Welcome to xyz.com, Please Hold…

speedtest“Thank you for calling, please hold.”

This phrase should be nominated as the most irritating phone salutation in the history of telecommunications. It’s one reason the Internet has such traction. The web serves information in an instant, and the site visitor doesn’t have to wait— usually. 

Yet, we’ve all been put on web-hold due to slow downloading pages.  The site has broken the “seven second” rule. If you’re unfamiliar, web design professionalism dictates that your home page  load completely in seven seconds or less.  If it doesn’t, you’re  losing visitors.  We’re not talking about those times when your web server suffers some technical issue.  We’re focusing on design flaw.

Do a Self-Check

Don’t worry if you’ve never designed a web page, browser technology makes checking download speeds easy. Firefox provides an add-on called Firebug.  If you’ve never heard of it, that just means you probably don’t do a great deal of web programming, its a staple of the web design community.  Google’s new web browser Chrome, provides the same functionality with it’s element inspector, inherent in the browser with no add-on install required.

FireFox's Firebug makes it easy for non-techies to test download speeds.

FireFox's Firebug makes it easy for non-techies to test download speeds.

Each tool will give you the files being downloaded— scripts, images, flash etc, and the time it takes each to download. In addition, you get the download time for the page in its entirety (don’t worry if the individual file numbers don’t equal the page total, there’s a valid technical reason).

What If Your Page Downloads Too Slow?

If you find your page downloading in over seven seconds, look to the individual file download times. Start with the largest files. Look for image files first, files with a ‘.png’, ‘.jpg’, ‘.jpeg’ or ‘.gif’ extension. Try these quick fixes:
.png
Ask your graphics designer to convert and optimize these images to either .jpg or .gif. The latter two  file formats will produce smaller file sizes.

.jpg or .gif
Ask your graphic designer to optimize these images if she hasn’t already done so.

Files with .swf, .wmv or .mpg extensions will be a greater challenge. Flash produces .swf file formats for the web. .wmv and .mpg are video. See if any of these tips help:
.swf
These are flash files. Ask your Flash designer if the file size can be reduced. Because of the nature of flash files, this may require redevelopment work. If the flash files are menus, see if they can be replaced with a CSS or java script equivalent.

.wmv, .mpg or any other video file formats
Check the compression of the video files.  Compression can effect video quality, so be careful. This can be accomplished with various video editing tools. You might also consider implementing the video in a different way.  This is something to discuss with your web designer.

Consider Your Internet  Connection Type

Both browser tools provide times based upon your particular connection.  Remember that cable connections tend to provide faster download speeds than DSL.  If your cable connection downloads your page in seven seconds flat, downloads by DSL users probably exceed the limit. Other commercial tools exist which can simulate different connections types.  They range in price, but depending on how often you make changes to your website, it could be worth the investment.

Before You Go…

Don’t just trust the fact that the page loads quickly on your computer.  Most likely you visit your company’s website everyday,  the browser will load many files from the local hard drive.  For your first time visitors this isn’t the case.  You’ll also want to clear your cache to get a true reading. Realize this means you might lose all your saved logins, so I suggest doing this on a work computer,  rather than one for personal use.

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