Page loading speeds may not be the most glamorous subject, but if you want your site to reach its full potential its something you must have as a priority.
Since Google decided to add page speed into its ranking factors, you will find no shortage of information on this, however this post aims to give you the tools you need to gauge how your site is currently performing and point you towards the next steps needed to improve things for you and your users.
Use Quality Hosting
This is by far the most crucial part of any ‘speedy’ web site. You notice how fast and smooth this site is? That because we use top WordPress hosts, WPEngine who have a proven record of rock-solid and lightning fast WP hosting – if you would like your site to perform the best it can is highly suggest you check them out.
Whilst im not going to list any hosts to avoid (other than godaddy), its important to point out that in the world of hosting, you get what you pay for, so do not expect decent performance from your 99 cents a month hosting. If your serious about your business/website, then investing in quality it always be best in the long-run.
Before we go deeper, its always a good idea to take a snapshop of your sites performance so you can easily identify and obvious issues such as non-optimized images etc. There are many browser tools available however I find a good online performance scanner works best as you get consistent results no matter what machine your currently using, this is where the wonderful Pingdom Website Speed Test comes in.
Using this tool you can see a breakdown of how quickly your site loads (server response time) as well as a waterfall chart of all of the resources being used on the URL supplied. Using this chart you can quickly see any bottlenecks in speed. The main culprit if slow page speed is large, unoptimized images, so be sure to take a moment to browser the results and make a note of any images above 200kb – in most cases these can be compressed via your image editing software or via an online tool
Whilst there are a few plugins for WP which can compress images, its much more effective to do this manually as you will see much better reduction in your pages data/loading size.
Setting Up Caching
Once you have tested your page and made improvements to the resources used (images etc) the next step is to setup a caching plugin to boost performance further. What this means is when a user lands on your site, rather than having WP generate each page as its requested (which is does as standard) the user is served a static version of your site instead (which in turn reduces your loading time as well as reducing the pressure on your server).
There are quite a number of plugins available for this, however the one we recommend is the magnificent ZenCache which is very simple to use as it handles most of the important stuff itself so you just install it, activate it and your all set!
If, however you want a deeper level of control, then W3 Total Cache is a must. Its considerably more advanced than ZenCache, but this does mean it will a lot more work to set it up correctly and in a manner which compliments your hosting, so its not for the feint of heart.
Purge Non-Essential Plugins
The marvellous thing about WordPress is the incredible extendible via a world of awesome plugins, but just because they exists doesnt mean you need to install them!
Take a moment to really think about what plugins your site needs to run. Do you really need 3 sticky social plugins? How about that shortcode plugin which adds loads of weight to your page? Be ruthless and you will reap the rewards in no time.
If you want to really get under the hood of your plugins to see how they are impacting your site, running Plugin Performance Profiler will test your plugins and let you know how they affect your sites loading time with ease. Be sure to deactivate the plugin once you have finished your tests however, as its actually quite resource intensive itself and should only be used occationally.
Once you have taken the time to profile your site and implement the steps above, you should notice an improvement all round – so run your site through the Pingdom Speed Test again and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.