Page load speed SEO is of of the many factors that affect website performance on all websites. How to speed up website page load times became very important when Google began considering this aspect as part of the ranking processes. On that basis alone, trimming bloatware from your WordPress and other CMS installations makes sense! Whilst it may only deliver a modest incremental improvement to rankings, that is definitely not the only reason for reduce page sizes. No one in the world likes slow-loading pages – yet in July 2014, the average page size of the top 1000 websites passed 1600k (1.6 Mb). *1
Whilst measuring ranking improvements from improved page load times may be next to impossible, other indicators that should be positively impacted are bounce rates, visitor retention times, repeat visitor rates.
How to Improve Website Performance?
There are a multiple issues to be considered in the overall scheme of things, anytime you start contemplating how to speed up website performance and page load speeds… Here’s the sequence I suggest… *2
- Benchmarking – check your site on the 3 testing services outlined. Start here because it gives you the base points you need to to measure the impact of everything you do.
- Caching – if you don’t already have caching installed, do so now. I’d recommend starting with W3 Total Cache because it is now easier to use than before. I’ve also read other comparisons where it delivered better performance than it’s competitors. (*3)
- Plugins – run P3 Plugin Profiler so you know where the resources are going, look for alternatives. Remove any that are NOT absolutely essential.
- Image Sizes – make sure they are sized correctly and compressed appropriately. When image pixel sizes (height and width) are specified, the text content flows around the image space before it loads. Use a “lazy load” plugin to only display images as they enter the viewport.
- Home Page complexity – many sites open a multitude of recent posts, top 10 posts, posts from various categories, comments, featured pages and sundry other database-hungry content. Some lead-in to content sections is important for both visitors and search engine rankings… But remember that every element adds up in terms of total database requests and page sizes.
1 Website Performance Test – Benchmarking
In order to determine the impact of incremental changes, one needs measuring tools. Whilst one test tool is ok, two or three is better. That is because whilst the results may vary between measuring services, consistency in upward or downward trends across multiple locations gives a far better picture. To that end, there are three services that I regularly use, as follows;
- Pingdom: Pingdom offers website performance monitoring from 3 test site options; Amsterdam, New York or Dallas. Its fast, with succinct summary reports backed up by detailed waterfall data showing what portions of your site load slowly. See; http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/
- GT Metrix: The free website speed analysis service run from Vancouver, Canada: http://gtmetrix.com
- Dotcom Tools: Dotcom runs simultaneous website loading speed tests on 20+ test sites in multiple countries: https://www.dotcom-tools.com/website-speed-test.aspx
- Web Page Test – they have a test server in Wellington NZ; http://www.webpagetest.org
Benchmark Website Performance
The process goes a lot more smoothly if you document what you are doing to optimize website performance and record the result each time you check page load time… In this case, I selected the Home page and an internal page to check website performance at each step. You might opt to test more pages, and the default Blog page is a good choice because it generates additional database queries compared to a standard page.
2 Increase Website Speed with Caching
A paper written in 2010 showed clearly the benefits of caching on performance (*1) whereby caching on the measured sited saved 81 percent of the bytes, and 75 percent of the requests. The need to do increases with every increase to average page load size, and because Google is evaluating your site in new ways…
In the WordPress environment, there are several long-serving and respected caching plugins available at no cost. Perhaps the most well-known are W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache and Quick Cache. I’ve used all three across many different websites over several years. For little sites where clients are reluctant to pay for top performance, I usually install Quick Cache because its simple to instal land gives a good performance boost.
On bigger sites with around 10k visitors per month, I install WP Super Cache with PHP caching. In some cases I use mod_rewrite, but only if I’m the only one who makes any major site changes. Both of these plugins show an immediate and significant performance improvement with little installation effort required.
Using W3TC had always seemed a bit daunting… It’s interface previously presented an aura of mystery and danger, leaving one with the sense that if you did not know precisely what you are doing, things could go horribly wrong… I had not used it for a while, but this project gave me cause to thoroughly test W3 TC versus WP SC.
Which Worked Best
In this particular instance, the Asian-Recipe.com site had been running WP Super Cache for a couple of years, and had 38 plugins installed. Total Home page size was 1.7 Mb and it was generating approx 130+ requests to load the page… Despite WP SC running mod_rewrite, minify, preload etc, the installation of W3TC gave an immediate and significant improvement. Page size diminished significantly, requests were slashed from 130+ to 37, and both Page Speed and YSlow scores were boosted.
The conclusion was that in this environment at least, W3 TC was significantly better. Further gains may be made by leveraging browser caching but at present it seems that the Hostgator VPS hosting account does not have the Pagespeed mod installed.
Follow-up Notes: July 2015
- I manage a lot of sites and almost all have W3 TC installed on them. In the past three days I have 3 sites that have suddenly started generating 403 errors for Google and other bots – but not humans. That is directly attibuted to W3 TC – as soon as I turn it off, the errors go away. The Screaming Frog SEO Spider sees the sameissues – 403 on Home page, can’t go deeper…
- I’ve since purchased a copy of WP-Rocket for a large WP site with a bbPress forum – 15,000 Topics, 7,000 members and initial testing shows it really performs exceptionally well. A developers license might be a good solution…
Note: there are demonstrable difference between W3 TC and WP Rocket;
- WP Rocket is faster IF your server has the Gzip (mod_deflate) tools installed AND you compress your site’s images yourself
- If your server is old and/or lacks Gzip etc, it seems that W3 TC has built-in tools to serve that purpose
3 – Plugins – Impact on Page Load Time
Plugins are not all created equal… some of the oldest and most used plugins are horrendous at increasing page sizes and generating database requests. A number of plugins are so badly constructed that their resource usage impacts negatively on servers in shared hosting to the point where some hosting companies have banned them!
Certain types of plugins generate massive amounts of database queries – broken link checkers, related content, external links managers and statistics generators feature highly on the list of rogue plugins… Each plugin has a measurable footprint on your page load times and inevitably on page sizes and requests. Tasks such as broken link checking and statistics are best done from external sources using freely available tools.
Godaddy provides the P3 Plugin Profiler, an excellent tool to assess which plugins on your site are hogging the resources. It gives good hints on how to speed up website loading in the nifty pie chart graphics it produces. These show;
- percentage of page load consumed by plugins overall
- percentage of page load consumed by each individual plugin
That allows you to quickly see potential problems. If any plugin is taking a significantly larger wedge of the pie, its is time to consider and evaluate alternatives
Two for One Plugins: In some cases, a plugin serves a dual purpose, allowing you to achieve a couple of desirable outcomes without increasing consumption of resources. An example might be a social widget that offers both Like buttons and links to your social media business pages. multiple purposes.
Previously the site had Shareaholic providing both those important features. It’s benefits include processing related posts on their servers, therefore reducing the load on your own. However, it still seemed to generate quite a lot of requests, and had a footprint of over 300k in the page load size. That actually doubled page sizes for many pages! I tried Jetpack with only Related Posts and Like buttons activated but it also exceeded 300k and generated a lot of additional requests.
Related Posts plugins: nRelated Posts would not work on the site, nor would YARPP. Contextual Related Posts and the Zemanta plugin all showed significant resource consumption.
Lite Plugins: The term “Lite” may not necessarily apply to the plugins feature set! Whilst it is often used to differentiate between the Free and Pro versions of a plugin, it is also used to describe footprint and resource usage… The differences between two plugins serving the same purpose can be quite extraordinary! By way of example, I spent an entire afternoon refining page load times for Related Posts and Social Media “Like” buttons.
After a couple of hours of trial and error testing of multiple plugins, I found the best combination was the excellent and feature-rich Related Posts Lite plugin in conjunction with the Social Media Feather plugin. The two combined did add a few Kb to page sizes but it was insignificant…
Some security plugins include features that you don’t need to run all the time; Live Traffic logging, scans outside WordPress, image file scans and ultra-sensitive modes.
WordPress itself has features that can slow your site down, notably the Heartbeat API which is capable of generating significant server CPU loads that slow things down significantly.
Note: read additional info on Security Plugins and Heartbeat Control here:
4 – Image Sizes
Nothing cripples a site faster than loading your images straight from your camera to your website! Yet people do that, perhaps in the mistaken expectation that website software works like Facebook and automatically resizes all images to suit their use. Whilst Media settings and some themes do a lot in that direction, you’ve usually got to activate the settings correctly.
Every image on the entire site should be optimised to improve website performance. Background images can be awfully big and inserting a 1400 x 1000 pixel image that is not adequately compressed is going to kill your website performance.
In general, JPG images offer the best performance and these should:
- be reduced to the maximum size that they will be displayed at
- be compressed by at least 10% and in most cases 30% still offers good image quality
- have its dimension specified in the page/s within which it is displayed
Optimise Images: Where you see a recommendation in GT Metrix results relating to “optimise images” you should examine the list to see if there are any large ones that you can process.
Note: GT Metrix also includes more than helpful information – under each image that could be optimised, they give you a link to an optimised version of the file. That’s particularly useful for PNG files which are a little tricky to compress…
- Click the “See optimised version” and it will open the compressed file in a new window
- Right click on the image and choose “Save as” – amend the name to match the original
- Use FTP to upload the optimised version to the correct location
Specify Image Dimensions: Also examine each image you have added on the page to see if any are being scaled to fit. In Firefox, right clicking an image shows such details;
Each image that is being scaled should be resized to the correct dimensions. Some design themes are not efficient at displaying images, so if there is a site-wide issues with images being scaled, you may need to consider a better design theme. In general, mobile-responsive design themes are engineered specifically to process images in a way that reduces page load times across all viewing devices.
5 – Home Page Complexity
Striking a balance between showcasing what your site offers and keeping the page size within sensible constraints is the challenge here. In your quest to determine how to speed up website performance, keep in mind that your Home page is the most important page in the entire site in terms of new visitors landing on it. Website speed optimization is crucial to keeping them there long enough to captivate their interest.
Sometimes less is more… Show them fewer choices in terms of recent posts, latest comments, slide shows, tags, categories and featured pages or posts, top post lists etc.
Summary of How to Speed up Website Performance
With some time and effort, your site’s page load speeds can (in many cases) be improved significantly. First check the current performance and ensure that you are using the best caching option for your site. Next, evaluating plugin resource consumption and replacing greedy ones will trim resource consumption to the bare minimum. Follow that by reviewing image file sizes and specifying dimensions to get pages faster, and complete the process by looking closely at your Home page content. As part of my SEO packages for small business, I will take a close look at website performance metrics, and advisccordingly.
- * http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/average-web-page/
- * http://gtmetrix.com/wordpress-optimization-guide.html
- * http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/best-wordpress-caching-plugins/