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Built for Speed

This past Sunday I visited an exhibit at the Portland Art Museum called The Shape of Speed. It was a wonderful exhibition of cars and motorcycles designed and built between 1930 and 1942. The exhibit focused on streamlining and how it was used in automotive design to evoke a feeling of speed. While many of the vehicles actually did reach impressive speeds for their time, there were quite a few that fell short of that intended goal. As they say, it’s what’s under the hood that counts.

This got me thinking about how we build websites. Since our foundation is in design, we make sure our sites look great. But since a website is ultimately something for users to use and enjoy, we focus on speed first. A faster site is better for user experience and better search engine optimization. With practice, experience, and experimentation, you can speed up any website.

Below are some tips that may help you speed things up a bit.

1. Edit your pictures.
Professional, high-quality images are often what people notice first on a website. But you don’t need to upload original image files for them to look great. Images straight out of a camera or phone are often five to eight times larger than they actually need to be for a website. Many image editing programs like Photoshop have setting to easily adjust an image’s file size without decreasing quality. If your site happens to be built with a CMS like WordPress, there are some very affordable plugins that can reduce and image’s file size automatically.

2. Design with color.
Use CSS for full color shapes instead of using images. This still gives your site amazing vibrance, but without the need for using memory-intensive photos. The website we built for Willard Airport in Champaign uses this technique. Even with just a few full-color photos, the site is bright, colorful, and interesting.

3. Avoid having too many images in a slider.
Image sliders are great for keeping a homepage interesting, but be careful with how many images you have. Many sliders require all images to load before the page can be displayed, which increases load time.

4. Utilize caching.
Browser caching allows your visitors’ web browsers to store your website’s images and text for a specific amount of time. On future visits, the site will load faster because your visitor’s computer doesn’t have to download them each time. As with many recommended features, your CMS may have plugins available to help.

5. Don’t stuff your pages.
For your homepage, provide just enough information to keep people interested. Telling your entire story (or posting all of your pictures) on your homepage can not only slow down your site, but it could appear crowded to your site’s visitors. If your homepage content is compelling, they’ll click through the rest of the site.

6. Avoid pre-built themes.
If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, try to avoid using prebuilt themes. More often than not, prebuilt themes contain extra code that may not be needed for your site. Unfortunately, the code is loaded whether it’s needed or not. A professional developer can create a theme that fits your needs or develop your design on a framework that only uses what’s needed.

7. Use an appropriate hosting solution.
This is the one place where most websites fail speed tests. Hosting can be very affordable, but just because you’re getting a great deal doesn’t mean you’re getting a solution that’s right for your site. When shopping for hosting, make sure you take into account the speed of the hosting service as well as any website management and optimization they may provide. The less expensive solutions are often shared hosting solutions. In theses cases, you may be sharing your hosting space with dozens–or even hundreds–of other sites competing for server resources.

Hopefully these tips will help you with your own site. Of course if you have any questions or need a gentle push in the right direction, please feel free to contact us!

Meet the Author

Jason is a co-founder of ThirdSide. When he’s not building websites, making graphics, or meeting clients, he’s hanging out with his family doing family things or hanging out with performers doing performer things.

He has a Star Wars obsession that some consider to be…unnatural.

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