Optimizing Web Sites – Dos and Don’ts on Making Your Site Faster, Your Users Happier

Optimizing Web Sites – Dos and Don’ts on Making Your Site Faster, Your Users Happier




Many web designers and companies opt to have a beautiful website over an efficient web site. What does this average? Often times, they sacrifice quality of the code for the quality of the template. This may not sound so bad, but what do you do when you have a web site that may look great, but takes over a minute to load, already on a basic DSL line? You’re going to lose readers and clients. Users want to have something that loads and loads fast – it does not matter if the web site is the most gorgeous site ever designed. If it doesn’t load fast, the user is going to go somewhere else.

So, do you have to sacrifice either beauty of design for beautiful code, or vice versa? Absolutely not. Here are a few things you can do to optimize your web design. Then, not only is your site looking great, but you can feel assured that your clients are not leaving due to slow loading.

DO

  1. Do take advantage of the.htaccess file. Enabling such things as Gzip compression can severely increase the speed of your website. Remember, if takes longer than a minute to load (I would say, anything longer than 10 seconds to load), you have to redo it.
  2. Do include similar files into one big file. Having multiple JavaScript (JS) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files in the header is a big no-no. Create one big file that includes all of the smaller files (eg: say you have 4 external CSS files. Create a new file, such as “all.css” and include all 4 files into the “all.css”. Then, in the header, import “all.css” instead of all 4 CSS files.)
  3. Do use external files (eg: CSS, JS files). That is, don’t directly input code into the header. External files that are imported are easier to upkeep, and you only have to change one file instead of dozens, hundreds, or already thousands of files, if you had each file with a manually inputed code.
  4. Do permit caching. Caching helps conserve resources. How does it do this? Well, when a user visits your site for the first time, all files are requested from your server over and over again. With caching enabled, all file types will be “cached” – or “saved” – in the user’s browser. Each time thereafter that the files are being called, the files will be requested from the user’s browser instead of your server. Think of caching as a video game’s save point.
  5. Do take your time with all of your work.

DON’T

  1. Don’t make the layout confusing. If your eyes cannot flow fluently on the page – that is, you can see a general start, middle, left and right, and end – then your users will get confused and leave. Make the layout as simple as possible. Remember, it does not have to be complicated to be beautiful and elegant.
  2. Don’t design in Flash. If you absolutely have to, offer an HTML/non-Flash version. Many designers will disagree on this point, saying that all the additional Flash features makes the site rare. As a designer, you cannot assume everyone has a T1/Cable line. Flash takes up many additional resources and causes extremely laggy (slow) websites. A good portion of users don’t have anything higher than a 56K modem – you, as the designer, are leaving an complete faction of users from being able to access your website.
  3. Don’t make splash pages, which include either images, text, or movies. Users want to jump into your site and get straight to the point. Creating these, though beautiful in many situations, is wasting their time. If you want to, showcase it on a separate page.
  4. Don’t closest put up your design live. I know, it’s exciting: after hours of working on your layout, you’re finally ready to put it for the whole world to see! Well, don’t. Take a break, let it sit over night, and come back to it. You may have missed something the first time around, and taking a break will give your eyes – and mind – a fresh perspective and outlook on your layout. Take your time!



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