Speeding your WordPress Site Up: Beyond Caching, Image Compression, and Gzip

Tim Brown is the Director of Strategy, Snap Agency – Minneapolis Web Design

Page speed is incredibly important. It’s important for SEO – Google and other search engines will knock down websites that don’t have a fast page load time. And it’s important for User Experience – No-one wants to wait 5 seconds for your page to load, and if they do they certainly will be less likely to be delighted by that, than if it loaded in a second or two.

Imagine my surprise when after adding tools and re-doing our website, I noticed a heavier than expected load time and was disheartened to see the work we’ve previously done was negated by stuff like big images, missing resources and file loading redundancies.

I took the opportunity to tune up the old stand-by’s for page speed and see if the basics made a difference:

  • We have Gzip enabled so that’s taken care of.
  • We have enabled a plugin called W3C Total Cache, and everything we can get away with on that is tuned to perfection.
  • We have the Smush.it WordPress plugin for minimizing image load times working it’s magic.

pingdom

It still wasn’t enough, so we took a deep dive utilizing Pingdom Page speed tool’s resource timeline as our guide.

Real page speed work requires some web development. So instead of just endlessly tweaking plugins it was time to look at Pingdom pagespeed tools, recognize the problems and root them out. You can see what’s taking a lot of time within the timeline on Pingdom’s tool. (As you can see our biggest remaining load time issues are our large images.)

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  1. We looked for resources that weren’t loading and removed them from our code. For some reason there was one or two files that were being referenced incorrectly, and this was adding 2 seconds to our perceived load time because it took a bit to find out that they weren’t where they were suppose to be. Solution: remove the link, or link it correctly – whether it be in the head of your document, functions.php, or what have you.
  2. We manually took high loading image files and made them smaller in photoshop, ‘Save for Web’ and choose settings where the image still looks good but doesn’t have a big file size. Yes this might be a bit tedious for a few hours of work, but saving even 1 second off of every visitors load time, means more potential customers. It may seem dramatic, but this kind of change can really shave off time, and that really matters for visitor satisfaction. Better yet, make it a habit to always save files to consider load time, and your page speed will thank you.
  3. We looked for resources, pixels, plugins, and tools that we weren’t currently using and removed them. We had tools Optimizely, and Inspectlet currently running on our site but had wrapped up our current phase of testing with them, so we didn’t need them at the moment. Neither of these had a giant footprint as far as load time goes, but not loading a number of outside resources like this can add up for savings in the page speed department.
  4. We deactivated unused plugins that had any effect on the front end of the site. Many plugins have little or no effect on pagespeed, because they are used for administration purposes only, but some are loading a fat CSS file where none of it is used, or loading chunky JS files that you don’t need or use to use but aren’t any more. Taking a critical eye to your plugins and having a developer confirm they aren’t absolutely necessary can really help you dump the one’s that you don’t need anymore and save some load time.
  5. We combined CSS files into one. Different people work in different ways, so sometimes there are multiple CSS files that really all can be one. In this situation there were 3 files that all composed the front-end CSS for the site, and it was unnecessary to have them separate at this point in the game. So in combining them into the primary CSS file, and deleting the other ones (one was loading through Jetpack’s Custom CSS features – so we turned that off after adding it to the main file,) we removed the slight load-time burden of calling two files.

Page load speed suggestions for WordPress sometimes require getting your hands dirty, and that’s not to say the first 3 things we mentioned aren’t important. It seems a lot of articles suggest Gzip, Caching, and compression images but don’t give the next steps after that if you want to speed up the site even more.

Pagespeed times can be improved beyond the basics! Just make sure to include a web developer on the process, and have fun. Yes, it’s very nerdy of me, but shaving off 3 seconds off of our page load time was quite enjoyable.

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What’s an acceptable load time for a website?

Google’s pagespeed recommendation is keeping your site below 2 seconds. For a website that is incredibly image heavy (that’s our biggest remaining flaw) I’m very pleased we’ve reached the below 2 seconds mark, even though it wasn’t easy.

Do you have an extremely image heavy website?

How do you keep page speed times low?

Would love to hear people’s ideas and suggestions in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

screenshot-docs google com 2016-08-25 16-13-49Tim Brown is a designer and marketer for Snap Agency – Minneapolis Web Design and creates websites that are built around business goals and that are built to attract traffic through Search Engine Optimization and increase conversions through Conversion Rate Optimization.

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