Is your website mobile enough? It's a universally overlooked question for website owners. The assumption, of course, is yes, and why wouldn't it be? If your website is responsive, then all is well, right? Not quite.
Why Does Mobile Performance Matter?
Mobile performance matters because the majority of all internet use happens on mobile devices. They're convenient, powerful and ready at a moments notice. The downside to this becomes apparent when you're out in the world with a slow connection or share open networks with everyone else. Load speed is sluggish compared to home WiFi, and quite frankly we've all been spoiled by having fast internet.
It's frustrating trying to access information on the go that takes forever to load. Needing something as simple as directions or a look at a take-out menu can turn you off completely. It can alter the opinion of a company.
It seems web developers have been spoiled by fast connections, too. With all the plugins, sliders and do-dads you can slap on a website today, piggybacking on fast connections is a necessity for the majority of sites. Otherwise, they're useless. The rest of this article discusses mobile performance and what goes into making great mobile experiences for visitors.
Start at the Server
Not all server configurations are the same. Shared hosting is the most common and lowest cost. However, the issue with shared servers is the shared part. You're essentially competing for resources on a massive server with hundreds if not thousands of other websites. In a situation like this, the more popular the site, the more resources it steals from the rest.
For a website to perform well in this environment, you need to optimize whatever you can to help the server out. The less work the server needs to do the better. A few things you can do quickly before tinkering with your website should include:
- Adding Expires Headers for common file types in your .htaccess file
- Turning on GZip compression
- Using the latest version of PHP if you're running a CMS
In an ideal situation, you want to be on a server by yourself, called a dedicated server. These servers are pretty cost prohibitive for most and unnecessary overkill for the standard brochure website. A dedicated server gives you freedom but comes with the added responsibility of administrating much of the technical details yourself.
The sweet spot, in our opinion, is a Virtual Private Server, where one machine acts like several different servers with resources allocated to each virtual instance. In this case, your host is still managing the health and upkeep of the server while allowing some of the administrative freedoms dedicated servers enjoy without competing for resources with others.
Choose the Right Platform for Your Website
There are too many CMS's to cover from WordPress to Text Pattern. Overall there must be over a hundred different choices to power a dynamic website. What is essential, however, is how efficiently they work.
We have nothing against WordPress, but since it's the most widely used CMS in the world, we'll use it as an example here. These concepts apply to any CMS.
Much programming is involved in building a Content Management System. So many moving parts make efficiency a real concern. WordPress isn't the fastest CMS, but with all the added plugins available, things can get quickly out of hand. Every plugin installed, adds additional strain on a website. Countless scripts, stylesheets, and poorly optimized page code get dumped right into your theme template everytime you install one, and its done very inefficiently. Some are lightweight and well thought out; others aren't. The problem is you never know what you'll get.
Your best bet with any CMS is to forgo utilizing plugins for every little thing your site does. Many functionalities are easy to incorporate without relying on some heavy-handed, overweight solution. Remember, plugins insert features into your webpage, but they also insert cumbersome interfaces into the back-end to control them, making your problem two-fold; it's slow for you to edit and slow for visitors.
Keep Code Lean
- Minify and combine your code
- Reduce the number of HTTP requests to the server and back
- Load your scripts asynchronously
- Prioritize your critical CSS for page components "above the fold"
Optimize Your Images
Large images and videos take longer to load, but we never notice on our home networks, because high-speed internet is there yet again to pick up the slack. Images, rarely optimized to their full potential, can slow down a website to a crawl. By converting images to a different format, compressing them, or both, you can see huge gains in page speed without sacrificing their quality or size.
Cache Your Pages
Caching rules. Most CMS's have some form of a caching system, and plenty of plugins are available to handle the job even better. The cache is a folder full of static HTML versions of all your web pages, that would otherwise need to be loaded on the fly from the database with every visit, which is slower and a lot less efficient. Caching speeds up loading times significantly and is one of the best ways to improve page speed there is.
Content Delivery Networks can take page caching to the next level, providing numerous servers all over the world with your pages cached on all of them makes your distance from the server a non-issue.
Being a Top Performer is Rewarded
Once you've managed to sort out the bottlenecks in a website's performance, you can bask in the glory of owning a site that customers can appreciate. They'll recognize your effort and reward you with loyalty and engagement.
Google also recognizes your efforts, favoring optimized sites in search results on mobile devices. With speed and usability now ranking factors for search, that solid foundation will only help with any marketing or SEO efforts to come in the future.