Up to speed

I get about three different sales calls everyday. These are of varying quality with the majority offering products that claim to be revolutionary for social monitoring. However, where I struggle with this approach is that the solution is being offered before the problems have been identified. In the past I've used a number of different types of monitoring software but have found that they are only as good as the questions I want answered before logging in - or the people operating them!

One area where it has been a challenge to find a decent piece of monitoring software is one that reports on website speed. The importance of this is often overlooked, but in my experience (and especially at my old place of work), I have found it to be vital for a number of reasons:
  1. If you're spending a lot of money on paid advertising the first impression of a website matters - if it takes 6+secs to load it may as well not be live at all
  2. With more websites being accessed on a 3G/4G network it's good manners to not make the file sizes of images too big thus using up people's data allowance
  3. Google will penalise you for have a slow website by putting you lower in the search rankings and even increasing the cost per click
One excellent free too which I have used extensively in the past is Pingdom. Although Firefox also has some great add ons and Google offer PageSpeed tools. Too often have I had anecdotal complaints that a website is slow when in fact it's a number of other factors (network speed, location etc.) What Pingdom does is test a website from various locations around the globe and then offers a breakdown of what is causing speed issues. Some of the most common steps I have taken in the past to trim off those vital few seconds of loading time which have been identified are:
  1. Use GZIP compression – This can reduce file size by as much as 70% without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site at all. There's a simple online tool for testing this
  2. Outsource javascript and stylesheets – Have your scripts and CSS load in external files instead of cramping up each and every page. This way, the browser only has to load the files once, rather than every time someone visits each page of the site
  3. Optimise images – In Photoshop, you can use the “Save for Web” option to drastically reduce image size. This allows a trade-off between graphic file size and crispness
  4. Don’t use HTML to resize images – HTML (and WordPress blogs), make it easy to create a smaller version of a larger graphic. The issue here is that the browser still has to load the ENTIRE image, THEN check the width and height you want and THEN resize it accordingly
  5. Cache when possible – Content management systems like WordPress have plugins that will cache the latest version of your pages and display it to your users so that the browser isn’t forced to go dynamically generate that page every single time. Plugins like WP Super Cache can sewriously decrease page load times
  6. Go easy on redirects – A 301 Redirect is the preferred way to change your site structure without losing any of that valuable search engine juice, but lots of 301 redirects piled together just confuse the browser and slow it down as it wades through the old destinations to get to the new one
  7. Get up in the clouds – Over the last few years, this has become THE solution for websites which need to be globally accessible and serve pages depending on where the user is located. Faster access to a server near their geographical area means they get the site to load sooner
Remember that for every second you shave off of load time, you’ll tend to boost customer confidence and trust in your site, and sow the seeds that will make them way to tell others about you. In those cases, a few seconds can make all the difference - especially in this increasingly fast paced modern world!
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