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More so than ever before, speed matters – and your website is no exception. Both your visitors as well as Google expect you to have a website that loads quickly.
A fast loading speed is no longer something that’s nice to have. Today, it’s a requirement.
Websites that load quickly rank higher in search engines, enjoy a reduced bounce rate, and higher engagement. It’s estimated that Amazon would lose $1.6 billion annually if their checkout page loaded just one second slower.
Even if you aren’t a retail giant, it’s estimated that conversion can drop by as much as 7% for every 100 milliseconds that page loading is delayed.
This paints a pretty clear picture – a slow website will directly cost you money. On the flip side, decreasing your page loading times – while not a magic solution – can help you to provide a better experience for your users, and receive more traffic from Google.
A Quick Personal Case Study
I was inspired to write this article after quickly undertaking this myself. My two biggest websites on my server are this one, and the website of my largest eCommerce brand.
While not ridiculously slow, neither were a good example of how fast websites should be. Page loading time would typically range from 3-6 seconds. GTMetrix rated my site an F, and Google PageSpeed Insights would report a score of less than 10.
It wasn’t always this way, however. Both my eCommerce site as well as my website here are massive, with a bunch of underlying components. My baby product brand has a blog with tens of thousands of monthly readers, as well as a forum and eCommerce store. Here, underneath my main site, I also have my course area, an affiliate program, and a host of other plugins that all bog down my website.
While it’s possible to set up a framework for speed (which I will cover in this article), it isn’t something you can pay attention to once and ignore forever. As time goes on, it’s very possible your website will slow down – so it’s your job to remain on top of things.
Moving on, let’s cover specifically what I’ve done to move my GTMetrix score to an ‘A’, as well as bring my PageSpeed Insight’s results to a solid 83.
1. Utilize A Caching Plugin
If there is one thing you can do to instantly improve your website speed, it’s to utilize a caching plugin.
If you’ve never heard of the term ‘caching’ before, it essentially works like this:
When a person visits your website, there is a lot of different files to load and calculations to run. For example, calculating the number of comments on a page, or what’s inside of your website’s sidebar. Each one of these calculations takes time. Caching plugins do these calculations in advance, and serve the results of the calculations in one file to the visitor.
This way, your visitor doesn’t have to wait for the calculations to be done. Your website does it in advance, and already has the results ready when your visitor arrives on your website.
Caching alone can immediately double or triple the rate in which your website loads, and provides such a better experience for your visitors.
Note however that caching can cause some plugins not to work correctly. This was my reason for putting it off for so many years. Usually, the trade-off is worth it, and more plugins are implementing compatibility with caching plugins.
What Do I Recommend?
Personally, I use and recommend WP Fastest Cache Pro on most of my websites. I chose this plugin after comparing actual speed tests against other caching plugins, and this one came out to be the fastest in every test.
There are a lot of marketers pushing WP Rocket. WP Rocket is great, but a lot of marketers are only promoting it because they offer a more generous affiliate program than their competitors. This is the one site where I use WP Rocket – not because it’s miles ahead of WP Fastest Cache (it’s about the same based on my tests), but because I use a lot of complicated plugins to build this site and WP Rocket plays better with a few of them.
If you’re looking for a paid plugin, WP Rocket may just be the best these days, but free plugins take you 90% of the way there in all honesty.
WP Fastest Cache offers a free version, so I highly recommend checking it out if you don’t have a caching plugin already. While there are noticeable differences with the free vs paid version of the plugin, even the free version is an enormous step up over no caching plugin at all.
2. Uninstall Unnecessary Plugins
I’ve mentioned this already, but websites can become bloated and slow over time.
One of the most common causes of this is the addition of unnecessary plugins and software.
Every plugin has a cost. While some will not slow your website down nearly as much as others, you want to maintain a habit of only installing what you need – and promptly uninstalling plugins when you’re done with them.
Not only do they slow your website down, but they introduce potential security problems as well.
