Speeding Up WordPress

A photograph of four horses racing at a horse race, with three fairly at the same place and the fourth coming in from behind. This image is used as a featured image for a blog post about speeding up WordPress.

How fast your website loads matters. It’s an often overlooked aspect of your site. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a slow WordPress website including hosting, how your site is set up, how much traffic you get, and other factors that may be beyond your control. So why does your site’s loading time matter and just how much does it matter? Let’s get into learning the ins and outs of speeding up WordPress.

Why Do Load Times Matter?

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At WebDevStudios and Maintainn, we like to focus on user experience and let our decisions flow from there. This is also the advice that most search engines suggest; so, you can’t go wrong by focusing on your website users and their experience.

When your website loads slowly, this can cause users to bail out before the page even fully loads. Studies have shown that as the load time of your page increases, so does the bounce rate for your site. That means that the longer it takes for a web page to load, the more likely people will leave your site before it is even finished loading. That whole, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” jazz is especially true for your website. This is a great example of the importance of speeding up WordPress.

In fact, a slow-to-load website is the number-one thing causing people to bounce early. According to Unbounce, 46% of people say waiting for pages to load is what they dislike most about browsing the web on mobile. The numbers are quite similar for desktop users, as well.

In addition, Mach Metrics also says that, “The average time it takes to fully load the average mobile landing page is 22 seconds. However, research also indicates 53% of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.” I think you get the picture: users do not like waiting for your website pages to load.

When your website loads too slowly, you also lose sales and leads due to the increased bounce rate. Also, search engines, such as Google, look at page speed as a ranking factor. If your website is loading slowly, you may also lose search rank to your competitors.

How Do I Check My Site’s Load Time?

There are a number of tools out there that will measure your load time, as well as give you a score and recommendations on best practices. We like to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights (free) and GTMetrix (free for basic reports; PRO reports have fees).

Before you load your site up and test it, let me caution you not to panic. Almost every site has areas they can improve, and there will always be areas outside of your control. The reports from Google PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix provide a bunch of best practices when looking at your site and grade you on each. You can fail almost every test and still have a fast loading site—while not common, it’s possible. This is just to illustrate that the most important metric to focus on is the page speed.

The average page size is recommended to be between 1 MB – 2.5 MB. The recommended page load time is under three seconds, though the averages suggest many sites are between eight to 10 seconds, but that also varies between industries.

Picture-heavy websites in industries such as automotive or real estate sales are expected to take a little longer to load because of large images and/or videos. But the goal should always been to keep the load time as low as possible while still giving your visitors what they need. A good example of this scenario is one of our clients, a print agency, for whom we provide hosting and support hours. They use large graphics because that’s what sells their work. Their clients know this and expect this; so, the load time being a little slower doesn’t matter as much to them.

If you look at your report and see that you are failing several tests, but your page is still loading within two to three seconds, you have nothing to worry about. It’s still a good idea to try and address any problems you find, but I can’t stress enough that the page speed is the most important factor. It’s the only one search engines care about when ranking your site and visitors will never know your score. I’ve seen a lot of people get hung up on passing every test instead of focusing on page speed. You can even slow your site down by trying to fix some of the failed tests. It takes some trial and error to find the right balance of speed and passing tests.

How to Speed Up Your WordPress Site

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Speeding up WordPress has unique challenges. Things like shared hosting can play a role in how fast your site loads. You’ve probably heard people say to use fewer plugins or add certain plugins to help speed things up, but it all starts with testing.

You need to know what your current speed is and what areas are making the most impact on your page speed, such as un-optimized images that are not using caching. I, personally, like to take the speed reports and analyze what’s costing me the most in terms of speed. I tackle the first things mentioned and work my way down the list. Again, I’m not shooting for a perfect score. If the test shows I have large images and I spend some time optimizing my images and the speed test improves, I call that a win. If the report says to leverage browser caching and I enable that but the page speed gets worse, then I’m happy to turn that off, fail that test, and go back to the faster-loading version of my website.

If you want a couple of quick-wins for speeding up WordPress there are two things I recommend to almost every client who asks about this.

  1. Image Optimzation – There are a number of plugins out there than can help with this and one of my favorites is EWWW Image Optimizer. It does cost money but is very reasonably priced. It also will serve Next-Gen graphics formats for you, like WebP, which will also improve your rank (not necessarily your speed).
  2. WP Rocket – This is also a paid plugin, but it does more than just caching your pages. You can combine and defer CSS as well as JavaScript and maintain a separate cache for desktop and mobile users. Be careful with this plugin, as you can also mess up your site. I’ve done it more than once myself! No two sites are the exact same, and they don’t always react well to having this plugin affect how things load, especially JavaScript. If you aren’t sure, reach out to us as we’d love to help.

Optimizing a website has become its own specialty within the industry. As websites get more advanced, it’s only going to get harder for the average user to sort this out on their own. If you don’t have time or the tech background to deal with this, Maintainn is here to help. Website optimization is one of our more popular services and we’d love to help you get your WordPress website loading as fast as possible. Contact us today and let’s talk about speed and optimization.

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