Webmasters: Speed Up Slow-loading Sites

Speed up your website:
If your site does not load in half a minute or less, you could lose a significant number of visitors. The Internet by nature is a rapid-paced world: a universe in which potential customers and clients will not wait for long when they can easily zip to another, faster site. Your site, no matter what its function, must be as fast as possible to survive – without sacrificing quality or aesthetic appeal. Here are some of the most common “site slow-downs” and how to fix them without making your site look anything less than professional.

-Remember that even if your site loads very quickly on your computer(s), it might take forever on the systems used by many of your visitors. Not all Internet surfers are on high-speed connections. Many people multi-task, which will slow down everything. There are many reasons for sites to slow down on the visitor’s end only, so try to account for this phenomenon when you are designing your pages. Run them on several machines, with different browsers and connections. Have your friends or co-workers access the pages under normal working/usage conditions so that they can give you instant feedback. Whatever you do, don’t limit your test runs to one or two computers.

-Flash intros are not necessary. If they were, why would most programmers include a “Skip Intro” option? They wouldn’t, of course. Don’t waste your time or resources trying to impress visitors with something that could take forever and half a day to load, which is the first sign to surfers that they might not want to stick around at your site for long.

-Excessive graphics, especially on the home or welcome page, will turn visitors away in droves. You might think that a 55-megabyte picture of your newest factory is the ideal image, but it really is not. The first thing that you should do is to eliminate unnecessary graphics. Any that remain should be compacted, whether by changing their formats to friendlier extensions or shrinking them down.
Also: if you want to share many photos and images, post thumbnails. These will load quickly, allowing visitors to pick and choose which ones they would like to see in all their full-sized glory. This takes a little extra time, but many photo- and graphic-editing programs will create them for you with just a few mouse clicks or commands.

Tip: animated graphics, however interesting they might be, are usually ignored. You can take the best stills from these and use them instead, which will please visitors without taking away any of your site’s aesthetic appeal.

-The same rules for graphics apply to JavaScript and other non-HTML languages. While you might be impressed with the power of JavaScript, your visitors won’t be if they have to wait half an hour to access the rest of your site. Keep the extra programming to a minimum so that your programmers as well as your visitors will be satisfied with the results.

-Link videos and music files to “secondary” pages, not the welcome/home page, so that users have the option of loading and/or playing them. These files are sometimes necessary depending on your type of business or service, but give your visitors a choice.

Tip: if you can guarantee that no viruses or spyware will find their way into the files, allow visitors the choice of downloading them. This will encourage people on slower computers or connections to play them, whereas they probably would not if they were forced to stream them through your site.

-Use more than one page for your site. Some Webmasters are still using one page to display data and information that could be broken up into logical and easily-accessible categories, all of which could go on their very own pages. You can even use frames to make the menu constantly-available and easily-accessed, though this is not necessary. You can embed menu links within each individual page if you do not want to use frames.

Tip: make sure that your categories are divided logically and are clearly labeled in the links. The easier the site is to navigate, the more users will return, which means that your customer base will build up instead of dwindling as people become confused and annoyed.

Along with good programming and design, there are a few common courtesies that, if followed, will convince visitors to stick around and even return later.

-Don’t use popup windows unless they only pop up when users request them (i.e. click on links). Many users have software to block popups, but some don’t – and many windows can still get through the toughest of programs. Needless to say, popup ads verses the embedded, banner variety will annoy visitors to the point where they won’t return. You might lose a little ad revenue, but keeping those hundreds, if not thousands, of clients will definitely make up for the loss.

-Ensure that all relevant contact information is easily found and up-to-date. Your current e-mail address, if nothing else, should be displayed at least on the main/welcome page. If you are running a Web site for a business with an actual, physical location, that address and telephone number should also be visible.

-Respond to outages, down times, site programming errors and questions/queries/comments/suggestions as quickly as possible. Devote as much time as possible to fixing, responding and helping and your site will quickly gain a reputation for being one of the most current – not to mention friendliest – groups of pages on the Internet.

Once you’ve made these changes and performed your own tests, you can use a Web checkup tool (found by Web search) to check coding and programming. This will help you track down bad links, improper coding and other things that should be running smoothly before visitors see the new, improved version of your site.

Investing your time and resources into these improvements will make your site one of the best on the Internet. It will attract and retain visitors, and also encourage many of them to spread the word about your pages. This will in turn attract even more visitors, which offers you the potential for immeasurable growth.

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