Maintaining Your Website: Site Speed

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47% of Internet users expect a website to load in two seconds, and 40% of potential visitors will give up on a site that takes three seconds or longer to load. It is vitally important that you keep your website up to date and performing well to maintain, and increase your website traffic.

Part of a series of posts on maintaining your website:

  • Security – securing your site from hackers and criminals
  • Updates – best practice for keeping your site up to date
  • Speed – one of the main ways of keeping your visitors

Why is Site Speed Important?

Did you know that the average page visit is less than one minute? The first ten seconds are vital in determining whether or not a visitor will stay or leave. You might have the most compelling content in the world, but if you are running a slow website, then your visitor will leave before the content is loaded. 40% of visitors will leave your site if it loads in more than 3 seconds.

Google Search Rankings

To keep on the good side of search engines. Google for example uses loading speed as a part of its algorithm that determines how you are placed in search results. A slower website means a lower ranking than your competitors.

Check your Page Speed!

There are a number of tools out there that can be used to test page speed. Some are fairly basic, while others provide a detailed analysis of your page loading mechanism.

One of the best tools is pingdom.com. You type in the URL of the page you want to analyse, if you only have local traffic, choose a server nearest to your traffic, and then click on Start Test. Other test websites such as GTMetrix are available, but be aware that the suggestions that they give aren’t always useful. The main information you need to take away is the load speed.

Once you know where your problems are, you can do something about them,

Keeping your Software Up To Date

One of the best things you can do is keep your software up to date. WordPress files, plugin files and external scripts all get old, and can cause problems later on. Worst case scenario is that security holes are discovered in them and they are hacked, but they an also cause other issues. Your hosting company will keep the server up to date, and eventually your website software will be incompatible with the latest server software. I took on a website in 2018 that took over a minute to load a page. The site was regularly taken down by the hosting company for consuming too many resources. The problem was that the software, which hadn’t been updated in years, was conflicting with the server environment. A couple of hours updating all of the plugins and core WordPress files enabled me to bring the site load time down to less than 2 seconds.

Keeping software up to date can be risky, I’ve written about this before.

Be Careful With Your Plugins

The mantra was that the more plugins you have, the slower your website would load. Now it’s the more badly written plugins you have, the slower your website will be. When choosing plugins, make sure that they are quick to load. Test them, or look for reviews to determine if a plugin is going to bog your site down.

That said, some websites are going to be slower. If you have a Woocommerce store, you are not going to get the load times associated with a one page brochure sites.

Reduce Image Sizes

That image that took you 30 seconds to upload is too big. You don’t need an image that is 4000 x 3000 pixels when you are displaying it on the page in a 400 x 300 box. Upload images to suit your page, and make sure that they are properly compressed. Plugins like Smush will help. Siteground includes an image optimizer in their caching plugin.

Use a Lightweight Theme

Some themes are heavy man. Themes over the last few years have been accused of bloat – i.e. they try to be all things to all people. Try to find a lightweight theme like GeneratePress, OceanWP or Astra and build on that. I use Generate Press, which prides itself on only adding 30Kb to a website installation.

Using a Cache

A cache is important to keep your site running quickly. Caching works by servers processing popular data requests and holding that information in faster temporary memory. WordPress can also do this using the plugins to serve pages faster. There are many caching plugins out there such as WPRocket and SG Super Cacher (for Siteground installations).

Monitor Your Hosting

Keep an eye on your host. A once great host can fall in speed rankings if they take their eye off the ball or are bought out by an organisation who’s not interested in website speed. Current great hosts include Siteground and WP Engine. Also, if your site is getting bigger, you might want to look at other packages that your host or another host offers. Siteground for example has three different web hosting packages at different speeds. For a larger monthly outlay, they also provide cloud hosting.

Optimize your Database

There are a number of ways to do this. You can use a plugin, or an online management service such as ManageWP Optimizing your database will take out the trash created while running your site that eventually slows it down.

Minify and GZip

You can use these technologies to reduce the amount of information that is sent to the visitor, so speeding up the process. Google describes Minify as “… the process of removing unnecessary or redundant data without affecting how the resource is processed by the browser – e.g. code comments and formatting, removing unused code, using shorter variable and function names, and so on.”

Conclusion

It is vitally important that you keep your website running as fast as it possibly can. There are a lot of tools in the toolbox that will allow you to do this, but it will mean that you have to learn those tools and do that research. Time taken to do this will be time invested well. If you don’t have the confidence or enough hours in the day, then you can use a third party to do the optimization for you.

References

1 https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-long-do-users-stay-on-web-pages/

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Maintaining Your Website: Site Speed

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