How fast does your website load? You can test out your pages with this web page speed test tool.

There has been a lot of attention on page load speed lately. There used to be more focus on page load speed back when everybody was on 56k modems, but it seems a lot of the best practices from those days have gone out the window since high speed internet came along. I'd like to remind people that it's still important to optimize the speed of your pages. It can affect how much traffic your site receives, how many vistors stay on your site after you get them there and the bottom line...how much money your site makes. This is especially true for ecommerce sites that naturally get more browsing and page views per visitor.

To make this as clear as possible: Slow loading pages = Money being lost.

Here are 3 key areas to consider:

Usability - How quickly a webpage loads has always been important for your visitors. Personally, I can't stand waiting for slow webpages...it's like Chinese water torture sometimes. I have a super fast computer (3.1 Gigawatts) and a high speed cable internet connection (3.2 Gigawatts), but I would still sacrifice my left arm to further cut that time in half (Ok, maybe not my left arm). My point is that your visitors won't like browsing your site if the pages load slowly. If they still continue to browse because they really want something on the site, chances are they won't come back unless they really have to.

SEO - All things being equal, sites with faster loading pages tend to rank higher than sites with slower loading pages. Search engine representatives have never come out and said this word for word but they have hinted at it in various ways. For example, do a search for a keyword that your site ranks for in Google and you'll find a number under each listing (looks something like this "45k") that tells you how large the page size is. There is no hard and fast rule for how quickly your pages should load in order to rank higher but if your site's pages are larger than your competitor's you should probably look into making them smaller. Of course this doesn't mean that if you have a slower site you won't rank at all, it just makes it easier to rank if your pages load faster.

PPC - Google knows how important page load time is to visitors, which is why they recently added page load speed as a factor in your adwords quality score. Making page load speed a part of quality score sends a clear signal that Google thinks this is an important issue. Unless you like to pay more for clicks, you should definitely think about how to speed up your pages. If Google thinks it's important for their sponsored listings you can bet they think it's important for their organic listings as well.

So how do you make your pages load faster? There are a few ways that all have varying degrees of effectiveness depending on what's slowing you down.

Code Bloat - The more code your pages have the longer it's going to take for them to load. Having a high code to content ratio also slows down the crawl rate of search engines. Moving CSS and Javascript code to external files is highly recommended so that the browser or search engine only needs to download it once instead of every time a new page loads. Also, remove extraneous code like comment tags and unneccessary large amounts of white space.

Images - Having extremely large images can severely slow down your pages. When I say large, I mean large in file size, not height and width. Use any of the free image editing programs out there like Jpeg Wizard to compress your images. Sixty percent quality compression on jpeg images is usually good enough for the web. Also, adding simple height and width attributes to your images increases the speed that the browser can download the images.

Gimmicky things - Try to stay away from gimmicky things on the page such as Flash, audio or videos that play automatically. These are also usually bad for useability, especially audio. Sorry, nobody wants to hear the cheesy background music on your site so get rid of it. Anything that takes extra time to load on the page will slow it down including RSS feeds and widgets.

Analytics - Put analytics tracking code towards the bottom of your pages. If there is ever a problem and the tracking code doesn't load at least the whole page will load first so that your visitor will see the content. This is more a usability issue than anything else.

File compression - If your site is on an Apache server you can also do some fancy footwork by enabling Apache file compression. That's probably something that your web developer can implement for you.

In the end it really comes down to usability and the visitor. Improving your SEO and PPC is a byproduct of improving the user experience on your site. Make your visitors happy with speedy pages and everything else will fall into place.