(See bottom of article for complete list of my recommended page load tools)
Let’s face it. Terms like site speed, page load, optimization, website performance… these all lean dangerously toward technical subjects. That tends to make most folks want to avoid them. And yet, we know that we, ourselves, get antsy if a web page we land on doesn’t pop up reasonably quickly (3-6 seconds) with the information we are expecting.
Yep, you just can’t avoid learning a few key pointers on how to keep your website fast. Hopefully, my research can give you a significant advantage so you can follow these simple steps and confidently check this off your To Do list.
1. Schedule Your Time
This is the first and most important step. There are a few tasks which are “easy,” but quite time consuming. The process of entering your images into the optimizer tool in batches of just 20 at a time is – to be honest – frustratingly slow. So, knowing this, realize that you are investing quality time into your website, make some fresh coffee, and schedule this an important project to do on a quiet Sunday afternoon-ish. You might even find you can break this up into sections. That’s what I did, myself, actually.
Also, almost every tool that has a free version also offers a paid version that tends to produce faster/better results. Figure out what your budget is – and if your time is more valuable – and see if you can invest a few dollars into your business.
2. Prepare A Back-Up
Before you begin making any adjustments to your website, you’ll want to make sure you have a backup in case something breaks or looks wrong. You can usually contact your existing hosting company and ask them where you can access a backup of your site. Most hosting companies provide daily, weekly, monthly backups. Convenient, right? If they don’t have one, ask the nice customer service rep at your hosting company to show you how to create one, or ask if this is a service they can provide for you.
Once you are confident that a back up exists, move to Step 3.
3. Choose A Good Host
Your WordPress hosting service plays an important role in website performance. A good shared hosting provider like GoDaddy will take the extra measures to optimize your website for performance. I’ve recommended them for years, especially when they created their Managed WordPress service.
However, on shared hosting you share the server resources with many other customers. This means that if your neighboring site gets a lot of traffic, then it can impact the entire server performance which in turn will slow down your website. Also, sometimes these hosting companies also delay system-wide updates, meaning you may not be actually using the very latest technology, because they are serving the medium-level of technology that serves the majority of the masses.
I recommend WPEngine as the preferred managed WordPress hosting provider. They’re also the most popular one in the industry. I recently changed to them after hearing so many excellent reviews. So far, so good. It’s a little more expensive, but not much! The only thing is that WPEngine is NOT a registrar, so you need to have your domains and email handled by someone else.
Ok, when you’ve settled on the correct hosting (in my case, this meant migrating my site over and adjusting my account settings…. so this might be a big step in itself!), then you are ready to look at your site itself to see how you can increase page load speed. Onward, Step 4!
4. Ready to Optimize Images
Images bring life to your content and help boost engagement. Researchers have found that using colored visuals makes people 80% more likely to read your content, but if your images aren’t optimized, they could be hurting more than helping. In fact, non-optimized images are one of the most common speed issues we see on beginner websites.
Manual: Before you upload a photo directly from your phone or camera, I recommend that you use photo editing software to optimize your images for web, like Photoshop. There is also a great free image compression tool, called TinyPNG. Drag and drop up to 20 images (max 5MB). If you have access to your FTP, you need to first download the uploads folder from your WordPress installation, optimize all images and then re-upload (and replace) the folder via FTP.
So, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can also just get the TinyPNG plugin! You get 500 free compressions a month, and then you have to pay a little. I’m paying about $65 total to compress about 7500 images, and I think it’s worth every penny to trim images down.
Automatic: This free plugin called WP-SmushIt which will do this process to all of your images automatically, as you are uploading them. No reason not to install this one. There is a Pro version, as well, which can cost up to $50/month. I’m actually trying out the Pro version right now, and not convinced it is necessary. It claims to compress images 10x versus just 2x with the free version… so, I’ll let you know if I am swayed to stick with Pro. There’s a free trial period if you want to experiment, as well!
I have yet to determine if I can go back down to the free WP-Smushit level and use this in concert with the TinyPNG plugin. I suspect this is totally possible, and is the cheapest way to go.
When you’ve done what you can do with your images, next we look at caching. Step 5!
5. Use A Caching Plugin
WordPress pages are “dynamic.” This means they’re built on the fly every time someone visits a post or page on your website. To build your pages, WordPress has to run a process to find the required information, put it all together, and then display it to your user.
That’s why I recommend every WordPress site use a caching plugin. Caching can make your WordPress site anywhere from 2x to 5x faster, there are a lot of caching plugins available for WordPress. It’s important to proceed with caution here because sometimes caching, consolidating, combining and minimizing files on your site can BREAK your site. If you do something here at this step, you’ll want to check your website frequently to make sure it looks right and acts properly. If it doesn’t or isn’t, you want to DEACTIVATE your caching plugin and confirm your site is back to normal. Remember, you have that backup if anything goes terribly wrong, so no need to panic. You’ve got this!
The WP-Smushit family, by WPMU Dev, has a caching plugin called Hummingbird. It did initially mess up my custom styling, but you can go through and selectively turn it off and on for various files and pages. That is to say, if your site doesn’t look perfect, you can still use this plugin but you’ll need to spend some time with the settings. You may wish to contact the plugin support and have them help you. And, Hummingbird is part of the $50/month package with WP-Smushit… You can always play with cheaper options to see if you can get your page load speed improved at less cost.
A free caching plugin I’ve had recommended to me is Autoptimize plugin, to save bandwidth by aggregating and minimizing JS, CSS and HTML, and you can connect this plugin to a CDN url, which brings us to Step 6!
6. CDN To Help Speed Page Load
WPEngine provides you with a CDN (Content Delivery Network) as part of the Pro Plan or higher. Or, I believe you can pay an additional $20/month on the basic plan to add a CDN a la carte. CDN’s help to render an image to various visitors around the globe by pinging the content from local servers, rather than having to find your one server in the middle of South Dakota, and having to generate the content all the way to the visitor’s location. All this means is = faster.
SiteLock offers both security and a CDN. I suggest asking your hosting company if they provide CDN’s or who they would recommend. It’s important to confirm your original image files will be kept somewhere in tact so you don’t alter or lose the originals.
7. Did It Work? Test Time!
The final step that I know you’ve all been dying to get to, is to use a page load speed analysis tool! YES! You need to know if your speed has increased, by how much, and if there are other suggestions you can still do! Run a test on Ping. You may also have Yslow on your browser as a tool to use. Get your grade and read the suggestions. Go for the A+, but know that it is impossible to get an A+.
Particularly with WordPress, you will never be able to shrink down the size of your website to load in less than 3 seconds. But, chances are, you’ll see an increase in Grade from a D to a B! That’s my wish for you.
8. Why Page Load Matters
If you’ve gotten to this part of the article, you are utterly AMAZING. I’m so proud of you!!!! It’s a bit overwhelming WRITING it, let alone picturing you figuring out all this stuff…. just to try to increase page load speed from 6 to 4 seconds. But… here’s the thing: IT MATTERS!!!!!
The difference of 2 seconds could be the difference of getting the huge deal, or the big sale, or just knowing that your website is a finely tuned USER-FRIENDLY environment. Speed = sales, study after study shows this to be true. Think of this as doing major spring cleaning for your online reputation and business. Even if you just read this article and then put it away for a while, or share it with your office staff, or maybe leave a comment below asking for my help, I want you to cross the threshold where you realize it is part of managing your site to confirm the efficiency and functional progress of your site.
Ready? Set. Go Faster.
As promised above, here is the complete list of tools I mentioned throughout this article: