Learning About Google PageSpeed: Landing Page Redirects

Google-page-speedIn the age of dial-up internet and computers the size of small filing cabinets, slow page loading was commonplace. Who cares if it took a few minutes for you to have access to everything there is to know about pandas? But in the current age, if a panda page loads too slowly, users will just go back and try a different site.

There are several reasons why a page may not load quickly. Reasons such as internet speed and computer capability may be unavoidable. But if you notice that pages on your site are loading slowly on different computers or on different internet connections, you may have a redirection problem. Redirections create delays when a page is loading. As the page loads, redirections occur in the background, causing the page to remain blank. In this situation, the back button is very tempting for users. You may be losing visits or customers just because of a slow page load.

What Happens in a Redirect?

The simplest type of redirecting occurs when the site a user typed in or clicked on is required to change direction to a new page. It can happen for many reasons, some of which we’ll discuss later. First, though, let’s talk about what happens in a redirect.

Site owners should have a goal to minimize round-trip time (RTT). RTT is the time it takes for a client and a server to interact over a network. The basic idea behind the interaction is simple:

  1. The client sends a request.
  2. The server responds.

This speed can vary, but the idea is to make it as short as possible. Let’s say it takes half a second for this interaction to occur.

Now let’s add some redirects:

  1. The client sends a request.
  2. The server responds.
  3. The client sends a request.
  4. The server responds.

By adding one redirection, we’ve taken our page loading speed from half a second to at least a second. Imagine having several redirects. People will be jumping on the back button before your second redirect is finished.

Why Does Redirecting Occur?

Redirecting can be caused by a variety of factors, the most common of which include:

  1. Platform redirects. With the development of smart phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and smart watches, site owners have to be aware that their pages will be viewed on multiple platforms. To allow for this, websites are often optimized for different platforms. If a user types in an address on his or her phone, the page has to be redirected to the mobile platform of the site.
  2. Source has moved. If the site has changed URLs, owners may redirect the old URL to the new URL. This allows current and new users to gain access to the site without having to work around “page not found” errors.
  3. Multiple domains. Site owners may buy the domains of misspelled or mistyped URLs. They redirect these URLs to the correct site. They may also choose to purchase domains very similar to theirs or sites with a different domain name (such as .org or .net).
  4. Performing analytics. Redirects may occur when analytics are being performed for a site. Tracking clicks and impressions or logging referring pages may cause redirects.

Keep in mind that no matter the reason, redirects require an additional client request and server response cycle. Each adds time to the page loading speed. Restrict redirects to only those cases where it’s absolutely necessary, and find other solutions when it’s not.

What Can I Do About It?

Owners should minimize redirects to improve the performance of their sites and the likelihood that people will visit. The first step in minimizing redirects is discovering why they’re occurring. Look at the common causes of redirects above to see if your site fits into any of those categories. If so, you need to decide if getting rid of a redirect would be worth it. For example, analytics are important to a site. Does the cost of not having analytics warrant a slightly faster loading speed?

Here are several general tips for minimizing redirects:

  1. Keep clean references. You should never reference a URL that redirects to another URL. This adds time to your client-server interaction. Also, if one of the URLs referenced changes locations, it’s going to cause even more redirecting.
  2. Single out redirects. There should only be one redirect to get to a resource. If X wants to get to Z, it should not have to go through Y to get there.
  3. Minimize your domains. As stated above, multiple domains similar to the target domain can be purchased. If misspelled or mistyped, a user can still get to your webpage. While this can be helpful, it’s expensive. If users are used to getting to your site without typing it in correctly, you may have to continue to buy similar but different URLs.
  4. Use HTTP redirects. Owners can choose to do server side redirects (HTTP) or client side redirects (JavaScript or Meta). Browsers are much more apt at handling HTTP redirects than JavaScript or Meta redirects.

Site owners should use redirects only when technically necessary. By minimizing them, landing page speed and page satisfaction will increase.