Google Toys With Penalizing Slow Websites
Google may begin warning web surfers about slow-loading websites.
Essentially, a “Usually Loads Slow” splash screen served up by Google would pretty much be the kiss of death to any website, encouraging a web surfer to move along to an alternative site with better performance.
“Internet users are less tolerant of slow websites than they’ve ever been,” said Marcus Taylor, founder of Venture Harbour
(www.ventureharbour.com), a digital marketing firm. “And the shift toward internet-enabled mobile devices means that you’re not going to be seen if you’re not fast.”
While Google was careful to word its shame-police intentions as a possibility rather than an inevitably, it’s no secret that the search giant has been campaigning hard for a faster web for decades. Moreover, the search titan has demonstrated that it has no qualms about stepping in as the officer on the beat when it comes to exposing poorly performing sites.
Indeed, since summer 2018, Google has been branding websites exhibiting poor security by displaying an “Insecure Website” icon in a browser’s address bar. (Secure sites are rewarded with a green padlock icon—the sign of a correctly secured website.)
No one asked Google to do that, and more than a few website owners have been vexed by the branding. But like it or not, Google set itself up as the arbiter of website security, and now it’s looking to expand that role to include rating the speed performance of specific websites.
Bottom line: Many Google watchers see the Google post on shaming slow websites as a trial balloon—a probe to see if there is significant backlash to the idea or widespread acceptance. Either way, the prudent move is to up your game on your website’s download speed now. As many of us have learned over the years, what Google wants, Google gets more often than not.
Here’s a game plan for protecting your site from the splash screen of death:
Get a quick look at how fast your website downloads: Given that Google has a vested interest in a fast web seeded with its advertising, it’s no wonder that it offers free tools you can use to quickly assess the speed of your website. Simply type in your site’s web address at Google’s Page Speed Insights (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights) and you’ll see in a matter of seconds how fast your website’s home page downloads.
Besides offering you an instant rating, Page Speed Insights also offers you extremely detailed, specific suggestions for speeding up your site, such as changing the format of your images or eliminating unnecessary coding. Similar tools you can use to quickly analyze the speed of your site include Lighthouse (https://developers.google.com/web/tools/lighthouse), Yslow (http://yslow.org) and Google Analytics Site Speed Page Timings (https://tinyurl.com/analytics-answer).
Pay extra for faster hosting: Investing in premium web hosting is one of the easiest ways to speed up a large website. While smaller websites may be able to get away with cheap hosting, larger sites often benefit from premium hosting on a virtual private server or dedicated server.
Unlike cheap hosting, which houses numerous websites on a single server, a virtual private server solution actually uses multiple servers to distribute your site content across the web. For the highest priced, potentially most powerful alternative, consider a dedicated server that features a single website on a server that is maintained by a dedicated system administrator.
Ask your web host for help: Web hosts have a number of simple, free solutions that they can use to speed up a website, such as clearing the site’s cache. Plus, they can advise you on a number of actions you can take to increase download speed in other ways.
Chances are, your web host will also try to pitch you on additional services and options that cost money. But it’s worth calling and sorting through what’s free, what costs and what makes sense for you.
Use low-resolution images wherever possible: Bloated, extremely high-resolution images are one of the major causes of slow-loading sites, and they’re completely unnecessary in most cases. Generally, low-resolution versions of images look exactly the same on the web as high-resolution versions of the same images.
“One of the biggest drains on your site’s resources is its images,” said Ellice Soliven, content and social marketing manager for Dreamhost (www.dreamhost.com), a web hosting company. “They’re great for making your site look amazing and for supplementing your text content, but they also require server space and bandwidth. That is especially true if your site contains high-quality images, such as in a portfolio, gallery or online store.”
You can use a photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop (www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html) or Adobe Photoshop Elements (www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-premiere-elements.html) to change an image from high resolution to low resolution with one click.
Or you can use other tools such as TinyPNG (https://tinypng.com), Microsoft Paint (https://tinyurl.com/supportmicrosoft-help-windows), Microsoft Picture Manager (https://tinyurl.com/experts-exchange-com-articles), Pixlr (www.pixlr.com), Shrink Pictures (www.shrinkpictures.com) and Smush for Wordpress (www.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-smushit).
