Bill Gates wrote an article in 1996 titled ‘Content Is King’, in which he argued that on the internet there are “broad opportunities for most companies [to supply] information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.”
If you are reading this article now, it likely means you feel your company can offer people value, which is why you need a great website to showcase your awesome products or services.
High-end content is also valuable, but while content may be king, without any performance it risks being glossed over by users and search engines alike. There are almost 2 billion websites on the internet and that number is continuously growing. Simply put, a website which lacks speed and performance will always have a negative impact on the user experience and ultimately on your conversion rate. These slow and inefficient websites will also negatively impact search engines’ indexing performance, and search engines are key tools that users will use to find your website.
While it may look like the odds are not in your favor, there is a solution to these potential issues: great content paired with excellent optimization. This will allow your website and your company as a whole to stand apart from your competition.
What is website optimization?
Website optimization refers to the process of using certain tools and strategies to improve your website’s performance, thus driving more traffic, increasing your conversion rate, and growing your business’s revenue.
A critical part of optimizing a website is SEO, which stands for search engine optimization. This mostly focuses on getting your pages to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for certain relevant keywords, enabling users to more easily find your website.
Another critical part is the on-page optimization, which refers to the tweaks made to your website to ensure a great user experience for every person that lands on your pages, compelling them to follow the steps you want them to take and take certain desired actions, thus converting them into leads.
As such, optimizing your website not only allows you to tap into a potentially untapped market in an efficient and effective manner, without actually paying for advertising, but it also opens the door to more conversions and revenue.
While SEO is a very important part of website optimization, it is only part of the process. The other part lies in optimizing your website for humans in order to gain their trust and start building a relationship with them, allowing you to sell your products or services without the need for a sales call.
Approaching website optimization holistically means combining multiple disciplines to ensure your website performs ideally in every area:
- UX design
- conversion rate optimization (CRO)
Why does website optimization matter?
Over the past decade, the internet has become a place where consumers make most of their buying decisions as well as their actual purchases. It is also the place that people go to in order to find information on local businesses and other companies.
The internet has become the modern alternative to asking a friend, regardless of industry. As such, positioning your business correctly, you can consistently turn people who might have never heard of your company into customers.
If your website and content are not optimized, it does not matter how many people search for relevant terms, as it might not show up in search results, or it may be too far down in the list, or on another page entirely. Optimizing your website for search engines is essentially like putting your business on the map. When consumers search for relevant terms, your business’s website will pop-up in the results. SEO allows you to generate highly targeted traffic from potentially interested buyers.
However, simply optimizing your website for search engines alone is not enough. Growing your traffic is not enough to get more customers; you also need to appeal to humans, those who actually have money to give to you. If people are not enticed when they visit your website, they will likely bounce – exist the website without visiting any other pages or performing any meaningful actions.
To make good use of all the traffic you are getting from search engines, you also need to optimize your website’s UX as well as your conversion funnels. Conversion rate optimization allows you to maximize the number of leads and sales generated from both organic and paid traffic.
How does website optimization work?
As previously mentioned, the goal of website optimization is to ensure your website is appealing to both search engines as well as real people.
The first step toward doing this is identifying existing issues. Before you can improve your website, you need to know what exactly you can improve.
Here are some key things you need to check for improvements:
- page loading speed
- mobile friendliness – for more on improving your website’s mobile friendliness, check out Optimizing Your Website for Mobile Devices in 9 Easy Steps.
- SEO (backlinks, on-page SEO, content, etc.)
- CRO (split testing)
Finally, you should test your website’s usability with unaffiliated test users. This will provide you with a roadmap where you can coordinate your optimization efforts with multiple teams. Content writers and copywriters can improve your website’s content, website managers can improve its structure as well as other on-page SEO aspects, and designers can improve its overall user experience along with the way it looks and feels.
10 ways to optimize your website
There is a myriad of optimization strategies, but as a starting point, here are some of the most common and most effective ways to ensure your website is well-optimized.
