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March 6, 2020 10:45 AM, EST

The Shame Police: Google Toys With Penalizing Slow-Loading Websites

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Internet search goliath Google is toying with the idea of shaming slow-loading websites by displaying a “Usually loads slow” splash screen in place of a homepage when someone is trying to visit such sites. The move, which Google detailed in a recent blog post, would have a chilling effect on any transportation industry website that Google deems too slow to load. A “Usually loads slow” splash screen served up by Google would pretty much be the kiss of death to your website, encouraging a web surfer to move along to a competitor’s site with better performance.

“I’m hearing from our members of the Transportation Marketing & Sales Association that most don’t think this is going to be good for businesses — but neither is a slow-loading site,” said Brian Everett, the group’s CEO.

Tim Haynes, vice president of interactive marketing at Penske, expressed concerns about the potential change: “Google could boost or show an indicator that a site meets a high level of performance. But to state a site is slow is telling the user Google’s opinion and potentially influencing users’ actions — which in turn could benefit Google.

Joe Dysart

Dysart

“Let users decide,” Haynes added. “Inform them if a site meets Google’s criteria. But do not explicitly call out those that do not. A low-key approach, in my opinion, would be better. ‘Shaming’ is not Google’s responsibility.”

While Google was careful to word its shame police intentions as a possibility rather than inevitability, it’s no secret that the search giant has been campaigning diligently for a faster web for decades.

Moreover, the search titan has demonstrated that it has no qualms about stepping in as officer on the beat when it comes to exposing poorly performing sites.

In fact, since the summer of 2018, Google has been branding websites exhibiting poor security by displaying an ‘insecure website’ icon in its Chrome browser’s web address bar. Secure sites are rewarded with a green padlock icon — the sign of a correctly secured site.

No one asked Google to do that. And more than a few website owners have been vexed by the branding. But like it or not, Google set itself up as the arbiter of website security. And now it’s looking to expand that role to include judging the speed of websites.

Many Google watchers see the company’s post on shaming slow websites as a trial balloon — a probe to see if there is significant backlash to the idea, or widespread acceptance.

Dysart column graphic

Either way, the prudent move is to up your game on your website’s download speed now. As many of us have learned over the years, more often than not, what Google wants, Google gets.

“I would strongly encourage everyone to evaluate their site speed, because it is so important to their customer’s experience and their site’s search engine ranking and conversion rate,” TMSA’s Everett said. “I’d encourage companies to use websites like HubSpot’s Website Grader. It is a free online tool that grades your site against key metrics like performance, speed, mobile readiness, search engine optimization and security.”

Here’s a game plan for getting a great grade from sites like Hubspot — and protecting your trucking website from the splash screen of death:

Get a quick look at how fast your website downloads: Given that Google has a vested interest in a fast web seeded with its advertising, it’s no wonder it offers free tools you can use to quickly assess the speed of your website. Simply type in your site’s web address at Google’s PageSpeed Insights, and you’ll see in a matter of seconds how fast your site’s homepage downloads. Besides offering you an instant rating, PageSpeed Insights also offers you extremely detailed, specific suggestions for speeding up your site, such as changing the format of your images or eliminating unnecessary coding.

Similar tools you can use to quickly analyze the speed of your site include Lighthouse, YSlow and Google Analytics Site Speed Page Timings.

Pay extra for faster hosting: Investing in premium web hosting is one of the easiest ways to speed up a large website. While smaller sites may be able to get away with cheap hosting, larger sites often benefit from premium hosting on a virtual private server or dedicated server.

Unlike cheap hosting, which houses numerous websites on a single server, a virtual private server solution actually uses multiple servers to distribute your site content across the web.

For the highest-priced, potentially most powerful alternative, consider a dedicated server. That features a single website on a server that is maintained by a dedicated system administrator.

Ask your web host for help: Web hosts have a number of simple, free solutions they can use to speed up your website, such as clearing your website’s cache. Plus they can advise you on a number of actions you can take to increase download speed in other ways. Chances are, your web host will also try to pitch you on additional services and options that cost money. But it’s worth calling them and sorting through what’s free, what has a cost and what makes sense for you.