Host your company videos on YouTube: Hosting your business’s videos on YouTube enables you to offload all the heavy lifting involved when someone clicks a video link on your site to view a video. Why draw resources from your own web server (which may be hosting hundreds of other websites) when you can have YouTube’s ridiculously fast servers handle the same job?
To use YouTube as your free video hosting provider, the easiest solution is to simply post a link at the appropriate spot of your website to your company video. Or you can embed a YouTube player (www.youtubevideoembed.com) in your website that will display your video on your website while YouTube’s servers handle all the processing.
Consider using a caching plugin: Websites based on PHP code (e.g., Wordpress) need to convert that programming to HTML before displaying a webpage in a browser. A caching plugin eliminates that conversion wait by generating an HTML version of each page of your website ahead of time in a cache so that it’s there for your visitor’s browsers to access as soon as he/she arrives.
There are risks to using a caching plugin: Some plugins you’re already using on your website may not be compatible with a caching plugin. That can lead to less-than-desirable performance or a complete crash of your website.
Caching plugins are also sometimes vulnerable to hackers, and caching plugins can sometimes store older versions of your website pages longer than you’d like. In those cases, someone visiting your site might not see the latest updates you’ve made. (That problem can be solved by simply clearing your website’s cache.) Even so, caching plugins can speed up your website considerably, so they may be worth
For more info, search for “caching plugin” along with the name of your content-management system (such as Wordpress, Drupal, etc.).
Minimize your use of plugins: While extremely handy, any plugin you add to your website to perform a specific function (such as analyzing your websites data, creating a firewall for your website and the like) represents a drain on your system’s resources.
Expertly coded plugins generally mute speed loss, but some less-than-artfully coded plugins are written so inefficiently that they really slow down your site.
Rule of thumb: Take a few minutes to inventory all of the plug-ins on your website and completely delete any plugin that is not crucial or truly beneficial to your site’s operation.
Compress your site’s files with Gzip: “Gzip works by compressing your files into a zip file, which is faster for the user’s browser to load,” said Venture Harbor’s Taylor. “The user’s browser then unzips the file and shows the content. That method of transmitting content from the server to the browser is far more efficient and saves a lot of time.”
Use a premium Domain Name System (DNS) provider: Basically speaking, DNS providers help computer browsers quickly navigate to website addresses. Premium DNS providers offer faster connections.
For large sites, consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN): If you have a lot of content to move around the web—especially to distant points on the globe—a CDN will help speed up your site significantly. CDNs essentially store copies of your website on various servers around the world. The result is that someone from Hong Kong typing in your website address will be served your site’s content directly from a server in Hong Kong, for example, rather than waiting for the same content to be served from, say, Milwaukee.
“Using a CDN can help you create a consistent and faster experience for visitors, regardless of their geographic location,” said Dreamhost’s Soliven.
Consider using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Heavily promoted by Google, AMPs are near replicas of regular website pages that are specially designed to download quickly on mobile devices. Essentially, you create a page for your website and then you create an extremely mobile-friendly, near replica of that webpage in AMP format.
The result is that when people visit your website with mobile devices, their smartphones or similar mobiles are served faster-loading AMP pages.
Many popular content-management systems such as Wordpress (https://wordpress.org/plugins/amp) and Drupal (www.drupal.org/project/amp) offer plugins to help easily create AMPs. For a complete rundown on how AMPs work and how to get started with them, check out Google’s free tutorial on AMP (https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/enhance-amp).
Check out still other techniques: There are scores of other ways to speed up your website. Type “website speed optimization” into any search engine for more ideas.
Search goliath Google is toying with the idea of shaming slow-loading websites by displaying a “Usually Loads Slow” splash screen in place of a homepage when someone is trying to visit the website. The move, which Google detailed in a recent blog post (https://tinyurl.com/movingtowards2019), would have a chilling effect on any website Google deems slow-loading.
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.