A while ago I wrote about activating Gzip to speed up your page load time.
But speeding up your page load time is about a lot more than 1-shot answers – whether it’s activating Gzip, installing a caching plugin or anything else.
This graph shows an interesting (and encouraging) trend:
It’s from my Google Webmaster Tools reports and tracks the page download time in milliseconds for this site.
So what happened towards the end of August to create that big reduction in page load time?
I removed a YouTube video that was sitting at the top right of the page where the opt-in form is now.
Whenever I ran a check on this site through validator.w3.org before removing that video it used to throw up hundreds of errors, a huge proportion of which were caused by the YouTube embed code.
It always nagged at me, but I ignored it thinking that the video added a personal touch to the site.
But, getting bored with it, and with my Aweber stats showing that the opt-in that was attached to it was pretty ineffective, I decided to revamp the site and removed the video.
Instantly it seemed to me that the site loaded more quickly, which I was obviously pleased about. But this graph is the proof.
So what’s the wider lesson?
I’ve often written about WordPress plugins slowing down your page load times where they have to access different sites. But anything on your site that accesses other sites will slow it down – not just plugins.
The problem is that bloggers often embed widgets or apps that need to access other sites – that’s just the nature of blogging.
On this site I have SiteLock, Google Friend Connect, Delicious, Facebook and Aweber – each of which contributes to slowing down my page load time. (Ironically, Google Friend Connect is invariably the worst offender – so much for Google’s mission of speeding up the web!).
But there are two things to consider about page load time:
- The factual, end-to-end page load time that the stats measure
- The perceived page load time – as experienced by your visitors
And the two can be very different.
So here are four ways to minimize the impact these widgets and apps will have on your perceived page load time:
- Make sure that any stats scripts you’re running are placed in your footer, not your header
- Make sure that your header area (and image if you’re using one) is as light-weight as possible – minimize scripts or Flash
- Keep your sidebar(s) to the right of your content. If you can’t do that because of your theme, make sure that the widgets in your left sidebar only display information from other parts of your site (not from third party sites)
- Place widgets that do access third-party sites as low down in the right-hand sidebars as possible. I have SiteLock and Aweber at the top (on the right) – everything else is at or near the bottom.
The effect of these steps will be to display your content to your visitors as quickly as possible, while the other stuff takes its time to load – out of your visitor’s view, if it’s below the fold.
None of that will speed up your actual page load time, but it will speed up the perceived load time to your visitors by giving them content as quickly as possible – and that will improve their experience.