Perform an audit of all the plugins currently installed on your website. Which plugins are actually improving the user experience – even if they are slowing down your page loading times?
Speed Isn’t Everything
This is an important question to ask yourself. When it comes down to it, you shouldn’t have the goal of hitting a perfect 100 on Google PageSpeed Insights. Sometimes, it’s worth slowing down your website in order to provide a better experience for visitors, and this is an important thing to keep in mind when determining which plugins to keep.
For example, Google has knocked my eCommerce store down because we use larger images than necessary. This is so people can zoom in on the product photos, and still have crystal-clear quality. It wouldn’t make sense for us, nor for our shoppers to shrink the photos simply so it will load a tenth of a second faster.
A rule to live by is to keep what you and your visitors need, but no more!
3. Compress Your Images
In order for people to view a web page, they have to actually download it into their browser. One of the largest contributors to a page’s file size are its images.
Fortunately, it’s possible to shrink an image’s size by 70, 80, even 90% without sacrificing its quality.
The answer is compression.
Image compression removes some of the unnecessary data from the photo, and with most plugins, there will be no perceivable difference in image quality.
The image compression plugin I use is called Smush Pro. It runs for $7 a month for 1 website, and compresses images automatically after they’re uploaded.
However, this is something you can certainly do yourself with free software such as Caesium.
At the very least, you should compress the images that appear on every page on your website. Some examples would be your logo, or the images in your sidebar!
4. Purchase Proper Web Hosting
I am on a dedicated server, and I understand that gives an advantage that most new website owners wouldn’t normally have.
However, it’s certainly possible to receive fantastic page loading times, even on shared hosting.
One of the most important things you’ll want to look out for when choosing a web host is that the files are being loaded off of a solid-state drive (SSD), rather than a hard disk drive (HDD).
Hard drives are often the bottleneck when it comes to server power, and this is especially true for WordPress websites, eCommerce stores, and forums.
Solid-state drives can handle requests up to 20 times faster. While that doesn’t mean your website will load 20 times more quickly, it eliminates one of the major issues that can slow your website down – especially as your visitor-base grows.
Of course, whether you’re on a shared hosting plan or a dedicated server, everything has its limits. If your website traffic has grown significantly, it may be time to look into upgrading.
5. Utilize A Content Delivery Network
Lastly, consider utilizing a content delivery network to improve your page loading times.
This is especially important if you receive a large portion of your traffic far away from wherever your web host is located.
Remember that when visitors connect to your website, data has to physically transfer from their location, to wherever your server is located. In many cases, this is halfway across the world. This introduces noticeable latency, and causes your website to load more slowly for them.
To showcase an example, here’s a comparison of two internet speed tests from SpeedTest.net. The first one is from a server about 100 miles away from me, and the second is from a server in Europe, about 4,800 miles away.
As you can see, there’s a noticeable difference.
The key to overcoming this is by utilizing something called a Content Delivery Network, or CDN.
CDNs distribute cached versions of your pages to servers located all over the world. This way, visitors connect with the server that’s physically closest to them, eliminating the latency that distance will bring.
It’s a very neat concept, and it’s definitely worth considering if you receive worldwide traffic. As your traffic numbers grow, CDNs become increasingly valuable. For brand new websites or websites with a very low amount of traffic, CDNs can do more harm than good, especially if your server is already located near the area of the world that generates the most traffic for you.
The CDN I’m currently utilizing is Cloudflare. BunnyCDN is another fantastic choice.
Page speed isn’t everything, but it is something worth paying attention to.
By implementing even one of these things, you are sure to notice a significant improvement in your page loading times. If you choose to implement all of them, the difference will be monumental.
Remember to test your pages using a tool like GTMetrix or Google Pagespeed Insights before you begin – this way you, can see exactly how much you’ve improved.
I look forward to hearing all about your fantastic results!
To your success,
– James McAllister