Optimizing your website for performance is no easy task. But page load time is a huge factor in top Google rankings and ultimately in good user experience.
You don’t need to be a master of Linux or a skilled server admin to speed up your site. But you do need to be willing to try a few techniques, various hosting setups, and alternative tools like CDNs.
The Internet has tons of resources to get started but nothing can beat the printed word.
That’s why I’ve curated the absolute best books out there on the topic of page speed and website optimization. If you’re just starting down this road it’s a technical one but the end result is a much faster experience and more control over your sites.
High Performance Web Sites
IT and DevOps pro Steve Souders wrote two of the de-facto books on website performance. Steve worked closely with most of the original browser optimization plugins including YSlow! which was(still is?) a very popular testing platform & plugin.
His book High Performance Web Sites was released in 2007 and it’s still just as useful today. It’s only 170 pages long but it’s definitely a book worth reading.
The structure of the writing follows like a cookbook where you’re introduced to 14 specific techniques you can use to improve the speed of any website. Steve teaches you how to approach each technique, how to use these in the real world, and how to test against other websites.
Generally these rules follow similar ideas that have been around for ages. Reduce HTTP requests, cache elements, and focus your energy in areas that’ll have the biggest impact.
I definitely recommend this book as the #1 place for beginners to start. It’s got some of the best advice you’ll find on website optimization and it covers practical techniques you can apply to any situation.
Even Faster Web Sites
Steve’s follow-up book Even Faster Web Sites released two years later in 2009. It features more advanced techniques and best practices for website performance including real-world case studies.
You actually get to peek behind the scenes of Steve’s work at Yahoo! along with a few case studies on related projects.
The book totals over 250 pages so it’s certainly a tome of knowledge on performance. This second book actually delves much deeper into technical concepts like Ajax which can radically affect performance.
However since this book is very technical you can’t rely on this information for everything. Plus it doesn’t cover any of the modern frameworks like Angular & React webapps that basically run on Ajax requests.
Still the concepts in this book are crucial to learn and they apply to all things networking.
If you’re serious about reducing load times then you’ll want both of Steve’s books on your desk.
Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets
This title may seem a bit lengthy but it accurately explains what you’ll take away from the book.
In Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets you’ll find a genuinely detailed framework for improving site speed. This relates to your website’s ranking in search engines like Google and on total conversion rates.
Over a total of 400 pages you’ll learn just about everything there is to know about website speed. It doesn’t relate to performance topics from a DevOps perspective, although this is definitely an IT-friendly guide.
Think of this more as a resource for designers and marketers. It’ll help you pick up some ideas for improving page reliability and encouraging users to take action.
Author Andrew King manages an optimization firm so he knows a thing or two about website speed. This includes the power of page optimization through caching and content arrangement. Plus he talks about PPC vs SEO and how to optimize for both traffic types.
Designing For Performance
If you’re a designer then you may find yourself interested in Designing For Performance by Lara Callender Hogan.
This is worth a read for anyone who works on the web professionally, especially on the frontend. This book looks into performance from the designer’s perspective by focusing more on frontend technologies that make a page render properly in the browser.
Generally the two main languages are HTML & CSS so it really helps if you’re already familiar with frontend development.
Over 180 pages you’ll learn how to clean up your code to render pages faster and how to build code from scratch that’s already optimized. Plus you’ll learn how to edit images properly in Photoshop to reduce file size while keeping a similar quality.
When it comes to website optimization you can’t ignore the frontend. This book is invaluable to that process.
High Performance Images
Speaking of image reduction you might want want to take your workflow a huge leap further by reworking images and image sizes. A copy of High Performance Images will certainly help.
This massive resource is a joint effort from many authors with tutorials and guides on design.
It totals a whopping 350 pages with information about every step of image creation, editing, and exporting for the web.
Topics include basic color theory along with image storage and how to optimize image sizes. You’ll also learn how browsers handle images and how they’re delivered over HTTP/HTTPS. I’d call this an ideal read for learning the A-to-Z of image design.
Plus later chapters get into responsive techniques for handling images on mobile devices. Plenty of advice in here for almost every image format from lossless JPEGs to newer SVGs.
If you’ve skimmed the news about HTTP/2 you should know it’s a great way to improve site speed. Granted it’s not the only way but it’s a model that web designers should adopt.
With that said the HTTP/2 infrastructure is not an easy topic to breach. That’s why Learning HTTP/2 is such a valuable book for beginners.
This is one of the newest books in my list with an initial publication date of June 2017. It spans 156 pages which may not seem like a lot, but considering the topic and level of technical detail it’s quite an intro guide.
What I like most is how this book was written for beginners so the content is pretty simple to consume.
