Leverage Caching to Speed Up Page Loading

When it comes to SEO, every edge you gain can mean ranking above or below your competition. There are numerous areas you can focus your attention when tweaking for SEO. Improving site speed is one area that is often overlooked.

Site speed is factored into Google's never-ending hunt for the ultimate user search experience. Sites that load content faster result in happier users. So, it's no surprise that the search algorithms take site load speed into consideration.

In addition to making the algorithm happy, faster sites will also keep users on your page longer, which will improve your bounce rate. Considering all this, it's well worth it to focus on keeping your site running at top speed.

There are various things you can do to improve page load speed. You can upgrade your hosting to a higher quality, you can improve the layout of your site, you optimize images, and so on. If you’re wondering how to increase your page load speed, one of the best ways is leveraging caching.

What Is Website Caching?

The speed of most sites can benefit from browsers caching. In fact, if you run a speed check using Google’s PageSpeed Insights feature, it might actually tell you to leverage browser caching. Each time a browser visits a site, it must send a request to the server which must then find the various resources in the database for that page. Once the correct resource is found it then responds to the browser which downloads and displays it for the user.

Depending on the size of a site and its content, this process can take up some time, resulting in longer load times. Browser caching seeks to speed up this process by saving copies of the images, JavaScript code, stylesheets, etc. When the same browser visits your site again, it won’t have to wait for the database to be searched.

Caches can save stored information either on the user’s browser or on a specific cache server.

Browser-side website caching stores the resource on the user’s first visit to a site. This cache is saved for a limited amount of time and is called upon on each repeat visit. While this speeds up overall site load times, new visitors will still have to acquire the assets when they first visit the page.

Caches stored on a server can deliver saved assets to multiple users at the same time. This cuts down on load speed drastically since each visitor’s browser doesn’t have to send a request to the origin server. Whereas a browser cache must make the request on the initial visit, server-side website caching allows first-time visitors to utilize the cache. Server-side caches can be hosted locally or take advantage of content delivery systems.

What Items Can Be Cached?

There are various types of resources and content that are commonly cached:

  • Images
  • Stylesheets
  • Logos and other branding material
  • JavaScript that is typically static or rarely changed

Sensitive data, like user information or various account details, should not be cached.

While caching the above static resources will help improve page load speed, there are more fluid items that can have a more noticeable effect. Caching HTML documents is one way to give your site speed a massive boost.

Downloading HTML documents from the server must take place before the rest of the page can successfully load. If you cache these files, you drastically increase overall load speed, as other assets don’t have to wait for the HTML document to be downloaded.

Most site admins can leverage caching by adding the appropriate code to the .htaccess file on the web host.

Issues with Caching

While the overall concept of caching is to decrease page load times, there are issues that can arise. One major problem stems from the fact that site resources change.

Brand assets, like logos and other images, are updated frequently. This can lead to an out-of-date cache. Caching can become irrelevant if the content and resources that are stored are not the most current versions. Luckily, there are various ways to prevent this and ensure a cache is up to date.

You can prevent your cache from using out-of-date resources by specifying which version the browser should request. Utilizing a last modified HTTP cache header can accomplish this. This tells the server to return the resource file to the browser with the latest date it was modified. This allows the browser to ensure the resources in its cache are up to date with no need to re-download them, which can speed up page loading.

You can also utilize a max-age header. This allows you to specify when a file expires and is no longer to be stored in the cache and used. The max-age header measures time to expiration in seconds. So, a stored asset that you wanted to remain live for a week would have a max age of 604,800 seconds or max-age=604,800.

You can also use eTags to ensure no request for asset transfer takes place if there has been no change in the resource stored in the cache. The eTag string attaches a unique identification to the file. Anytime a change is made to the asset file, a new unique tag is created as an identifier. When the browser sends a request for a resource with an eTag, the server checks the tag for any matches and notifies if no change has been made to prevent data transfer.

Caching might be just the thing for digital marketers wondering how to speed up web page loading time. Caching works to simplify the communication between the browser and server and makes site performance more efficient.

A slow website can be detrimental to your SEO efforts and your reputation. No user likes to sit and wait unnecessarily as a site loads. As your load times get longer and longer, you’ll likely see your traffic dwindle. You can ensure your site loads at optimal speeds by caching as much content as efficiently possible.

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