Why is my website slow?
Common causes behind a slow loading website.
2 February 2021 · 9 min read
Struggling with a slow loading website? It sucks, doesn’t it? And to think that just a few years ago, most people were perfectly content to wait for a slow site to fully load patiently. Today, however, if the page load time takes more than a few seconds, these same people will not hesitate to click the back button.
The worst part is that it’s not just a matter of inconvenience. A slow site brings several negative consequences — increased bounce rates, decreased conversions, poor user experience, and even lower SEO (Search Engine Optimization) rankings.
You worked hard to get your website all set up, perhaps even spent a significant amount on the design and development. So why does waiting for the web pages to load feel like you’re watching paint dry?
Let’s examine the usual suspects.
1. Heavy media file sizes
Un-optimized media files (images, audio files, videos) typically use a lot of server resources, leading to longer page loading times.
Admittedly these media files are important elements in any web page as they can convey information better than blocks of text and are therefore crucial to improving user engagement. The quality of these media files is also critical. But with high-resolution images and videos come heavier file sizes. That’s why a web page with a 720p resolution video will usually load faster than a web page with a 1080p resolution video.
The obvious fix here is to optimize your media files before uploading them to your website. Use a tool like Photoshop or WP Smush (for WordPress sites) to resize them without compromising pixel quality.
- Image files over 1MB are unacceptable
- For larger images, use JPEG format instead of PNG as it more compressible
- For icons, utilize CSS based files instead of images
2. Excessive flash content
Flash content can add some pizzazz and interactivity to your website. In the past, it was one of the most common ways to give your site that “wow” factor and therefore improve engagement. But while it is a great tool, it is also a likely culprit for your slow website.
This is because Flash content is usually bulky and therefore impacts the site load speed. For best results, consider eliminating Flash content altogether from your site. Google Chrome and some other browsers have already ended support for Flash content anyway.
If you must absolutely use it, make sure to drastically reduce the Flash files’ size first before publishing them on your site.
- Flash content used to be cool — not anymore
- Look for HTML5 alternatives in place of Flash content
- If you can’t find an HTML5 replacement, optimize the Flash content properly before using
3. Internet connectivity issues
There are many possible reasons behind poor internet connectivity — outdated router or modem, glitches with your IP address, or even something as simple as a faulty Ethernet cable. In any case, a choppy internet connection could severely impact web page speed.
Before you pick up your phone and tear into your Internet service provider (ISP), however, do the usual troubleshooting tips, such as checking if the issue is only on that particular device, restarting the router, restarting the device, and so on. If all else fails, then call your ISP and let them look into the matter from their end.
- Have someone check your website through a different internet provider
- Make sure your device, router, and modem are in perfect working condition
4. Web hosting issues
If there are issues with the web server, then you’ll have a slow site on your hands. Entering a domain name or clicking on a website link can seem like such a simple thing, but there are hundreds of processes and database queries going on behind the scenes.
Your web hosting is responsible for resolving many of these processes and requests. If there are downtimes or related issues, then your website will experience longer response times, or worse, not even load at all.
That’s why it’s so important to go for a high-quality hosting service, one that can guarantee at least 99% uptime, as well as dedicated customer support, to troubleshoot any server-side issues quickly.
- Choose your web hosting provider carefully from the start
- If you’re on a shared hosting plan and your site records thousands of visitors, consider upgrading to a better plan
- If all else fails, change your web host
5. Your website is receiving too many HTTP requests
According to Yahoo, as much as 80% of a web page’s load time is spent resolving HTTP requests — downloading the various elements of the page, such as images, scripts, and stylesheets. When you visit a web page, it makes an HTTP request for every element on that page.
Essentially, having too many elements will affect the loading speed of the page. Minimizing these HTTP requests begins with first figuring out how many your web pages are currently making. This way, you have a benchmark from which you can begin your optimization.
The process tends to vary by browser, but for Google Chrome, simply right-click on the page and select “inspect.” This will open up a window on the side. Click the “Network” tab and you should see the details of the total HTTP requests in the bottom left corner,
- Reduce the components of each web page
- Use CSS Sprites to cut down on the number of HTTP requests
6. Bloated and unclean lines of code
This is another culprit for slow load times. These lines of code are responsible for the proper look and function of your website, but they can often contain bloated scripts, unnecessary white spaces, excessive new lines, and other stylings that can significantly increase the website stylesheet.
