Every time someone types your charity’s web address into their browser, an imaginary starting pistol fires and a dramatic race against the clock unfolds. The stakes are high: if the web page takes too long to load then they will likely lose interest.
That means your charity will lose a potential repeat donor, or a possible supporter, or someone who could have benefitted from your charity’s services. Clearly your charity’s web page loading speed is something that needs some serious consideration. So where should you start?
Speed is the edge
The first things to look at are how fast your web pages currently take to load and whether this speed is adequate. As a very broad rule of thumb, no web page should take longer than 2.5 seconds to load as an absolute maximum, but the quicker it loads, the better.
That’s because research shows that the longer web users wait, the more likely they are to abandon your website. Google research shows, for example, that 53% of mobile users abandon a website visit after three seconds and the probability of a user abandoning increases by 90% after a five second wait.
More effective fundraising
Tiny improvements in page loading speed really make a difference to user engagement. For example, research by Deloitte and Google found that improving your page load time by just one tenth of a second can boost conversion rates by 8.4%.
So making your web pages load fractionally faster could lead to an 8.4% increase in online donations to your charity in response to an appeal. More generally, the research found that faster websites tend to generate almost double the revenue of sites that take longer to load.
Better search engine ranking
One more reason that page loading speed is important is that it is a significant component in Google’s page ranking algorithms and thus vital for your web site’s SEO ranking. So, if you want your charity to appear prominently in search engine results then you need your pages to load speedily.
Measuring page loading speed
So how can you tell if your charity website’s pages currently load quickly enough? The good news is that there are plenty of online tools which can check out your pages and give you a report on how quickly they load, and the things that are preventing them from loading more quickly.
Five tips to speed up your page load speed
Use a fast hosting company
No matter what you do to your charity’s website, it will always load slowly if it is hosted on a slow server. This might be at a budget website hosting company, or even on a server that you run yourself at your charity’s offices.
It’s important to understand that web hosters are not all equal and in many cases you only get what you pay for. Your charity website may currently be hosted on a server that is shared with many other sites. If it is too slow then it may be worth paying a little more to have your website hosted on its own server rather than a shared one.
If your charity website has many visitors from around the world then it may also be worth considering a Content Delivery Network (CDN) service. This hosts copies of your website on servers on different continents so that your website is always close to potential visitors, no matter where they are. That means that web pages have less far to travel, decreasing page loading times significantly.
Compress your images
Photos and other pictures are vital for making your charity website engaging, memorable, and visually attractive. But pictures can require large amounts of data, and transmitting this data takes time. So the smaller your pictures are in terms of data, the faster your pages will load.
The best way to ensure that pictures do not have a big impact on page load speeds is to compress them as much as possible while providing sufficient picture quality. A good format for your web images is JPEG, and if you select progressive loading mode then the images will appear in lower quality initially, so they don’t cause page loading delays, but increase in quality over a few seconds after the page has loaded.
Another option is to use so-called “next generation” picture formats such as WebP or JPEG-XR. These formats are recommended by Google to improve your SEO ranking and can provide significant time savings because of their ability to compress files.
The only drawback is that they are not supported by all web browsers. For that reason it’s important to ensure that you have a fallback image in a standard JPEG format to use as well.
Reduce complexity by minimising http requests
Complex web pages may be made of large numbers of different component parts, and some of these may come from different servers. To assemble the web page these components have to be summoned from other servers using something called http requests.
What this means in practice is that the page will not fully load until all the components have arrived from these servers, and any server which is running slowly will delay the page load. So the more components on your web page, the more likely it will be slow to load.
The solution to this problem is to reduce the number of http requests that have to be made by cutting the need for external components to the bare minimum. If you find that particular components are slow to load then it is worth trying to find alternatives if you are unwilling to remove them completely.
Minify your files
The solution to this problem is to “minify” the files. Minifying is a type of optimization which removes unnecessary parts of the files, and in some cases modifies them so that they do the same thing more efficiently. If you use WordPress you can use Autoptimize to minify your files. Alternatively you can choose a tool from this list of minifiers.
Optimise your page
This involves using a number of different techniques to make marginal speed improvements. Overall they can make quite a significant difference. One simple optimisation is to get rid of any WordPress plugins that you don’t need by disabling them.
A more advanced technique is called browser caching. This involves telling users’ web browsers to save copies of images that occur frequently on your website (such as your charity’s logo, for example.)
That means that after they have visited one of your web pages for the first time, all the subsequent pages that they visit that contain your charity’s logo will load more quickly because the image is already on the user’s computer and doesn’t need to be downloaded again.