Page load times are among the many critical factors when it comes to producing high conversion rates, more leads and sales at a lower cost. This post covers many of the factors required to improve WordPress page load times, from the simple, financial factors (you’ll need more budget) to the more technical – you may need a WordPress boffin, like Tim McMillen over at profound who kindly pitched in on the technical elements here.
To the unenlightened, choosing a WordPress host seems simple. You run a Google search, visit a few WordPress hosts’ sites, compare prices and pick the cheapest.
As with most things in life, you’ll get what you pay for though – there’s a cheap way of hosting which will share resources, bandwidth and have limited security or protection. The cheaper your hosting plan, the slower your site is likely to be.
Rather than labour the point here, you should read the detailed post, Web Hosting Pitfalls Are Costing You a Fortune.
Caching Your Content
A cache is effectively a copy of your web content, ready and waiting to serve quickly to the next visitor, rather than fetching separate elements from your database, CSS and a host of other locations on your server.
Tim says: “There are a number of plugins that can cache content, but having experimented with some of them, they do give varied results, and can often be limited by your hosting infrastructure configuration. Here is a good article comparing 20 Popular WordPress caching plugins.
At profound, we prefer to take the job of caching away from the CMS and make it the responsibility of the hosting environment. We’ve worked with a number of hosting providers over the years, but our favourite specialist hosting provider for WordPress sites is WPEngine.
A few years back when page load speeds became an important factor for SEO, we ran an experiment with a couple of problem sites which were running caching plugins on mainstream shared hosting platforms; we took a copy of these sites onto a WPEngine shared hosting instance and ran our own page speed tests. We were amazed that in some instances the websites loaded 8 seconds faster on WPEngine compared to the legacy host.”
Content Delivery Network
Some WordPress hosts include a Content Delivery Network as an option with their hosting. For those that don’t, third party services such as CloudFlare can be added separately.
A Content Delivery Network effectively replicates your site onto multiple servers, usually in separate locations around the world. When a user requests the content on your site, that content is served from their nearest server. That means that the delivery lag caused by the distance between user and server is reduced, but also means that there’s less load on the resources on your own server too.
Most CDN providers also wrap a comforting security blanket around your site too, protecting you from bot attacks and other perils of owning a website which would otherwise slow your site down.
Reduce Image Sizes to Improve WordPress Page Load Times
It still amazes me how many webmasters miss this simple trick to improve WordPress page load times for their site.
When you take a photo with your digital camera, it’s usually multiple megapixels. That’s great for printing or showing on a big screen in your office, but the large file size means that it’s not so great for a user downloading it from your site.
Whilst you might scale down the image to fit in the page you’re creating, what happens in reality is that the user has to download the full image – every last byte of it – before then resizing it locally on their own desktop. Or worse still, they’re on limited bandwidth on a mobile device and waiting several minutes for an image the size of their thumb to load.
You should always resize your images before uploading them to WordPress. This means the user only has to download the minimum amount of data, putting less load on my their bandwidth and your server, ultimately resulting in faster page load times.
Tim says: “If you have a media library full of legacy images that are just too big , or you just do not want to optimise every image you use on your website before you upload it, then consider trying one of these plugins to help reduce the impact that bloated images have on your load times.”
Tim says: “It is considered standard practice these days for web developers to use CSS pre-processors such as http://lesscss.org/ or http://sass-lang.com/. These technologies help developers to author CSS in a faster, more scalable, easier to maintain way, and when used correctly result in smaller file sizes for published CSS files.
If you’re not quite ready to adopt a CSS pre-processor technology, then you really need to be minifying your CSS manually – the process of stripping out unnecessary whitespace from your CSS files – yes believe it or not whitespace adds weight to your files! It’s easy to minify CSS theses days, with an abundance of online tools such as https://cssminifier.com/ available to use for free.”
WordPress Plugins to Improve Page Load Speed
Tim says: “As great as WordPress is, it’s so tempting to install another plugin to do a little job for you. A pop-up opt-in for your newsletter, those pretty social buttons that look so great on your site, that photo viewer that allows users to zoom and pan. They’re cool. But every one will increase the load time of your page and affect the user experience which in turn affects your conversion rate and your profits.
Go do an audit of your plugins. Right now. Any unnecessary WordPress plugins may not only be a security risk but could also be slowing your site down too. Remove any that you really don’t need.”
Tools to Test and Improve WordPress Page Load Times
If you’re a Chrome user, right click on a page on your site and click, “Inspect Element”.
There are options here to view your site, pretending that you’re using different devices but that’s a whole other blog post. We’re really interested in the Network tab. Make sure you have that selected and then refresh the page in your browser.
As the page loads, the Network tab will show you how long each element is taking to load. Every image, every script, every part of your CSS and the server response time itself. That data should give you some clues as to where you can improve your page load time.
Run your WordPress site through Google’s Page Speed Test Tool. This free test will identify specific areas which are slowing your site down.
Keep a close eye on the average Page Speed in Google Analytics. You might even consider setting up a custom alert to email you when page load times spike – it only takes one plugin or excessive load on your server – if you’re not paying attention day to day, you could easily go weeks without noticing a dip in leads or sales through a mistake which can be easily fixed.
Use a website monitoring service. There are many available, though my personal experience is of Pingdom which has a free basic service and lots of other toys if you choose to pay.
Pingdom will email, tweet or even text you when your site is slow or not responding.
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