Wordpress Speed Optimization
By  Rank Grow Digital

What is WordPress Speed Optimization?

WordPress speed optimization is the process of improving your website’s loading time and the overall perceived loading time of the site. A fast-loading website is essential for providing your visitors and potential customers with an excellent page experience

While technical in nature, speed is a vital aspect of your site and should be regularly maintained. Optimizing your website for better SEO and ranking could prove to be a simple task with regular maintenance. In contrast, a neglected website could require a complete redesign. No matter how you decide to improve your page speed, it is possible to do it yourself. However, we highly recommend trained professionals handle the technical aspects.

Why does speed matter?

Have you ever gotten online to read up on the latest breaking news, and the article you chose to read takes too long to load? Or try adding an item to your cart on an eCommerce website, but the request is taking too long, and you have other things to do. Either of these scenarios would most likely cause you to leave the website and seek another, more reliable source. 

Imagine your business website started loading 20-50% faster, more sanely, or even better, near-instant. You would bring in the revenue you never knew you were missing! Shocking, right?

Slow site speeds are very common and widespread due to the lack of understanding that people are generally impatient and won’t wait more than 2 seconds for a page to load. If your site speed is impressive, like under 2 seconds fast, your visitors are much more likely to stay. The longer they remain engaged, reading your great content, the more likely they’ll purchase your products and maybe even become a long-time customer. 

While Search Engine Optimization gets leads to your website, and Google cares about speed, your site’s speed plays an integral part in your website’s ranking factors. To explain it basically, the faster your website is, the happier your visitors will be, reflecting in your SEO and overall ranking. The search engines, mainly Google, are paying more attention to the experience your website will provide their users. They aren’t going to send their users to a bad website, so this means that a fast website will appear in search results above one that is not optimized for speed. If you want to be on top, regular maintenance is a must.

So let’s work together and get you and your clients moving fast, as you should be! 

What does it mean for your business?

The initial concerns are how the search engines will rate your website based on page speed. Since they decide who gets traffic, they must be happy with your site, and their rules are stringent regarding overall performance. Google, to be specific, has placed a high priority on the way your mobile site performs. For example, to get Google to consider your website fast, you must be speedy on desktop and especially mobile devices, due to their rise in popularity.

Next, your visitors must feel the site is fast. In the past decade, with mobile use and social media rising, visitor attention spans have shortened drastically. Because of this, just one second of slowness could cause up to 7% of revenue loss! Additionally, 53% of visitors using mobile devices will likely bounce out due to impatience if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load! 

The Process

Speed optimization, like SEO, is a process with many components. Some are simpler than others, but it is mostly technical and focused on your website’s engineering. The following are steps that we take to ensure a fast, efficient website that provides an excellent user experience (UX).

Hosting

Your hosting is the first thing you must consider when building or maintaining your business website. It cannot be an afterthought. It is the equivalent of opening up a shop in a building with a strong foundation in a great location. The hosting you choose can make or break you from the start. You require reliability as well as performance

A few things to avoid when looking for a hosting company:

  • Unnecessary downtime 
  • Overpriced hosting
  • Hosting that will underperform and leave you dry

Outside of any marketing, it is wise to research hosting providers to know how they will impact or benefit you. We have many years of experience in the hosting sector, so we know this area quite well. The majority of server space available is not always suitable for a successful business, so you have to know what to look for to get what your company needs. If you cannot find this on your own, we can provide you with hosting that performs and does NOT fail you.

If your current host isn’t allowing you the website performance you deserve, don’t worry. Your website can be moved or migrated to a server that is more suitable for your business needs.

Speed Reports

You know those reports your boss or partner (or client) seems to obsess over to get the best results? Thanks to PageSpeed and GTMetrix, you can generate those lovely reports and see just what your website needs. The following image shows our skills and our own results of page speed optimization for desktop.

GTMetrix perfect scores 100%, an example of our own website.

The speed reports show where your opportunities are, so you know exactly where your website needs improvement. Here are some of the items you will see on speed reports:

  • Critical CSS
  • Lazy Loading
  • Async JS/CSS loading
  • Minification
  • Google’s WebP image obsession (and the fact IE/Safari refuses to get on the WebP train!)
  • Image Optimization (your PNG/JPG/GIF files)
  • CDN
  • JavaScript/jQuery widgets 
  • Social buttons and widget boxes
  • SaaS-based scripts 

Another group of elements to focus on are Google’s Core Web Vitals. The Core Web Vitals, which as of May 2021 will be included in Google’s page experience guidelines and will largely factor into your site’s ranking. They measure visual stability, interactivity, and loading performance, all of which are vital to your visitors’ experience on your website.

Without experience, optimizations can quickly become a disaster, so if you need a professional, we’ve got you covered. With so many elements, you are in for a long R&D session to present a good result. 

Code Audit

Since your hosting can impact your site’s code performance, a code audit will make any issues easier to find. Here is where you will see if your coding is affecting anything crucial. 

Senior developer performing an audit on a website's code

An essential part of the code audit is to make sure you aren’t running anything that you aren’t using, so standard maintenance and cleaning up of code is a must. If you are using any poorly designed components or anything that is just slow, this is where these items will be resolved. The goal here is to remove anything unnecessary or improperly functioning that will cause your site to slow down.

Suppose any of your critical components are causing more harm than good. In that case, we will review all options before making any changes. Keep in mind that this could include removal, finding alternatives, or taking a penalty if there is no resolution available. You want to be sure your website is functioning at its highest capacity for maximum results!

