7 Ways to Improve the Site Speed for Your Online Course

Slow websites can result in loss of course subscriptions and dissatisfied learners.

One of the most frequently asked questions we have from users isn’t about our plugin at all. Instead, it’s about their website. Specifically, how they can make it faster.

Load times on websites are a big deal—as anyone who has spent any time online as a user knows. The longer it takes for a page to load, the more likely a potential learner is to turn away without registering for your course. And for learners who do register, slow load times can be a huge source of frustration.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ameliorate the situation. Here are our top seven.

1. Minimize your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files.

Sometimes, over the course of creating your site and adding plugins, you can end up with a lot of excess code. These include added spaces and commas, or even unused sections of code, that can slow down the time it takes for your site to load. Deleting these unnecessary lines of code can make these files smaller. By minimizing your code, you can dramatically reduce the load speed of your website.

Various WP plugins will condense code for you. However, we don’t recommend them for LearnDash, as they will sometimes try to combine our already compressed files, which can lead to other issues.

2. Enable asynchronous loading.

Web pages typically load from top to bottom. This means that if your website hits a very large file, it will stop loading other elements until it’s finished with that file. So, if you’re using a big, beautiful splash image at the top of your site (as do we all), then synchronous loading means your visitors will be stuck waiting for that image to load before they can see any of the rest of your content.

Asynchronous loading means you can have your browser load JavaScript and CSS files such that they will skip over larger files to load other elements of the site faster. You can also set it up so that JavaScript files are deferred until after CSS files load fully.

3. Optimize the images on your site.

Speaking of big, beautiful images, we all know these are popular because they are a great way to attract attention and keep visitors on your site. Unfortunately, large image files are also a resource-hog slowing down your load times. Catch 22, right? The trick is to optimize your images for web, without degrading the image quality until it makes your site look ugly. But how do you do that?

First of all, the file type you choose matters. PNG images will have larger file sizes, so avoid those if possible, and only use them where they will really count. In general, JPG images will be smaller files, because of how they handle image data.

The bottom line, though, is that you will need to compress your image files to put them on your site. This is not the same as resizing your image, which will make your image smaller, but might still be too high of a resolution for your needs. Instead, compression will mean you lose some of the resolution, but so long as you don’t compress too much, it shouldn’t be too noticeable. At the end of the day, the images on your site should only be 100–200KB in size.

4. Reduce the number of redirects on your site.

301 (permanent) redirects are a way to move traffic from an old URL to a new one. This is most common if you’ve moved domains, or if you’ve deleted an old page on your same site and want all the traffic that used to go to it to go to your new page—as might happen if you’ve decided to rename a course and don’t want to lose traffic.

However, over time, these redirects can pile up, and each time they do, they add to your page’s load time. One or two redirects won’t usually make much of a difference, but if you’ve strung together more than that, take some time to go back and eliminate some of the middle jumps.

5. Remove unnecessary plugins.

One of the biggest contributors to a slow site is one overburdened by needless plugins. These can often be weighed down by poorly written scripts that contribute significantly to your load time, and in some cases, the plugins conflict with each other, leading to UX problems as well.

In general, we recommend site owners be cautions when installing more plugins. Regularly take stock of the plugins you already have installed on your site, and remove those you aren’t using. And if you are using two plugins to accomplish the same function, remember that more isn’t always better. In fact, it’s usually worse.

6. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

Many of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where our site files are stored, geographically. Accordingly, it can sometimes come as a shock to someone to learn that distance matters. The farther your servers are from someone trying to access them, the more latency there will be.

A CDN helps your sites load faster by leveraging an array of severs around the world to deliver files from data centers that are physically closer to the visitor. CDNs are a service offered by a number of online companies, with CloudFlare probably being the biggest name in the field. They are also a resource often provided by hosting companies, so talk to your hosting provider if you are interested in this option.

7. Upgrade your hosting.

In many cases, a slow website is the result of cheap hosting. However, this is not always the case! There’s a reason we list the above options first: if your hosting is bad, they will be compounding the problem. And even once you move to good hosting, these issues won’t go away.

But, if you’ve taken measures to create a lightweight site and are still seeing slow performance, it’s time to bite the bullet and invest in a better hosting solution. Upgrading to a premium hosting solution will mean that your site has more resources to handle incoming traffic, and if your site is attracting enough visitors to warrant the upgrade, you don’t want to self-sabotage by not making the investment soon enough.

We’re here to help you connect with your learners—not slow you down.

We keep our plugin as light as possible so that it doesn’t get in between you and your learners. And, for all the functionality we deliver, we think we do a pretty good job. That said, if you think our plugin is slowing your site down, we recommend running a conflict test. This will help you isolate problems on your site to determine the root cause.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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