A better website starter pack: easy ways to increase website performance
By Jerod Greenisen | October 2017
When was the last time you made a technical or design change to your website? I'm not talking about a complete "redesign," but rather just a simple edit based on some insights you gathered. Websites today are not the websites of a few years ago; you don't need to go through a year-long redesign process to drastically improve your website's performance.
Just like many other areas of your business, treating your website like a dynamic product that can change bit by bit is essential to your growth.Besides just making things look better, these small edits make your website smarter, faster and easier to use, causing increases in conversions for your business. These small changes really make a difference over time.
Here are 7 easy ways to increase your website performance.
1. Do a mobile design test
This is so important for businesses to do right now; the relevance of mobile websites has been increasing nonstop for years.More searches take place on smartphones than desktops. Perhaps more relevant to your business: more people are likely to do research on products and services with their mobile phone than a desktop if they have access to both. That's why mobile testing is top of the list of things you can do to improve your website performance. See more 2017 trends from HubSpot.
"We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results." - Google, 2015 onGoogle Webmaster Blog.
If you're not sure if your site is "mobile friendly" we recommend testing it with this free tool from Google.
2. Optimize your load time
Another important consideration for mobile websites is site speed: your site has to be fast. In fact, it has to be so fast that people can load the website without wifi or high-performance wireless.
Your website cannot be slow, or you'll lose almost half of your audience right at the start.
Do a speed test right now. For a simple test check out HubSpot's website.grader.com or everyone's favorite, Pingdom. An even better way to do this would be to use the PageSpeed Tools found within Google Search Console.
3. Crush those images
So far we've shared that mobile websites are the status-quo and speed is crucial. Poor image optimization is usually the main reason many websites get poor grades in these fields.
Images need to be small enough to cache quickly and they can't be larger than the screen they appear on. However they also need to be large enough to appear on high-resolution displays that are so popular now. Sounds like a bit of pickle, huh?
If your website is WordPress, you're in luck! There are a handful of plugins that crush, smush and (more accurately) compress images so they load faster. With a little bit of work, your website will load the small images on the small screen, the big ones on the Retina Displays and will load much faster overall.
To get help assessing the quality of your WordPress plugins, use ArcStone's guide.
4. Correct for missing pages
"404 error pages used to be a huge source of user frustration and abandonment. But it doesn’t have to be that way." - Cassandra Naji Marketing Lead at Justinmind
Computer-speak for, "does not compute" is a 404 page. Just because that message has to be translated, doesn't have to harm all your branding and copywriting efforts. There are a bunch of ways to make your 404 page actually kind of fun and engaging.
That's cute, but the very best thing to do is to correct these errors. Often times after a redesign or a new content strategy, visitors to your website go looking for content that is now somewhere else.
A great solution is to crawl the website. If you have Google Search Console set up you can check this under "Crawl Errors." You can do it yourself with a tool like Screaming Frog's free version.
Locate those pages that have a 404 status and set up a redirect for those pages. Redirects can be accomplished with plugins like Yoast and Redirection.
5. Zip up your files
This suggestion sounds more complicated than it is to fix. We're talking about Gzip compression. It's basically just like "zipping" files together on your desktop.
Think about it: it's way easier to send a .zip file via email than it is to send each of the files, right? Well, internet browsers work kinda the same way. Browsers can load the Gzip of your files faster than each one individually.
Check out the recommended tools from suggestion 2, "Optimize your load time," to see if your website has Gzip compression enabled or not. If not, talk to whoever hosts your website and ask them to enable it. Otherwise, use a plugin like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache.
6. Do the splits! A/B Testing
This one is really fun! You look at your website so much, probably more than anyone else. So, you've probably thought: what if that image was of something else, what if that button was a different color, etc.
A/B testing is the process of making those design tweaks worth it with science! Check out this great video about the power of A/B testing during the 2008 presidential campaign.
When you look at your website, you should be able to clearly identify what you want visitors to do. Perhaps there are a few options: donate money, subscribe to the newsletter or sign up for events.
As Dan Stroker pointed out in the video above, you might be missing out on some big wins on these goals simply because the button's phrase wasn't as enticing, was the wrong color or was located too low on the page.
None of this we really know until we test it. It's easy to do and it makes a lasting impact on your bottom line. That's why A/B Testing tools like Optimizly or others are a great value add for your website!
7. Give your pages the descriptive content that Google loves
With a free plugin like Yoast SEO, updating your pages and adding crucial SEO value is about as easy as sending an email. We talk about how to use Yoast SEO in this post.
Use Google Search Console to get some context about what keywords you're ranking well with. Then go back to your website and install Yoast SEO for free.
Now, run through your pages and make sure that they all have meta descriptions that match your keyword selections. Make sure that your images have alt descriptions too, you can do that in your WordPress media library and adding your keywords in the alt text field.
You can do several other tasks that the Yoast SEO plugin suggests for you as well.
Taking the time to do this to your website will make a big difference. After you're done and while you're still looking at Google Search Console, take the time to index your site for Google.
You're basically jumping ahead in line when you index your site. Now that you've added meta descriptions and alt tags, your site has a much better opportunity to rank highly. Yoast explains how to index your site the easy way with the plugin.
Growing your website into the website you always wanted
Websites do not have to remain the same year after year. Actually, they can improve daily.
If your website is ready for a complete redesign you should certainly do it, however, after you're done you can measure the success of the redesign and make changes as you go along. Each new change will make the site better.
This starter pack should be enough to get your hands dirty. Take a look at how your website is performing, select key indicators to start with and grow your website's performance.