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On the subject of website speed

Martina Martina

August 24th, 2011.

Why your website isn’t as fast as it should be…

Heavy wheelbarrow

400 Error!

Image source

Imagine…

…a wheelbarrow in an open field that you drag along every day filling it with this and that – each thing you add to it has some significance and some use.

Now imagine you never empty the wheelbarrow. Each day, not only do the things you found the week before now lie at the bottom covered by the newest additions, but the device also becomes increasingly heavy to pull until eventually, it becomes almost impossible.

Now think of the wheelbarrow as your website, and think of its contents as the factors affecting its speed – Let’s explore these factors…

Bad HTML:

Bad HTML example

Erm...does "b" stand for "big" or "bold"?

 

  • Empty spaces between code (This only adds to processing time)
  • Missing tags (Causing internal errors & bugs in the site)
  • Bulky HTML (such as using unnecessary tags where something more CSS compatible would work better e.g. using the tag “font-size” rather than just “small”)
  • Background colour being the same as text colour (making all text unreadable)
  • Hyperlinks that fail (Devaluing your site in terms of credibility, and possibly increasing bounce rates)
  • Missing images

An overload of HTTP requests:

An example of too many HTTP requests

Kabooooom!

Image source

 

Whenever your web browser fetches a file from a web server, for example when it loads a picture, it does this by using HTTP which stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol”.

HTTP is an action whereby you’re computer requests for a particular file. One example is a request for ‘home.html‘ (the homepage of a particular website). The web server then sends a response to the computer that says something like: “Here’s the file you asked for” which is followed by the actual file itself.
Understandably, if your server is receiving a very high volume of requests for a range of different things, such as pictures, graphics, photographs, music players and video rendering, it can take its toll and end up really slowing your website down.

JavaScript/Flash overuse:

Glowing computer

Dude, too much flash!

Image source

 

JavaScript helps make things look nice. Lines of code enable things such as widgets, adverts, and analytics services to work successfully. The issue is that both kinds of software can be “heavyweight”. JavaScript performs ‘sequentially’ rather than ‘concurrently’ – this means that nothing else loads before JavaScript loads. Of course, this becomes an issue when you have tonnes of JavaScript code, each one longer than the last, preventing anything else from happening.

Too many cookies:

The Cookie Monster

Nom Nom Nom!

Image source

 

HTTP Cookies are used mainly for personalization and authentication purposes. A series of saved information is exchanged between the web server and the browser in order to remember things about how you are using the internet. For example if you are shopping online and exit the website returning at a later date, a cookie will enable the site to remember what you had in your shopping cart so you don’t have to spend time finding the same items again.

However, because saved information is being kept on the server, a build up of this can add to the process time on a website. In some cases, hackers even use cookies as an opportunity to track browsing activity; this is called spyware…so beware!

Bad hosting:

 Image of Robert-Kilroy-Silk

Erm...

Image source

 

Web hosting is the business of providing storage space and access for websites. Bad web hosting happens when said storage space is overloaded with many websites, yours is added to the list and so runs slow. Other issues caused by a bad web host include:

  • Search engines being unable to crawl your site resulting in a fall in Search Rank
  • Your website being “down” (not working, sending out 404-errors)
  •  Not being able to contact your web host to fix the issue (since the service is so bad the system has probably crashed)

Excess of external media:

Multiple Satellite Dishes

No signal...

Image source

Embedded YouTube videos, actually embedded anything that is coming from another website can potentially slow yours down. When you embed something from another site, you are relying on that sites web server, that sites speed, and that sites ability to ensure the embedded item is working properly there, so that it works properly on yours site. Often, even when it works just fine, it might add an extra few seconds to a certain page loading…a few seconds a potential customer may be unwilling to wait!

Spam:

A Can of Spam

Ew, gross!

Image source

Spam is so much more than just a bunch of annoying emails. It slows down the Internet and it increases consumer fees.

The internet is a network where spamming effects everyone that uses it. To push spam around the internet relies on a process; it begins with global networks that pass the spam along to their destination, and ends with the message being received by the recipient.

Simultaneously, time, money and resources are used trying to catch and prevent spammers from infiltrating mail servers resulting in higher costs to the consumer because providers are forced to add more security to their servers and hire more staff to manage and prevent the problem.

Be sure to spam proof all web forms by adding “captchas” or similar.

Favicon neglect:

Image Illustrating a Favicon

You need one of these!

 

A ‘favicon’ is an image (as shown above) that stays in the root of your server. It’s definitely needed because even if you don’t care about them, the browser still requests one. If there isn’t one, it will respond with a 404 error (meaning not found). Any error message, such as a 404 or 301, is an extra message sent that adds time to the processing of a site.

This image or lack thereof, interferes with the processing sequence by requesting extra components in the load, and since the favicon is the first thing that is downloaded before these extra components, if there isn’t one, the first thing downloaded will be an error.

Too many advertisements:

Too many Ads

Hmm...where to start?

Image source

Any time a site uses advertisements, you are adding to other processes a site goes through in order to function correctly. Programmes like Google Adsense and Microsoft adcenter are external, and reputable, however it is logical to practice the same rules as with external media; everything in moderation – besides, sites with too many ads look un”site”ly! :-P

 

If any of these apply to you, take active steps to protect your website against sloth! Speed be with you!

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