A fast loading site has been part of Google’s algorithm for a good number of years now but with the recently announced July update affecting mobile sites, it’s become an area of focus once again. Google is rolling out an update dubbed the ‘page speed’ update that will penalise sites that load slowly on mobile devices. A slow loading page can be a rankings killer regardless of this update due to the increased bounce rate but Google is making it official.
How Fast Is Your Site?
And there are a range of different services to find out if your site is a likely candidate for a penalty. The first two come directly from Google. Page Speed Insights has been around for a good number of years and was used to encourage webmasters and designers to check how their site was optimised for page loading time and user experience on desktop and mobile devices.
It gives a rather arbitrary score based on a list of best practice rules. It’s useful but lacks the most important metric, the actual time it takes for your page to load. The next tool from Google, TestMySite, is a bit more recent and plugs this gap.
There are a couple of other services that can give you good feedback about technical changes you can make to your site to improve the page load time but my own favourite is GTmetrix.
So here’s a quick rundown of the things you can tackle to mitigate the effects of this latest change.
Cheap Hosting vs Performance
The old adage of you pay for what you get holds true for our first port of call. The number one issue for slow sites is cheap hosting and in the current year, there’s no reason to be on poor quality hosting.
Many hosting companies put too many customers on the same server, lowering the responsiveness of the server. When your sites needs resources to serve a visitor, it has to wait in line before it can send the necessary request and load the page. It goes without saying that this is bad for your visitor and you.
Managed WordPress hosting is tailored to providing faster sites but you may still be inclined to opt for a virtual private server or your own server.
Choose a Light WordPress Theme or Framework
Another common issue is that WordPress designers have only recently begun tobalance good design with good performance. And due to this fact there are a huge number of great looking themes that load particularly slowly.
One way around this is to stick with a framework that is built with speed in mind. There are several around with a good reputation including Gantry and Genesis but your own due diligence is required as each option has its own strengths and weaknesses.
WordPress Cache Plugins
WordPress pages are generated dynamically and every time someone visits your site, a series of commands are triggered to load the page. With a caching plugin, the page is saved in memory and the complex set of commands are skipped. Caching can make a huge difference to site speed and can be as simple or granular and complicated as you like. Find the one that suits you.
Use a Content Delivery Network
When someone from South America tries to load your site, hosted in Holland, the requests have to traverse the world leading to a slight delay in page load time. One way to avoid this is to use a content delivery network (CDN), which mirrors your files to servers all over the world. Now when your webpage is requested, the file has a shorter distance to travel.
Some people recommend hosting image files with a dedicated image host but in my testing, this does not always speed up load time and depends greatly on the where your visitor is located.
We are highly visual beings and one study showed that we are more likely to remember content with images. But a site with poorly optimised images could be far more of a problem.
Raw images contain a huge amount of detail and must be compressed to balance the needed quality and file size. Firstly images should be optimised to the correct dimensions and then compressed into a jpeg or png format for best results.
Lazy Loading Images
There are a range of lazy loading plugins available for WordPress, but a one click easy solution is BJ Lazy Load.
July’s ‘page speed’ update will most likely be an underwhelming event as sites that are poorly optimised for speed already suffer from a high user bounce rate. But if you think your site can benefit from some zip, now is the time to make those changes.