If you aren’t already aware, Google factors in a website’s speed into their ranking algorithm. To anyone who doubts this, it was confirmed by Google in their blog back in 2010 that sites that have faster load times will rank better. Google is about the user experience. A site that loads slower does not fulfill the users needs. We want information readily available as fast as possible. Those few seconds are a big influence on whether or not someone stays on your page. Impressions and clicks are great, but conversions are what actually matter.
Lets take a look at what needs to be done to your WordPress site in order to reduce load times and create a better user experience.
Firstly, you should already know this. You need solid hosting for your site. Generally speaking, most hosting today is extremely fast. I personally have used Arvixe, GoDaddy, Bluehost, and Hostwinds. I have no complaints and all of their support is solid. I would say this is one of the most obvious things in this post but sometimes users like to try to save extra money by not paying for a quality host. Believe me, paying an extra $5-$10 a month is worth it in the long run, especially if you are looking to rank well.
WordPress is an awesome CMS. Assuming you found this post, you are most likely using it. It comes jam-packed with options for plugins and themes. One of the major issues with plugins are they can significantly slow down your site. Removing plugins that you have no need for is a good start. Ask yourself if the plugin is absolutely necessary and if there are any better alternatives that load faster.
Now I know I just said that plugins can slow your site down but some can actually improve load times.
1. W3 Total Cache
This plugin is awesome. I use it on every single WordPress site that I have. The settings can be intimidating but provided below will be the settings I personally use and have found most effective. W3 Total cache will render pages faster, reduce loads on your server, and reduce bandwidth. This plugin alone will help you increase your website’s speed. Even Matt Cutts uses it.
You want to make sure that you follow the details below and use the recommended settings because if you don’t know what you are doing, you can break your theme. This means things will be altered because of conflicting code. Simply revert changes if this occurs.
Page Cache: Enabled
Page Cache Method: Disk: Enhanced
Database Cache: Disabled
Object Cache: Disabled
Browser Cache: Enabled
Reverse Proxy: Disabled
I only enable verify rewrite rules and disable Google Page Speed dashboard widget because it isn’t necessary to have.
Cache Posts Page: Enabled
Don’t Cache Front Page: Disabled
Cache feeds: Disabled
Cache SSL: Disabled
Cache URIs: Disabled
Cache 404: Disabled
Cache Requests only from YOURURL site address: Disabled
Don’t cache pages for logged in users: Enabled
Cache Preload: Disabled
The rest of the settings are default.
Default because I don’t use it. It has been known to break themes in WordPress. Only use this setting if you know what you are doing.
2. Lazy Load
Depending on the site and the hosting I have I will use this plugin. This plugin works by having a place holder where your image or thumbnail would be. The page doesn’t render the image until the user needs it. As the user scrolls the page the images are loaded. This plugin is effective at reducing load times and I recommend installing it.
If you have images on your site then you know that they can be large and take time to load. You should also know that if you use images that they are added on your site according to the size that the theme requires. The problem is that the images you uploaded still retain their file size in the directory and will continue to load slow because the original is large and is being resized. This plugin reduces the size of the image without compromising the quality which increases page speed.
Again, if you use WordPress then you know that themes play a huge role in the creative aspect of your site. This post won’t go into great detail on WordPress themes, I will leave that for a later date. I use Themeforest to buy my themes and one of the easiest things to do is simply look for themes that are “seo optimized.” You want code that is clean and easy for Google to crawl.
Page Speed Test
There are a few sites you can use to test your site speed. All of them do essentially the same thing.
Google Page Speed Insights.
Pingdom Speed Test Tool
I prefer to use GTMetrix because of the useful information they provide. They recommend changes that you can make and potential amounts of time you will save. These tools make suggestions, you don’t need to make every single change they recommend. Some may not even be possible due to themes and plugins you have in place.
Apps, Plugins, and Browsers
You need to take into account that not every browser plays nicely with certain plugins. Flash for example doesn’t play nicely with chrome and can even crash. It also doesn’t work on most mobile phones. Keep this in mind when adding certain things to your site. Google also takes into account mobile page speed.
CDN – Content Delivery Network
If you don’t know what a CDN is I will quickly explain. When you have a website, you host the data on a webhost. This media is stored on the server and when a user visits your site they access the server by requesting that information. If you are from Europe and your server is hosted in the United States it will take longer for the user to access the file. A CDN works by providing a closer geographic network for users to access your site.
I personally don’t use a CDN. If you are a larger site or you post certain types of media that would require one, then they will reduce load times on that media. For example, if you are a photographer and your website is predominately photographs with large dimensions, you might want to use a CDN to display this media to your users.
Use a good host for your website. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth it if your site doesn’t rank due to slow speeds. Invest in a theme that is SEO optimized and features clean code. Avoid using too many plugins and uninstall the ones you have no use for. Install the plugins I listed because they will effectively reduce the load times on your site. Lastly, use a CDN if you need too.