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LOSE THE WAIT!

By Jennifer Johnson
Posted Friday, June 25, 2004

Slow sites drive visitors away. It's that simple. Not yours, you
say? Think it's "worth the wait"? Sorry to break it to you
pumpkin, it's not.

You're on your way home. You have two choices. You can either
take the route that is the shortest in terms of distance but has
many stoplights, or you can take the route that's a little
longer distance-wise, but has no stoplights. Which do you
choose?

I choose #2, and so do many web surfers.

Why? Because it's better to keep moving.

I want to look. I want to read. I want to buy. I *don't* want to
wait 67 seconds for a page to download because the site designer
thought it would be a good idea to use a picture of his pet
ferret in a snappy little beret as an image map.

We all know graphics slow a site down, so is it possible to keep
visitors from mousing away without publishing a text-only site?
Sure. It's simply a matter of balancing aesthetic appeal and
load time. I'd like to discuss a couple of ways to do just that.

Before we get started, though, do me a favor and take a trip to
Web Site Garage and get a free Tune
Up on a page you'd like to speed up. Be sure and write down the
load times for your page under the various modem speeds because
you'll use these later as a benchmark to gauge the effectiveness
of your changes. Oh, and don't forget to make a backup copy of
your page (and images) "as is", in case you aren't happy with
the changes and want to restore it to its original condition.

Once you've done those things, we're ready to tackle two methods
to trim load times: reduce the number of images on your page(s)
and reduce the size of the remaining images.

REDUCE THE NUMBER OF IMAGES ON YOUR PAGE(S)

Take a cold, objective look at your site. Try to view it through
a visitor's eyes. Which graphics are necessary and which are
superfluous?

Can you manipulate the text with HTML (bold, italic, font face)
as opposed to using a text graphic? Can a clickable image be
replaced with a text link?

Cutting expendable graphics can greatly speed page load time.
Assess each graphic one-by-one to determine if it should stay or
go; keep only those that are essential.

Use Flash animation wisely.

No doubt about it, Flash movies are extremely cool - when done
well. "Because it looks cool", however, isn't a reason to add
something to your site.

I can think of few things more annoying than a Flash intro with
no purpose. You've seen this, haven't you? You hit a site's home
page and you're faced with an inane text message like, "Welcome
to my Site!", which you're expected to watch as it dances,
twists, morphs, and otherwise makes a horse's you-know-what out
of itself.

A well-done intro has a distinct message/purpose, it looks
outstanding, and the visitor is given the option to skip it
altogether - that's important.

REDUCE THE SIZE OF THE REMAINING IMAGES

Smaller images load faster. After you've pared down your images
to the essentials, it's time to reduce the size (byte-wise) of
what remains.

You can do this in two ways:

1. Reduce image dimensions (Width x Height in pixels). 2.
"Optimize" the image.

Reducing the dimensions of an image isn't always a viable
option. The layout of your page may depend on a particular image
being a specific size (the way the page appears, though, is of
course relative to screen resolution). If you can safely shrink
your image dimensions, do so, and then optimize. If you cannot
change the dimensions of the images, optimize only.

"Optimizing" an image means reducing the file size of the image.
This is accomplished primarily by removing extraneous colors
from the image.

For example, a GIF saved at 256 colors can usually be reduced to
128, 64, or 32 colors - sometimes even less - without
compromising image quality. This can *drastically* reduce the
file size of an image which, in turn, (often) shaves seconds off
load time.

NetMechanic , MediaBuilder
, and Spinwave
all offer free image optimization.

Once you've pruned the extra images and optimized the "keepers",
upload your lighter page and go back to Web Site Garage and run
the Tune Up again. Hopefully, you've gained a notable
improvement in page load time - or at least it's dropped to a
more acceptable number.

My front page went from a load time of 22.05 seconds to 14.55
seconds on a 33.6, simply from image optimization. Still a
little slow, but hey, a 7.5 second savings isn't too shabby!

Ensuring your site loads as quickly as possible is part of being
a good webmaster/site designer. A quality site from a surfer's
point of view will turn more visitors into customers.

About the Author
Jennifer Johnson is the owner of Logo Design Zone. She can create
a 100% unique, totally memorable logo for your business - for
UNDER $200! Does your current logo make the grade? Take Logo
Design Zone's free logo quiz and find out!