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" Web Page Load Time Optimization "

The experts say that your site's landing page has 15 seconds to capture your visitor's interest and that may be the "outer limit". In his article, Michael Bloch reminds us that a big piece of the market is still on dial-up and that there are some things we can do to optimize page load times. Read more below:

This article may be reprinted in your ezine or on your site in its
entirety so long as the author's credits and all links remain intact.

Web Page Load Time Optimization
by Michael Bloch

In the relatively early days of web site development, page
load times were a very important issue that you'd read
about every other day through various development
resources. Over the last couple of years, reminders about
the importance of quick loading pages seem to have faded
into the background given the uptake of broadband.

Many designers have taken advantage of increased bandwidth
available to users to create eye-popping designs that now
take as long to load as simpler pages did over a 56k (or
even 28.8k) connection. Yes, it's nice to show off
artistic skill, but where is the advantage to the user?

Other sites are now so technically complex, with multiple
database connections needing to be made each time a page
is loaded. It just doesn't make sense to be using faster
access speeds to create the same problems that we've all
endured on the web in years gone by.

Just because a user now has a faster connection, it
doesn't mean that their attention span has increased - in
fact, it's probably lessened over the years.

The other issue is that many site owners seemed to have
forgotten is that there are still dialup users out there -
millions and millions of them. I reported in my web
marketing and ecommerce research update
that currently (2005) there are an estimated 70 million dialup
users in the USA and projections show that there will still be
30 million USA dialup users in 2008. No doubt there will still
be hundreds of millions of dialup users globally by 2008
too. All potential customers.

Dialup users are online shoppers too

What I'm suggesting is - don't alienate those users. Just
because they are on dialup doesn't mean they don't have
money to spend on your products :). I work from 2 offices;
one in suburbia, another in a relatively remote rural
region. The rural office only had dialup and believe me, if
I'm looking to buy something and the page doesn't load
quickly enough - I go elsewhere :).

15 seconds page loading time - maximum

The old rule of thumb applies - 15 seconds load time on a
56k connection. That is the maximum you should aim for.
If you're using a web page editor such as FrontPage or
Dreamweaver, it will tell you how fast the page will load
under a particular connection speed.

To set this in FrontPage, go to Tools/Options/Reports View.
Set "Assume connection speed of" to 56.6. The page load
time will appear in the status bar on the right hand side.

In Dreamweaver, the load time also displays in the status
bar. To set the connection speed, go to
Edit/Preferences/Status Bar. Select 56.6 from the
Connection Speed option.

While these indicators aren't totally accurate, they are a
very handy guide.

Tips for faster page loading

The following are a series of tips that can substantially
decrease load times, and make general site management
a simpler task overall.

Optimize images

This used to be a difficult task, but now almost all graphics
editors have features to optimize for the web - use them.
With a few clicks of a button, you can turn a 100kb file
into 20kb, without any noticeable loss of quality.

Use thumbnails

Do you really need to have an image that takes up half a
page? If it's a product, consider using thumbnails. A
thumbnail is just a smaller representation of an image that
a user can click on if they wish to see the larger version.

Applications such as FrontPage have an automated
thumbnailing option. In Frontpage, click on the image and
in the picture toolbar that should appear below it, the
(usually) third icon along will create a thumbnail
automatically. Just be sure to edit the thumbnail link so
that the full size image appears in a new window.


Cute, but are they effective? What are they conveying?
If they have no practical use, get rid of them. Use a static
image instead. If you need to keep an animation, run it
through the optimizer in your graphics package.

Use a common image folder

I've seen some sites that have the same image on a number
of pages and in different sections; but the image has a
different filename. This means that the browser has to fetch it
from the server instead of just reloading it from the cache.
By using a common image folder, you lessen the chances of
having duplicates. It's not only a good tip to improve page
load times, but it's part of good file base structure.

Use tables wisely

This is something that I should have done many years ago
for Taming the Beast.net. The way browsers work is that
they "wait" until all the items in a table are loaded before
rendering the content. So, if your entire page content is sitting
between a  and  tag, the user sees nothing until all the items
are loaded and then suddenly the page appears. If the user
is waiting too long, they may think that there's something
wrong with the page and click off somewhere else.

If you use tables as the framework of your site, it's best
to split up the content into header, "middle" and footer
tables. That way the user will at least see something while
the page is loading and you increase your chances of them
hanging around long enough to purchase something from you.

Tables??? What about CSS!

... I hear the purists yell. I don't claim to be any sort of
expert in using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for element
positioning without tables, but there are many fine resources
out there for learning more, including the book/ebook
Designing without tables (FREE chapters for download) .

Other benefits of CSS

While I may not be aux fais with positioning without tables
using CSS, I do use it extensively for text formatting. If
you're not using Cascading Style Sheets, your page coding
probably looks something like this:

<h2><font face="Arial" color="#008000">Here is a heading

<p><font face="Verdana" size="2">This is a sentence

By using a linked Cascading Style Sheet, which is basically
just a set of instructions of how to represent elements your
source code will be a lot lighter, therefore download faster.
CSS has the added benefit of making site-wide formatting
updates a lot faster too - change one file and all your pages
will change to the new format. You can learn more about
Cascading Style Sheets in my beginners guide to CSS .

Do you really need it? - cutesy scripts

Look at your pages objectively - do you really need that
groovy little javascript code snippet that displays the users
current time? If it's not necessary, lose it. It will not only speed
up the load time, but also allow for a less cluttered environment.
If your visitor wants to know the time, they can shift their eyes
a few inches and see it in their system tray :).

If your pages suffer seriously from bloat, try some of these
tips out and I'm sure that you'll reap the rewards - increased
site stickiness, page views and ultimately, revenue!

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources

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Best wishes for your online success!

Stan Smith

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