For most people the first priority relating to their web site is to get it to look the way that they want. The second priority is to get it added to the search engines so that people will visit.
Unfortunately one thing that many people forget to do is to optimize their page. To view a web page, the visitor's browser first downloads a copy of all of the files required to display the page into the browser cache. Not optimizing a page results in the page downloading much more slowly than it ought to resulting in many visitors giving up waiting for the page to download and going elsewhere without ever even seeing the page. Also many web sites have data transfer limits that you have to stay within or pay extra for the hosting of your site. These aborted accesses to your page may have already downloaded hundreds of kilobytes of data (which is counted in your data transfer limit) and they didn't even stay long enough to actually see your page.
So what can we do about it? How can we solve the problem of our pages downloading too slowly and also reduce the amount of data that is being transferred for each page access?
The amount of time taken to download a page relates to the access speed of the internet connection used by the visitor. It also relates to the total size of all of the files that the visitor needs to download in order to be able to view a page on your site. This total size includes not only the html source of your page but also includes any external scripts and stylesheets as well as the images and sound files.
The biggest part of many page downloads is the images and sound files.
Images can be uploaded to the internet in GIF or JPEG (JPG) format. These formats were chosen for use with the web because they allow images to be significantly compressed with only a minor loss of image quality. If you have a copy of Paint Shop Pro then you can read my page Preparing an Image for the Internet for information about how to produce optimized images using that software. An even easier way to optimize your images if you have already uploaded your images is to us an online image optimizer such as this one to view your image at various levels of optimization so as to easily select the best compromise between image quality and file size.
Another option to take to reduce individual page download times and minimize the number of unnecessary downloads is to create a thumbnail image link to your images instead of placing the complete image in the page itself and then let your visitors click the thumbnail link if they need to view the full size version of the image.
By combining these techniques together you can create well optimized web pages. For more information on just what you can achieve by doing this see Is My Web Page Fully Optimized?
There are probably similar facilities available for sound files. The most important thing to remember regarding sound files is to not upload sound files in WAV format as these files are not compressed in any way and are ridiculously large even for a one or two second file. Try to use a format that compresses your sound file as small as possible and if it still ends up too large then consider attaching it as a link on your page rather than embedding it in the page. That way people will click on the link to download and play the sound file as a separate download from that of the rest of the page.
Given the dislike that many web visitors have for being forced to listen to your sound files linking them as a separate download and giving the visitor the choice of whether or not to download your sound file is a good option. Better yet since so many web visitors absolutely hate irrelevant sound files, if the sound files are not absolutely essential to the purpose of your web site, why not leave them out of the site completely. Your visitors will probably thank you for it.
Given the connection speeds that most people currently use to access the internet, page sizes still need to be kept really small if you want people to visit your site. Even a 40k page (including all scripts, images, and sound files) is a large page which will take a reasonable time for people with average connections to download. A 100k page takes about as long to download on average connections as many people are prepared to wait before going elsewhere. If you keep your total page sizes down then you should have your pages downloading fast enough to satisfy the visitors to your site and you should be able to keep within even the smallest data transfer limits offered by free web hosts until such time as you get many tens of thousands of hits on your site each month.
This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.