Reducing Website Speed – Reducing Friction Lens Series

Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson

Reducing Website Speed - Reducing Friction Lens Series

A few weeks ago Quru launched a new website. The main reason (aside from bringing the previous website more into the 21st century) was to reduce the website speed. Page load speed is one of the key factors to improve SEO. So anything we could do to speed up the pages would help us move up the search engines for the key terms we want to be found for.

Website Speed –  The Background

We use Amazon Web Services for a number of services we test and develop so it made sense to us to use a European instance of AWS to host our website. Despite using a content distribution network (CDN) for all our images we still saw that our our pages on average loaded in around 4 seconds on our old website. The main reason for this was that we had a lot of scripts running from WordPress (our content management system) that took a long time to load.

Our previous work on page speed had brought our average page loading speed down from 8 seconds to 4 and while we couldn’t live with 8 seconds upon launching the old site, we didn’t have the process in place to optimise it beyond 4 seconds.

So when we launched the new site we decided to optimise for speed from the outset.

Optimising for website speed

Before launching we installed pingdom on our website. This allowed us to test how we developed our pages for speed and where our starting point was. To begin with we used the base version of WordPress to develop the pages. There is no theme applied other than the one developed in house (by our content and production team in SEK). They designed a site using internal WordPress plugins (custom fields, CPT UI, Custom forms etc) that allowed us to develop a great WYSIWYG back end interface without using heavy templates or themes outside of the ordinary WordPress deployment.

Once we designed our pages we saw the site speed had reduced from 4 seconds to around 2.2 seconds using this WordPress template which was great news. This can be seen in the Pingdom screen cap shown at the top of the page.

We still felt though that we could do better than 2.2 seconds. We installed the pingdom script to see if we could determine where visitors were coming from that were slowing down our overall speed. What we found was quite enlightening.

AWS was based on US servers

When we looked at pingdom we noticed there were outliers from certain countries. For instance we found average speeds of 8-10 seconds from certain poorly developed countries that quite frankly are not in our target group with very low numbers of visits. We’re talking countries like Peru or Columbia from South America or Oman and Morocco from Africa. What we were surprised about was the speed of the USA versus Finland and Sweden. The USA was loading in under 1.5 seconds and Finland/Sweden around 1.9 to 2. I asked our developers to ensure that our CDN had networks as close as possible to Finland and that our physical server was based in Europe.

Our technical lead reported that indeed the server from AWS was indeed in the USA rather than Frankfurt, the closest physical location. At some point when the servers were set-up whilst we’d meant to install them in Europe it had somehow been overlooked. We shifted to the AWS European instance and things dramatically improved. We shaved off about half a second overall page loads.

The final optimisation process

Optimised speed less than a second

When we looked at all aspects of our pages loading, using pingdom as our primary tool to find the issues we managed to minify javascripts, CSS, reduced the number of document object model elements and fixed things like URL re-directs. Our grade went from ‘C’ to ‘B’ and 88/100 as oppose 73. But the big win for us is the site is down to less than a second of loading time. There are still some things we could further improve like making fewer http requests by combining them but it’s a lot of technical work for a minimal gain, so when we get more time we may do so. However at least we now fully know what we would need to do to improve the speed further as well as having a methodical approach to fixing problems.

We also ask all our editors not to use individual images unless they’re less than 100KB in order to keep the page light.

Action Points

  1. Get Pingdom. Its cheap as chips, monitors site uptime and allows you to plan how you fix page speed issues.
  2. Methodically analyse your site issues and determine what’s worth doing versus what isn’t
  3. Fix your website speed as required
Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson

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