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How to Optimize Images for Best Web Performance—A Guide

Daniel Blechynden
How to Optimize Images for Websites - A Guide
If you’ve ever tried your hand at website building or search engine optimization (SEO), you’ve probably heard that it’s important to compress visual media. High-quality image files and HD videos can be quite large, and they can significantly slow your website load speed.

Here, we’ll help you learn how to optimize images for web use. Some platforms, including the leading website builders, come with built-in optimization tools. However, it’s still useful to understand the basic process and why it’s important. 

The following 10 tips and tricks will explain why you need to optimize images for the web, how this will boost performance, and what some of the best ways to do it are. 

1. Why You Need to Optimize Images 

According to a report by HTTP Archive, on average, images make up nearly 50% of the content on a web page. Because of this, it’s important to ensure that your site’s images are optimized to load as fast as possible—you can imagine how much extra data your customers will need to load if half of the website’s content is extremely large images. 

Image optimization enables you to reduce the size of your image files without impacting the user experience. In many cases, reducing the size of your image files can make them as much as 90% smaller so they take up less space and require less bandwidth to load. 

As well as being key to the user experience, fast-loading media is essential for SEO. If your page load speeds are too slow, you will have trouble achieving a high ranking on the search engine results pages. 

2. Select the Right File Type

To know how to optimize images for the web, one thing that’s key to understand is that different image file formats act differently on the web. The main formats you will work with are JPG, PNG, and GIF, and each is suitable when used appropriately. 

JPG - JPGs are widely used across the web. They are very useful for situations where you want to adjust the quality and deliver the best quality for each situation. JPG is the format of choice for images with a large amount of color. 

PNG - The PNG file format is great for high-quality images, but it’s also associated with larger files. and consequently, slower load speeds. Importantly, PNGs can have transparent elements (such as a transparent background for an image of a product), while JPGs and GIFs can’t. 

GIF - GIFs aren’t as widely used as they were in the past because they are restricted to just 256 colors. However, they have a small file size and are often used for animated media. 

In most cases, you should be using JPGs for web optimization. However, you may need to use the PNG image format a little if you require transparency in any images.  

3. Understand Lossy vs Lossless Optimization

When you’re exploring image-optimization programs and reading guides like this, you will likely hear the terms lossy and lossless optimization. These are two different ways of compressing media, and it’s useful to understand when is the best time to use each of them. 

Lossy optimization - As the name suggests, lossy image optimization results in the loss of data during the image compression process. It significantly reduces file size, but image quality can be impacted as well if you’re not careful. Because of this, it’s best to save a backup copy of your image somewhere safe before performing lossy optimization. Lossy optimization is usually used in JPG and JPEG images. 

Lossless optimization - On the opposite end of the spectrum, lossless compression doesn’t remove data or reduce image quality. Instead, it removes non-essential information to save space. It’s best used with PNG and GIF files, but don’t expect it to result in significant reductions in file size. 

4. Resize Images Before You Upload Them

Although it may seem like a lot of work, it’s worth resizing and cropping your images manually before you upload them to your website. Raw images are often way larger than you need for web use, and even reducing the image dimensions slightly can help you cut down file size. 

At the same time, it’s worth cropping image files that need significant editing. This also reduces file size, sometimes significantly. Simple programs built into common operating systems, like Paint, can be used, although we’d recommend checking out some specialist photo-editing apps if you’re going to be working with a significant amount of visual media. 

5. Take Advantage of Built-In Tools

Many of the best website builders for small businesses or photographers, such as Wix and GoDaddy, come with some type of image optimization tools. We’d suggest taking advantage of these whenever possible, as they are usually intuitive and easy to use. 

For example, Wix enables you to add the Wix Pro Gallery app to help you optimize images. This focuses on helping you showcase high-quality media with the lowest file sizes possible. 

On top of this, the Wix Pro Gallery comes with automatic optimization tools. If you’re not too sure about what you’re doing, simply upload your images and let the app do the hard work for you. 

Take Advantage of Built-In Tools

6. Use an Image Optimization Plugin

If you’re using WordPress.org, we’d suggest adding an automatic image-optimization plugin. There are numerous options available through the WordPress plugin library, including various free options that enable you to set and forget. 

With the right plugin, you can skip the process of manually resizing and compressing your images. Instead, you can sit back, configure your plugin’s settings, upload your images, and let it go to work. Some of our favorite options include Optimus, Imsanity, EWWW Image Optimizer, Smush, and Imagify. 

7. Track Site Speed 

At the end of the day, there’s little point in optimizing your images if you don’t know how well your efforts are working. For example, there could be a completely different problem slowing down your site, and your efforts may be doing nothing. 

To help you keep track of how well your image optimization efforts are going, we’d suggest setting up speed tracking for your site. Numerous platforms online enable you to set up automatic tracking that you can save and return to for future reference. 

At the same time, it can be a good idea to run manual page-load speed tests from time to time. Record the results from tests both with and without optimized images to see how much improvement you’ve made. 

8. Use the “Blur Up” Technique

One technique that has become particularly common in the past few years is what’s known as the “blur up” technique. Basically, this involves uploading two different versions of an image and setting the lower-quality one to show until the high-quality one has been rendered properly. 

The key behind this is that your viewers are getting to see something almost immediately, even if it’s a blurred, almost indistinguishable version of the original image. This makes the perceived loading time very fast, even if the actual load time hasn’t changed. 

However, it’s worth noting that you will need CSS coding knowledge to add blur-up functionality to your website. You will also need to ensure you’re using a website-creation platform that supports code access, since not all website builders do. 

9. Use Lazy Loading on Your Website

Although this doesn’t directly involve image optimization, using lazy loading may enable you to add higher-quality media while maintaining fast load speeds. Basically, lazy loading involves rendering some parts of a page before others, enabling a faster perceived load speed.

This enables website visitors to view the top of a page almost immediately. The main technique used for lazy loading is known as infinity scrolling, where content is rendered as a user scrolls down a web page. If they don’t, the entire page isn’t loaded, and server resources won’t be wasted. 

However, lazy loading does have its disadvantages, including being quite difficult to implement and potentially having a negative effect on your search engine ranking. 

10. Add Clear Image Names and Alt Text

As well as optimizing the visual part of your images, it’s important to add clear, effective image names, captions, and alt text. These are essential for SEO, and you will have much more trouble ranking well on the search engine results pages if you ignore this metadata. 

When you’re writing these, it’s a good idea to focus on creating readable, informative descriptions that relate to the image. Although it can be tempting to add extra keywords or phrases, only do this if they fit naturally, as both readers and search engines’ algorithms can often tell if you’re trying to stuff them in. If you want to learn more about best SEO practices, this article will help you get started.

Conclusion

If you’re not already optimizing your images for web use, you should be. It’s not a difficult process, and using compressed media can result in significantly faster page load speeds, a better user experience, and higher search engine rankings.

Now you should have a great idea of how to optimize images for web viewing. Take advantage of built-in tools, use automatic optimization plugins if possible, and consider techniques such as lazy loading or blur-up. But above all, focus on optimizing the user experience by delivering high-quality media with the lowest file size possible, and you should be on your way to a fast, enjoyable website for your customers.

Daniel Blechynden
Contributing to Top10.com, Daniel’s writing focuses on technology, science, and dependable reviews. He has been a regular critic of software and products from various industries for several years, often utilizing his academic background in the sciences.