It’s easy to get so busy with day-to-day work that you leave your website running, unchecked, with sub-optimal performance. Luckily, this blog is full of website performance optimisation tips and techniques to get your site up to date and boost your online results.
Here are our 18 tried-and-tested steps to optimise website performance:
1. Maximise page speed
Page speed is how quickly your web pages are displayed to users. This is a key area of website performance as users may give up if pages load too slowly, and it’s also a search engine ranking factor. Use Google PageSpeed to check how quickly your site loads. You can improve page speed by: compressing images, using a photo editor such as Photoshop or Pixlr; enabling caching, which allows web browsers to ‘remember’ items from your website; and activate AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to maximise mobile speed.
2. Patch security vulnerabilities
Without security patching, any vulnerabilities in your site can be exploited, enabling hackers to access data, send spam and/or make code changes, with potentially severe consequences. To keep your site safe, ensure your software is up to date and apply automatic updates to keep it this way. Security can also be maximised by using anti-virus protection and encrypting your site with HTTPS.
3. Repair broken links
A broken link is a link to a webpage that doesn’t work, leaving users frustrated and negatively impacting search engine rankings. Check for and amend broken links on your site with Dr Link Check, and make sure you have a great 404 error message which informs the user when pages are unavailable and provides options to help them reach other content.
4. Ensure accessibility
Web accessibility means ensuring your website can be accessed and enjoyed by all users, including those with disabilities. To make your site accessible, ensure text is written in plain English, displayed in a legible font, and is clearly contrasted with the background behind. Also, use a logical layout and site structure, and provide information in different formats – such as audio clips, videos and images – where possible. The Gov.uk website has more information about accessibility for particular user groups.
5. Get browser-compatible
There are a vast number of different browsers, operating systems and devices available, and each has its own method for interpreting and ‘translating’ your website’s code. Cross-browser compatibility means that your website can be displayed correctly and is fully functional for users across most browsers. You can test your site’s browser compatibility with Browserling or Browser Shots. Issues can usually be remedied by simplifying website code and removing anything unnecessary to make your site easier for browsers to ‘translate’.
6. Check data protection compliance
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May 2018. To ensure your website complies, make sure that any personal data is stored securely and only used for the purpose for which it was collected. Data needs to be kept accurate and removed when no longer needed. You should also ensure you have an up-to-date privacy notice which explains why data is collected, who it will be shared with and how long it will be kept for, as well as mentioning that people can contact the Information Commissioners Office if they have a problem.
7. Install software updates
Whatever software you use for your website, regular updates are needed to fix bugs, increase security, enhance and add features, and generally improve performance. If you don’t update your software, you may have issues in key areas of site performance such as page speed and browser compatibility, and your site will be at increased risk of hacking. Check on your Content Management System dashboard or ask your web provider whether your site is up to date, and if not, install the latest software version.
8. Produce great content
Web content is any material on your website that a user can see and/or engage with, including web pages, articles, blogs, videos, infographics, testimonials and webinars. Producing regular new/updated content is a vital component of site success as it shows that your website is current, helps search engines find your site, and enables you to connect with users. For great web content, think about what your audiences would like to engage with and create that, and make sure to publish regularly and share widely.
9. Prepare for the worst
A website backup is a copy of all of your site’s files and information, which can be used to reinstate the website in case of a problem such as accidental file deletion or a virus. Check what’s included in your hosting package and ensure that backups are regular enough to prevent you losing too much data if the worst happens. You should also check the quality of your backups, and use different locations for backup storage.
10. Optimise metadata
Metadata is a summary of what’s on a webpage. It’s used by search engines – both to decide if your webpage is relevant and to display to users in their search results. The most important website metadata is the title tag and meta description – these can be updated in the back-end of your site using a plugin or metadata module. Great metadata is brief, relevant and persuasive. It should encourage a user to click onto your content, contain the keywords that users will be searching for, and be concise.
11. Map the way
A sitemap is a list of website pages. It can be either a HTML sitemap, which helps users navigate around your site, or an XML sitemap, which is used by search engines to crawl and index your webpages. You can create sitemaps using free online tools such as XML-sitemaps and Screaming Frog. Your XML sitemap can be uploaded to the Google Search Console to help Google find it, whilst HTML sitemaps should be added to the front-end of your site for users to access.
12. Integrate with social media
Social media integration means linking your website with social media channels to create a streamlined user experience. Make sure your site includes feeds displaying your latest social posts as well as ‘share’ and ‘follow’ buttons so that website users can share content and follow your social channels with a simple click. Embedding users’ photos, tweets and social posts on your website (such as shown here) is also a great way to encourage people social media engagement.
13. Test functionality
Functionality testing means making sure that all features and content on your site are working correctly, both from a user perspective and in terms of back-end administration. If they’re not, users may give up and/or data may not always be transferred into your inbox or database. Test your site’s functionality with Nibbler and also manually check webforms, search boxes, calls to action and payment processes. Don’t forget to check everything both on desktop and mobile/tablet.
14. Review analytics
Website analytics are the measurement and analysis of data about how people are accessing, using and engaging with your site. Consider what are you trying to achieve with your website and how success can be measured. Then collect relevant data (and not just page views and bounce rate!) using tools such as Google Analytics or Clicky. Review this data and use it to make changes to optimise your site. Over time, you’ll need to keep reviewing your website objectives, collecting relevant data and making informed edits.
15. Ensure mobile compatibility
With mobile browsing accounting for more than half of internet traffic, having a responsive or mobile-friendly site is vital. A responsive website reacts to its environment – whether it’s mobile, tablet or desktop – and changes the browsing experience accordingly, whilst mobile (friendly) sites are separate versions of desktop sites designed specifically for mobile. To check your mobile compatibility, use the free Google mobile test tool. If your website isn’t responsive and/or doesn’t have a mobile version, you may need to get a plugin or update your site’s code. Mobile compatibility can also be improved by making buttons larger and clearer, avoiding pop-ups, compressing images and turning off background videos.
16. Improve UX
User experience (or UX) is about ensuring that everyone using your website has a great experience and is able to find and do what they need. Make sure you have clear layouts, menus and calls to action which guide users to relevant information. Think ‘less is more’ by breaking up content with white spaces and images to make it easier to navigate. Finally, use colour strategically to influence users’ moods and behaviours – for example, blue generally represents trust whilst red often expresses urgency.
17. Test with users
User testing (or usability testing) is where people perform various tasks on your website whilst vocalising their thoughts about the experience. It’s ideal to do this during a website’s design/build process, but it’s still beneficial to do later on when small changes – such as to wording or menu layout – can still optimise user experience and improve results. For great user testing, plan exactly what you want users to test, recruit participants from your current or target audience, let the user guide the process, and really listen to the results.
18. Maximise SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising your website so that it’s displayed higher up in search engine results pages. With billions of search engine searches made every day, it’s a key way to bring traffic to your website. To start with, ensure search engines can find your site by creating an XML sitemap and removing any robots.txt blocking tags. Check what keywords users are searching for and include these across your site, and get other websites to link to you to show your website is highly regarded. For more information, read Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO.