Did you know you have less than 2 seconds to get and hold the attention of customers when they come to your tour website? Any longer than that and they will get impatient, click “Back” in their browser, and continue their search on a competitor’s website. One of the most important factors for a website’s usability and effectiveness is speed, but its importance is something many tour operators are not aware of. Every tour and activities operator wants their website to deliver a great user experience, and a website that delights new or returning customers is likely to perform better than one that does not. One of the best ways to improve the user experience, especially as travelers increasingly shift to using mobile devices, is to prove a fast browsing experience.
However, most tour websites are still under-optimized for speed especially for overseas users which is where most of their customers start their travel research. But the speed of your site affects every metric you care about: Bounce rate, search ranking, conversions, page views, reader satisfaction, and ultimately revenue. Just about every major retailer online has come to the same conclusion: making your site faster can increase conversions. In this day, seconds make the difference. You can no longer allow your website to be bogged down by unoptimized images and files. Your users expect your web pages to load fast, and they won’t stick around if they don’t. Here’s why load speed is still a bigger issue than you might think, along with some of the factors that can affect your site’s speed.
Google started using site speed as a ranking signal in their algorithm way back in 2010, and it continues to serve as one of the many factors that determine where your website shows up in the search results. Research has shown that Google may be specifically measuring time to first byte when it considers page speed. In addition, a slow page speed means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget, and this could negatively affect your indexation. Longer load times have also been shown to negatively affect conversions. In a study done by Akamai, about half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If it isn’t loaded within 3 seconds, those users tend to abandon the site.
An even more alarming statistic is that 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with an online store’s experience & loading time will take their business elsewhere. This means you’re not only losing your current visitors and decreasing conversion rates, but you run the risk of your site losing traffic from those customers who may have referred your website to others. Instantaneous website response leads to higher conversion rates, and every 1 second delay in page load decreases customer satisfaction by 16 percent, page views by 11 percent and conversion rates by 7 percent according to a recent Aberdeen Group research.
What Exactly is Page Speed?
Technically page speed is the amount of time the server takes to send back data after you have requested it (the faster the better). But it goes a lot deeper than that. Page speed is the time between when a user requests pertinent information and the need for that information is satisfied successfully. The faster you can be that source the more opportunity for relationship building. Conversely, the opposite is also true. If it’s easier to just go back and select the next Google result, then they will.
Page speed is often confused with “site speed,” which is actually the page speed for a sample of page views on a site. Page speed can be described in either “page load time” (the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page) or “time to first byte” (how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server). However, balancing a quick page load speed and a great user experience hasn’t always been easy.
- +3%conversions per second with page load time improvement from 15 seconds to 7 seconds.
- +2%conversions per second with page load time improvement from 7 seconds to 5 seconds.
- +1%conversions per second with page load time improvement from 4 seconds to 2 seconds.
Mobile Needs Speed
Mobile is the future of everything wired (refer to our article Why Your Tour Website Must Be Mobile First). Adoption is skyrocketing as the mobile device onslaught looks to encompass the entire human race – 2.32 billion smartphone subscriptions, around thirty percent of the global population in 2017. And the booming tides of stimulating repercussions continue to disturb online businesses barely making inroads into the mobile internet marketing segment.
The competition to capture the attention of mobile users is even more intense due to slow loading mobile websites and lower visitor patience levels. On average, 3 in 4 people will abandon a mobile website if it takes any longer than 5 seconds to load. According to a DoubleClick study, 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load. Currently, the average loading time is 19 seconds over a standard 3G connection. The study revealed faster websites have higher revenue. Mobile sites loading in up to 5 seconds earn up to 2x more mobile ad revenue than those loading in 19 seconds. Another reason why speed is important is that it is a ranking factor for SEO. And this is set to become more relevant now that it’s 2018 and Google has started ranking websites based on mobile-first criteria.
The best way to ensure your tour website will be fast is to build it from the ground up with the correct architecture. Speed optimization is ideally implemented across all stages of website development, and not just after building the entire site, which is only when website owners realize the need to push for website performance optimization. Final tweaks and speed optimization add-ons implemented after developing websites does improve page speed, but even within this performance zone, conversion rates go down by 7 percent for each second of delay after the expected page load time of 2 seconds. The following explains how TourismBuilder is built for maximum speed.
Widgets & Plugins
Tour operators often want to add additional features and functionality, but these must be considered carefully. Even with the smallest of widgets such as the Google+ button box, the burden to website performance in terms of page load time can increase by as much as 2 seconds in some instances. The Facebook like box is another common slow down as it has been known to easily add 40+ HTTP requests. Keeping add-ons limited to a bare minimum is essential to maintaining optimum website performance, which is why the TourismBuilder plugin architecture is carefully monitored to ensure maximum performance.
Four major areas to look at when selecting high-quality plugins:
- Does it perform complex operations?
- Does it load many content assets and scripts?
- Does it increase the number of database queries to each page request?
- Does it perform requests to external APIs?
If the answer to all these questions is YES, your reaction to the plugin in question should be a huge NO!
Now to the big question, how many plugins is too many?
While there’s no comprehensive answer to this question, limitations are unique to every website and plugin. A lot of WordPress experts recommend not using too many plugins. But many well-performing websites host over 80 plugins until they install one low-quality plugin that adds half a second to page load time.
Similarly, using 10 plugins for simple and unique tasks is much better than deploying one plugin to perform all of the complex tasks by itself. Exceptions include high-quality plugins by credible developers, such as Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin, All In One SEO Pack and the likes.
Each time a page redirects to another page, your visitor faces additional time waiting for the HTTP request-response cycle to complete. For example, if your mobile redirect pattern looks like this: “example.com -> www.example.com -> m.example.com -> m.example.com/home,” each of those two additional redirects makes your page load slower. TourismBuilder is built to prevent this.
Optimized CSS Code and Delivery
Yet, modern websites coded in CSS are better at downloading content from hosting servers to requesting browsers efficiently and accurately. Optimization, therefore, isn’t all about minimizing file size. The following best practices ensure a speed-optimized CSS delivery:
- Shorthand Coding: We use fewer declarations and operators. Fewer lines of code mean fewer processing cycles and efficient delivery of website files to requesting browsers
- Minimized CSS: Almost all website speed monitoring tools give a common suggestion of reducing the weight of CSS code to improve speed. Our lightweight and compact code speeds up downloading, parsing and execution to drastically reduce page load time
Developing a great website takes great work. Leading online businesses leverage industry-proven experience, supernatural Web development skills and a killer Web hosting service to develop websites boasting top-notch performance figures and user experience. But for those who miss this starting point in their pursuit of speed-optimized websites, employing a minimalistic approach in executing simple DIY page speed optimization tactics works (almost) well enough to patch slow websites.
The knowledge of investing in the right set of website speed optimization solutions and services, website management and perhaps downright coding trickery is essential to yield maximum website performance. Strategic business decisions based on this knowledge contribute directly toward enhancing website performance that in turn, lead to better online sales, leads, conversions and ultimately business success.
Optimization is the buzzword of success in the cyber world. Cyberspace, like the real physical world of planets, stars and galaxies is itself in flux – a state of continuous change and evolution. In fact, change is the only consistent process across both the real and the cyber world. Survival in these spaces depends on how well the inhabitants can adapt to varying resources and environmental circumstances.
According to Google, every day the cyber world sees 99 years of human years wasted due to uncompressed Web content!. And although most of the latest Web browsers support content compression capabilities, not every website delivers compressed contents. Visitors to these bandwidth-hogging websites experience insanely slow interactions with Web pages. Primary reasons for this unfavorable (and mostly unintentional) website behavior include misconfigured hosting servers, Web proxies, old or buggy browsers and antivirus software.
Uncompressed content hurts bandwidth-constrained users receiving the Web content in agonizingly lengthy page load times. Here’s the transcript of a common browser-server communication in delivering uncompressed content:
Google recommends the following compression tactics to deliver website content efficiently:
- Ensure consistency in CSS and HTML code with the following techniques:
- Consistent casing – mostly lowercase.
- Consistent quoting of HTML tag attributes.
- Specify HTML attributes in the same order.
- Specify CSS key-value pairs in the same order by alphabetizing them.
- Enable GZIP compression. GZIP finds similar strings and code instances, replaces them temporarily with shorter characters. Browsers decompresses gzipped files, bringing them back to their original shape.
- Enable GZIP compression using W3 Total Cache plugin.
- The best way to enable GZIP compression is at the server-level of Apache or Nginx. Check out our GZIP compression guide.
Browser caching allows assets on your website to be downloaded to your hard drive once into a cache, or a temporary storage space so that when a visitor comes back to your site the browser doesn’t have to reload the entire page. Those files are now stored locally on your system, which allows subsequent page loads to increase in speed. 40-60% of daily visitors to your site come in with an empty cache. So when users visit, you need to make it so the first page they see load quickly enough so they will inevitably continue through the rest of your website (with even faster load times) Static assets have a cached lifetime of at least a week, while third party items such as widgets or ads only last a day. CSS, JS, and images, and media files should have expirations of one week, but ideally, one year, as any longer will violate RFC guidelines.
Developers crave simplicity in website design code. Website code easier to create, read and maintain leads to efficient website development processes. This includes using the available code functions frequently to cut short extensive coding for specific website functionality. However, adding too many extraneous loops and unnecessary code lines increases page rendering times by a few milliseconds. Influx a torrent of website traffic, and the milliseconds compound to plunge page speed well below acceptable standards.
Webmasters can reduce these response times by delivering cached copies of the requested content instead of rendering it repeatedly in response to every single user request that pings their server. Web cache is the mechanism of temporarily storing copies of web content to satisfy subsequent user requests from the cache database when specific conditions are met. This process reduces the number of client-server round trips taken in delivering (static) website content to requesting browsers.
Website owners can enable caching with the following add-ons and configurations when hosting service providers do not provide server-side caching:
Along with static cacheable content, websites also host dynamic information containing unique attributes changing regularly for every end-user. Storing cached copies of non-reusable dynamic content therefore doesn’t make sense, even though rendering non-cached content is a painstakingly slow process.
WordPress is Faster With PHP 7
With the release of PHP 7 came huge performance gains! So big in fact, that it should be a priority over a lot of the small optimizations you might playing around with on your WordPress site. The following benchmarks demonstrate significant performance improvements with PHP 7 over its previous iterations. PHP 7 allows the system to execute twice as many requests per second in comparison with the PHP 5.6, at almost half of the latency.
- WordPress 4.9.4 PHP 5.6 benchmark results: 49.18 req/sec
- WordPress 4.9.4 PHP 7.0 benchmark results: 133.55 req/sec
- WordPress 4.9.4 PHP 7.1 benchmark results: 134.24 req/sec
- WordPress 4.9.4 PHP 7.2 benchmark results: 148.80 req/sec ?
- WordPress 4.9.4 HHVM benchmark results: 144.76 req/sec
Website performance varies with fluctuations in web traffic. Hosting servers handling normal load at peak performance may lose page speed under excessive loads. Conducting stress tests, ramp tests, load tests and other performance tests on websites creates an accurate picture of how much web traffic the website can handle before losing performance or going down altogether. Compare the results with the website’s actual usage patterns to determine whether the website needs hardware upgrades to handle peak load as efficiently as possible.
Web Server CPU Load
Shared hosting providers running thousands of websites on single Apache servers fail to deliver high performance even when the website is well-designed with a clean and speed-optimized code. Performance issues intensify during peak load times when insufficient server compute power fails to process website download requests efficiently. Monitoring server CPU load enables hosting companies and IT staff running locally hosted websites to keep a check on back-end hardware capabilities in handling unpredictable web traffic deluge.
Website Database Performance
Database performance is critical for websites maintaining dynamic content pulled from back-end databases. A mechanism should be in place to detect and alert for inaccuracies in data transmission. Keeping an eye on free disk space on servers hosting websites locally helps avoid errors and data losses that lead to broken links and eventually degrade website performance.
One of the great things about operating a tour website is the ever-expanding global market reach of the internet and the ability to reach customers anywhere. But this reach is not always equally efficient across the globe due to the very factors that limit client-server communication. Government policies, bandwidth and technology limitations prevent optimum website performance around the world, so website speed and availability tests should be conducted across disparate locations to determine global website performance results impacting world-wide business reach.
Tempting website design themes and multimedia content are head turners for online traffic. That is if the content even reaches the eyes of impatient visitors fast enough. High-quality images and videos (large pixels, large file size) take longer in downloading onto requesting browsers, whereas low quality, lightweight graphics barely capture user attention despite their lower load times. As a general rule of thumb, larger files take longer to download than smaller files. Page load time depends on the total size of content assets being downloaded from hosting servers to the requesting browser. High-quality bulky images are the largest contributors to web page size, degrading page speed and agitating visitors eagerly waiting for the web page to load. According to HTTP Archive, as of December 2017, images currently take up 66% of the average bytes loaded per page, around 1504KB. When compared to other pages assets such as scripts (399KB), CSS (45KB), and video (294KB), images take up quite a large amount of HTTP requests sent. It’s best practice to remove any images of assets you believe you don’t need. This includes libraries of icons you only use two of, those extra three fonts you thought you might use but didn’t, and images that maybe could be replicated with CSS (such as colored backgrounds or gradients).
After you clear out those assets, take a look at the images you have across your site and check out their sizes. More often than not, many people tend to download images from stock photo sites and upload them to their server and use them without ever bothering to optimize them for the web. If you find yourself using large images, especially for hero images, run them through an optimization software like Compressor.io or Image Optimizer. Image Compression is when your image is compressed by al algorithm making your image smaller in size while retaining the image quality. Keep all your images below 150KB, nothing above 1920px in width, at an average/medium/72dpi quality level. Any larger and you’ll notice the images loading very late after the page renders as well as the slow response times to user behavior. TourismBuilder uses WordPress Image Compression so you can compress all your images in bulk, making the resulting image size smaller and smaller images means less data for a browser to load.
The following image optimization best-practices go a long way in reducing the negative impact of images on website speed:
- Format Selection: Use JPGs when quality is a high priority and image modifications are not required before uploading it. JPGs can take limited processing and modifications before image quality degrades sharply. For images with icons, logos, illustrations, signs and text, use PNG format. Use GIFs only for small or simple images and avoid BMPs or TIFFs.
- Proper Sizing: Save valuable bytes of image payload and match the dimensions (width) of your Web page template. Use browser resizing capabilities to make images responsive by setting fixed width and auto-height instructions.
- Compression: Image compression should be a thoughtful tradeoff between image size and quality. For JPGs, a compression of 60-70 percent produces a good balance. For retina screens, increase (JPGs) image size by 150-200 percent, compress by 30-40 percent and scale it down again as per required dimensions.
- Fewer Images: Keep the number of images to an absolute minimum.
Leverage image optimization plugins such as Imagify, ShortPixel Image Optimizer, Optimus WordPress Image Optimizer, WP Smush, TinyPNG, EWWW Image Optimizer Cloud. It’s even better if you go with the ones that compress and optimize images externally, which reduces the load on your own site.
Sliders and Image Carousels
Another way to keep content weight down is by not using sliders or image carousels at the top of the Home page. Not only have they been proven not to convert, but they add unnecessary weight to the page. Use a hero image instead whenever possible.
Conclusion: Website Speed Matters. A lot.
There’s a lot of content covered in this post, so thanks for reading it. We hope you found it educational. At TourismBuilder we provide complete managed hosting services and with our infrastructure, you can rest assured that all the server-side optimizations are taken care of!
Resources for speed testing:
Website Speed Case Studies
Finally, here is a selection of case studies highlighting the importance of speed: