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As Brian touched on in his previous post, a site’s performance in terms of the time it takes to load pages can have a significant impact on the site’s conversion rate and user engagement.  In this post we’ll cover a few of the most important best practices for improving and maintaining web performance.

Make Fewer Requests

When a web page is requested the browser spends most of the time it takes to load the page downloading the components of the page including images, stylesheets, and javascripts. Each individual request incurs the overhead of establishing a connection which is why reducing the number of requests it takes to load a complete page is critical to improving web site speed and the most important best practice for improving performance for first time visitors. This is why it is so important to choose 3rd parties that require scripts to be included in your pages wisely. All of these 3rd parties have a cost associated with them beyond the monthly or commission fees, which is the time it takes users to load the 3rd parties assets.

In addition to wisely choosing 3rd parties, you can reduce the number of requests needed to load a page by combining files. Images should be combined into a sprite. The CSS Sprite technique should be used to display the correct portion of the sprite in each location.

JavaScript and CSS files should also be combined into as few files as possible.

TECH NOTE:

Any script that is not essential for initial page load, such as those needed for analytics tracking or user interaction should be loaded asynchronously using an event listener and/or a script DOM element.

Reduce File Size

The amount of data sent on each page request has a significant impact on page speed time, especially when bandwidth is constrained, such as on mobile. Most modern web servers and browsers support gZip compression. Enabling it on the web server is one of the quickest and simplest ways to improve site performance.

Another way to reduce total page size is to reduce the size of the css and js. All unused or duplicate css and js should be removed. Js and css should be minified, which is the process of removing all unnecessary characters from the code such as comments and whitespace (spaces, newlines and tabs).

Leverage Browser Caching

One of the best ways to improve page speed is to actually keep it from needing to hit the internet as much as possible. Many web page assets like CSS, JavaScript and image files typically don’t change all that often. These assets take time to download over the internet and increase the time it takes to load pages. Browser caching allows these assets to be saved in the browser for quick repeat viewing. Once the asset it cached the browser can use the local version rather than having to download it over the internet again. This not only drastically reduces the time it takes to load pages but can also decrease the bandwidth your site uses and it’s hosting costs.

TECH NOTE:

For cacheable assets, such as compiled css or minified js embed a fingerprint such as an md5 hash of the content of the file in the filename. When the file changes so does it’s name. This will allow you to set the Expires HTTP header to the maximum recommendation of RFC guideline of 1 year in the future.

Use a Content Delivery Network

A content Delivery Network (CDN) is a system of web servers distributed across the globe designed to more efficiently deliver content to users from servers closer to them. Serving assets, especially images from a CDN is generally relatively easy and can dramatically improve the speed of a site.

These are just a few of the many best practice techniques that can be employed to provide a fast and enjoyable experience for website users.

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