Talking about site speed today almost seems superfluous, with so many users accessing the web with powerful Internet connections and download capabilities. Most desktop users access the web via cable or fiber optic lines, brandishing download capacities of 15 megabits per second (Mbps) or greater. Although many users will often access those same Internet services via wireless signal, the rapid spread of 4G networks has brought similar download speeds to mobile devices even when they aren’t connected to WiFi.
Despite all that, there are still some desktop users that access the web using DSL or dial-up connections and many mobile users that are restricted to less powerful networks.
But, regardless of all the latest technologies, there will always be some subset of users that hit your web site with poor Internet connections. In addition, many mobile users are limited to how much they can download over their provider’s data network. Personally, I’m limited to 2 gigabytes of data usage per month, excluding any data transferred over WiFi.
That means that when we build and maintain web sites, we need to be cognizant of users’ technology capabilities, as well as their limitations, and plan accordingly.
The first step towards building an optimized web site is simply getting to know your users. Getting a basic idea of user demographics such as age, income, and location will allow you to make some general assessments about how they are accessing your site.
I recommend utilizing Google Analytics to help verify (or nullify) any assessments that you have made about your users. There are several “Audience” reports that will help you gain some insight.
Google Analytics doesn’t collect enough information to paint a detailed picture, but these reports, combined with your own experiences, should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Once you understand your users, you can then determine which optimization practices are necessary for your site.
Here are some easy techniques that I recommend for all sites, regardless of user technology.
Most of these steps are simple and can easily be implemented on any web site without impacting quality or deadlines. Doing these things will reduce page weight, decrease loading time, and ultimately improve user experience.
There are many other things that you can do to help reduce page weight and decrease load time, but you’ll need to decide what techniques are right for you and your site. In many cases, the basics may be fine, but in others, every kilobyte may be important.
To learn more about page weight optimization, I recommend reviewing the Network and Audits features within Google Chrome’s Developer Tools. I also really like the Pingdom Tools website speed test. Both of these will break down how long it takes each resource to load and provide suggestions for optimizing your site.