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How to Improve Your WordPress Site Speed
WordPress site speed matters. Speed matters! I’m a millennial which means I want things quickly. Honestly, I want them right now! If your website loads too slowly, I’m not waiting, I’m on your competitor's page already. I know it's nasty, but that's just the way it is.
When I think about speed, I have three memories that come to my mind. The most exciting one - driving more than 220 kilometers per hour (or 140 mph) in my former company’s black limo. I was trying to get a file of documents on time for some important business meeting. The most soothing memory - seeing my mom dashing super fast from the house to save me as I was choking with a black cherry in the orchard. The most satisfying one - my new MacBook starting up in 15 seconds (which was 4 minutes 45 seconds faster than my old PC).
The impatient generation
What I said about the millennials was slogan-like obviously, but in many ways it is true. I’m 30 years old and when I look at my friends and younger people, I can see how impatient we are and how difficult it is to wait. My grandparents couldn’t get married because of war. They had been engaged for 9 years. Waiting was painful, but they waited. I know they did great, the story is also romantic and all that, but I don’t think I’d be able to wait that long.
When it comes to things much more trivial like social media or surfing the Internet, the millennials and possibly people in general - if I am allowed to generalize - don't want to wait at all. I don't think this is our fault really, we were made this way. The world around us is speeding up and we got carried away with its crazy pace. By now this should be clear - if a website is part of the business, it’s crucial to make its load time as short as possible.
Site performance testing
There are two ways to check your site's performance. Take a couple of people who are unfamiliar with it, tell them about your business goals and ask them to open the website. Then ask them what they feel about its load speed. I know that a small group doesn’t count as real research, but they are real users, and that page was made with them in mind. They should be satisfied. The satisfaction of SEO engines is also important but still secondary. If the feedback you get is that the page is too slow, warning signals should pop up in your head.
The second method is to use tools like Google PageSpeed or any from the Broadbandresearch list of speed testing sites. They will score your WordPress site speed and list of recommendations that you might introduce. If you feel safe about your web development skills, you can do some of the things on your own. If you’re hesitant, then ask web developers (like Chop-Chop) to do it for you. Depending on the page, some recommendations are more important than others. Let’s look at some of them.
Site speed best practices
If you’re still developing your project, make sure that both the designers and developers follow page speed best practices. I remember working on a website with homepage design almost 1 meter long. Additionally, it was a Retina project with high-resolution background photos, images & videos carousels. It was loading slow, even after speed optimization. I suppose there were many reasons for making this page that huge but speed load factor was clearly forgotten.
There are software products that can optimize the size of images without reducing their quality or reducing it minimally. Untrained human eye won’t catch the difference. When I work on speeding a website up I get all the images through a program that decreases their size. It’d be great if your page administrators were using that kind of a software too. It’s especially important for Retina websites where pictures tend to be exceptionally heavy. Also, make sure that you upload images in sizes that are really needed and not bigger. If you work on a Retina project, think about using SVG images instead of JPGs & PNGs.
How is a page generated in the browser? The browser sends a request to the server which response by sending the page with its assets. The browser downloads them, builds the page and displays it to us. I would assume that many of us would go for the cheapest hosting available, but if we want a fast website it might be worth investing more money in getting a hosting that will make the fastest responses. A hosting customized for holding WordPress sites is also a good idea.
It might be worth investing in a Content Delivery Network (CDN) especially if you expect visitors from around the world. What it does is that it sends your files to various destinations around the globe. If a user loads your page, it is better if the files are hosted geographically closer to them.
Browser cache is another thing worth considering and its setup is usually easy. If your server runs Apache, the proper code can be added to the .htaccess file. If it’s Nginx, additional work needs to be done by your hosting providers or server developers. Browser caching is great if users visit your page more than once. What this does is that the browser saves page assets like images, scripts and styles files. When a user comes back, those saved assets don’t need to be requested from the server again, which reduces the loading time to a minimum.
Enable Gzip compression
It is similar to browser caching as for the setup - if your server runs the Apache, edit the .htaccess file. If it's the Nginx ask your server people for assistance. As the name suggests, the files are compressed which makes it easier to transfer them between the server and the browser.
Minifying CSS and JS files is another good practice. Also combine styles and scripts together. It might not be possible at times if you've got files loading from external resources, but do that with those that you can.
If you use WordPress as your CMS, consider launching plugins like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Just don't do it without a good study of a plugin's work or asking somebody competent for help or advice. Talking about plugins - do you really need all those plugins you've got activated in your WordPress theme? If they aren't really important, consider deactivating (and deleting) those you don't need. Otherwise, you unnecessarily load another set of assets required for proper work of each of the plugins.
Above I have pointed out the basic things to do if you want to make your website load faster. It's also worth remembering that page speed is a SEO ranking factor and you can read about that from Google's announcements. You may not succeed in making tools like Google PageSpeed or GTmetrix completely happy, but it is still an important fight to take, as, in the end, it's about your page visitors happiness that we're talking here. Good luck!