On the web, people have zero patience. Your link pops up in a Google search, someone clicks it, and the stopwatch immediately starts ticking. If your company's website doesn't pop up in two to three ticks, I can almost guarantee that before the fourth tick visitors will click the back button and try the next link down in the search results.
Whether you are building your own website or contracting it out, make sure your site loads as quickly as possible and at least as quickly as competing companies'.
You can certainly use a stopwatch to time your site, but doing so is actually a bad idea. Your browser may store graphics and other items in its cache to decrease load times on subsequent visits, so a stopwatch may not provide an accurate indication of how long a page really takes to load for first-time visitors. Better tools are available.
My favorite is Pingdom Tools at tools.pingdom.com, where you type in the URL of the site or page you want to test and click the Test now button. Pingdom Tools tests the page and displays the total time required for it to appear on screen. Results also include a chart that displays the loading time for each object on the page, useful for identifying bandwidth hogs.
If your site seems slow, it's important to assess what is slowing it down. Fortunately, a couple of other free tools can help. To get started, you'll need to install the following on your computer:
To test a page, open it in Firefox, click Tools, Firebug, Open Firebug and then click the Page Speed or YSlow tab and click Analyze Performance (for Page Speed) or Grade (for YSlow). Both tools list factors that contribute to site speed, flag areas that need improvement and provide recommendations for fixing what's slowing down your website.
Building for Speed
You can do a number of things right now to speed up the performance of your website, including:
- Keep it simple. Accessibility and content are essential. Don't let the window dressing slow down your site.
- Combine Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) into a single file. This cuts down on the number of requests the server has to handle.
- Streamline CSS by eliminating unused styles.
- If your site is running on a blogging platform, install a caching plug-in.
- Trim image size and resolution whenever possible.
- Specify image dimensions.
- Use CSS sprites to combine background images into a single image.
- Avoid Flash-based websites if possible. Use Flash objects strategically, if at all.
- Move your website from shared to dedicated server or choose a more dependable, higher-quality hosting service.
- Use a content delivery network (CDN) such as Akamai Technologies or Limelight Networks to deploy content across geographically dispersed networks.
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. When he is not working or ghosting blog entries for clients, Belicove can be found musing about the world on Belicove.com and can be reached at Mikal@Belicove.com.