The “back” button on a browser is your enemy. You only have a few seconds to hook a visitor and get him or her to stay away from the “back” button.
Great looking design, stunning imagery and valuable content are essential elements of a blog. They help you convince a first-time visitor that your site is worth their time. None of these matter if your blog is impossible to reach or very slow to load.
53% of mobile visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. This is according to a Google study published in September 2016. You better make each moment count. To win people over and attract more repeated visitors you should create a faster and more efficient blog. Your visitors will love you for it and so will Google. Page load time is one of Google’s ranking factors.
This post includes simple things that you can do today to speed up your blog and decrease the loading time. Let’s get started.
How fast is my WordPress site right now?
Want to improve your blog’s speed? The best starting point is to check your current loading time and performance. Run the speed tests at sites below to see how fast or how slow your site is right now. These tools analyze the performance of a blog. They also provide useful advice on things you can do to optimize the loading time:
The Google study that I mentioned earlier found that the average mobile site took 19 seconds to load. Any load time below 3 seconds is excellent in my book. It means that your site loads much faster than the average. I’m addicted to speed though so am always tinkering and optimizing my blog. The screenshot below is how my blog performs:
Now you have an overview of the current performance of your site. Does your site take longer than 3 seconds to load? Or you want to get an even faster page loading time?
Read on for simple and not-too-techy tips. Implement these today to speed up your WordPress blog.
How to speed up your WordPress blog: The checklist
Let’s look at the checklist first before getting into details:
Choose the right web host
Invest in a good web space and the right hosting plan. Your server is the foundation and the first step towards having a speedy site. Free hosts are usually not too fast and unreliable, so I would avoid them. You want a host that is reliable and guarantees uptime and a server that has a fast response time. When you are starting out it is fine to run your site from a standard shared plan.
You can get these for around $50 per year. Look for managed services that specialize in WordPress blogs. See my post on getting started with WordPress for the recommended hosting services. Eventually, as your blog traffic increases you may outgrow the basic hosting account. Only then you may need to invest in a dedicated server, but here we talk of thousands of visitors daily. For starters, a basic hosting account is more than enough. It’s also an affordable investment.
Monitor your site downtime
You should also make sure to keep an eye on the uptime of your server. WordPress runs Jetpack plugin which allows you to activate a “Monitor” add-on that constantly checks your server and notifies you in the case of a downtime. This helps you figure out how reliable your host is. The downtimes will be minimal with a good host. It also allows you to act quickly, contact your host and take any other action neccesary to get your site back online.
Update and optimize your WordPress CMS
Content management system (CMS) is what you build your site on. It’s important to get that choice right. For bloggers, WordPress is the option to go for. It’s free, it’s open-sourced and comes as a very light and speedy platform out of the box. WordPress is used by the majority of big bloggers. It hosts more than 25% of the whole internet. It gets regularly updated with cleaner and leaner coding and functionality.
You should always make sure to keep your WordPress updated to the latest version. It’s an easy process that can be automated.
You should make sure to optimize the WordPress database too. This is where WordPress stores and organizes all your data. WP-Optimize is a great plugin. It helps you run regular database maintenance without any tech know-how. With one click on a button. It cleans all post revisions, spam comments and reduces the size of your database. Aim to set it to do this process automatically at least once per month.
Enable caching and minify your files
This part is a bit more tech heavy. but is arguably the fastest and most effective way of speeding up your page loading time. Install a caching plugin and activate it. You will automatically see an improvement in your speed. Caching plugins speed up your site by generating static files. They serve those files to your visitors instead of the dynamic files as WordPress does by default. “Dynamic” means that they are refreshed every time they are viewed.
I use W3 Total Cache on several of my projects, and it does a great job. The plugin was created by Frederick Townes, the senior technical advisor of Mashable. They use it too. It’s a very powerful and advanced plugin. It can be a bit overwhelming the first time you look at it because of all the different options. Activating it with the default settings on will be fine for the majority of bloggers, though. In “Performance” -> “General Settings” make sure all of the below are enabled:
- Page Cache to create a static version of your site and serve it to your visitors. Choose “Disk: Enhanced” as page cache method
- Database Cache, Object Cache and Browser Cache to cache the static files and do gzip compression
Most of the above will impact your theme files. Do make sure to test your site when you enable these options. Check that your design is still displaying properly.
Use a CDN
You also have the option to enable CDN (Content Delivery Network) support to offload static files to fast data centers around the world. MaxCDN is the very powerful premium CDN solution. It might be too much power for a newbie blogger. It’s useful to more experienced and bigger bloggers that have more traffic and are OK with investing some money into having a speedy site.
