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Page Load Times Have Never Been More Important

Written By: Kevin Harris

For many readers, the thought of using 1200 baud modems to connect to other users and bulletin board systems is akin to hand writing bibles for limited distribution to church officials. In the earliest days of the Internet, the single biggest challenge for users was usually the ability to get and stay connected to this new world wide web of hyper text filled pages.

Back then the only thing being transferred was text and perhaps a few small images. Like most industries, as the demand for connectivity grew, so did the technology associated with getting onto this newly forming information super highway. Compared to the broadband speeds available to most average home consumers today, the prospect of having an ISDN line installed into the home back then was often pure ecstasy.

Quickly the content available to the new web surfer started evolving from pure text and simple images to more complex displays of words, pictures, and downloadable video. It was when web sites started changing from static brochures to these more dynamic and interactive destinations that the developers of such sites needed to start paying attention to the user's experience.

The amount of time a site visitor was forced to wait to see a page download had a direct impact upon whether they stayed around and experienced more. Slow page load times, then as well as now, are the number one reason people will click away from a website. Usually they never return, either.

In addition to losing the desired eyeballs and page views of visitors not staying at the site, the second biggest reason this needs to be addressed is how search engines are affected. Yes, even the robotic spiders which index the web pages of the Internet are reporting back how long it takes for those sites to load.

The metric of page loads is now affecting the search engine rankings for web pages. If it takes extraordinarily long for the page to load, the search engine likely will not want to promote such an experience to the people using its tools to find online destinations.

As such, it behooves anyone associated with or responsible for development and maintenance of their personal or business websites to pay attention to load times. It is no longer acceptable to say that everyone has broadband (they don't) so what if it takes a bit longer to display the mega Flash animation at the start of the company home page?

Following are a few critical items to be on the lookout for when it comes to improving the times a web page takes to load:

  • Use Compliant Code: While it may not be technically required in order to display content on a web page, having ones web pages coded properly and compliant with applicable standards will solve a lot of challenges that sloppy programming tends to create. Also, with the spectrum of devices and platforms available to display content on, only the most compliant delivery systems will provide for success.
  • Compress Diligently: Images, photos, code, scripts, etc. There are numerous methods and techniques for reducing file sizes, while maintaining full functionality in the elements required to successfully display web pages. If not obvious, then know that the smaller the files needed to travel from web server to page viewer, the faster the page load should be.
  • Width and Height: Spell it out. Many automated coding systems leave out an image's width and height attributes. Without this information, the display device (web browser, mobile device, etc.) will not know how much space to leave for the image. As a result, most displays wait until all elements have been downloaded locally before displaying the page. This slows page load to the viewer.
  • JavaScript To the Bottom: Where possible, have any JavaScript load at the bottom of the web page code, just prior to the last, closing tags of HTML. Many developers mistakenly insert this code into the head of the page, which effectively slows down load times for viewer and search engines alike.

Kevin Harris is a freelance writer for Tektronix. He enjoys writing about this particular topic, and his next piece will be on the digital multimeter.

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