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Slow Loading Pages

By Jeff Colburn
Posted Monday, June 21, 2004

One of the biggest problems you will encounter, and one that visitors really hate, is slow loading pages. This is usually caused by having either too many graphics, or graphics that are too large. But not to worry, there are some simple solutions.

Contrary to what the Internet industry wants you to believe; about 90% of Internet users are still using slow dial-up connections. Download speeds of 3k to 5k per second are not uncommon. Faster cable and DSL connections that offer up to 250k download speeds still often only download at a rate of 50k to 60k.

Ideally, a page should load in 20 seconds or less. So with a dial-up connection, that great looking 250k graphic you have on your page will take about 62 seconds to download. Then if you have other graphics it could easily take over two minutes to see the page. I don't know about you, but I don't wait more than a minute for a page to load. I use a high speed cable connection to the internet, and I've still gone to pages that were so graphics intensive that my browser timed out before the page could load. If this happens, or people just get tired of waiting, then your site is useless because no one will ever see it.

The best thing you can do is not get carried away with graphics. Using them sparingly is the easiest way to keep the size of a page down, so that it will load faster. If for some reason, you need to have a lot of graphics there are two ways to make them load more quickly.

The first thing to try is to optimize your graphics. Most graphics programs have this feature built into them. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator call this feature "Save for web." When you choose this option you are given several choices for your graphic, which will determine the final size of your image. It's not uncommon for me to optimize a 250k image down to 30k and not be able to tell the difference between this image and the original.

Another option is to slice the image. Again, most graphics programs offer this feature. You can slice a graphic into as many smaller pieces as you want. Then create a table with cell padding and borders set to 0. Then put each of the pieces into the table in the proper order. These smaller graphics, even though they equal the same size as your original one, will load faster than the one big graphic.

There is one other little trick, and that's to use the same graphic several times on one page. For example, if you have a button for people to order products or services from your site, use the same graphic. Don’t have different buttons, like "Order Sweater," "Order Shirt," etc. Just use an "Order Now" button. The browser only loads that button once, and puts it everywhere on the page it belongs. You could have 100 of the same buttons on a page, and they will all appear in the time it takes to load just one button.

After you've created your webpage, optimized and sliced your images, you need to see just how fast it will load at different connect speeds. You can do this easily by going to (AOL members://watson.addy.com). Just put the URL of the page you want to test, and they will tell you how fast the page will load at various connect speeds. It's fast, easy and and costs nothing.

So remember to think of your visitors first, not your design skills. You may want to show the world what a fantastic website designer you are, but if no one sees your page then your efforts are being wasted.

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