Slow page loads are more than just a minor inconvenience for users.
For enterprise companies, they can translate into increased bounce rates, lower conversions, and ultimately a loss of revenue as potential customers abandon a page in search of faster results.
Page speed is a ranking factor, as well — if you aren’t optimizing pages to load quickly, you not only miss the opportunity to provide a great experience but may not appear high enough in the rankings to get found at all.
Even as important as we know that it is, there can be obstacles and challenges in getting approval for and executing page speed optimizations in enterprise organizations.
In this post, you’ll find some of the most effective ways you can improve page speed as well as how you can work with your marketing and development teams to implement and monitor change.
10 Steps to Speed Up an Enterprise Website
If you’re already monitoring page speed, great. You’re on the right track. If you’re not, then make it a priority to do so.
For the moment, let’s assume that we’re all on the same “page” and are monitoring and reporting on load times.
What if page speeds aren’t exactly where you want them? What can you do to ensure that you’re giving customers or clients the best experience possible?
There are plenty of ways to address the slow page speeds, and these 10 steps are a great place to start.
1. Leverage Browser Caching
When a user visits your site, the client and server begin a resource exchange. Data from your website – typically static assets like logos, styles, background, and images – download to the user’s hard drive and are stored there for a predetermined period of time.
Initially, this process eats up bandwidth (and with it, time).
However, when that data is cached, that information is already available. There’s no need to download it again, which leads to faster load times and a much better experience for users.
There’s no magical “browser cache” expiration date, but there are some general best practices.
For instance, you may want to cache content that rarely changes for up to a year or use eTags to make conditional cache requests when content changes.
2. Clean Up Code
SEO is one of the few marketing channels that depends on what’s on the surface just as much as what’s below it. Nothing illustrates that more than the relationship between your source code and SEO efforts.
Search engines, especially Google, rely on many factors to determine a site’s ranking – one of the most important is crawlability, or how easily it can access and crawl the content on your site.
When your site is coded correctly, that process goes faster. When there are errors everywhere, the opposite is true, and page speed takes a direct hit.
Because enterprises often have a long digital history, their foundational website coding can be outdated, inefficient, or littered with unintentional errors that accumulate over time. Though time-consuming, a thorough audit of your code helps you identify issues and address them as necessary.
Though you can start an audit at any time, if you really want to address page speed issues, then this should be one of the first steps you take. Otherwise, you may find those code problems overshadow your efforts to fix the issue.
3. Enable Server-side Compression
Many webpages are packed with content, media, and assets that are both visible and invisible to users. When those assets are in their original form, they can bog down slower connections and lead to unnecessarily long load times.
Your webserver may be fast, and your own internet connection may be fast, but you want to plan for people accessing your website on a slower, 4G, or even 3G cell phone connection.
Enabling server-side compression with algorithms like Brotli or gzip makes it easy to compress those assets so that they are less of a burden for both your servers and the user.
4. Get a Content Delivery Network
Content delivery networks, also referred to as content distribution networks (CDNs), manage how data (including style sheets, images, video, script, etc.) are transferred from the server to the client.
When you use a CDN, a group of geographically distributed servers will work together to quickly deliver site content, reducing load times and bandwidth consumption.
The benefits of this transfer method can extend to both the organization and the site user by decreasing the amount of information the server must provide.
In some cases, CDN can also add a layer of security to data transfers. While that won’t help with page speed, it can benefit brand reputation and integrity efforts.
5. Avoid Landing Page Redirects
Redirects are commonplace, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal. They can be particularly troublesome for SEO.
When a user is ushered through a landing page redirect, the server must provide additional data, increasing page load times.
That’s not to suggest that redirects should be avoided at all costs – sometimes, they’re a necessary evil. They should, however, be used sparingly.
Save redirects for times when you must address a faulty, incorrect, or otherwise problematic URL.
Before you use a redirect, here are some things to consider:
- Use the correct redirect. Though 302, 301, and 307 redirects will all move from one URL to the preferred one, they aren’t created equally. Using the wrong one can create problems with crawlers and users.
- Avoid redirect chains (e.g., redirecting/contact to/contact us to/contact form). Redirect chains can add unnecessary load times as users are moved from one URL to the next.
- Use responsive layouts, which can cut down on unnecessary mobile landing page redirects.
6. Use Lazy Loading
For pages with a lot of content, lazy loading can be a real game-changer. Traditionally, webpage content, especially images, is loaded simultaneously.
That may seem efficient, but when it comes to page speed, the opposite is true. When you rely on simultaneous uploads, site users have to wait longer for content, both above and below the fold, to load.
Lazy loading prioritizes content based on what the user will see first, making it easier for users to see and interact with content faster. The content below the fold isn’t uploaded until the user scrolls down the page.
A common question here is, “doesn’t that affect page load metrics?”
Fortunately, the answer is no.
Your page load times will be based on the largest content paint (LCP), which refers to the content visible to users before they need to scroll.
So even though the page isn’t completely loaded, you’ll receive “full credit” for load speed once that above-the-fold content is visible to users.
7. Improve Server Response Time
Your server does a lot of heavy lifting, and anything you can do to lighten the load (without compromising UX) will help improve page speed.
Using a CDN, monitoring your site for bottlenecks, compressing images, etc., can all make it easier for your server to handle the task at hand and give users the experience they want at the speed they expect.
