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How we improved our page speed

Here’s how we improved our page speed to be over 7x faster than when we started. I’ll share some hints and resources and also tell you why i’m not done yet!

Improving Page Speed Landscape

Why focus on page speed?

Because first impressions count!
If the page loads slowly, you have an impatient reader waiting to see your content.  Your readers are less likely to wait for the page to load or to spend much of their time on your site when it does.  If they have a slow internet connection, you might lose that customer all together…..
A reader is much more likely to click away from your page and/or not click any other link or perform an action if your site loads slowly. This is one of the things I would bang on about to my team in my old corporate IT management role.  Reader/user/customer performance and perception is crucial!

If that isn’t reason enough, Google uses page speed as one of the factors in SEO ranking. So, slower speed = lower ranking score – which means you are less like to get traffic from google searches.

Our Starting Stats

It was pretty awful really!  Our full page load was taking on average well over 30 seconds consistently.  And more importantly (in my eyes), the first paint (when readers first see content) was well over 10 seconds.

(Sorry i was hoping to insert the screen grab of the first test but i lost it  🙁  If i find it I will update the post)

So I knew I needed to do something – and from the analysis that followed, I had an idea where to start.

What have we done?

Analysis

I know it sounds basic but I always start with analysing the problem. How do you know where to start if you don’t analyse the problem? There are many different page speed analysis tools, Google’s PageSpeed, GTMetrix, amongst others.  I have tried them all but the one I prefer to use is pingdom  which allows you to analyse and have a look at what are problem areas are.

Pingdom gives you LOADS of information including your Google Page Speed score. Full disclosure, I didnt understand it all first time round! I just took it piece by piece.

Hosting provider

Being with the right hosting provider and on the right plan for your user-base (daily active users and page views) is paramount.  We switched over to Siteground a couple of years back and haven’t looked back since.  Here is our article Dec 2015 which details when we switched – and how we saw an immediate 5% improvement improvement in page speed.  Given the cost was about the same as our old provider this was a great added benefit to the switch.

Image sizes

The overall size of your page has the biggest influence in load time.  If you dont serve smaller compressed images, then every page that your users are loading are full-size images (which could be many Mb rather than a few Kb).  If your site, like ours (kitchensanctuary), is heavily photo-based then this could be one of the most important areas to look at.

We looked at the theme we were running and the advice on ideal sizes from the theme developer website, and now we always ensure we upload the correct sized images into our post.

As part of our workflow, we compress our images to the optimal size before uploading them (by saving them to the correct size in Adobe Lightroom, after we’ve finished the editing process).  I find this is best for keeping the maximum image quality we can achieve whilst minimising the size of the image.  Important note here, we could go much much more aggressive in compression here but have decided not to. People come to our site for lovely food photography, so we don’t want to compromise the quality of our overall work.

Caching plugin

We use SG Optimizer as we are with Siteground and its recommended by them, however if you are not with them it won’t work.  I have used WP Fastest Cache which I found to be brilliant, with loads of added benefits. In fact i still use it, but not for caching, see below what I do use it for.

Browser caching, GZIP, Minify HTML, CSS and JS

Ok so i’m including these all in one as the fix for us was one plugin.  You can attack these things seperatly if you want and if you need to.

Enabling things that help the browser/client load the pages quicker and easier is a great idea.  I use WP Fastest Cache for this.  Their added features to this plugin enable you to select a multitude of things to help page speed.

Minifying the HTML, JavaScript and CSS not only reduces the overall size but makes it easier to read for machines so they spend less time reading the code.

CDN

Using a Content Delivery Network allows you to distribute your content across the globe so that the users who hit your website load content from a server near them rather than the server near you.

We are with cloudflare primarily because it is a free add-on with our plan with SiteGround and it’s super easy to set-up with the cpanel.

Example, we are based in the UK and so this is our primary server location.  However, most of our audience is in the US and Canada so using CDN allows our readers in the US to load the site content from a server near them, thus reducing the page load speed.

Outcome

I am so pleased with the outcome we’ve achieved so far.  Full page load is normally around 4-5 seconds and first paint is now consistently less than 2 seconds which I am really happy with.

Page Speed Pingdom Stats Sept 2017

Conclusion

There are SOOOOO many things that can effect the speed of the page load for your readers! So many factors out of your control (client performance, ISP, mobile network, etc.. etc..) so, for me It’s an absolute MUST to increase your page speed.
However its not just a case of throwing every plugin that promised to improve speed at the problem, trust me that won’t work in the long run and may even cause other issues and slowness.   If you were to ask me for my advice, test using one of the tools I mentioned above see where you need to improve and do one thing at a time. Check the results before moving onto the next improvement.

I’m not finished and will never be finished looking at ways to improve our page speed and load time.  I am currently looking at some of the external items that run on our site (i.e ads) and how we can make improvement there.  I am quite technical but i’m no developer, so some of these things might take me a little while to fully figure out  🙂

2 thoughts on “How we improved our page speed”

  1. Site speed is something I need to get to grips with and I keep on putting it off. Thanks guys, this article has re-energised me to finally start working on it. You make it sound like something I can work through and hopefully sort!

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