Why you should care about the speed of your website.

website speed

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I’ll cut right to the chase. The two big reasons you want your website to be fast are:

#1, Because Google likes it and #2, because your visitors also like it.

Now, let’s take a little closer look at both of these.

Google is the Tom Cruise of search engines … it feels the need for speed.

Google even has it’s own speed tester: PageSpeed Insights. But, Google is also like a parent who proclaims, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Google.com doesn’t even score 100 on its own test.

google page speed tester

There are also other page speed testers out there. One of our favorites, because of the detailed information it gives, is the Pingdom Website Speed Test. If you run Google.com through that, it gets even a lower score (an 85) and tells us that Google doesn’t combine external javascripts or minimize its DNS lookups. Nobody’s perfect, right? However, they still want to hold everyone to their high standards and the speed at which your website comes up for a visitor has been shown to be a search engine ranking factor.

This brings up a very good point. While it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to speed up your website, also be realistic. Especially if you have a custom or complicated website, large ecommerce store, or anything with interactivity/animation, there is only going to be so much you can do to improve it.

Here’s a good example. A WordPress website with custom design and a custom theme that we created for our client, Iris Libby, had a 0/100 for both mobile and desktop when it went live.

website speed

After performing some modifications, we were able to boost the speed to 70/100 and 84/100.

website page speed increase

After this, on a javascript and css intensive site, you get into a gray area of fiddling with how scripts which enable things to function on your site perform and it doesn’t always have the best results if you keep fiddling. You could just as easily break your site by trying to “minify” scripts or move scripts around, so it pays to know what you’re doing as well as to know when an improvement might just be academic.

It really depends on the website, what’s running on it, and the web host as well. Here are a couple other examples from some of our client’s websites:

Google WordPress website optimization(WordPress, ecommerce website)

Website speed optimization for Google(basic html website)

Here are some quick and basic tips on speeding up your WordPress website:

Add optimizations to your .htaccess file: This is a more advanced solution, so we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re asking the question, “What’s an .htaccess file” right now as it’s a great way to break your website (hint: if you do mess with it, always make a backup file first). There are plenty of blog posts out there, such as this one,  that explain some of the most common optimizations such as browser caching and gzip compression.

Be careful with cache: If you’re researching this at all, you’ll find a lot of articles mentioning things like, “Just install W3 Total Cache”. It certainly is a popular plugin, but it has a dark side which is why we don’t recommend it. I’ve personally seen it crash sites. It could have been because those sites had other plugins which conflict with it. It’s a complex plugin with a variety of settings. If you’re going to try it, I recommend you read the installation instructions carefully. Also, it’s not a bad idea to drift over into the support forums and have a look at some of the issues other users have been experiencing (and any resolutions). We’ve tested a number of caching plugins here and so far, Comet Cache seems to be relatively easy to set up and pretty stable (so far). However, occasionally we notice caching plugins will actually slow a site down. This is most likely also due to a particular set of custom variables such as the quality of the web hosting, how many other plugins are installed, and whether something else is happening on the site to slow it down. Your best bet is to backup your site and database before installing a caching plugin (check this blog post for some suggestions on backup options) then setting the options and testing the site both as a regular user (just go to your site and see how it loads) and through one of the page speed testers we’ve mentioned.

Try optimization plugins: If you’re not comfortable adding code on your own to your htaccess file, you can try optimization plugins on your WordPress site. One optimization plugin we’ve used is WP Speed of Light. There are a number of options with this plugin such as, speed analysis (note: you’ll need a free API key), basic caching, image optimization (note: you need to have an account with ImageRecycle – you can leave this off and simply use a plugin like the ones mentioned below), basic database cleanup, and CDN Integration (note: you’d need to be set up with a 3rd party service such as Cloudflare), There are some additional features with their Pro version. We’ve also used Fast Velocity Minify to help minify HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This plugin also offers CDN integration and a few other customizations, such as the ability to specify exceptions.

Optimize your images: In my experience, images can be a top 3 contender for why your pages load slowly. If you’re not familiar with editing images in software such as Photoshop, there are some free online options. You can also run already sized images through free online image optimizers, such as optimizilla.com. Then, there are WordPress plugins that optimize your image such as Smush It, but my personal fav is Optimus.

Know when to say when: Another thing we found is that these page speed testers aren’t infallible. A good example is one of the items PageSpeed Insights suggested as something to fix was to, “leverage browser caching”. Browser caching is already enabled and functioning properly on this site. Another one was to “enable compression”. Scripts and images are being compressed already. Also, if we were able to fix every one of the line items the service cited for both of these, it would not make a noticeable impact on the actual loading time of the website. So there’s a bit of a law of diminishing returns in effect here.

Make sure you use a good web host: It kind of goes without saying, you should host your site with a quality web host as well. We recommend WordKeeper hosting for a screaming fast website.

Beyond Google, there is your website visitor.

We’d be the first to admit that search engine optimization (SEO) is important, but you should always think of your visitor first. Of course, if you have a custom website, a lot of thought has already been put into delivering exactly what your visitor would want. So make sure that extra step is taken and the speed optimization is done in such a way that the site will load pretty fast on both desktop and mobile devices. Your visitor’s attention spans will thank you.

(This article was originally published in November of 2016 and updated with new information in May of 2018).

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