- Compress images
Large photos are typically the main issue with slow pages. Fortunately, you do not have to deal with all the various image formats and manually compressing images with difficult software like you would have not that long ago. Nowadays, all you need to do is upload your images to a tool like TinyPNG and get compressed versions of them which are better optimized for web use.
While it may not seem like much, compressing images can actually have a very significant impact on a page’s load times. Not only is this good for search engines, but it also improves regular traffic to your website because visitors are much less likely to get frustrated with it and potentially abandon it before they have accomplished their goals. Users may spend more time on the website, and they will be much more likely to share the content on it with other people.
- Use gzip compression
Quicker network transfers are key when optimizing your website. Gzip is a compression method which makes files smaller so transfers faster, thus allowing users to download content faster, meaning the website itself loads faster.
Gzip compression can sometimes reduce files sizes by up to 80%, which can dramatically decrease bandwidth consumption and improve a page’s loading speed. Given that most of today’s internet traffic comes from mobile devices, which may often use data plans instead of Wi-Fi networks, it is crucial that you ensure your pages load as quickly as possible.
- Minify your code
Apart from compressing your images and other files, a good way to reduce your page’s size is to minify your code.
Depending on how well-written your code is, minification may have a visible impact on load times or it may largely go unnoticed. Regardless of this, if you want to reduce your site’s load times as much as possible, then you should definitely have a go at it. There are numerous tools which can help you with minifying your code, one of them being Minify Code.
- Use browser caching
Caching refers to the backend process of making a copy of a page when someone visits it for the first time and then using that copy to ensure future visitors receive the page much faster. This benefits both you because there are fewer backend resources required to serve pages as well as the users because pages load much faster, ensuring a better user experience and a smaller possibility that they will abandon your website completely.
- Use server-side caching
For typical web pages, database queries are being made behind the scenes and scripts are being evaluated. This process generates the final HTML which is then sent to the user. “In-memory” data storage tools save the results of expensive database queries and computations. The next time a user requests a page, the server can use those saved results to speed up the page rendering process.
For server-side caching to work, however, a request has to have been made in the past for a particular page so that the server has already stored the data for faster transfer. This essentially means that the first user to request a page will not benefit from caching at all.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDNs use clusters of distributed servers to serve users web pages. These servers are spread around the world and they are used to cache pages and serve them to users when they are requested. The difference between basic server-side caching and a content delivery network is right there in the name: the network of servers in multiple geographic locations. When someone tries to access a cached page, whichever server is closest to them is used for the delivery, thus reducing load times.
In addition to reducing page load times, CDNs are also very useful when a website is down, because users may still be able to access the cached version of it instead of getting an error message. While downtimes may be rare, it is still a welcome backup plan to ensure people can still visit your website.
CDNs are extremely popular nowadays, so popular in fact that it is generally safe to assume that any major website uses a CDN. Cloudflare is one of the most popular solutions and fortunately, they also offer a free solution which is perfect for getting started with a content delivery network.
- Check for missing assets
No matter how quirky and creative your 404 page is, error pages still have a negative impact on user experience. Additionally, whenever a browser tries to locate a missing file, it may block other assets such as images or CSS files from loading.
This can negatively impact your website’s speed and performance. Luckily, uncovering missing assets is a fairly simple task. All you need to do is use an online tool such as Online Broken Link Checker or Atomseo Broken Link Checker.
- Improve your server response time
According to Google, the recommended server response time should be under 200ms. The optimization methods listed above should also help to improve your server’s response time. Measuring your server response time to identify any potential bottlenecks or improvements that can be made is always a good idea.
Always keep an eye on your server response time and invest in good infrastructure and a good server. While it will cost you more, it may ultimately be cheaper than investing in additional optimization work.
While optimization may seem complex overall, the right way to approach it is one step at a time, dealing with each method on its own.
There are many other key considerations when building a great website, but nowadays optimization is crucial. Users expect speed and efficiency, and if you cannot offer it, the competition may.