Use a light, fast, clean and minimalistic design theme
One option is to go with a premium theme like the one that I use on my blog. Premium themes are highly likely to be developed clean coded. They offer you great flexibility and are speedy out of the box. They also allow you to customize your design. In many cases you can add a new feature with few lines of code instead of installing a plugin.
Premium themes also provide support and are continuously upgraded and improved. This is not always the case with the free-to-use WordPress themes. Here’s all my advice on picking the right blog design.
I’ve handpicked these free, minimalistic, lightweight and mobile responsive options for you to consider:
Check the speed impact of the plugins that you use
A ballpark figure is to try to keep your WordPress to 10 plugins or less activated at any time. If you only use clean and efficient plugins you can go even higher. Consider whether the plugin truly adds any value to your site before installing it.
You should only use plugins that are listed in the official WordPress directory. Quality signs to look for in a plugin are:
- High number of downloads.
- Regular and recent updates.
- Good reviews.
- For a list of 50+ plugins that I recommend check here.
You can actually measure the impact each plugin has on the site load. There’s a plugin for that: P3 Plugin Performance Profiler. After analysing you should consider removing any of the plugins that slow down your site.
Alternatively, you can consider more “light” options that can replace the feature of a plugin that slows you down. P3 might, for example, identify your social media sharing buttons plugin as one of the plugins that slows you down. This is very common as those buttons with share counters can be the enemies of speed. Consider using a lightweight option like Social Sharing By Danny instead of the official buttons. These use external scripts and make too many calls to services.
Deactivate and remove P3 when you have finished testing. Always deactivate and delete any plugins that you do not use.
Decrease the image size and use lazy loading
Images are an integral part of any site. They brand your site, and they keep your visitors interested in your posts. Uploading high-resolution images can look great on your size. The size of these images is huge and can dramatically impact the loading time. When saving the image make sure to resize the picture to the exact dimensions that you need in your content.
This helps keep the image size low. I aim for somewhere around 100-150kb per image. Compress the picture by using “Save for web” in your image editor before you actually upload it to your site. This reduces the size of your image file without compromising the image quality itself.
You can also use one of the image optimizer plugins. From my experience, they can help you reduce the picture size by 30+% on average. These are couple of the options that I have tried:
- EWWW Image Optimizer plugin is a solution that compresses your images as you upload them onto your blog.
- WP Smush.it can help optimize your existing archive or images in a lossless way by stripping meta data and compressing.
If you have an image heavy site like a fashion blog or a food blog you should consider using BJ Lazy Load plugin. Lazy loading only loads images that are in the browser’s view (i.e. above the fold). It loads the rest only as the visitor scrolls down the page.
Use Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source initiative from Google. It optimizes your content for mobile devices. It helps it load instantly when visited from the search engines. Here are more details from Google:
Speed matters and instant is the ideal. Research shows that the bounce rate can be as high as 58% for web pages that take nearly ten seconds to load. Using the AMP format will make it far more compelling for people to consume and engage with more content. But this isn’t just about speed and performance. We also want to promote enhanced distribution so that publishers can take advantage of the open web’s potential for their content to appear everywhere quickly – across all platforms and apps – which can lead to more revenue via ads and subscriptions.
There’s the official WordPress plugin for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Just install and activate the plugin to have your blog AMP-ready.
Just keep it simple, stupid
In order to keep your site speed as fast as possible think like a minimalist. Consider simplicity and user friendliness when making any design and content decision. This will help your user’s experience and it will decrease the loading time and the bounce rate too.
Remove and eliminate all the elements that don’t matter. Remove buttons, widgets, flashy ads and pop-ups. Think about what purpose these elements have and test how they affect the speed.
Some other things to consider:
- Show fewer posts on your front page and category pages. You can do this in the “Reading” part of WordPress settings.
- Show post excerpts and summaries instead of full posts on the front page and category pages. Many themes allow this change to be done.
- Simplify your navigation menu, sidebar and footer. Only keep necessary and essential widgets. My blog, for example, has no sidebar.
- Restrict the amount of flash and image based banner ads. There are more effective options to monetize your blog.
- Make sure to take these steps to fight and eliminate those spam comments. Spam comments (and the comments area in general) can slow down the loading time. I’ve removed my entire comments are.
- Last but not least do follow this advice to keep your WordPress safe and secure.
You should aim to implement the majority of the steps recommended in this post. Even implementing some of the tips will be able to make a difference in your blog’s speed and loading time. Get speedy! Your visitors will love you more for it.