as large as 1MB, creating pages as large as 8.5MB.

To put that into context, this page that you’re currently reading is 235KB in total.

There are many options for optimizing images for the internet, including:

  • The quickest way (if you have a self-hosted WordPress website) is to use a plugin. Smush, is a popular plugin that will ‘Optimize your images, turn on lazy load, resize, compress and improve your Google Page Speed…’. Smush has over 1 million active installs, and a 5 Star rating in the WordPress plugin directory.
  • The second option is to use a photo editor, like PaintShop Pro, or Photoshop. I use PaintShop Pro to optimize all of my images. However, it can be a painstaking process to apply retrospectively.
  • The last option is to use an App for your IPAD or Mobile. There are a number of free apps which can help you better optimize your images for the internet. I use Canva quite a bit.

General image sizing tips:

Example Of How To Optimize An Image For The Internet
An example image with stats
  • Creative bloggers, like crocheters or DIY’ers, may have to spend a little more time ensuring that images don’t become pixelated when reduced. I run a crochet website with my wife, and find that fabric can require a slightly heavier image size, than say an image of a car.
  • All images have a height and a width that is measured in PX – screen pixels. Your website Theme may only allow you to display images up to say, 1000px width, however, you may be using an image that is 4000px. That extra size is causing the user to download more than is necessary.
  • I can’t set a limit for how big your images should be, but as a rough guide, they shouldn’t need to exceed 300KB.
  • Finally, JPG is normally most suitable for web images that include some kind of texture. PNG, on the other hand, is ideal for sharp graphic lines, like text.

2. Limit Plugins & Fancy Extras

Adding impressive visuals, animations, or social media feeds to your website is tempting. But some of these can be the root cause of a slow website.

Cool Binary code Image

If you’re a self-hosted WordPress user, you should review all of your plugins, and A/B test them using one of these website speed testers:

Tip: Clear your websites cache before each test, to ensure that the current version of your website is being tested.

You should also check that you have configured your plugins for optimal performance. For example, Jetpack can dramatically slow down your website, but configured correctly, it will not impact your website speed at all.

For non-WordPress users, review any add-ons you may have included on your website and complete the same A/B testing. Are they necessary?

All website owners should consider these add-on functions and measure the cost in load-time vs. the function provided. It’s all about finding a balance, because an empty page will be quick, but it won’t be very interesting!

3. Autoptimize

Once images and on-page functions are optimized, most out-of-the-box websites will be performing at their optimum. For WordPress users, there is still more we can do.

Autoptimize, a WordPress plugin, represents the first step in the right direction. I have seen this one plugin increase page-speed by more than 20%.

Autoptimize optimizes CSS, HTML and Java. It defers scripts to the footer and minifies HTML, offers lazy-loading, can manage Google Fonts, and much more.

While there are other plugins for the task, I am a huge fan of Autotimize because of how well it performs.

Website Speed Matters

Thank you for taking the time to read my guide! I hope you found it useful.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to get notice of when new posts are published.

And before you go, let me know: What’s your website page-speed score?

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