When you had your website built, it was most probably handed to you in a good state. Page loading times can deteriorate over time, or quickly and abruptly, when certain events occur on the server or in the process of content maintenance. What are some reasons for a slow loading times of a fairly simple website?
- Running forums
- Very large content (hundreds of pages)
- Large media files (images, video, audio, attachment files like PDF brochures etc.)
- Excessive use of plugins
- Excessive use of scripts (scripts that come with plugins, traffic analytics, marketing, forms, visual effects)
- Administrative overhead of user-friendly back end theme options
- Using custom fonts
- Sloppy or bloated code
- Overly analytical code, with excessive use of “if” statements checking for user agent / browser version / size
- Errors in user’s content management usage resulting in pages hanging or malformed
- Overcrowded web host server or server having issues, including security breaches and online attacks
- Sudden increase in website’s traffic due to marketing event or viral popularity (we all wish to have this problem)
One of the most popular ways of dealing with slowly loading pages is installation of the super cache plugin. It was downloaded over 3 million times just for WordPress sites – millions more times for other sites.This plugin generates static html files from dynamically created pages in content management systems. The static file is served instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more time consuming scripts used to generate page dynamically. This idea has several pitfalls, as you may already see. First of all, your viewers are served cached content – many times resulting in seeing old content. Plugin itself requires reasonable maintenance. Additionally logged in users will not get cached content, so they will still experience long delays in page loading. It just seems like a problem masking prop rather than real solution. I’d rather scrutinize inefficiencies, and review poorly thought-through design than use a sloppy or bloated process and slap accelerator on the top to make things better.
Many plugins are installed “just in case” by hungry for everything owners, and not vetted for only necessary ones to ensure desired functionality. Many originally looking fonts are used purely for vanity, not adding much value to the site.
And which developer did not hear a request to upload image files “in high resolution” to enhance viewing experience? – website owners not familiar with web standards, do not want to believe that all these images will be reduced to 72 pixels/inch by every browser, every time.
When troubleshooting performance problems, it is always worthwhile to look at the server logs that may reveal quickly what was the reason behind slowing down your site.
Many online tools are available to asses the loading times of the websites. You will need a healthy dose of common sense reading the results and recommendations steaming from these reports. They would frequently ignore large media files, adding hundreds of kilobytes to loading times, but point finger at minifying css (style code) file that can only save tens of kilobytes. You should read such recommendations carefully to understand their true impact on what you are trying to achieve.
When building and optimizing your website for speed, everyone has to come together – creative director, designer, programmer, content writer, photographer, support staff, and web host. Understanding an impact of each of these areas is critical for smooth user experience.