Why is is that some websites out there are blazing fast, and most others take a couple of seconds to load a new page?
Of course the reality is slightly more nuanced, but I’ll polarize a bit and make a bold claim:
Fast websites are websites with less.
In essence it’s what you’re able to leave out, that ensures your website is and stays fast. Here’s a list of things fast websites typically don’t have:
Fast websites either store the minimal amount of data in their own database or they don’t store any data at all and are implement as so called static websites.
Plugins and readymade widgets produce a lot of overhead. First they typically load external scripts, which are then executed to bring the plugin to life. Pay attention how a slow website loads all kinds of widgets. E.g. Facebook Commenting, Twitter Embeds, an external search service available in a popup.
Fast websites are websites that resisted the temptation to include popular widgets. They rather mind their own business and optimize the data flow.
Slow sites typically pull the data together form 5+ different sources. The slowest data fetch determines when the site is ready to be rendered. Often seconds pass till this happens. Often websites display highly volatile analytics data. This comes with a huge performance penalty.
Fast websites are typically for the most part self-contained. They are not entangled with a lot of external services. They also don’t track a lot of data. When you request a fast site, it sends a specialized query to the database to gather all information needed to display on the page you requested.
The more feature-loaded your website is, and the more those features depend on each other, the slower your site gets.
Designers of fast websites have made very conscious choices over which features make it on the website. Fast websites typically have only 3-10 different types of dynamic content. As a result it’s not only easy to understand the overall structure of the website, it’s also much more likely the website stays fast as more more content is added. Remember, websites become slow when features are added cowboy style.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said:
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
When you are building a new website, become aware that often less is more. It will be a better experience for your users, reduce the costs for building and maintaining your website, and last not least, allows it to be blazing fast.
PS: I recently interviewed Anthony Hobday, a London-based designer. You might be interested in his answers to the question: What makes good visual design?