`How can I reduce my load time?’

The largest component of a Web page, and the part that makes download time the longest, is the graphics. The easiest way to reduce the download time is to examine each page and remove any unnecessary graphics. After removing these graphics, use a Web-enabling product such as Adobe Fireworks or Equilibrium DeBabelizer to process the images and compress them to their smallest possible size. Other bandwidth hogs include JavaScript functions and Java applets. If you want to include these items, be sure that they are absolutely necessary to the success of a site.

In our experience, most catalogers approach the Web from a print perspective. They want to carry the rich visual appeal of their print catalogs to their online stores, but they don’t necessarily understand how this will affect load times.

For example, Anthropologie, a cataloger/retailer of upscale apparel and home decor, wanted to build an online store with the look and feel of its print catalog. We let the company know that putting the print catalog online would produce very long load times. Then we worked together to find a harmonious balance between speed and an appealing design. For instance, we took color schemes from the catalog and used them as background colors on the Website, and we used plain text for item names and descriptions. The final result was a great-looking Website with a fast load time.

The two main factors that will control load time for your site are Web graphics and the Web server. We recommend keeping a tight rein on the number and size of graphics so that the total file size for a Web page is no more than 50K bytes. We strive to build pages that load in no more than 30 seconds, which is what most Web users demand.

We also advocate reusing the same graphics, such as logos and backgrounds, whenever possible from page to page, because once an image is downloaded, it can be reused without being downloaded again. Additionally, you should understand the difference between a GIF and a JPEG, and know when and where each should be used. GIF images should be used for computer-generated art (such as logos) and can be manipulated for speed and appearance. You can shrink GIF image file sizes by reducing the number of colors. You can also use flat, solid areas instead of graduated tones to make your site load faster. JPEG images should be used primarily for photographs.

You can evaluate your site’s load time by using a tool such as Web Site Garage (www.websitegarage.com), which will check out your site and present you with opportunities for improvement – though only you can decide how much you’re willing to trade off image quality for speed.

When it comes to choosing a server, you might want to go with a shared server if your budget is tight and you don’t expect a large number of shoppers right away. But sharing a server is similar to living in an apartment building. If your neighbor invites a large crowd to his noisy party on the same night as your dinner party, your guests may not find parking or enjoy the evening. Likewise, your shared server could be home to more than 100 other Websites all competing for memory, processing power, and bandwidth.

So you may choose to spend a little more to have a dedicated server. A dedicated server provides your developers with more freedom to design custom applications to manage your store and interface with your fulfillment center. You’ll also get faster service, more satisfied customers, and return shoppers. Most important, when success hits hard you’ll be prepared to seize it and grow with it!

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