What factors affect page load speed on an artist’s website?

Websites for artists tend to be media rich – lots of galleries and images. If poorly designed, a media rich web page (such as a gallery or home page slider) can take a long time to download which will discourage your visitors from browsing your website. Worse still, they might not even bother! Here is a discussion about the factors that affect page load speed on a WordPress website.

When you access a web page using the internet browser on your computer (Chrome, Safari, Edge etc.), each element of a website (an image, block of text, header, menu, contact form etc. etc.) must load and the browser then displays the content as directed by the page code. Your browser reads the page code and displays the various elements as it sees fit (for example, place header at the top, place a navigation bar below, place an image to the left of the page etc.) thus creating the web page that you see. Each type of browser loads the elements according to its protocols and some are speedier than others.  Different browsers can use different protocols so the page load speed can vary slightly from browser to browser.

A browser is a bit like a human language translator. Each human translator will have a slightly different slant on how a page of text should be translated. Same applies to internet browsers. This is complicated by the fact that there are now very many different types of viewing device although the basic principles are the same.

The time taken for a page to appear on your screen depends on many factors:

1) Amount of content to download (a page with a lot of text, images, galleries etc. will always take longer to download than a simple text page)
2) The technology used to build your website (WordPress, Joomla or core PHP). Wordpress has many advantages, the main one being that it allows the development of complex sites at a relatively low cost. The downside is that there is a more coding to download and querying of databases to be done, therefore page load is not always instant.
3) Your viewing device (PC, mobile, tablet etc.), the browser you use, and the display protocol used by your browser
4) Hosting type – the higher quality your hosting, the speedier your page load speed. Note that location of a server is not such an issue as it used to be because many hosts use cloud based systems.
5) Other factors (hosting peak demands – time of day, IP performance, conflicts on your computer/browser, malware etc. The list is endless.)

Any of these factors can affect page load speed, but the amount of content on a web page is particularly relevant to artists because common elements such as home page sliders and galleries containing many images have a lot more to to download than a simple text page with one image. Careful design can help side-step this issue, as you will see later on.

There is much discussion on the web about page load speeds and standards are constantly changing as technology evolves. Current best advice (2016) is that a business/ecommerce site should load more or less instantly, average websites (individual sites) should load between two and six seconds. Anything longer is definitely on the slow side. Anything above ten seconds is unacceptable.

Ideally you should be aiming for as faster page load speed as possible but like in most things in life, your budget can be a limiting factor.

How does page load speed affect the design of an artist’s WordPress website?

Home page sliders – there is often a balance to be had between the size of the images (large images always take longer to download) and number of images. For example, if you have a small slider on your page, you can probably get away with five or six images in the display. If you want full screen images, you may need to reduce the number of images in your slider.

Galleries – most artist galleries consist of a grid of thumbnails. When a thumbnail is clicked, a full size enlargement is shown. When a gallery is displayed, the browser has to load all of the images including the enlargements. This means that the more image you have in your gallery, the longer it will take to load the page. The optimum number of images in a gallery per page is about twelve to sixteen. However, you may be able to get away with more if you have smaller enlargements.

Videos – if possible, do not use your server to host videos. Instead, upload your videos onto You Tube (or similar) and embed their media player on our website. These services use powerful servers for speedy delivery.

Optimise your images – WordPress compresses images on upload, but there are plugins you can use which will compress images further.

Use efficient hosting – a private hosting server is beyond the budget of most artists and ‘shared’ hosting is standard. However, some hosts oversell their shared hosting platforms which means that your server gets crowded with lots of other websites and this can affect your website’s page load performance. Do not go for the cheapest hosting you can find. If something is cheap, there is usually a good reason!

Still not satisfied with the page load speed of your WordPress website or hosting?

WordPress is currently one of the most popular methods of developing a website, mainly because it is a relatively low cost method of developing quite complex websites. To achieve more or less instant page load, your website needs to be built using lower level development platform (e.g. core php). The downside is that you would have to pay a lot more for a such a site.

Your hosting also affects download time. Shared hosting is the norm for most small websites. Private servers cost around £70 per month and are usually used for business websites that need fast performance. If you have that sort of budget for your artist’s website hosting, go for it!