Whether you’re selling home-baked ginger cookies, running a consulting business or raising awareness for a cause you’re passionate about, chances are one of the first things on your list is to set up a website. Next up would be the challenging task of actually getting people to visit your site.
Page speed plays a massive role in both the User Experience, Bounce Rates, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your site. This article focuses on making sure your website is quick and efficient so you can perform better in search and perform better for your visitors.
Why is page load speed important?
Google introduced a new page speed update algorithm in 2018 and according to research, 53% of mobile users leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. The longer the load time, the higher the rate at which users drop off of your site—before even having a chance to see it.
Gone are the days where having any kind of website was enough to gain credibility and get noticed. Today, a streamlined, fast-loading website is no longer a “nice to have”, but a necessity. There are millions of websites to discover, an innumerable amount of content to consume, and an impossible volume of online resources to gobble up. If your website hesitates to load for a brief moment, you are losing potential customers and paying members.
There’s no question about it, the quicker you serve up your content, articles, and resources the better. Load times affect not only the User Experience, but also greatly impact your search performance with the most popular Search Engines.
How fast is my site?
Before you can begin working on page speed, you need to know how your site performs today. I don’t believe there is ever a point where you reach page speed “Nirvana”—so even if you think your site is lightning fast, there are adjustments you can make to shave off a few milliseconds here and there.
Testing your website’s loading speed, and even the load speed of your direct competitors, is made simple by free online tools. Here are 3 of my favorites.
Another good and free tool to use is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. For each of these tools, you simply enter in the URL of the website you want to test and you’ll get a full audit (with recommended changes) of that site’s performance.
What affects your site speed?
In my experience there are three key areas that have the largest impact on performance.
You wouldn’t order a pizza from New York if you were staying in Nashville. The further the distance, the longer the travel time, the less delicious the pizza.
This same principle applies for lightning-fast digital communication. To speed up content delivery to your specific target market, pick a server located as close as possible to the majority of your audience. If your market is widespread or international in nature, invest in Cloud Hosting that has international data centers (mirrors), or a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that can deliver a cached version of your site pages from a location closer to your target audience. This may sound rather technical, but don’t worry. You can speak to your hosting provider or explore alternate hosts for more information on the hosting package that is right for you.
Your hosting server and environment is, to your site, what the foundation is to your house. If your foundation isn’t solid, your house might not weather the storm. Be sure to pick a good, no wait, a great, server to host your website.
First prize would be to set up an optimized VPS (Virtual Private Server) or hire a professional to do it for you. If the technical aspects of this is overwhelming, choose shared hosting that’s optimized for speed with up-to-date processors, plenty of RAM and utilizing fast solid state drives for storage. The general rule of thumb when it comes to hosting is that you get what you pay for. We rarely recommend hosting packages less than $30/mo. for membership sites.
Server performance also depends on a correctly set up operating system and server software. I’d recommend Cloudlinux combined with a Litespeed web server or CentOS or Debian using Apache2 with Nginx as reverse proxy. Again, highly technical and worth a call to your hosting company to better understand their configuration.
Code and Assets
Your website is a massive array of code, content, images, downloads, videos and more, all working together to create the final rendering the visitor sees in their web browser. Think of your website as a car. Each component of what’s “under the hood” can be optimized to increase site performance. This area requires the most attention for you as the site developer and has massive payoffs in terms of site speed. The next section covers some general tips to work on your site’s code and assets to improve load time.
WordPress Setup and Configuration
Now that we have covered the basics (location, hardware, code/assets), it is time to start tweaking your WordPress website to get the best possible results in terms of site performance and, ultimately, Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
9 Tips to Improve Page Speed
- Get the Latest PHP Version – It is important to choose the right PHP version for your WordPress website. There are major speed and security improvements in PHP 7.0, so speak to your hosting provider about migrating from a lower PHP version to 7.0.
- Choose Your Theme Wisely – Pick a lightweight theme that’s optimized for speed. Avoid all-in-one or multi-functional themes as these come installed with unnecessary “bloatware” (plugins that you probably aren’t utilizing) that dramatically affects site speed and performance. Themes in the WordPress.org repository are prohibited from including features deemed “plugin territory” specifically for this reason. This approach allows you to install only the plugins your site needs for the features you require.
- Remember that Less Is More – Only install the bare necessities and choose plugins that don’t load an unnecessary amount of additional scripts and styles. If plugins or your theme allows it, disable/toggle features you are not using. This will ensure that the your page weight is as small as possible.
- Updates – Be sure to keep WordPress, themes, and plugins up-to-date. This will ensure you benefit from stability and speed improvements that come with the updates.
- Use a Caching Plugin – Utilize a caching plugin that has the ability to exclude caching pages that communicate with payment gateways. Membership sites have unique caching needs, so read our guide on caching for more details.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) – A CDN is a form of caching that allows you to display an instance of your website from a location that is closest to your website visitor. A site visitor in Europe may see an instance of your website hosted in London, while a site visitor from Australia might see an instance of your site hosted in Sydney. This will greatly improve the speed of your website, especially if you’re targeting an international audience. It’s important to note that you will need to exclude some pages from the CDN just as you would with a caching plugin.
- Optimize Images – Maintain a balance of image size and quality, keeping images as small and as low resolution as possible. In most cases, images do not need to exceed 72 DPI. I like to set an image at 72 DPI but double the pixel width of the intended display so that the quality is preserved for a retina display. I try to keep all images well below 700kb if possible. Choose a theme that delivers responsive images sized and optimized for different viewports (desktop, tablet, and mobile devices).
- Optimize Your MySQL Database – Maintain and optimize your database frequently, convert MyISAM tables to INNODB and use UTF-8 collation for all your tables.
Everyone from site visitors to search engines, website administrators to hosting providers, love a fast loading website. There really is little, if any, downside to having a site that delivers results as fast as possible to keep up with the instant gratification that modern society thrives on. Start small by doing a review of your current site’s performance and select a few tips to get started working on.
Every little bit helps.