How fast is your site?

6 December 2011 by Bob North

How fast is your site?

We've recently been working with several clients to see how their sites could best be improved. After assessing all the various stylistic or structural changes that might help clients make best use of the sites, we decided the best route was an invisible one: to make the sites run faster.

Here's a quick run down of the ways we did that, and which you can consider for your own site.

Let's start with the easy ones:

Move the site on to a faster server. The chances are that your hosting company is now offering faster servers for the same price you are currently paying, so see if they will upgrade you, and if not, move to another hosting company.

Make sure the server isn't busy doing other things. It's tempting to put all sorts of applications on your webserver, and when you first started that probably made sense. But now, as your site gets busier, it really needs all the processing power to itself.

Put your server near your users. The page load delay experienced by your users is partly down to the distance between them and the server, so don't try to save pennies by locating your server on the other side of the world.

Now you  can start to look at the specifics of your site:

Use free tools like Google Analytics and the Firefox Firebug extension to understand which pages are slow. You can use them to see which of the various requests that make up a page are causing the most delay. Firebug will give you a report outlining the issues for a given page, and you can work through to resolve the worst of them.

Be aware of the delaying effects of social media plugins and hit reporting scripts, as they can delay the moment when a user can start interacting with the page.

Ensure your images have been optimised to be as small as possible: the worst crime here is to deliver a large image and then have the browser resize it to a smaller size. If you have a large number of small images consider tricks like combining them into one 'sprite' image to reduce the overhead of lots of requests for individual images.

Look at how long it takes for the initial HTML page to be returned. If the page is being dynamically created there may be a significant amount of work being done at the server before the page is ready to be delivered, so review that and see if you can simplify the content.

If the content can't be simplified, consider server-side caching to save it having to repeat the work for every single page hit: it may be acceptable for some visitors to see a version that is a few minutes, or even a few hours old, without it causing any great harm. Server-side caching also reduces the overall load on the server, so even those other pages that can't be cached will benefit.









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