The idea is to remove all these unnecessary elements and compress the code, thereby reducing the file sizes. This should help shave some milliseconds off the page load time.
- Utilize only clean lines of code
- Hire a web developer if needed to do the work professionally
- Minify and compress what you can
- Utilize HTML for non-dynamic content
- Make sure you’ve updated to the most recent PHP version
- Optimize blank spaces
- Use asynchronous loading
7. Using too many plugins, widgets, and extensions
This is a common problem plaguing WordPress sites. Overloading your site with too many plugins, especially those that don’t serve a useful purpose will ultimately impede website speed.
While one cannot underestimate the importance of these applications and integrations, there is such a thing as having too many. By removing these unnecessary plugins and widgets, you can optimize the loading speed and improve overall website performance.
If you suspect that a plugin is messing with the page load speed, the most effective approach is to disable all of them and then re-enable them one by one. Test the site speed every time you re-enable a plugin so you can identify which one is causing the problem(s).
- A high number of plugins, widgets, and extensions can impact website performance
- Use only the programs that your website absolutely needs
- Go for plugins that can handle multiple functions
- Go for plugins that run on their own server so your site’s web server doesn’t have to take on additional load
8. No content delivery network (CDN) service in use
If your website caters to users across the country or maybe even all over the world, you definitely need to get in on a CDN service. As the name implies, CDN delivers your website content to end-users based on their geographical location.
Let’s say your website was set up in the U.S. but someone from Australia is accessing the web pages. Instead of routing that data from the US to Australia, a CDN can serve up your website from the data center closest to Australia’s end-user. This slashes the time required to deliver that content, which in turn means faster response times.
- CDN essentially caches your web pages at different data centers around the world and serves them to users based on their proximity to that server
- While not mandatory, utilizing a CDN service will definitely help improve website load speeds
- Cloudflare is a great place to purchase CDN service
- Cloudflare CDN services are easy to set up and are highly customizable
9. Allowing too many ads to run on your site
If you have a high-traffic website, allowing display advertisements is a great way to bring in some extra revenue. However, it often comes at the cost of slower site speeds and can also compromise user experience by covering content.
The worst are those rich media ads – like banners and pop-ups that show up immediately you land on a web page. Not only are they a nuisance, but they can also take up to much bandwidth and create numerous HTTP requests, which is never a good thing.
- Limit the number of display ads running on your site
- Too many ads on a page will increase the number of HTTP requests and ultimately result in a slow loading website
- If possible, avoid these display ads altogether
- If you must allow display ads on your site, make sure they’re not based on rich media
10. Not using lossless data compression
By compressing these web objects, you’re optimizing the response time since the file sizes of the data transferred from your web server to the browser has been reduced. This can improve website speed and optimized bandwidth usage.
- Data compression is critical to website speed optimization
- gZIP compression is a great tool for lossless data compression
11. Not using caching
Caching basically lets you store some of your frequently used website files in the ‘cached memory.’ This way, if someone wants to access that web page, it gets served to them from the cached memory instead of retrieving the files from the source and then translating them into a user-friendly version before displaying them on the page.
- Caching speeds up the data retrieval and transmission process
- Server-side caching can improve overall website performance
- Caching is applicable to several things — browser, database queries, even image files
- Caching plugins are available so you can get started with a few simple clicks
How do I measure my website speed?
There are several website speed test tools available and they all provide helpful insights into what improvements you can make for better site load speeds.
Our top three picks are:
Should I focus on optimizing website speed on mobile or desktop?
Both! But if you find yourself able to do just one, go for mobile speed optimizations. The number of people accessing the web using their mobile devices continues to soar. So much so that Google now prioritizes indexing mobile-first sites.
Additionally, mobile users tend to be more impatient so your efforts should be directed towards providing them with a seamless user experience.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with a slow loading website is almost an inevitability these days, even more so for sites that receive high amounts of web traffic. But now that you know the most common causes and their corresponding fixes, you can stay ahead of the curve.
As a general rule, you should optimize your website periodically, even if there is no drastic change in page loading speeds.
Got more questions about best practices for website performance and optimization? Read our article on “How to fix slow websites“ or get in touch with us.