The Web has gone through some strange phases in its growth, and the evolution has been remarkable. Surely nobody wants to go to the ugliness of the first Web sites – but at the same time, even though modern Web technologies allow us to create some stunning masterpieces featuring all sorts of flashy graphics, 3D and what not, now it’s more important than ever to make sure that we use those resources responsibly.
There is a lot you can do to make a modern website more optimized and functional on a variety of devices and platforms, and if you care about reaching a wide audience, this should definitely be around the top of your priorities list. On the other hand, there are some other kinds of optimizations you can make – such as to your content – that can help drive traffic to your site and improve your standing in the Web. As a modern webmaster, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with every modern development that can help you make your sites run, look, and index better. Let’s have a look at some common points to address as a start if you’re not sure where to look.
Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A CDN can be either incredibly useful to you, or borderline irrelevant, all depending on the type of content your site hosts and displays. There is a lot to gain from the modern implementation of a CDN, and they don’t tend to cost that much nowadays either. However, not everyone needs a CDN and in some cases it’s a waste of money.
The purpose of a CDN is to distribute the delivery of large files – like videos, picture, music, etc – across a large number of servers around the world. Ideally, your CDN should provide you with a server close to every geographic location relevant to your operations. When a user requests one of those files from your site, they’re redirected to the CDN behind the scenes, allowing them to obtain it in a fraction of the time it would probably take your server to deliver that content.
At the same time, this takes a significant load off from your own server, allowing you to focus your performance on areas that truly matter. A CDN can make a site with a lot of heavy, dynamic content very user-friendly and also very dynamic for the webmaster, giving them fine-grained control over how they’re running the whole thing.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Another big modern trend is to deliver unique versions of your pages intended for mobile users, featuring a significantly reduced amount of content carefully optimized to load and run better on most mobile devices.
In this day and age, it’s impossible to ignore the mobile segment anymore, and for some specific sites it’s pretty much a core requirement to deliver a good experience to mobile users. Using AMP can help improve the experience for the user, as well as reduce the load on your own servers, but like a CDN, it should be used carefully and in a planned approach.
Even if your site doesn’t feature a unique mobile version, this may be the perfect opportunity to introduce one. Just make sure that you do enough research to verify that you’ll actually benefit from the implementation of an AMP with regards to the typical traffic you get to your site from mobile devices. A well-designed analytics system should be a top priority if you’re having trouble getting a good overview of the traffic to your site.
Compress local images
If you’re not going to use a CDN and you’re not delivering unique reduced images to mobile users, it’s a good idea to take a careful look at some statistics about the average file size of image data on your servers. A common mistake among webmasters is to waste a lot of traffic on details that nobody cares for, or is even able to realistically see.
If you’re hosting a large number of photos, you should look into increasing the level of their JPEG compression. You’d be surprised how far you can often push that slider without any perceivable change in quality. And yet your servers will definitely notice, as they will have to deliver a fraction of the data they normally do.
This will reflect positively on the end-user experience as well, as clients browsing your site will be able to navigate it much faster, especially on pages that are heavy on images. Of course, if your site doesn’t feature much of these and is mostly text-based, you’ll probably not benefit much from this type of optimization. On the other hand, some kinds of images – such as design elements – should be stored in their original quality in order to avoid distorting the appearance of the site. If you’re not sure, consult your designer and they should be able to point out the images that can be safely compressed.