Your code’s performance will also directly impact how fast your hosting can respond to requests for web pages, which will affect its capacity for users. If it is slow, this has the business impact of higher hosting infrastructure costs to handle more users. Reducing this will potentially mean serving those same users with no increase or even a decrease in needed resources.

Minification

Minification is the process of removing, formatting, and otherwise reducing the site of page assets, such as CSS and JS, while keeping site functionality intact. These files are often formatted so that the developers can read them and collaborate. Still, a computer does not need this as long as it has valid syntax. The syntax here basically is the same as the proper rules for the language in use. In the same way, you have things such as grammar for human languages.

Formatting takes up space and thus increases the data needed to download over the internet. If not minified, it will potentially cost the visitor more bandwidth to use the site. Conservation is critical on mobile where there may be reduced transfer rates or high-priced bandwidth rates overall. The less that needs downloading, the better it is for the user and their data rates, and the less they have to wait.

Additionally, concatenating the assets may also be ideal, which results in fewer requests over the internet to the site. Concatenation is where assets are combined. By doing this, you reduce site loading time.

ASYNC Loading of Assets

ASYNC loading is an optimization that changes how the web browser behaves when loading a CSS or JS asset. By default, the behavior is to stop everything, wait for it to download, then read it, run it, and continue downloading the page. This delay is terrible because it wastes time and forces the user to wait while the browser completes these actions, increasing the total load time.

Async loading changes the behavior, simplifying the process so that the browser will multitask, which minimizes the time it takes to download these assets.

LET’S WORK TOGETHER

CDN

A CDN or Content Delivery Network is a distributed server network that ensures internet users are served their requests as quickly as possible. The data sent consists of CSS, JS, images, documents, and other static files. When requested, the files are then sent to the user via the network’s closest possible server. CDN optimization ensures that your visitors have little to no delay viewing or downloading your content.

A CDN or series of distributed servers minimizes delays in loading web content despite your location

Optimizing your CDN is essential for scaling your company. This is because CDNs can often handle serving this content more efficiently and cost-effectively than any hosting provider not tailored for the task. 

Image Optimization

Image optimization ensures that the images used are not too large for the web in file size or dimensions. Downloading a 5 MB JPEG file will generally be very slow as well as costly for mobile users. The images should have a minimal to no loss in quality while doing so. 

Using a 1000×1000 image in a place that is only 500×500 will mean the browser has to spend effort scaling it down to fit. This action adds to loading time and bandwidth when downloading the extra unneeded data with larger dimensions. 

Image optimization for desktop, Mobile & Tablets.

Images should also be configured to be responsive, so the correct sized image is shown on all screen sizes that may view it.

Critical CSS

Critical CSS is an optimization that pairs with ASYNC loading. If a CSS file is loading ASYNC, it will mean the page is shown despite the CSS not being ready. This will cause a bad UX to the visitor, who may feel like the page is broken. 

The critical CSS is the above-the-fold content (top of the page). Anything below that is not considered critical and has no need to be displayed first. This optimization solves the issue by getting only the critical part of the CSS to show when the page first loads, resulting in happy visitors.

3rd Party Services

3rd parties are defined as anything not loading from your site or from a server you control. Third parties are most commonly classified as marketing and business analytic services. Social media widgets and even ads are also often big troublemakers for performance, even if they bring business value and conversions to the site. While many of these 3rd parties can be optimized, many also can not. It is best to remove reliance on as many 3rd parties as you can in the interest of maintaining the best website performance.

3rd party servies.

An example of problematic sites created for revenue but have a poor user experience is ad-supported news sites. They often take 30 seconds to 1 minute to fully load! This delayed load time is due to the excessive amount of 3rd party content weighing the page down.

We specialize in handling these issues and have no problem reducing or removing anything that could negatively impact your visitors.

Lazy Loading

Lazy loading is an optimization that prevents images, ads, social media, and other widgets from loading until it is time to view them on the screen. It reduces the site’s loading time significantly in many cases by deferring the call for the item to show up until needed. It is considered such a critical optimization that Google Chrome has implemented basic image lazy load support natively.

Still here? Do you want the geeky details? Not an engineer? You can pass the following along to your senior engineer or CTO…

So how is a website supposed to be fast?

Well, the number one issue is the server stack. We have found that in 95%-100% of cases, Apache webserver should be avoided. LEMP stack should be used rather than Apache since it can handle a higher amount of HTTP requests. In some cases, you might add in memcached/redis. From there, you need it to be able to scale. The “LEMP” setup helps with this because it replaces the Apache web server component with nginx (the “E” in LEMP, pronounced “engine x”). This extends the capacity of the server to scale in reaction to request. 

The second issue is the code. 

Even if you have 500 plugins, it’s okay. What matters is knowing which of those plugins are tanking your speed. The sooner, the better!

Do you have a paid theme? In some cases, it may be sufficient. However, in our experience, the majority of themes can add much unnecessary bulk to the site. 

Evaluating and optimizing your theme, plugins, and the way things are running can lighten up the load and speed you right up. 🙂

Summary

Now that we have explained our website speed optimization process, we hope you understand how it affects you and why it is essential. It is a vast and complex topic similar to SEO that improves conversion, rank, and growth for your business. 

If you would like to reap the benefits of a fast and efficient business website, we are ready to work with you!