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Waiting and waiting and waiting for that page to load?

Posted on: February 9th, 2010

Still waiting?

Why Page Load Speed May be More Important Than You Think

When working with our web clients, we often talk about load speed up front, at Appleton Creative. Recent reports seem to show that Google may be adding page-loading speed to their ranking algorithm in the not too distant future. This could allow sites with fast loading speeds to gain a ranking advantage over those that load more slowly if this is added to the Google mix. Why are page loading speeds important and how can they be speeded up?

At Appleton Creative, we always know visitors to web pages have notoriously short attention spans and are hard to please. A slow to load page is likely to see them go elsewhere unless they are desperate to see what’s on the page. Few are ever that desperate. It doesn’t really matter how fantastic a page looks when it is loaded up; it doesn’t matter how great the content is. If the visitor leaves before it downloads, then it has no value whatsoever to the webmaster.

This is also all about visitor value which means a lot to Google and which should, therefore, mean a lot to webmasters. A website that adds something of value to a user is perceived by Google as being better than one that doesn’t. This manifests itself in many different ways. A fast to load page, for example, delivers something good to the visitor; a slow page may soon be seen as a negative.

Given that page loading times may shortly have an impact on ranking, it may be worthwhile for webmasters to look at their own times and to assess how their sites work. The easiest way to do this is to try to look at the site from a visitor’s perspective. Getting other people to take a look around it and to give you their points of view may also be valuable.

A lot of sites load slowly because they are badly designed or rely too heavily on pulling together disparate technology and design elements that work against each other. This is often done with the aim of impressing a visitor from a graphics perspective but it could have the opposite effect if it makes a page download time take more than a few seconds.

One quick way to alleviate problems here is to look at your page size. Large pages that are full of images, tables and technical ‘bells and whistles’ can often take a frustratingly long time to download. Given that the average web visitor is unlikely to wait for results for more than 5-10 seconds, this could be a major issue that needs improvement.

Many of our Appleton designers will, for example, alter the size and format of their images to speed things up. Using fewer graphics and images on a page and optimising them may also help. Having the same image appear on different pages may potentially speed things up as once they are loaded and cached for the first time, they’ll be in place for future page downloads and visits.

The clients’ hosting service may also play a part. Using free or low cost hosting may look like a good solution to start with, but if the service cannot deliver a robust and speedy solution then this could have a negative effect on your site and its download times, even if it should technically work just fine.

Those who need a little extra technical help or in-depth analysis can also call on monitoring programs and tools that can help them assess loading speeds and potential areas of slow-down. Google, for example, has a Firefox add-on called Page Speed which may be useful. The company also produces an extension for Chrome users, Speed Tracer, that may give some good analysis. Firefox users can also take a look at Yahoo’s YSlow if they prefer.

Achieving fast page load times shouldn’t just be important because Google may be making it more important in the future. In the great scheme of things this may become just one more factor within the huge Google algorithm and may, therefore, not have too negative an impact. But, keeping visitors on your site and making them want to return is important so any webmaster with a slow to load site should be looking for ways to speed things up.

If your web site has long load times, or maybe just needs a refresh, please feel free to call the team at Appleton Creative at 407-246-0092.

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