It is no easy feat to ensure your website or application is up and running smoothly, let alone whilst balancing client needs on a day-to-day basis. That’s why digital agencies have become increasingly reliant on Content Management Systems (CMS) to aid website design and development, including the likes of Magento, WordPress, Kentico and Sitecore.
CMS platforms are user-friendly, quick to deploy, easy to maintain and, perhaps most importantly, cost-efficient. They provide a fast and effective way to create and manage websites, instead of having to code them from scratch. This, in turn, takes some of the technical load off developers and marketers, allowing them to focus solely on their clients and campaigns. It also enables non-technical users to easily create landing pages or upload and edit content themselves, without having to outsource the work to a web developer.
However, one negative aspect often associated with CMS platforms is poor performance. It’s worth noting, though, that poor website performance can happen for many reasons, and it often isn’t an issue with the CMS framework itself. Here are five tips on how you could potentially enhance your website’s performance:
1. Monitor your CMS and keep it updated
This may sound obvious, but the first step to improving your website’s performance is to monitor it. That’s because by carefully and regularly analyzing key metrics, you’ll be able to establish average performance indicators and identify potential issues, blockers or threats more easily. Additionally, if you make any changes in the CMS in order to potentially increase your website’s performance, you’ll also be able to identify such improvements instantly.
Pay attention to which elements are slowing your site down. Metrics to keep an eye on include website uptime statistics and page speed and loading times; in fact, a mere second of delay could be enough to frustrate users and encourage them to leave your website. Once you determine your website’s key performance goals and monitor them on a regular basis, it’s time to check website maintenance and guarantee that your CMS’s extensions are up-to-date to allow for the website to function at an optimal level.
There are some good website monitoring tools available in the marketplace that will not only regularly test your website to identify problems, but also alert you in the event that any are flagged. For instance, if your website goes offline for any reason, you’ll be instantly notified, allowing you to instantly take measures to resolve the issue and communicate to your customers that you’re already working on it.
2. Be mindful of the images you upload
Remember I said you should look out for which elements are slowing your site down? Images tend to be the main culprit. It is known that, on average, more than half of a website’s page weight is made up of images. They make websites more engaging, of course, and are crucial, especially when it comes to digital agencies, whose core offerings tend to rely heavily on visual elements. But naturally, the more images you have, and the larger the files are, the longer your page will take to load.
Page speed will also depend on the type of image file – if it’s a JPEG photo or an animated GIF, for example – as some formats load more quickly than others. To keep things simple, you really want to use JPEGs for color-rich photos or images, PNGs for images in black & white or with transparent backgrounds, and GIFs for animated images only.
Optimizing images can dramatically decrease your page load time and speed up your CMS performance as a whole. To use fewer images per page is one solution. Alternatively, you could reduce the size of images without compromising their quality. Most image editing tools like Adobe Photoshop come with built-in image compression features – make sure to use the “Save for Web” feature – but you can also use online compressing tools such as JPEGmini, ImageOptim or Kraken. Reducing file dimensions (height and width) can also significantly decrease image file size. You can simply resize images using an image editing software on your computer.
I’d say that the key to successful image optimization for web performance is to find the perfect balance between lowest file size and highest image quality.
3. Reduce the number of plugins
When running tests to find out what reduces your website’s page load time, it might not come as a surprise to learn that plugins negatively affect functionality. Although common components of a website, plugins require more resources to run and, as a result, slow down your website performance. Additionally, as with images, the more plugins installed, the more resources are needed to run them.
Plugins can load all sorts of different files from external websites. These files can include scripts, stylesheets, and images from different online sources such as Google, Facebook, analytics services, and so on. Poorly coded plugins often load too much bloat, whether your site needs it or not. In that sense, it’s ok to use a few of these, as a lot of them are optimized to load as quickly as possible, so it’s faster than hosting them on your own website. But if your plugins are making too many of these requests at once, then it could slow down your website significantly.
Identify which plugins you may not be using anymore, and which ones are slowing down your website, delete the unnecessary ones and, for the remaining ones, ensure that they are up to date. You should also avoid plugins that load a lot of scripts and styles or generate a lot of database queries. Finally, it’s good practice to run speed tests before and after installing a plugin to compare its impact on performance.
4. Use a CDN
When you host the website on a single server, all user requests are sent to the same hardware. For this reason, the time needed to process each request increases. On top of that, the load time increases when users are physically far away from the server. That’s where Content Delivery Networks (CDN) come into play.
A CDN is a set of web servers distributed across various geographical locations that provide web content to end users with regards to their location. Copies of your website’s files will be stored in numerous data centers, usually located around the globe. Files are ‘cached’ and loaded from the closest server to the user, meaning when a user tries to access your website, they will be served files from the data center closest to them. This cuts down the distance that files must travel, which results in faster load speeds, improving user experience and reducing the load on servers.
5. Find the right hosting provider
As we all know, any downtime could result in loss of revenue for your business. But what companies need to bear in mind is, it’s not the CMS itself that needs to be able to scale. It’s the server resources in the hosting environment on which the CMS runs that need to scale up according to traffic demand.
Content management systems need to be underpinned by high-performance hosting platforms that can scale easily to accommodate increases in traffic. I’d recommend looking out for platforms that have no single point of failure design, as this is an essential feature for websites with heavy traffic. Also, pay attention to speed and flexibility, as this will mean that resources can be upgraded quickly, and your sites and applications will run seamlessly.
Having a reliable cloud hosting platform will also allow you to automate common maintenance tasks such as security updates, backups, and performance monitoring. Cloud hosting platforms also tend to provide proper DevOps environments, making web development more efficient for your web developers.
Putting the pieces together
Like with anything in life, it’s a lot easier to tell you about these tips than to actually put them into practice. They take a lot of time, effort and technical knowledge to implement and, as stated at the beginning of this article, digital agencies are busy enough dealing with clients’ demands. They don’t want to be thinking about managing their web hosting or optimizing their website performance. They just want to know that the sites they build or applications they look after for clients function as intended, no matter what; from a small business with a simple website, to clients who require complex interactive environments, CMS’s or websites that experience high volumes of traffic.
That being said, my final piece of advice is, rather than devoting valuable development time to configure platforms, it is significantly easier and cheaper to centralize this process with a trusted managed hosting provider. They will not only work on the set up of the CMS, but also oversee performance tuning and load balancing, manage updates and handle security issues through in-house monitoring services, ensuring your platform is working to full capacity at all times.
In an age where downtime, slow loading speeds or overall poor performance can cost a business thousands or even millions of pounds (or dollars), guaranteeing the technical performance of a website or application is absolutely imperative.