How to have a faster website

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Written for non techies, DIY web designers, and others who want a faster website with minimal effort

During the last year at Webfour, we found it necessary to expand past our primary service of web design. The reason: we experienced a big increase in the number of clients who wanted us to make their websites run faster.

To be more specific, they want us to reduce the time it takes for their home page to load.

It’s not hard to understand why. A fast website is a good website for visitors – and for Google. The giant search engine places great importance on web speed. Here is a quote from their Webmaster Central Blog:

You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users.

Here is what SEO leader Mozz has to say about page speed:

No matter how you measure it, a faster page speed is better. Many people have found that faster pages both rank and convert better.

It’s about as clear as it can be that web design is only one component in the development of a successful website. Page load time is essential as well.

What determines page load time?

The factors that influence page load time are the host, and the way a website is developed.

Of the two, the easiest change to make is an upgrade to your hosting package. Doing so will deliver an immediate benefit.

Most web owners have shared hosting accounts, as they are the least expensive.

A shared hosting account means that you are sharing the resources and processing power of the server with other websites. The result is slower response time and slower loading pages.

Hosts offer many different website upgrade options that include include a VPN (virtual private network), and your own dedicated server. Upgrades like a dedicated server can be very costly, but for many, a VPN is an affordable option.

Optimizing your site to improve page load time

The next is to optimize the pages on your website, and much can be done without hiring a web designer or developer. The first step in the process is the most critical – and time consuming – but it must be done.

 Evaluate the plugins installed on your site

A plugin is software that adds specific functionality to a website. They are very handy because they save the time of original development. They make it possible for any website to have features normally associated with large developments.

The problem is that excess use of plugins impair performance. This is the primary reason for slow page load times, and therefore the first issue that must be addressed.

Look closely at what each plugin does

It’s important to scrutinize each plugin. Why was it installed? What function does it perform? And importantly, do any of the installed plugins overlap each other?

I recently helped a WordPress e-commerce  site owner reduce plugin usage. It was a difficult process because there were over 40 installed, and each did have a purpose. When we began, the home page averaged nine seconds load time.

To understand how important each of the plugins were to the actual performance of the site, I first created a clone of the main site. A clone is a tool web designers and developers use to test without affecting the live site.

The process was well worth the time it took to create the clone. By isolating each of the plugins, the client and I we were able to judge the relative impact of the benefits each provided.

We ultimately determined that six of the plugins delivered a margin benefit. We also discovered overlapping functionality on three addition plugins. We were able to remove nine plugins in total, reducing page load times from nine seconds to six seconds.

While more work was eventually required to get to the goal of three seconds page load speed, this was a big step in the right direction.

Copyblogger, part of StudioPress, the developer of the Genesis platform, sums it up nicely:

Keep only the plugins that you need for essential functionality. And of those, keep only the ones with solid, proven code behind them that are actively supported.

WordPress is a strong piece of software. It can handle 40+ plugins if they are all the right ones. But it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. A single faulty plugin could make your site run 72.7 percent slower, which is the exact opposite of what we’re aiming for here.

Plugins that help page load time

There are plugins that focus on specific development areas that can decrease page load times.

Image compression

Images are responsible for the majority of band width used by your website. By compressing images, the band width requirement is reduced.

There are several good ‘loseless compression‘ (no loss of image quality) plugins. The most popular is WP Smush.it. Another excellent choice is shortpixel.

Data base optimization

Why optimize your WordPress database? Because it’s filled with all kinds of band eating things like pings, unapproved comments, trash, and more. Resulting in – you guessed it – unnecessary band width usage. The solution is a handy plugin called WP-Optimize, and it does exactly as it’s name implies.

Website compression

Save more precious bandwidth by turning website files into zip files.  The easiest way to do this is with GZip Ninja Speed Compression.

All in one solution

If you simply want to install one plugin, a good choice is W3 Total Cache. This popular plugin performs ‘caching’, which stores images and other files on your sever, rather than on your website. This means your site does not have to built from scratch every time it is visited.

Checking page load time

You can check page load time through out the optimizing process with either Pingdomtools or gtmetrix. Both are super easy to use. Just enter your url and get a speed report.

Other speed checking and performance testing tools:

  • Netalyzer: analyzes your network and connections
  • Show Slow: analyses and graphics website performance measures over a period of time
  • WebPagetest: page load testing tool
  • Sitespeed.io: page loading and performance
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