Optimize for Speed

When you decrease the amount of time your website takes to download, you will increase the likelihood they will stay. This has been proven by studies conducted by several giants of the web, including Google and Amazon. They understand that time is money, and the longer someone spends waiting for a page to show up, the more agitated they become. When you optimize for speed, your church website visitors should be surprised with how quickly your site appears. This is especially true if they are viewing it on a mobile device over a cellular network, where every megabyte of data is money.

Parts of this article are a bit technical as some optimization occurs in code. I would still encourage you to read through this list. You will certainly learn a few new terms and hopefully challenge your web team with researching a new technology for your church website.

Optimize Images

Images are undoubtedly the largest space hogs on a website. Depending on what image editor you are using to create your graphics, you may be forcing your visitors to download unnecessarily large photos. Even industry standards such as Adobe Photoshop is at fault here. There are tools such as Yahoo! Smush.it and PunyPNG that reduce image size with little if no noticable effects. You can perform bulk uploads, or sometimes install a plugin right into your content management system (CMS) that will automatically process your images on upload.

Reuse and Combine

Reuse images and external references to code whenever possible. By using the same image as your header, and background, you not only present a more professional site, but reduce the number of downloaded images. This would also include any visual elements you use in your text, such as images in your bulleted list. If you have JavaScript functionality, move it to an external file instead of leaving it as inline code. That file can be downloaded and cached for use in other pages that reference it. However, do not fall into the trip mentioned next and create many small files.

Combine Elements

Whether it is an image you sliced up into many pieces, or the many JavaScript and CSS files you references; the more items you have to download the longer your site will take. It does not matter how large the files are, each request to download a file takes a considerable amount of time and should be avoided if possible.

Eliminate Unnecessary Objects

Gone are the days of clear spacer images, and image maps. Counters notifying users they are the 21,306th visitor are far out of date. Are you still inserting that ad code into your site even though you lost the login credentials long ago? The first thing I am suggesting here is to get rid of outdated, redundant, and no longer relevant objects on your site. If you combined JavaScript functionality into one file, go through it every so often and remove any code you no longer require. If you have a CMS such as WordPress, this would include going through your plug-ins to determine what you no longer need activated. This will be the easiest step in slimming down your website's download size.

Optimize Your Server

This is probably the most mystical item on the list, as many readers are familiar with images and HTML; but server configuration is somewhat foreign. However if you know how to edit a text file, there are plenty of tutorials on how to greatly optimize your server. One of the easiest and best updates you can make is enabling compression. I recommend this tutorial that outlines the benefits and steps needed to enable compression for both Apache and IIS web servers.

Minify Code

You can accomplish this last piece even if you are not a developer. There are many CMS plugins and online services that will minify, or compress, your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. You may be confused as we just talked about compression in the previous paragraph, but this is a different kind. To make code more readable, developers insert line breaks and indent sections at different depths. All of these blank spaces, tabs and carriage returns do not help a computer one bit. So a minify program will strip out all unnecessary characters, leaving you with a block of code that appears a jumbled mess to you; but performs the exact same functions as before.

Action Item

I want to apologize if you made it to here and your brain is a pile of mush. I know that not everyone is very tech savvy; but my prayer is that you become familiar with the technologies and their capabilities. You may not know how to implement half of it, but knowledge is certainly power. Posing questions to your team will push them to create a better and faster experience for your visitors. Just note that there me some very good reasons they cannot implement one of these suggestions. Regardless, strive for a smaller site

Image courtesey of Craitza

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.