If you have any interest in switching over to HTTP/2 I would definitely recommend giving this a chance. You can read online articles but they’re never quite as good as a dedicated resource.
Responsive & Fast
Every website in the modern era needs to be responsive. It’s the future of the web and mobile users are growing every day.
But who says you need to run dozens of scripts and alternate stylesheets just to handle responsivity? You can design a responsive layout while adhering to performance best practices and that’s the goal of Responsive & Fast by Guy Podjarny.
This super short guide to responsive design covers all the fundamentals of performance as they adhere to responsive techniques.
The book totals only 60 pages but it’s one of the best resources you can get. It’ll teach you how to address performance issues in existing layouts and how to optimize your future designs for higher performance.
A teaching tool for webdevs of all backgrounds.
Web Performance in Action
I always recommend the Manning Publishing titles because they’re so practical and always very detailed. This book is no different.
Web Performance in Action by Jeremy Wagner is one of the ultimate guides to website speed and page load optimization. It spans a massive 380 pages making it the longest performance book out there(or at least the best one I’ve found!)
Each chapter walks you through a different process for improving your overall site speed. You’ll learn about server load times and how to decrease the footprint of your website.
Later chapters get into automation teaching you how to setup brand new server environments with a few clicks. Jeremy is a great writer and an even better DevOps guy so this book is a must-buy if you’re serious about performance.
High Performance Browser Networking
Networking is a whole separate area from web development and it’s a rather complicated one.
Developers rarely study networking to the level of a NetSec professional but that doesn’t mean networking should be ignored.
If anything, developers should care more about how networks share data and how to optimize that data. The book High Performance Browser Networking pushes out this valuable information on networking from a developer’s point of view.
This 400-page guide to networking covers HTTP/2 and all the newest facets of how browsers render pages.
It also covers a lot on Google’s DevTools console and how to get it working in your favor. This book is practically a complete guide for beginners on how to pick up everything about browser networking and website performance.
Absolutely recommend this but only for devs who understand the basics of performance. You should have some background optimizing a website before getting into deep networking topics.
Web Caching: Reducing Network Traffic
If you run a large website then you need caching. In fact, even smaller websites need caching. It’s the best way to improve site speed without changing the frontend.
Web Caching: Reducing Network Traffic explains how caching works in detail for webmasters who just cannot grasp the idea. It’s a guided how-to book just as much as an informational book.
Over a total of 320 pages you’ll learn how to configure two very important types of caching: server-side caching and client-side caching(also called “browser caching”).
If your site runs with both of these caching mechanisms you’ll definitely see an increase in performance. It may not happen right away but the more you work at it the sooner you’ll see increased page speeds.
And if you have no idea where to start this book is a godsend with a writing style anyone can follow.
Getting Started with Varnish Cache
One awesome caching tool is Varnish which is widely regarded as the best server caching you can get. Most VPS setups run on a Varnish/Nginx config which wildly decreases average page load time.
If you’re comfortable with server admin techniques then look into Getting Started with Varnish Cache by Thijs Feryn.
This book isn’t much of a hand-holder since it dives right into Varnish and how you can use it. So you should probably have some background in caching & server setup before nabbing this guide.
But if you aren’t sure how to optimize for load times and if you have no idea what a reverse-caching proxy server is, no doubt you’ll enjoy this book.
Professional Website Performance
Plenty of Wrox books get into detail about website performance and Ajax/HTTP requests. But few go into as much detail as Professional Website Performance written by Peter Smith.
After reading through these chapters I have to say this is probably the most comprehensive all-over study guide for performance. It starts off very slow but quickly advances in difficulty getting into VPS setups and managed hosting.
The book comes in just under 500 pages which is absolutely massive. You can spend months reading through this book and still feel the need to go back over previous chapters.
Because of its length I feel this book can be rather intimidating. It probably isn’t the best way to go for a complete newbie unless you’re really willing to sit and work with it.
But overall I recommend this for anyone with the patience and tenacity to work through the material. A very detailed guide to performance and it pretty much covers every nook & cranny you could imagine.
Web Performance Daybook Vol 2
Boasting a clever name and a beautiful cover, the Web Performance Daybook is your go-to guide to all things performance.
This acts like a reference book for anyone who’s frequently working on servers or websites. But it also covers advice and tips from professionals with experience in the IT industry.
But you probably wouldn’t sit down and read this cover to cover unless you really love performance.
Author Stoyan Stefanov works as a Facebook engineer with a long history working at tech companies. His writing style is superb and the nature of this book(220+ pages) makes it feel dense enough to find value, yet light enough to keep handy for skimming at random.
Plus it features a total of 32 professionals who share their advice for mastering website performance. How cool is that?