What is Website Optimization?
A few weeks ago we were contacted by a new client who was told by an advertising service that their site was not optimized and so their ads were not being delivered. They needed to optimize the site so their advertising could resume. There’s a lot of confusion and disagreement among web masters and SEO’s when it comes to the definition of optimizing a website. It seems the terms are a bit ambiguous, so we’ll explain the different kinds of optimization and how we helped the client.
When an SEO thinks of optimization, they are usually talking about the content on your website: keyword placement, photos, captions, videos, link text, headers and meta tags. These are the basic components of on-site search engine optimization, and should be performed on every site that wants to rank in Google, Bing or Yahoo. But how can this affect your ads being displayed?
Some advertisers, including Google, check the relevance of an advertisement or website address for signals that match the content on the website to make sure you are trustworthy and not scamming internet users. Google will assign a quality score that determines how much you must pay for the ad if isn’t blocked, but that isn’t optimization. Our client’s ads weren’t being displayed because the site wasn’t optimized.
We pulled up the web pages on our computers and didn’t see any immediate issues, so we looked under the hood. The meta tags were there, but we noticed some issues where photos that were being loaded were not actually stored on the customer’s server, they were being reference from a different site that the customer owned. Additionally, we found that the photos were very large files.
As it turns out the designer of the site was cutting corners to quickly deliver the product and compromised in some critical areas. Hosting the files on another domain creates a DNS request and query to another site which ads load time. It’s important to point out that some sites use a CDN (content delivery network) for serving content from a location closer to the customer. This is typical of large sites with national visitors, and the CDN is optimized for delivery by location. Typically this is an expensive feature and requires technical expertise to properly reap the benefits.
Optimization vs. Design
One of the greatest advancements in internet technology has been the speed of our connections, but as our connections have increased in speed, many web developers have become sloppy. Now, we’re not using dial-up any more, but there was a time when photos had to be a certain size to load quickly or the web page could take over a minute to load on slow connections.
This isn’t something designers or young web developers are very conscious of because they all typically have fast connections and when they turn over their creative work, they seldom look back at the website, they’ve already moved on to the next project. I suspect this is what has happened to our client.
Optimization vs. Cost
So let’s look at this a little differently. The owner of a site may also not want to pay a lot of money, and if they don’t understand that quality aspect of web design, they aren’t thinking either that photos or other content on a site needs to be optimized, it may not be a big deal to them if a website takes 5 seconds to open on their computer. 5 seconds isn’t great, but to them it’s not awful. Let’s look at it differently.
If you have one person opening your site it takes 5 seconds, but if you have two completely separate people trying to open the page at the same time, does that mean it takes 10 seconds because the server is busy? If you have 3 users does that mean 15 seconds? What about the average small business that gets 50 visits a day?
User experience is part of what converts a visitor into a consumer. If the experience is poor or doesn’t truly reflect the quality of your brand, could that be influencing a visitors decision?
Taking a close look at the server and everything that was loading on the page revealed several things to us. The photos were too large, there was too much code, and pages weren’t being cached.
Here’s a closer look:
1. Large Photos – optimizing your photos helps ensure that load times are quick. Check the dimensions of the photo to make sure it isn’t larger than the space where it appears on the website. Use a professional codec for compression to get the smallest size. This is usually where Photoshop has an advantage compared to other tools.
3. Page caching – frequently accessed content should be stored differently on the server for quick access instead of having to load it each time as though it’s the first time, and customers who frequently visit your site shouldn’t have to download the pages a second time if they’ve already been there unless something has changed.
Optimized websites save precious bandwidth and processing resources on your serving allowing you to reach more customers and provide faster engagement. When optimizing a website, remember that Google isn’t the only one looking at your page and take steps to deliver a quality experience for all visitors.