Earlier this year, Google began using site speed, or load time, as a search ranking factor, claiming that “faster sites create happy users.” Since the search engine’s professed goal is to give users what they want, it makes sense that load time would enter into the ranking algorithm.
Even if you didn’t care about your Google ranking (not likely!), improving your blog’s loading time would be a good idea. Sites that load quickly are more user-friendly and tend to have more user engagement, meaning visitors stick around to view multiple pages. In other words, making your blog faster can lower your bounce rate. And the longer visitors stay on your site, the more likely they are to convert.
So if you want high rankings and happy, returning users, you need to make sure that your site runs speedily, and the same goes for your blog. Here are five tips to keep your blog running quickly. As an added benefit, these tips will reduce your bandwidth and can even lower your hosting costs.
1. Optimize your images for speed
Pictures can really liven up your blog, but they also have the potential to slow down load times. To keep your blog fast:
• Host your own images: By hosting images on your own servers, you eliminate the need for your site to contact other servers.
• Delete unnecessary images: Unless they are thumbnail images, try to limit the number of pictures in each post to two or three. These will break up the text and add visual interest without causing undue lag time.
• Reduce the size of your images: Experts recommend that you set your photo sizes to 800 by 600 pixels or smaller.
• Don’t duplicate files for the same image: If you use the same image more than once, refer to the same file—because your browser’s cache has saved the information about the file, the image will load faster.
2. Use Optimized CSS
Using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) instead of HTML tables on your blog (and site-wide) will give you simpler source code, which promises faster load times. It’s also easier to make style/design changes after the fact. A CSS optimizer, such as the Code Beautifier (available free online), can help you simplify your CSS code, eliminating white space and unnecessary characters, converting text to lowercase and making other adjustments that will help your site load more quickly.
3. Keep it Clean
You may have noticed a theme so far—getting rid of what’s unnecessary. This is generally a good rule of thumb when it comes to load times. So aside from clean code and reasonably sized images, watch out for other unnecessary features that can bloat your blog:
• Animations: Animations and moving ads can add seconds to your blog’s load time. Make sure the amusement is worth the trade off before including an animation.
• Widgets: Widgets are small applications that run on your site, like a Twitter feed. Because they access other servers, they can slow down your blog. Be selective about what widgets you add.
4. Consider Different Hosting Options
If you use shared hosting for your blog, you might want to look into switching to dedicated or grid hosting, as shared hosting can slow down load times when the demands on the shared server are high. Dedicated hosting gives your blog or site its own dedicated server. With grid hosting, your resources are spread across multiple servers. Dedicated hosting is generally the priciest option.
5. Consult a Load Time Add-On
It’s a good idea to download a Firefox add-on for analysis of your blog’s performance as well as suggestions for speeding it up. Try Google’s open source add-on Page Speed, which tests your server configuration and front-end code and offers tips on load time optimization. There are also a number of WordPress plug-ins to reduce load time.
In addition to helping your blog rank higher in organic search results, these tips can help you in the pay-per-click advertising arena as well—landing page load time is a factor in the calculation of your AdWords Quality Score.
Elisa Gabbert is the Senior Content Development Manager at WordStream Inc., a provider of Internet Marketing Software, which includes a set of advanced SEO tools for discovering profitable long tail keywords.