In a recent Chromium blog post, Google shared that in the future, Chrome may identify sites that typically load slow for users with a splash screen. The warning message on could have a chilling effect on any website Google deems as slow-loading, including business events industry websites — causing potential registrants to have a poor first impression of the event, to abandon the effort to learn more, or worse, encouraging them to move along to an alternative industry-related event with a better-performing website.
“Internet users are less tolerant of slow websites than they’ve ever been,” said Marcus Taylor, founder of digital marketing firm Venture Harbour. “And the shift towards internet-enabled mobile devices means that if you’re not fast, you’re not going to be seen.”
While Google was careful to word its intentions to warn users of slow-loading sites as a possibility rather than an inevitability, it’s no secret that the search giant has been campaigning hard for a faster web for decades. Moreover, the search titan already has demonstrated that it has no qualms about exposing poorly performing websites. Since the summer of 2018, Google has been branding websites exhibiting poor security by displaying an “insecure website” icon in a browser’s website address bar. Secure sites are rewarded with a padlock icon.
More than a few website owners have been irritated by the branding, but like it or not, Google has set itself up as the arbiter of website security. Now it appears to be looking to expand that role to include rating the speed of websites. Many Google watchers see this post on shaming slow websites as a trial balloon; a probe to see if there is significant backlash to — or widespread acceptance of — the idea.
Regardless of whether or not the warning splashes begin to appear, the prudent move is to up your game on the download speed of your event website, whether it’s a standalone website, microsite, or on the drop-down menu of a larger, organization-wide site. As many have learned over the years, more often than not, what Google wants, Google gets.
Here’s a game plan for protecting your event website from the splash screen of death:
• Examine how fast your website downloads. Given that Google has a vested interest in a fast web seeded with its advertising, it’s no wonder it offers free tools you can use to quickly assess the speed of your site. Simply type in your site’s web address at Google’s Page Speed Insights, and you’ll see in a matter of seconds how fast your website’s home page downloads.
Besides offering you an instant rating, Page Speed Insights also offers you extremely detailed, specific suggestions for speeding up your site, such as changing the format of your images or eliminating unnecessary coding. It’s also a good way to check on the work of your web designer after s/he makes the changes suggested by Page Speed. Similar tools you can use to quickly analyze the speed of your site include Lighthouse, Yslow, and Google Analytics Site Speed Page Timings.
• Pay extra for faster hosting. Investing in premium web hosting is one of the easiest ways to speed up a large website. While smaller websites may be able to get away with inexpensive hosting, larger websites often benefit from premium hosting on a virtual private or dedicated server.
Unlike lower-priced hosting, which houses numerous websites on a single server, a virtual private server solution actually uses multiple servers to distribute your site content across the web. For the highest-priced, potentially most powerful alternative, consider a dedicated server, which features a single website on a server that is maintained for you by a dedicated system administrator.
• Ask your web host for help. Web hosts have a number of simple, free solutions they can use to speed up your website, such as clearing your site’s cache. Plus, they can advise you on a number of actions you can take to increase down- load speed in other ways. Chances are, your web host also will try to pitch you on purchasing additional services and options. But it’s worth calling them and sorting through what’s free, what involves fees, and what makes the most sense for you.
• Use low-resolution images wherever possible. Bloated, very high-res images are one of the major causes of slow-loading sites. And in most cases, they’re completely unnecessary because low-resolution versions of images most often look exactly the same on the web as their high-res versions.
“One of the biggest drains on your site’s resources is its images,” said Ellice Soliven, content and social marketing manager for web host Dreamhost. “They’re great for making your site look amazing and for supplementing your text content,” she added. “But they also require server space and bandwidth. This is especially true if your site contains high-quality images — such as in a portfolio, gallery, or online store.”
You or your web designer can use a photo editor like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements to change an image from high resolution to low resolution with one click. Or you can use other tools like TinyPNG, Microsoft Paint, Microsoft Picture Manager, Pixlr, Shrink Pictures, and Smush for WordPress.
• Host videos about your event on YouTube, which enables you to offload all the heavy lifting involved when someone clicks a video link on your site to view a video. Why draw resources from your own web server — which may be hosting hundreds of other websites — when you can have YouTube’s ridiculously fast servers handle the same job? To use YouTube as your free video hosting provider, simply post a link at the appropriate spot of your website to your video. Or, you can embed a YouTube player in your website that will display your video on your site while YouTube’s servers handle all the processing.
“Many companies find that YouTube is a fast and effective way to disseminate all kinds of information,” said Michael Miller, author of the guidebook YouTube for Business. “Done right, it gets information out there.”
• Consider using a caching plugin. Websites based on PHP code (such as WordPress) need to convert that programming to HTML before displaying a web page in a user’s browser. A caching plugin eliminates that conversion wait by generating an HTML version of each page of your website ahead of time in a cache — so it’s there for your visitor’s browsers to access as soon as s/he arrives.
There are risks to using a caching plugin: Some plugins you’re already using on your website may not be compatible with a caching plugin. That can lead to a less-than-desirable performance — or worse, a complete crash of your website. Caching plugins are also sometimes vulnerable to hackers. And caching plugins can sometimes store older versions of your website pages longer than you’d like. In those cases, someone visiting your site might not see the latest updates or corrections that you’ve made. This problem can be solved by simply clearing your web site’s cache.
Even so, caching plugins can speed up your website considerably, so they may be worth the risk. For more info, search for “caching plugin” along with the name of your website’s content management system (such as WordPress, Drupal, etc.).
• Minimize your use of plugins. That might seem to contradict the advice above, but any plugin you add to your website to perform a specific function — such as analyzing your site’s data, creating a firewall, and the like — represents a drain on your system’s resources. Expertly coded plugins generally mute speed loss. But some less-than-artfully coded plugins are written so inefficiently, they really slow down your site. Rule of thumb: Inventory all the plugins on your website and completely delete any plugin that is not crucial or truly beneficial to its operation.
Compress your site’s files with Gzip. “Gzip works by compressing your files into a zip file, which is faster for the user’s browser to load,” Taylor said. “The user’s browser then unzips the file and shows the content. This method of transmitting content from the server to the browser is far more efficient and saves a lot of time.”
• Use a Premium Domain Name System (DNS) Provider. Basically speaking, DNS providers help a computer browser quickly navigate to your website address. Premium DNS providers offer faster connections.
• For large sites, consider a content delivery network (CDN). If you have a lot of content to move around the web — especially to distant points on the globe — a CDN will help speed up your site significantly. CDNs essentially store copies of your website on various computer servers around the world. Someone typing in your URL from Hong Kong, for example, will be served your site’s content directly from a computer server in Hong Kong, rather than waiting for the same content to be served from, say, Milwaukee. “Using a content delivery network can help you create a consistent and faster experience for visitors, regardless of their geographic location,” Soliven said.
• Consider using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Heavily promoted by Google, AMPs are near replicas of regular website pages, which are specially designed to download quickly on mobile devices. Essentially, you create a page for your website, and then you create an extremely mobile-friendly, near replica of that web page in AMP format. When someone visits your site from a mobile device, s/he is served faster-loading AMP pages. Many popular content management systems, like WordPress and Drupal, offer plugins to help easily create AMP pages. For a complete rundown on how AMP works and how to get started with AMP, check out Google’s free AMP tutorial.
There are many more ways to speed up your website. Just type “website speed optimization” into any search engine for more ideas.
Joe Dysart is a Manhattan-based internet speaker and business consultant.