Expert Tips on Increasing Website Speed

Not sure if this is just my network, but recently my Google+ feed has definitely improved. Over the weekend, a thread about improving website speed encouraged some really useful contributions. Scott True kicked things off with this question.

scott-true-googleplus

Andrew Shortland started off with some basic advice.

  • Use caching. If you have a WordPress blog, I recommend WP Total Cache. It basically takes a snapshot of a page and keeps it ready to serve instead of hunting through the database to put the page together.
  • Compress your image files. Big images are the most common problem I see in slowing down websites.
  • Try not to use any 3rd party APIs. The minute a page needs to grab something from another service (e.g., AdSense, Twitter badges, Facebook Likes, etc.), it slows things down.

WP Total Cache is a must-have if you run a WordPress blog, Andrew is spot on. However one note, it was recently highlighted on the Seclists Full-disclosure mailing list — an essential email subscription for anyone who manages websites. The issue has been swiftly resolved, much to the authors credit but I’d recommend following his instructions if you are currently running this plugin.

Christopher Skyi then added some useful advice on content delivery networks (CDN).

If your site is a basic html, not image or media heavy, then it may already be as fast as it can be (assuming your host provider is good).

However, if a site is dynamic, like wordpress, or an e-comm site, anything where a database is used to create content, then what’s called a CDN may come in handy, e.g., http://www.maxcdn.com/, http://www.cloudflare.com.

If you’re not sure how fast your site is or how to measure it, try this resource: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

All else being equal, Google will rank the faster site higher than the slower site — See: “It’s Official: Google Now Counts Site Speed As A Ranking Factor

Again, great advice there. gtmetrix-jon-henshawIf you are lucky enough to be running WordPress then it is worth noting that the W3 Total Cache plugin will also help set up your CDN with a few options. Jon Henshaw (Co-Founder Raven) and Joanna Laznicka then stepped in to recommend the excellent gtmetrix.com tool.

I’ve always used Ping tools to track down individual files that were slowing down my websites, but gtmetrix is a great find. As Hyderali Shaikh points out in the thread, being able to compare 4 sites/pages is invaluable.

My team know I’m a big fan of CSS Sprites to speed up websites, and as Andrew suggests, hunting down legacy links or images from website rebuilds. Do you have any website speed tips you would like to add?

AOL and Hotmail Users Spend More Than Gmail

Those clever folk over at MailChimp have been carrying out some research using their extensive dataset of user email conversions/purchases.

Well, we wondered if we could use this data to say anything about the spending habits of email addresses by domain. For example, do AOL users spend more than Gmail users?

They managed to deal with the vast array of global campaigns and currencies to establish if user A spent more than user B. Once they had aggregated this data they looked at the email extensions of the winners. It turns out that Hotmail and AOL users tend to spend the most.

PurchaseDataByEmail

As you can see from the graph above (read top to bottom), Hotmail users spend 6.4% more than Yahoo users and 3.7% more than those with a Gmail address.

Their assumption is that Hotmail/AOL users tend to be older, so have more disposable income. Young people today are more likely to sign up to a Gmail account. It presents an interesting case for email list segmentation though, knowing this set represent your larger spenders.

Have you run any email tests along these lines? Feel free to comment below.

Each Second Of Video Delay Will Loose You 6% Users

A new study entitled “Video Stream Quality Impacts Viewer Behavior” reports that users will begin to abandon your videos if they fail to load in 2 seconds. For every 1 second of further delay you can expect to loose another 6% of users, with a 5 second delay resulting in 20% of your audience jumping ship.

The study carried out by Ramesh Sitaraman, a computer science professor at UMass Amherst, looked at data representing 23 million video views from 6.7 million unique visitors. As internet connections have become faster, users have become more impatient, a similar situation to search where the depth of SERPs per query has reduced over time. It’s not a surprising finding but further supports the need for fast hosting architecture.

The good news is that users are more patient on mobile connections and for longer length videos, where the gain outweighs their annoyance.

SPF Sender Policy Framework Records Explained

Hopefully you’ve already heard of SPF records, one of the new ways to fight spam across the internet. When a mail server receives an email it can check the DNS zone of the sending domain for a SPF record. That will tell them if the email did indeed come from that domain name, using an authorised SPF address. This stops spammers forging mail headers, i.e. pretending that their email came from your domain when it didn’t. You can read more here.

Why do I need to know this?

SPF records are increasingly being used as a filter for email. That means that failing to put one on your domains (or that of your clients) can result in email being sent directly to the spam bin, bounced back or even deleted.

How does this connect to online marketing?

Well the obvious connection is email marketing. If our client mailouts never make it past the spam bin we have already impacted our conversion rate but this has wider implications. Not using a SPF record can hamper any email communication including support/sales follow-ups and forum/blog thread updates or other user notifications. This is a technical issue for server or domain administrators but many are yet to implement this standard. As the marketer you can suggest and push this good practice.

SPF records and Google/Gmail

Gmail is quickly emerging as one of the main email providers, especially as they push us all towards the utopia of “cloud computing”. They are definitely taking note of SPF as a method to fight spam and have already implimented an SPF test for all incoming email. If you open any email there and click “Show original” from the right hand menu, you will probably see something like this among the blurb:

Received-SPF: neutral (domain.com: 238.38.32.00 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of user@domain.com) client-ip=238.38.32.00;
Authentication-Results: mx.domain.com; spf=neutral (domain.com: 238.38.32.00 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of user@domain.com) smtp.mail=user@domain.com

That means Google can’t get any positive authentication for this email, i.e. no SPF record exists. The best it can do is be neutral about the test, “neither permitted nor denied”. Now if we have an SPF record set up we get something a lot more positive:

Received-SPF: pass (domain.com: domain of mail@domain.com designates 238.38.32.00 as permitted sender) client-ip=238.38.32.00;
Authentication-Results: mx.domain.com; spf=pass (domain.com: domain of mail@domain.com designates 238.38.32.00 as permitted sender) smtp.mail=mail@domain.com

Much better, we’ve passed the SPF test at Gmail and our emails have improved chances of avoiding the spam folder.

How do I add SPF records?

Very easily as long as you have access to the DNS settings for the domain. SPF records can also be entered as text (TXT) records which are standard entries for DNS providers. Here is a handy wizard which will generate the SPF record for you. This will probably look something like this:

v=spf1 a mx ~all

So the record you would end up in with in your DNS zone will be similar to:

yourdomain.com. IN TXT "v=spf1 a mx ~all"

If you are using scripts to send out emails automatically (i.e. forum or blog) you may need to add settings for your server IP and the account it sends from. Again check the headers on these emails to see the sender details you need to authenticate (“Show original”).

To check if a domain currently has a record use this SPF validation tool. If you want to test a positive result, use this domain (nickwilsdon.com). Any questions, feel free to ask below.

Further References on SPF Records

SPF Project
Sender Policy Framework – Wikipedia
Google Apps Support – Understanding SPF and Create SPF records