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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

3 Secrets to a Faster Website

People hate waiting. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Yet people persistently want to add the latest and greatest to their website to be flashy (no pun intended) and to set themselves out from the crowd. But if you go overboard, you'll not only be set out from the crowd, you'll also never get a revisit from your website visitors. Why? Because each new effect or "toy" slows down your website. Here are 3 important rules and speed tweaks to keep in mind while developing your next page:

  • Use Flash sparingly. I've seen entire websites done purely in Flash. Well that's great, but it doesn't say a thing about their design or programming skills. It can also (depending on connection speed) takes ages to load. Even simple mouse-overs are now done in Flash, when it can very easily be "faked" using background images and CSS. Use it for small things where it can be really effective, otherwise, don't. For your customer's sake. Banners and ads can be done in flash. A design rule to think about is, if someone was browsing your site and they had Flash disabled or the plug-in not installed, would it seriously affect their browsing experience? Would any bit of content, functionality or other critical component be seriously affected? If so, you should re-think your Flash usage big time.
  • Website graphics overload. This one I pay special attention to. Unless you and your entire company has super fast internet connectivity, and you are certain at least 99% of your target audience also has bleeding fast internet, optimise your images! Really, what's quicker and more effective? A 32-bit colour image at maximum resolution that hinders a page and overcrowds it or an 8-bit (256 colour) decent resolution image that really enhances your site and your visitor's experience? I hope I don't have to answer this one for you. My general rule of thumb is, if you want to use an image and it's less than 10k-15k, you're in the good. If it's over, try cutting down the DPI, the colour bit setting and/or use another format e.g.: GIF to JPG to PNG. People using dial up internet will find it a nuisance, especially if there's 10+ images over 15kb that need loading, it's just going to take ages, and if it nearly 7 seconds or over, everyone starts getting impatient really quickly. Oh, and specify your image size (if your web editor hasn't done so already). This allows your web browser to continue loading and displaying your content while the images themselves are still downloading.
  • Javascript overkill. JavaScript has it's place. Heck in the right circumstances, it's hard to beat. It allows dynamic page rendering, page interaction and user customisation, all from the user's browser without having to resort to cookies or creating user logins. However, some people like to go overboard, and add butterflies that follow your mouse cursor, or graphical page transition effects and using javascript to pre-load more images for bandwidth consuming mouse-over effects, and other non critical, annoying, in-your-face features. It's not needed people.

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