Cut to the Chase: How to Make Your Website Load Faster.
So your web pages have great content, a nice design, but hardly anyone seems to click through from them to any other part of your website. In many cases, the problem is the load time – people are abandoning your site for the simple reason that it just takes too long for the thing to load.
How Fast Does It Need to Be?
Fast load times are extremely important: usability studies say users rate them as one of the most important things about a website. Users would much rather use a quick-loading site of average quality than a great one that loads sluggishly – no doubt you've done this yourself at some point.
What's the limit? Well, studies say that over a third of users will leave a website that doesn't load within ten seconds. You might think that, in the age of broadband, download speeds don't matter, but remember that in the US, over half of all Internet users are still using slow dial-up connections (if you are, you have my sympathy). Other countries don't tend to have quite as many dial-up connections left, but broadband penetration is certainly nowhere near universal.
This means that you need to pay attention to the size and download speed of your site: those 10 seconds on a 56k dial-up connection correspond to about 70KB in page size – that means that your HTML and graphics should add up to 70KB as an absolute limit. That's quite a stringent requirement, and makes every byte count.
The first thing you should do, then, is to keep the number of graphics your website uses to a minimum. Don't have graphics for things where text or CSS would do, or where they don't enhance your information or design significantly. You should consider the web to be a text medium, and justify every graphic you use to yourself.
Compress Your Graphics.
Once you've removed the un-needed graphics, you might consider compressing the ones that remain. Try turning up their JPEG compression higher, or reducing the number of colours used – you might try using a GIF, if your graphics don't have very many different colours.
When you can't compress your graphics any smaller, don't miss more traditional steps: you could always resize your graphics to make them smaller!
Clean Up Your HTML.
You'd be surprised just how bloated HTML code can get with unnecessary tags, especially if you use a WYSIWYG editor, or design your site using tables. Design your site using CSS as much as you can, and use HTML Tidy (or another HTML cleaning program) to clean up your HTML. Don't ignore the extra bandwidth taken by CSS, though, and try to keep that as small as possible too.
In many cases, a simple cleaning-up process can reduce the download size by your pages by as much as half – it's especially effective for pages that contain long articles, because of the number of unnecessary tags many editors insert at the start of new paragraphs.
Switch Web Hosts.
Finally, you might find that, despite your website's small download size, it still loads slowly. In these cases, your web host may be to blame. Test from a few different connections and computers to make sure, and try putting up a completely different page to test the speeds – but if it's consistently bad, then it may be time to move hosts. You should, however, email your host about the problem first and give them a week or so to fix it, as they may just be having short-term problems.
When you're switching to a host to try to get a good speed, you might want to consider looking around at sites that are already hosted by them. The best way to do this is to do a search for "hosted by [host's name]" (with the quote marks), as many sites will write who they're hosted by on one of their pages – you can then check a few sites out to see whether they're generally fast or slow.