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Get a Faster Website (and Chiseled Abs) With This One Simple Formula

Posted on 1.02.2014

What determines how well your website performs?

Don’t worry if you are unsure how to answer this question.

There has been so much hype in recent years about the cloud and content delivery networks, not to mention the grading tools galore that assess different data points to arrive at a single site performance “score,” that it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed or confused as to what really matters.

Fortunately, so much of it is just noise. In this way, the world of website performance has become like the world of diet and exercise.

In that world, there always seem to be new fads and “next big things” marketed as the secret for losing weight and getting fit. Except, there is only one time-tested formula that actually does work 100 percent of the time: eat healthier and strengthen your core. That’s it. That’s the formula.

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You can take as many diet pills and do as many crunches as you want for quick results, but your overall wellness is not being impacted.

The formula for improved Web wellness is even simpler. If you want your website to be a lean, mean, quick-page-serving machine, then you need to develop a razor-sharp focus on one area: strengthening your site’s core. So, what exactly does that mean? Let’s break it down.

You know that your physical core is basically your body minus your arms, legs, head and upper back. It’s the muscles in your belly and lower- to middle-back, plus your hips, pelvis, gluteus maximus and some other minor muscle groups. Almost every single movement your body makes originates from your core, which is why a strong core is imperative for overall physical strength and stability, as well as injury prevention.

Your website’s core is your site minus any and all appendages — like content delivery networks for example — that you have affixed to it. Specifically, your website’s core is its domain name system (DNS) and hosting, plus your content management system (CMS), design and any origin caching that’s in place.

Every single call into your website depends on its core, which is why an optimized core is essential for consistently fast load times and security against hackers, malware and downtime.

Your site’s core begins with DNS and hosting. If you go cheap for either, or choose a premium provider that fails to deliver on its premium promises, nothing else you do really matters. It would be like eating a nutrient-packed, low-calorie, veggie-filled diet…but then relying on high-caloric beer for your liquids. You’d undo any good.

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Bad DNS or hosting means your performance will always lag behind your smarter competitors, and no amount of image optimization or CSS simplification will change that.

Want a quick way to know if you have obvious DNS or hosting issues? Run a quick test on websites like Pingdom, or others, and analyze the first object to load, your domain name. If its load time isn’t measured in milliseconds — and not a lot of them are either — then you’ve got problems.

With a strong DNS and hosting foundation in place, your CMS can go to work managing and serving your content. It will do so most efficiently on a hosting stack specifically optimized for it.

Core optimization does not stop there. A host designed for a particular CMS is optimal, but it’s not magic. A bloated site on an optimized host will load faster there than on a generic shared one...but it’s still a bloated site that is slower than it needs to be.

Bloat occurs because there are always plugins, add-ons, or any number of other features or functions that can be added. Just remember that they all come with a price, and that price is their impact on load time. A site with an optimized core has trimmed the fat. It doesn’t have 500 objects loading on every page just because it can…it has 85 objects that all serve an essential purpose for the visitor experience.

It’s like eating better and exercising more; a simple, no frills formula that works. The rest will have only minimal impact, if any.

Speaking of “the rest,” consider content delivery networks (CDNs), which have been one of the hottest (and most misunderstood) buzz strategies in Web performance over the past few years.

Employing CDNs can have a positive impact on performance in the right situation. A media-intensive site with an optimized core that offloads its high-resolution images and large video files to a CDN saves bandwidth and gets users its media content more efficiently.

On the other hand, tacking a CDN onto a site with a non-optimized core in hopes of getting consistently faster page load speeds is nonsensical. Here, a CDN is just being used as a Band-Aid for a poor core setup. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common “strategy.” It’s also somewhat understandable.

Content delivery networks and many cloud solutions have had misleading marketing campaigns behind them, which has led to the mounting confusion about what really matters when it comes to website performance.

This is where cutting through the noise is key. Get to the heart of the matter, because you may not need what you’re being sold. Online and off, optimizing your core gives you speed, strength and stability. And that’s what determines performance.

About the Author: Jerod Morris, Director of Content for Copyblogger Media

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