Improve Your Website’s Performance With These Photo Optimization Tips

Much has been written lately about slow page loading times on news websites. People are increasingly consuming news on mobile devices, often with limited bandwidth.

Earlier this year, Google announced that they now use "mobile-friendliness" as a ranking signal in mobile search results and even adding an extra second or two of load time has been shown to increase abandonment rates on websites.

Sites that aren't optimizing for performance on all devices and connection speeds are limiting their own audience growth. Every time someone can't find your site or they're too impatient to wait for a page to load, you're losing a potential reader.

Fortunately, the INN Nerds aren't content to just complain about it, we're here to help fix it!

Let's Start with Photos

The average web page now weighs in at just under 2 MB, and images are the main culprit. Photos on the web are essential elements of storytelling and connecting with your audience. But if your photos aren’t optimized, they can also weigh down your web pages and make them slow to load. To improve the overall performance of your website, photo optimization is a great place to start.

What is Photo Optimization

Photo optimization involves compressing the file size of photo using a tool like Adobe Photoshop. We want the highest quality photo with the smallest possible file size. Too much compression can impair the quality of the image. Too little compression can result in a large photo file size which slows the performance of our web page. Optimization is finding the right balance between quality and file size.

Consider these two images:

Photo of Delicate Arch
Not Optimized. Width: 1200px, Height: 800px, File Size: 939 Kilobytes
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Optimized. Width: 1200px, Height: 800px, File Size: 107 Kilobytes

The second photo has a file size of less than 12 percent of the first. You can probably see a slight degradation in the photo quality. But most people would not notice the difference between these two on a web page.

On the web we should never use any photo with a file size like 939 Kilobytes. This will slow the loading of the page, especially on slower connections and mobile devices. We want to keep website photos under 100 KB if we can, and much lower for smaller images. For example, here’s the same photo reduced in dimensions:

Delicate Archive in Arches National Park
Not Optimized. Width: 300px, Height: 200px, File Size: 192 Kilobytes
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Optimized. Width: 300px, Height: 200px, File Size: 14 Kilobytes

The file size of the second photo is less that 10 percent of the first image, yet most people would see no difference in photo quality. If you have a web page displaying a number of similar-sized images, for example a gallery page or a series of stories with thumbnail images, smaller photo file sizes can add up a huge reduction in page loading time.

How to Optimize Photos in Photoshop

Best practice for optimization is to start with the highest-quality source photo, then resize and compress it for the web. Start by cropping and resizing the photo for the space it will fill on your web page. If the photo will be displayed in a sidebar widget that’s 300px wide, there’s no reason to upload a photo wider than 300px for that space. Reducing the size of the photo by itself will reduce its file size.

After the photo is cropped and sized, in the File menu go to Export -> Save for Web:

Save for Web dialogue box in Photoshop

Here you can select which photo format to export (always use JPEG for photos), and how much compression to apply. Medium is often the optimum setting, but this is a judgement call. If you don’t see a preview of both the Original photo and the JPEG export, click the 2-Up tab at the top. Now you can try different compression settings and see a preview of the results, including the file size:

Optimized image in Save for Web dialogue in Photoshop

Once you're happy with the image quality and file size reduction, click Save to create your web-optimized photo. This will not affect your original image, which should be archived for possible use in the future.

More Tutorials on Photoshop's Save for Web

You can of course find lots of great Photoshop tutorials online.

Here’s a video from that explains how to use Save for Web in Photoshop.

Here’s another really good tutorial on Photoshop’s Save For Web that walks through the process.

Tip: If you like keyboard shortcuts, in Photoshop you can launch Save for Web like this:

  • Command + Shift + Option + s (Mac)
  • Control + Shift + Alt + s (Windows)

Optimizing Photos without Photoshop

If you don’t use Photoshop, there are any number of other tools for optimizing website images. is a free online tool. You can drag and drop a source photo into it, and download a compressed version of the image. doesn’t have any cropping or resizing tools, and you can’t adjust the amount of compression. In our tests, Photoshop does a better job of balancing photo quality and file size. But if you have a photo sized correctly for your website, it’ll do in a pinch.

If you're comfortable using the command line, there are a number of tools available to you for optimizing different image types.

Your Photo Workflow

If you've produced photos for print, you know it's important to maintain the highest quality photo throughout the process. But with today's cameras, the highest quality photo is likely to be 5000 pixels wide, and more than 20 Megabytes in file size. Such a photo is great for print, but a problem on the web.

Best practice is to safely store the original photo files in their highest resolution, for the day when you need to resize or reuse them in another context. Use the original photos to crop, size, and export for the web, then keep the originals safe for future use.

