In today’s fast-paced world, there’s nothing worse than a slow website. Did you know that readers expect your website to load in under 3 seconds? Anything over 4 seconds and people will start to give up… I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. Let me help improve your page load speed.
First things first, you need to know how fast your website is loading. The best free tool that I use to test page speed is GTMetrix. If you want a second free analysis on your website, I would recommend WebPageTest.
Go to the homepage of GTMetrix and enter your website’s url. Click “test your site” to run the free test. When it’s done testing you should see something like this:
When looking at the GTMetrix dashboard, try not to get hung up on the letter grade.
Page load speed is not measured in letter grades, it’s measured in seconds. It is even possible to have good GTMetrics scores, but a slow loading website.
The cool thing about GTMetrix is that it shows you areas of improvement and a waterfall chart.
We will use these later to improve your page load speed. For now, you might be asking yourself “what is affecting my page load speed”?
What Impacts Page Load Speed?
The page load speed of any website can be boiled down to a simple equation: # of items being loaded + file sizes + hosting environment + server requests/response time.
When you load a website, these 4 components will factor into the page load speed. Throughout this post I will show you how to minimize the impact of each component on your website.
The more lean we can make this formula, the faster your website will load.
Your Hosting Plan/Type Matters
Before we get into it, you should first understand the importance of your hosting plan/type. I wish I knew this before I started building websites. Your hosting plan/type is the foundation of any website and will be the most important factor that plays into your page load speed.
Simply put, if you choose low-end, super cheap hosting for your website, you’re going to see it reflect in your performance. A WordPress website hosted on Godaddy will never be as fast as the same site hosted on a quality host such as Siteground.
Having a quality host will help the back end of the formula mentioned above, specifically your hosting environment and response time.
Understanding a Waterfall Chart
But what if you have a quality host and you’re still seeing poor performance? This is where you can use the waterfall chart to improve your # of items being loaded and file sizes. Click on the waterfall chart tab to see something like this:
A waterfall chart shows you everything that is loading on your website, and how long it takes to load. You will quickly notice areas of improvement when you focus on the Size and Timeline columns. With these two columns, you should be able to identify the largest files that are taking the longest to load.
Combine CSS/JS Files
With WordPress websites, the easiest way to combine files is with a plugin. If you have Siteground as your host, I’d recommend using the SG Optimizer plugin. Another great alternative is a plugin called Asset Cleanup. Both plugins have the option to combine your CSS/JS files.
The last part of the equation is to reduce your file sizes. Images can take up a lot of space if not optimized. For example, I’ve seen some websites with a 1000×1000 image used for a thumbnail picture. That means every time the website loads, it needs to load the 1000×1000 image and scale it down to fit the thumbnail size. As you can imagine, that process takes time and will slow down your website.
Thankfully, image optimization can be done with the help of a WordPress plugin. Sitegorund’s SG Optimizer plugin can also perform image optimization, but another great alternative is ShortPixel. Both tools can quickly optimize your images to appropriate sizes.
By optimizing your images, a large chunk of your website’s file sizes will be reduced, therefore increasing page load speed.
By now, you should have actionable ideas to increase your page load speed. We have touched on fundamental ways to improve the page speed equation. But what if there was a way to make your site even faster?
Assuming your site is already optimized, you can go a step further by adding a content delivery network, or content distribution network (CDN). Essentially, a CDN refers to a geographically distributed network of proxy servers and their data centers.
By distributing your information across a network of data centers, your website will be ready to serve quickly to anyone around the world. The idea is simple: the closer your information to the end user, the faster it can be loaded.
However, it should be noted that if you are a small local business and you are not expecting someone on the other side of the world to search for your business, then a CDN is probably unnecessary.
If you own a globally recognized business, I’d recommend you try Bunny CDN. They have a very affordable solution that will help you reach all of your clients faster.
Caching is another great technology you can use to increase page load speed. This term refers to the process of storing data so that future requests for that data can be served faster. Essentially, the system remembers your content, so that it can quickly load it each time a page is visited.
While there are 3 different types of caching (Server, Browser and Site), you will want to focus on site caching to improve website performance. While server and browser caching are controlled by your hosting and internet browser, it is possible to add another layer of memory on your website that is controlled client-side.
Site caching (a.k.a HTTP or page cache), temporarily stores data such as web pages, images, and other media content when your website is loaded for the first time. When a user clicks around on your website, the system will remember which pages to store in case they come back.
There are a lot of paid solutions for client-side caching, however a few stand out for WordPress. W3 Total Cache is probably the best free option for WordPress caching. WP Rocket is the most popular paid solution for $49 per year.
However, before you consider adding caching to your website, I think it’s important that you first address everything else covered in this post. While adding caching plugins can help (especially those that are on hosting plans that don’t have caching + CDN enabled on the server-leve), having a better optimized site will only make those plugins work/achieve better results.
Remember… if you’re looking to increase page load speed, it all comes down to that equation: # of items being loaded + file sizes + hosting environment + server requests/response time.
After reading this article, I hope I have left you with a few actionable ways to improve each component.
Once your site is optimized, you can use CDNs and Caching plugins to enhance your performance even further.
About WebWorks LA
Are you a business owner that needs help with your page load speed? If yes, then consider using WebWorks LA for your future web projects. We are based in Los Angeles and have helped many clients build successful websites optimized for speed. If you’re interested in starting a new project, submit your project details here. If you have any queries, you can fill out our online contact form here, and we will get in touch.