With 2012 less than a week away, have you got your New Year’s Resolutions for your startup ready? You know, that list of things you’re going to tackle so that 2012 outshines 2011, at least as far as as your startup.
Here’s the first of a set of Startup New Year’s Resolutions I’m recommending this week, and exactly how to adopt, execute and enjoy the benefits.

Resolution #1: My startup site is going on a diet.

How long does it take to load your site? That’s too slow. Too slow for Google which factors in loading time when returning your site in a search, too slow for impatient prospective customers who will abandon your site, never to return.
Unlike human diets that miserably fail, here’s a site diet that will actually work in a couple of hours, not months:

  1. Measure your site default page right now. There’s lots of web tools to measure your site loading time: I like Pingdom’s Full Page Test, even if it’s beta (In fact, I like Pingdom, period.). This site came in at an 3.87s – “faster than 44% of all tested websites”; The Startup Success Podcast came in at a dismal 9.50s, “Slower than 85% of all tested websites”.
  2. Record that measurement. You’re in this for the long haul, so write it down. Evernote is an excellent place for it – Create a note called 2012 Load times, insert a table, and enter your baseline measurement. (Tip: take a screenshot, drag that into the note)
  3. Where is the fat? Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the results. Where is your site bogging down? Loading images? Unminified JavaScript? External API calls to things like Tweetmeme.com? Look for where you can find the biggest time savings and focus on that. For example, I changed the Tweetmeme WordPress Plugin settings so the TweetMeme badge doesn’t show on the home page and in the RSS feed. That decreased overall load time by something like 3 seconds – a significant savings.
  4. Squeeze those images! Depending on how diligent you already are about paring the fat from jpgs, pngs and gifs, this one change could do wonders for your site. In a nutshell, you want to a) use the right image types to reduce size, and b) actually reduce the size of images as part of your standard site workflow. You’ll find a list of tools under Resources that work online and off – find one or two that work for you.
  5. Improve your server’s digestion.By that I mean there’s a range of best practices that lets your server better digest your site’s components. Since every site is different, you’ll need to dig into this (See Resources below), but here’s a couple of basic recommended practices:
    • Avoid Resizing Images in HTML – it makes your server work more.
    • Maximize and improve your CSS – little things like italicizing text via CSS instead of using and em tag add up.
    • Load your CSS first and your JavaScript last and minify them.
  6. Don’t forget to put the squeeze on other key pages. Besides your index page, plan to run your main product, purchase and about pages through the load time reduction steps above. They are the ones your prospective customers are most likely to look at.
  7. Change your coding/content creation habits. After going through all the steps above, you will be hyperaware of what bloats your site. Write those lessons learned and keen insights down as a checklist for the next time you add code or content to your site. Again, Evernote is a good, accessible, free, multidevice place to store that checklist.
  8. Weigh in periodically. Controlling your or your site’s size is not a one shot deal. Close the loop and finish the task by scheduling it for the start of each new quarter in 2012 in whatever app you keep appointments for yourself. Your customers and your revenue stream will thank you.

Resources for your startup web site diet:

Measuring your site:
Pingdom’s Full Page Test is in my opinion the best of the lot.
Page Speed at Google Code is a Chrome/Firefox extension and an online service that is worth checking out.
YSlow, a Firefox (and now Chrome) extension has its supporters – see Five Ways to Speed Up Page Response Times if you decide to go this route.
Best Optimization Practices
The definitive post on this is Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Web Site at Yahoo Developer – most other posts rehash its content.
Before you read the above post, have a look at the more concise 10 Tips for Optimizing Your Website’s Speed.
Check out: The Smashing Book – Performance Optimization for Websites Be sure to click on the button for page 2 for extra tips re your server.
Image Reduction:

4 Comments

  1. Hmm…. What does the Pingdom report tell me??? My grade is 77, but I always thought my pngs too fat (page size >500kb). The rest of the report is like greek. What is “Specify a Vary: Accept-Encoding header”?
    Need to dig deeper into this. Thanks for the links.

  2. gtmetrix.com already does a lot of this for you. It runs Page Speed, YSlow, and gives you a breakdown of page size and load time. Even better, you can set it up to test your sites daily, so you have a record of loading times.

  3. Bob Walsh Reply

    Tyler,
    gtmetrix.com looks great – thanks for sharing that!

  4. gtmetrix.com say “Studies show that users leave a site if it hasn’t loaded in 4 seconds; keep your users happy and engaged by providing a fast performing website!”.
    Really? I find that hard to believe. Are people that impatient? If I want to view a page and it doesn’t show immediately, then I might think that my connection is slow or there is a problem, but I wouldn’t just say “Stuff it, I’ll go look at another site”, because I picked that website because it seemed interesting and now it doesn’t because it didn’t load in < 4 secs! Granted, if the entire site was really slow but for the odd page I don't think I'd abandon it.

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