Help Improve Our Docs

If you have some favorite tips or tricks for dealing with photos online, or would like to suggest other tools and resources, please leave a comment here!

INN Member Website Review: October 2015

In the realm of nonprofit news, the websites of INN members represent the front end of our digital presence and impact. As the newest member of the Products and Technology team — aka the Nerds— I’m working to get acquainted with our members and a site review seemed a good way to start. It’s also a useful every so often to see what we’re collectively doing on the web as a benchmark for future progress.

My review this month of the 100+ INN Member websites shows a very healthy community. I found thousands of examples of insightful reporting, excellent storytelling, and engaging design. As with any sample of 100 websites there are bound to be things we might improve.

I’d like to suggest three priorities we could work on together over the next year:

  1. Responding to the Mobile Challenge
  2. Going Social
  3. What is good design?

Responding to the Mobile Challenge

In State of the News Media 2015, Pew Research Center reports that “39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic...coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.” Yet a significant number of nonprofit news sites that excel in every other way are not optimized for mobile.

Converting a non-responsive website to cross-device friendliness can be very challenging. The solution used to be providing a “mobile” version along with the “desktop” version of the site. But now with so many different types and sizes of devices and displays, the better practice is to publish a single site for all devices using the techniques of Responsive Web Design.

The speed with which mobile devices have become part of our daily lives is unprecedented in the history of technology. In 1995 there were 80 million mobile phones users worldwide. By 2014 the number of mobile phones reached 5.2 billion, including 2 billion smart phones. The number of smart phone users worldwide is projected to reach 4 billion by 2020.

The smart phone is changing the way people engage with media and each other. In a recent Zogby Analytics survey of millennials, 87 percent said “my smart phone never leaves my side.” 78 percent spend more than two hours a day using their smart phone and 68 percent prefer using their phone over a laptop or desktop computer.

But it’s not just younger demographics who are increasingly going mobile. Since 2008 time spent per day with digital media has more than doubled for all U.S. age groups. As highlighted by Mary Meeker in her Internet Trends 2015 report, almost all of this increase is from media consumption on smart phones.

The integration of smart phones with everyday life is rapidly changing the way people discover, consume, and share news. The urgency of addressing any mobile gap can’t be minimized.

Going Social

Social media have become increasingly important for discovery and sharing of content, with nearly half of digital news-consuming adults saying they use Facebook every week to get news about government and politics. But in some cases social media integration on news sites remains problematic, with bloated tracking scripts or missing Open Graph metadata needed for effective engagement.

I suspect many of us are concerned about the intrusiveness of the big social media players. It’s in their interest to make it easy to share our content on their platforms. This helps us reach new audiences and expand our news impact. But we also understand that their business model is predicated on harvesting as much personal information as possible about the people who visit our websites.

Many of the free widgets we embed on our sites make it easy for people to share our content, at the cost of exposing data about their interests and behavior. Social widgets can also slow website performance. The leading social media players and technologies keep changing. In this environment, developing best practices around social media is very challenging.

What is Good Design?

I’ve been a news professional for 28 years, and a web designer for the past 15. I think design without good content is wasted space. Good reporting on a flawed website can have great impact. But good design applied to great content can make a huge difference.

Ideas about what constitutes “good web design” have changed dramatically over the past decade, and will continue to evolve over the next. Fashions aside, we have learned fundamental lessons about what works for website users. We know people don’t like feeling lost or confused. They don’t enjoy struggling past obstacles to simply read a story.

Website designs can inflict many distractions on visitors in an effort to control their attention. Sometimes it’s important to get across (e.g.) the idea that our organization needs their support. But if we do this in a way that frustrates our users, we’re designing at cross purposes.

Each of us understands this from our own experience. We decide every moment whether to stay on a web page or direct our attention somewhere else. Something is always competing for our attention. As storytellers and designers, our job is to win that competition.

We can help our audiences by providing a distraction-free space to engage with our content. I like the phrase “radical clarity” as an aspiration for our websites, especially story pages. Mobile has forced us to rethink designs that present too much information for a small screen, and we need to carry that thinking over to larger displays as well.

Solving everything now

Building anything of enduring value almost always takes more time than you want it to. The corpus of INN Member websites represents a tremendous amount of work by their creators, and great value to their audiences. As a website builder I know that work is never done.

My hope is that a year from now we can repeat this review and see clear signs of progress, especially in the areas of mobile friendliness, social media optimization, and clarity of design. The INN Nerds will do what we can to help. And I'll be writing with more details and actions we can take to address these priorities in the coming weeks.