The internet of today looks a lot different to the internet of yesterday, doesn’t it? Especially in terms of speed. Gone are the days of dial-up. We’re slowly waving goodbye to ADSL. And more and more of us are signing up for superfast and ultrafast packages. It’s not surprising, therefore, to find that many businesses are now building bigger, flashier websites that require higher speeds to be able to load.

But it’s a problem.

Why? Well firstly, the use of loads of plugins and interactive media simply isn’t sustainable. Huge, heavy, content-stuffed sites are responsible for a good chunk of global CO2 emissions, and are wreaking havoc on the environment. Secondly, rather than helping website performance – which is what many of us think is happening – complex plugins and tools may actually be hindering it.

Fortunately, there’s good news. By optimising performance, we can improve sustainability.

Exploring the performance/sustainability link

Website performance and website sustainability are very closely related. So much so that one can significantly impact the other. You see, we quite often think of successful websites as being big, standout sites that are filled with interactive content, bold media, and other elements that jump out and engage with visitors. We worry that a more basic website will result in problems such as…

  • Lack of conversions
  • Frustrated audiences
  • Poor brand reputation
  • Lower ranking on Google
  • Abandonment

However, the idea that big flashy websites are always the most successful just isn’t true. The fact is that the more you have on your website – the ‘heavier’ it is – the more energy it uses, and the slower it is to load. And so all the ‘points’ that you’ve scored with visitors for having a ‘WOW’ website are lost, as these visitors become frustrated with slow load times – and a lack of concern for the planet.

To minimise energy usage and build more sustainable websites, we need to be making sites faster than ever before. And that comes from optimising performance.

Why focus on performance?

There are four techniques businesses can use to boost website sustainability. The first three are…

  1. Using more sustainable components, like hosting on servers powered by 100% renewable energy
  2. Making content easier to find, so that fewer resources are utilised by visitors
  3. Prioritising design, so the right content gets in front of the right eyes, at the right time

We talk about these more in our post on the ethical considerations of sustainable web development.

The fourth technique is web performance optimisation, or WPO. And here at Freestyle, we think it’s one of the most important steps you can take, due to the relationship between performance and sustainability. By working to improve one, we’re naturally able to boost the other.

Optimising performance to control environmental impact means that we’re not just prioritising the planet, and we’re not just prioritising our visitors. We’re considering both, finding a healthy balance between user experience and environmental responsibility. And that’s the ultimate goal.

Really, what we all need to be doing is finding ways to help websites load faster. To ensure there’s less work going on behind the scenes – and on the visitor side – to render all the right pages.

Here are a few ways to optimise performance to improve website sustainability:

Make images smaller

Images play a massive role in performance, so optimising them can have a big impact on overall website sustainability. Essentially, the bigger the images, the ‘heavier’ your site will be. This means that it’ll take longer to load, and use more energy in the process. So naturally, you should be trying to make them smaller. There are a few different ways to do this. For example, you could crop images to remove irrelevant content, swap carousels for a single, more powerful image, or compress pictures.

Minimise page weight

‘Page weight’ is a term used to describe how big a page is, taking into account all content, plugins, and so on. The lighter a page, the quicker it is to load, and the less energy it uses. Page weight is measured in bytes, and, while there’s no definitive benchmark, it’s generally accepted that a page weight of less than 1MB is good. There are a number of different ways to make your pages lighter. Making your images smaller will help a lot, along with removing any unnecessary custom fonts.

Reduce HTTP requests

When a visitor clicks a link on your website, an HTTP request for the data is sent from the user’s browser to the server your site is hosted on, and back again. And each time this happens, both time and energy are involved. So, the fewer requests the better. Luckily, there are some ways to reduce the number of HTTP requests being made, without seeing a drop in traffic. For example, you could merge files, or focus on optimising your JavaScript and CSS files. Or try using a content distribution network.

Store files closer to your users

The distance between a user’s computer and the location of your website’s hosting matters. The closer the user, the faster the data transfer and the less energy used. But, of course, your users might come from anywhere… perhaps from all four corners of the globe! So what do you do? The answer is simple: use a content distribution network. Also known as a CDN, it means your data is stored in multiple data centres in multiple places, with users accessing whichever is closest to them.

Use browser caching

Every time the website server receives a request, it sends the data needed to generate all the content on a page. This, as we’ve already discussed, takes time and energy. However, there’s a way to save some of that time and energy. It’s called browser caching. You can instruct the server to temporarily store some files, so they’re all ready to go whenever they’re requested rather than being created from scratch. If you use WordPress, there are some plugins that can do this for you.

Don’t forget about housekeeping

When you’re busy, general website maintenance & housekeeping tends to go overlooked. But this is actually a great way to optimise performance and, in turn, improve sustainability. Focus on activities like cleaning up any ‘dirty’ code, fixing broken links, and compressing any files that you might have forgotten to compress when uploading. You can also regularly check for newly available, fast-loading themes if you’re on WordPress. At the end of the day, it all helps.

Measuring your efforts

So the big question is… how do you know if your optimisation efforts are helping performance, and subsequently boosting website sustainability? The answer is simple: measure the impact.

In terms of performance, using tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help you track improvements in load speed. It’s often agreed that a high-performance website should have a load time of less than two seconds. But don’t get too caught up in it, as there are other ways to monitor performance. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to set some key performance indicators, or KPIs. You can track these over time, and monitor them as you make changes. Better conversion rates and greater customer satisfaction, for example, are good signs that the on-site experience is improving.

In terms of website sustainability, using an online tool to measure page weight is a good starting point. There are also carbon calculators which tell you how much CO2 is emitted every time one of your pages is viewed. If you’ve optimised performance, you should start to see this figure dropping.

Is it all worth the effort?

Let’s be honest. Optimising website performance with the aim of improving sustainability isn’t always a quick and easy job. And it’s not a one-time thing, either. You’ll need to ensure that either yourself, your team, or your web development partner is keeping on top of the situation, long-term, to see consistent results in both areas. However, taking the time to optimise can bring many benefits, like…

  • Improved reputation among customers and potential customers
  • Better search engine rankings thanks to improved performance
  • Lower bounce rates, with visitors spending longer on your site
  • An all-round better experience for visitors
  • An ability to showcase a true dedication to reducing your site’s carbon footprint

A sustainable website is within reach

Optimising performance for website sustainability might seem like something other businesses do. If you don’t have a great deal of technical experience, it can feel overwhelming. But the truth is that anyone can do it, especially if they have the right help. And that’s where we come in.

Book a call with us to find out more, or complete our contact form and we’ll get in touch. Here at More Time To, we believe that website sustainability isn’t just a dream. It’s something that’s within our reach – and by optimising performance, we’re already well on our way there.

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