Website Speed Optimization
Optimizing your website speed is absolutely crucial to both search engine ranking and user experience. At the end of the day, it makes no difference if your website is jam-packed with awesome unique content that everyone wants to get their hands on, if a user has to wait long for your pages to load, and every click to a new page on your website takes too long, you can be 100% certain, that the user will not return. No one likes to wait long for a website to load, or any of the internal pages when browsing a website. It’s with this in mind that you need to take as many steps as possible to ensure your website, pages and content are delivered as efficiently as possible in as little time as possible.
As with everything WordPress, there are a number of plugins both free and paid that will help you achieve some incredible speed enhancements. But you can’t just install every plugin that offers speed optimizations and hope everything will be as you want it to be. Instead, you will need to pass your website through some tools that measure certain elements that affect and handle how quickly or slowly a website loads.
Before we get into the actual nitty gritty of website optimization we want to make it very clear that most WordPress websites and themes out the box will not give you a fantastic score. Even a brilliant theme like Divi will need some personal tweaking on your part, as optimizations are content specific and the types of plugins being used etc. Each website is different, and so will the score. You can take 2 identical websites, both WordPress, both using Divi and both will score very differently. These differences can be but not limited to:
- Host settings
- PHP version the website is being hosted with
- Number of plugins being used on the website
- How many plugins have their scripts running in the header and not the footer
- Image sizes
- Amount of images on a page
- Compression of files being served
- Where files are being served from (Either locally or via CDN – Content Delivery Network)
The good news is you can address nearly 95% of all issues your website may have in terms of speed improvements, the other 5% will be individual website specific elements that you may not have control over.
Pingdom Website Speed Test
Pingdom has many uses out of the box, which includes free uptime monitoring services for your domains. For now, we’ll just talk about how Pingdom can help you speed up your website and what suggestions it offers to help you eradicate certain conflicts, or “bad practices”.
If you visit Pingdom Website Speed Test you will be presented with a URL box and a “Test From” box. Paste the URL of the website page you want to test (usually your home page) and then select which server you would like to test from. The server that’s closest to your website hosting location and catchment market you’re attempting to target should be selected. IE if you’re mainly trying to target the US market then select an American Server, or if you only do business within the EU, then select the Sweden server.
After your run the test on your website page, you will be presented with a score (performance grade) and suggestions of what to improve.
Google Page Insights
Google Page Insights is another free testing tool you can use to assess website performance, with Google having a major emphasis on “Mobile First” in terms of ranking and indexing. If you go to PageSpeed Insights you will be presented with a similar setup to Pingdom where you are presented with a box to enter your website URL.
Once the scan is complete you are presented with two tabs (Mobile and Desktop), each containing a score out of 100 for each.
Each tab has suggestions as to what you can do to improve your score. Our suggestion is to google any errors you are given and see what others are saying/doing to resolve the same problems on their websites.
Remember one thing though, if you can get Mobile to a good green A score of over 80/100 then your desktop version won’t need much doing as mobile is the most important for Google.
If you can get your website to achieve the above grades on both desktop and mobile, then your job is done. But remember, it’s not easy and possible to get perfect scores, so don’t get despondent if you’re unable to reach a perfect 100 (it’s practically impossible with a modern website).
Below is an insight of Twitter. A company whose primary user base uses their website on mobile devices and they only score 62. But in terms of page ranking, Twitter doesn’t really need to worry about competition as they have pretty much cornered that segment of the market. We just want to show you that even some of the biggest companies in the world with top developers and huge website can’t even get a score that you could achieve with a little work.
So what plugins can I use?
The first step you need to take when determining what caching plugin is best for you is to figure out what you expect the plugin to do for you:
Like many plugins, the price of caching solutions varies greatly from free, to a few hundred dollars. A simple rule is; the higher the price, the more feature rich the solution will be.
Complexity and user-friendliness
This totally depends on your personal experience with different plugins. Are you happy to delve into the nitty-gritty by reading many tutorials, following guides and having confidence with making server changes in some cases?
Functionality and Power
Some plugins come with features such as automatic integration and Content Delivery Networks, GZIP compression (file compression) and minification (removing unnecessary characters from the code). Although these features will make your website a lot faster, they’re only really necessary for large websites.
Does the plugin come with support, let it be free or paid for. As mentioned many times before, not all websites are equal and two identical base theme websites can have very different results when installing the same plugin. Are you confident in troubleshooting (problem-solving) your own problems, or do you feel more comfortable having a professional fix it for you?
W3 Total Cache – FREE
With over 1+Million downloads, W3 Total Cache is (at the time of writing) in the top 3 most downloaded caching plugins and offers a lot of customization and features, with nearly 20 pages of configuration options you can tailor the plugin to meet your specific needs. W3 Total Cache has a simple 1 click auto optimization feature as well for those who aren’t comfortable customizing every aspect of the plugin.
WP Super Cache – FREE
In our opinion, WP Super Cache is probably the easiest and most popular of the caching plugins we discuss. The upsides are, it’s free, it’s easy to customize and requires very little configuration out the box. With features that offer static pages, CDN’s and exporting.
WP Rocket – PREMIUM
Unlike the other two caching plugins we have mentioned, WP Rocket requires a license ranging between $39 and $199; depending on the number of websites you plan on installing it on. But before you instantly consider a free solution, we recommend you take a look at WP Rocket as it’s really jam-packed with features that will get your website loading with *record speeds. The user interface is intuitive and friendly for both novice and experts alike.
WPMU Hummingbird – PREMIUM
Unfortunately, in order to use Hummingbird you will need to purchase a WPMU membership which is $49.00, but before you are instantly swayed away, we suggest you look at that membership as a brilliant investment. Not only does $49.00 get the amazing Hummingbird plugin, but over 100 other premium plugins provided by WPMU for as many sites as you want. Hummingbird has some serious grunt beneath the hood and gives you insane control and options to increase your site performance.
OK. So I have the plugin, what am I looking to improve exactly?
There are many factors that contribute to the performance speed of a website, but we will go over the most common issues you will probably encounter and how you can address them. Please remember that not all plugins offer the same features, so you will need to decide what’s important to you from the list below and then use a plugin that solves your own personal issues.
- GZIP compression
- Page Caching
- Browser Caching
- Minify JS
- Minify CSS
- Minify HTML
- Optimization of images
- Remove Render Blocking Resources
- Set Expiration times on CSS, JS and other Files types
As mentioned before, Google is your friend and anything you don’t understand or need help sorting out can usually be solved with a little searching. Optimizing your website load speeds may seem daunting to some, but we assure you that it’s not that bad once you wrap your head around it.