Use low-resolution images wherever possible: Bloated, extremely high-resolution images are one of the major causes of slow-loading sites. And in most cases, they’re unnecessary. Generally, low-­resolution versions of images look the same on the web as high-resolution versions of the same images.

“One of the biggest drains on your site’s resources is its images,” said Ellice Soliven, content marketing manager at DreamHost, a web hosting company. “They’re great for making your site look amazing and for supplementing your text content, but they also require server space and bandwidth.”

You can use a photo editor like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements to change an image from high resolution to low resolution with one click. Or you can use other tools like TinyPNG, Microsoft Paint, Microsoft Picture Manager, Pixlr, Shrink Pictures and Smush for WordPress.

Host your company videos on YouTube: Hosting your business’ videos on YouTube enables you to offload all the heavy lifting involved when someone clicks a video link on your site to view a video.

The rationale: Why draw resources from your own web server — which may be hosting hundreds of other sites — when you can have YouTube’s ridiculously fast servers handle the same job?

To use YouTube as your free video hosting provider, the easiest solution is to simply post a link at the appropriate spot of your website to your company video. Or, you can embed a YouTube player in your website that will display your video while YouTube’s servers handle all the processing.

Consider using a caching plug-in: Websites based on PHP code (such as WordPress) need to convert that programming to HTML before displaying a webpage in a user’s browser. A caching plug-in eliminates that conversion wait by generating an HTML version of each page of your website ahead of time in a cache so it’s there for your visitor’s browsers to access as soon as he or she arrives.

There are risks to using a caching plug-in: Some plug-ins you’re already using on your website may not be compatible with a caching plug-in. That can lead to less-than-desirable performance — or a complete crash of your website. Caching plug-ins are also sometimes vulnerable to hackers. And caching plug-ins can sometimes store older versions of your website pages longer than you’d like. In those cases, someone visiting your site might not see the latest updates you’ve made. (This problem can be solved by simply clearing your website’s cache.) Even so, caching plug-ins can speed up your website considerably, so they may be worth the risk.

Minimize your use of plug-ins: While extremely handy, any plug-in you add to your website to perform a specific function — such as analyzing your website’s data, creating a firewall and the like — represents a drain on your system’s resources. Expertly coded plug-ins generally mute speed loss. But some less-than-artfully coded plug-ins are written so inefficiently, they really slow down your site. Rule of thumb: Take a few minutes to inventory all the plug-ins on your site and delete any that are not crucial or truly beneficial to the site’s operation.

Compress your site’s files with gzip: “Gzip works by compressing your files into a zip file, which is faster for the user’s browser to load,” said Marcus Taylor, founder of Venture Harbour, a digital marketing firm. “The user’s browser then unzips the file and shows the content. This method of transmitting content from the server to the browser is far more efficient, and saves a lot of time.”

Use a premium domain name system (DNS) provider: Basically speaking, DNS providers help a computer browser quickly navigate to website ad­dresses. Premium DNS providers offer faster connections.

Host Seth Clevenger went to CES 2020 to look at the road ahead for electric-powered commercial vehicles. He spoke with Scott Newhouse of Peterbilt and Chris Nordh of Ryder System. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com
 

Consider a content delivery network (CDN): If you have a lot of content to move around the web, especially to distant points on the globe, a CDN will help speed up your site significantly. CDNs essentially store copies of your site on various servers around the world. Someone in Hong Kong will be served your site’s content directly from a server in Hong Kong, rather than, say, Milwaukee.

Consider using accelerated mobile pages (AMP): Heavily promoted by Google, AMPs are near-replicas of regular webpages specially designed to download quickly on mobile devices. Essentially, you create a page for your website. Then you create an extremely mobile-friendly, near-replica of that webpage in AMP format. The result: When someone visits your site with a mobile device, their smartphone is served faster-loading AMP pages. Many popular content management systems, such as WordPress and Drupal, offer plug-ins to help you easily create AMP pages.

Venture Harbour’s Taylor concluded: “Internet users are less tolerant of slow websites than they’ve ever been. And the shift toward internet-enabled mobile devices means that if you’re not fast, you’re not going to be seen.”

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (631) 328-6069. Email: joe@dysartnewsfeatures.com. Web: dysartnewsfeatures.com.

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