There are two crucial aspects to addressing this specifically, however. Both of these need to revolve around thinking of a visit to the website being like “booting up a computer.”
The first aspect that needs to be addressed is to use a static page cache.
Even on an ecommerce website, many of the pages (the home page, the product pages, etc.) will all be the same for every user; using a static page cache on the server prevents the server from having to go through all the computational work to serve that page.
And since this must happen before anything else, having the time behind this step be small – even less than 1/4 of a second, ideally – is critical.
The second aspect for most websites (anything using PHP as a backend, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, etc.) is to ensure that the web hosting provider’s server allows for a “persistent opcode cache.”
When a PHP application is run, the human-readable code is first compiled into a more machine-usable code. Most servers (because this uses a lot of RAM) default to preventing the machine-usable code from staying around.
If you’ve ever seen a site that’s extremely fast right up until you get to the checkout part, it’s usually due to missing this component.
8. Optimize Site Media
Images and videos are a valuable asset – few of us enjoy a wall of text without any visual support or cues – but they can also be costly when it comes to page load times.
Images that aren’t adequately optimized will take longer to load and drain any hopes of improving site speeds.
If you’re using images or video, make sure that they aren’t larger than necessary, are appropriately formatted, and that you compress visual assets to decrease load time.
An easy way to do this is by using a third-party compression tool that changes the size of the file without compromising the integrity of the image or video.
You can purchase data compression software, but there are also plenty of free platforms that you can experiment with to get started.
If you’re coping with slow load times and a page is image-heavy, then this step alone can make a significant difference in page speed.
WebP is a newer image format, supported by all modern browsers, that allows you to significantly reduce the size of your images, without having to sacrifice quality.
With that thought in mind, it’s also an excellent idea to closely monitor load times for new pages or pages with a recent image overhaul.
9. Improve HTML & CSS Structure
I already mentioned the importance of clean code, but it’s worth mentioning again with a specific call out to HTML & CSS structure.
HTML and CSS that have not been optimized will increase page weight or the size of your page. The heavier the page, the longer it will take to load.
Unnecessary spaces and characters can weigh down your page without adding any value to users. Improving your HTML and CSS structure can help create a lighter page that loads faster.
Does that mean you need to have someone go page by page, manually reviewing code? Absolutely not.
Some great tools, such as CSS Minify and DirtyMarkup, can automate the process of revising existing code and optimizing new code before it goes live.
10. Themes & Plugins
When it comes to creating an integrated experience for both front and end and backend users, themes and plugins can bring real value. Unfortunately, not all plugins are created equally, and depending on your CMS, some can create significant page lag.
There’s no single reason for this issue. In some cases, the plugins are outdated or not compatible with your site.
In other instances, those themes and plugins can be poorly crafted, to begin with, and any issues that exist will be carried to your site and slow load times.
There’s no need to get rid of all those third-party assets, though. Instead, only use plugins and themes from a reputable source, make sure you’re using the latest version, and keep used to a minimum.
When you add new plugins or themes to a page, always closely monitor page speed to quickly identify any issues before they lead to increased bounce rates and unsatisfied users.
Enterprise SEO Implementation Issues: Managing Internal Hurdles
In theory, the steps above are easy enough to implement, and doing so will provide real value to users. In practice, however, it’s not always as easy.
For example, one of the most significant barriers to page speed improvement is finding the support to make the necessary changes.
Though some of the changes above, like media optimization, are well within the bounds of your digital marketing team, others rely heavily on system administrators and IT professionals.
That’s particularly true for development or service-based changes, which often require backend access to address those front-end issues.
Bridging the gap between those two departments can be a real pain point for organizations of all sizes, especially enterprise businesses. Procedural changes aren’t always as easy as a simple email between coworkers.
Still, to be successful, your marketing team must have the support of a system administrator and/or access and authority to make backend changes.
To gain that support, consider implementing one or more of the following tactics.
Make a Clear and Compelling Value Statement
Though there are certainly exceptions, departmental issues and concerns are frequently siloed, and relevancy to outside teams isn’t always clear.
One way to bridge that gap and build stronger relationships is to provide the hard data that supports your needs.
Arm your staff with the reports and metrics necessary to highlight the importance of page speed and necessitate the required changes.
Be Systematic and Purposeful With Requests
There will always be fires to put out and changes that must be made on the fly, but creating an environment where requests are excessive or chaotic can make it harder to gain the support your team means.
Make it a point to categorize and plan for changes that require administrative support and work alongside them to establish deadlines and expectations that are reasonable for both parties.
Consider Adding a Developer to Your Marketing Team
If your IT team is already taxed, or if you have frequent marketing-based development needs, it may be time to consider adding a team that maintains primary custody of the website.
Doing so can add a valuable skill set to your team without having to rely on your IT department.
Identify a Liaison or Dedicated IT Department Member
If hiring a marketing developer isn’t in the cards, work with your IT department to see if you can work with a specific member of their department or select a liaison who can manage the relationship. This frees up your marketing staff and can streamline processes, decisions, and other important engagements.
Enterprise SEO touches on so many parts of your business, and it can be hard to pinpoint a single issue that will make or break your efforts.
But when it comes to the customer experience, page speed plays a sizable role.
Any enterprise SEO efforts need to take that crucial metric into account. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to improve site speed in a relatively short amount of time, significantly improving the customer experience, acquisition, and retention.
Featured image: MIND AND I/Shutterstock