A Designer’s Guide to Optimizing Web Page Loading Speed

A long exposure picture of a building with cars passing by.

In today’s digital age, speed is currency. A website’s loading speed can make or break the user’s experience, directly affecting the site’s conversion and ultimate success.

Slow website loading speed can frustrate users and ruin their experience. If a website takes over 3 seconds to load, over 50% of mobile users will leave. Therefore, it’s certainly worth optimizing a site’s loading time to keep users engaged and happy. Remember, when it comes to good user experience, it’s not just about having a sleek design and easy navigation but also about delivering content quickly.

Search engines like Google prioritize faster websites in their rankings. A slow website can lead to lower visibility, which can affect a site’s ability to attract organic traffic. Search engine algorithms are pretty complicated; however, faster loading times can give a website the push it needs to stand out amongst its competitors.

Additionally, a high bounce rate can indicate to search engines that a website isn’t providing value, which may further affect your SEO rankings. Users are likely to ‘bounce’ off your site if it takes too long to load, which means they miss the opportunity to engage with your content, products, or services.

Common Culprits of Slow Page Load

When enhancing a website’s speed, it’s important to identify any factors that might be slowing it down. Therefore, it’s essential to keep an eye out for specific common culprits that can cause these issues:

  • High-res Images

Images are an essential part of website content because they enhance the look and feel of a website. However, it is wise to note that using high-resolution images can have a significant impact on the speed of a website. This is because larger file sizes take longer to load, which can result in a poor user experience, especially on mobile devices where data speeds may be slower.

  • Uncompressed CSS and JavaScript

Uncompressed CSS and JavaScript files contain excess code and unnecessary spacing, which can greatly increase the time it takes to load a web page. Each line of code adds to the complex structure of the page and increases the time it takes to load. Minification, which removes unnecessary characters such as spaces and comments, helps to reduce file size and improve page load times. It is recommended that you always use minified versions of CSS and JavaScript files to optimize web page performance.

  • Excessive HTTP Requests

Each element on your website, such as images, scripts, and CSS files, requires an HTTP request to load. The number of elements that are present on a web page has a direct effect on the number of HTTP requests required to load them. So, the more elements there are, the more requests are needed, and the slower the website will load.

How Design Choices Impact Speed

As designers, we may be laser-focused on creating web pages that are more visually appealing. While that’s important, it’s also important to understand how design decisions affect how fast pages load. A few areas to keep in mind are:

  • Animations and Special Effects

You can add a lot of visual appeal to a website with animations, parallax scrolling, and other special effects. However, these features can also drastically increase the amount of resources necessary to load a site. You should try to use them only on the key pages or sections of a site.

  • Type of Web Fonts Used

When designing a website, choosing the right set of fonts is an important part of creating an aesthetically pleasing and professional-looking design. However, using web fonts can greatly affect your site’s load time, especially if you’re using multiple font families or styles. Sticking with basic fonts that are available on most devices can help minimize load time. Odds are you want more options – and you have them! When you are designing, select the smallest possible set of typefaces (ideally 1 or 2, no more than 3), and load only the variations needed, not the entire family. Assign a hypothetical cost to each typeface and variation and ask yourself if there is a return on investment.

There are several steps you can take to improve font performance.

Load these typefaces locally rather than letting your page builder or a plugin load entire sets of fonts and select them through the theme or plugin interface. Small sets of locally loaded fonts are much better for performance.

Another performance optimization strategy is using the CSS property “font-display.” Font-display takes four values: auto, swap, block, and fallback. We often use “swap” to ensure the browser fonts load as quickly as possible and are replaced with the custom fonts as soon as they are available.

  • Color Scheme and Graphics

Careful selection of visual elements, such as color schemes and graphics, is critical to the design of a website or application. Not only do these elements affect the overall appearance of a site, but they can also have an impact on the speed and performance of a site. For instance, choosing the wrong image format for an icon can add unnecessary weight to the page and make it slower to load. Making choices such as using an SVG instead of a PNG may be a more efficient choice for simple icons. So, making informed decisions about visual elements while considering the impact they have on the overall performance of the site is very important.

Tools for Testing Web Page Speed

The first step in website optimization is an understanding of your website’s speed and performance. There are a number of helpful tools that can help you analyze the speed of a website and identify areas for improvement. Here are a few options you might consider:

  • Google PageSpeed Insights

This tool analyzes website speed on both desktop and mobile devices. It suggests improvements and provides a score out of 100, making it easy to evaluate website performance.

  • GTmetrix

Using waterfall charts and historical data, GTmetrix provides an in-depth breakdown of your page’s speed performance. It suggests improvements based on Google’s Lighthouse and Web Vitals to assist you in identifying specific issues.

  • Valet’s Site Speed Assessment

If you need help optimizing your site’s performance, purchase a Valet Site Speed Assessment. We do an in-depth analysis of your site performance and provide a series of improvement recommendations. 

Strategies for Optimization

Now that you are able to identify the cause of a slow website, it’s time to take action. Here’s what you can do:

  • Image Compression

Striking a balance between quality and file size is very important when it comes to images. You can compress images using various services. For local optimization, you can use software like JPEG Mini. This will enable you to compress images before even uploading them to your website.

However, online services like TinyPNG, ShortPixel, Kraken.io, or Smush can automatically compress images as you upload them to any site. Sure, most of these tools allow you to compress images before uploading them to your website as well. However, these tools are also useful for ongoing optimization after your website goes live. They help maintain image quality while significantly increasing website speed.

Additionally, consider using WebP and other modern image formats to improve your website’s loading speed and user experience. These formats maintain high image quality while reducing file size.

  • Lazy Loading

Lazy loading is all about delivering content on demand. Instead of loading everything at once, you can use HTML attributes, JavaScript libraries, or plugins to load content as it is displayed. This reduces the initial load time and allows users to interact with a site much more quickly than they would otherwise.

Improving website speed is not only necessary from a technical standpoint, but it is also a key factor in user experience and SEO success. Employing tactics such as image compression and lazy loading provides practical and manageable steps to optimize your website. Implementing even one of these improvements can go a long way toward making a site perform better. So, keep these tips in mind as you design and build your next site.