When it comes to the design of your website, it's very important to have a great looking website so it gives a great first impression of your company, but it should never trade off with a slow loading website. With a slow website you run the risk of your user not even hanging around for the page to load, let alone go through your conversion goals and purchase something or enquire about your products.
Tips on how to keep your website looking great while also loading fast:
Reduce the size and number of images. One of the most common reasons for websites to load slowly is the size of images on the page. Images are very important to tell a story and break up large blocks of text. They are also a fantastic tool to display your products and services, but the trick is to use them effectively so they look tidy and professional while also not taking too long to load. The best way to do this is to make sure that all your images are well optimised. There a number of things you can do to ensure that this happens - you can crop them, resize them, use thumbnails, etc. Read our article on how to optimise your images using simple techniques.
Reduce the number of clicks on each web page. For each of your web pages, try to keep all the info you are trying to convey in the one place if possible. Unless there is a good reason why you want your user to click through to other pages, like say you have another article that might give them more info or you have your high res images on different pages, try to avoid doing so. This will reduce the number of page loads. If you are worried that there is too much information is on one page, use suitable headlines to break up long bits of text and use a headline that summarises each idea in your copy so your visitor will get an idea of what you are saying without having to read through the whole copy.
Limit the number of objects on your page - this means all the various image and text components you have on your page should be limited to absolutely what is necessary. For every object to download on your visitor's computer, a request has to be sent to the server and it needs to be processed and the info then sent back. So if you have too many objects on your page, it could potentially take a while for the whole page to display.
On the flip side, don't have just one big object with all your text and images in it. If you have just one big object or a component with all your content in it, then the whole object will take a while to download and your visitor won't know what is going on as he or she will just a have a blank screen until the whole thing loads. That's why you still need to have separate blocks of information when you layout your page. That way the parts of your page which are smaller in size will load first (which is usually the text part of your website) and your visitor will have something to be engaged with while waiting for the whole web page to load. It's all about balance when it comes to laying out your page.
Avoid flash animation, unless you have a very important business reason to include it, and even then we would probably advice you to reconsider. This is because most websites with flash animation increase the download time drastically. For instance Snow Planet website uses a flash banner on their website. When you test this website for download time, it shows that it takes around 151 seconds to download on a 56k modem - which is more than 10 times the recommended time! So you need to always think about the primary goal of your website - is it to generate results or do you want a website that you "feel" looks good? You can achieve great design without jeopardising your results for example Prestige Real Estate website uses an animated image gallery instead of a flash banner and their download speed at 56K modem is around 30 seconds, which is five times less time than a flash banner! In fact, their website just won the Best Real Estate Agency Website Award New Zealand in the Asia Pacific Residential Property Awards. Mama Mias website is another great example of a website that has great design and this one loads within the 10 second mark.
Do not have audio or video files that play automatically. Always give your website visitor the choice to load up a video or music file on your website. If your video loads automatically every time someone lands on your page, not only will it add to the load time of the page but it will also ruin the usability of your website. There is nothing more annoying than having to listen to the same music or video the 5th time I've landed on your page - I will start avoiding it like plague! Even big players like YouTube and Myspace now give users the choice to load up videos or music - even though the entire purpose of the sites is to provide audio or video entertainment.