Web pages should load fast. Period. It’s irritating for any reason to wait on a computer. As a web developer, so many of the factors that go into page loading speed are outside of our control. However, some of the biggest ones are fixable with a minimal amount of work. The effort isn’t really justified for every page, but high traffic pages (like the university homepage) are definitely worth it.
Formatting for speed
All zipped and ready
Zero is less than something
Of course downloading nothing is always faster. Usage stats show us that we have a high degree of returning visitors to our homepage. By setting some pretty aggressive cache headers, users only have to request new HTML. All of the images, stylesheets and scripts can be loaded from what they got on their last visit.
Cache headers are somewhat confusing and can have unintended side effects. Google has a great article on the relevant cache headers: http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/docs/caching.html
Tools of the trade
Optimizing your site for loading speed can be a daunting task. There are a few tools that make this easier. My personal favorite is Google Page Speed (an addon for FireBug). In addition to a prioritized list of suggestions, several optimizations can be run within the tool itself such as image optmization and whitespace removal.
This is the second post in a series about the techniques used in the 2010 redesign of the Missouri State homepage. Other posts in the series: