Website Performance

Website Performance: How Does Your Site Score?

Did you know that search engines take into account the speed of page loads in their algorithms?

Do I have your attention now?

Your site must load quickly. Lab research shows that a speed of 0.1 – 0.3 seconds gives users the feeling of instantaneous response. One (1) second keeps the user’s flow of thought seamless, and 10 seconds keeps the user’s attention. After 10 seconds, whether people keep waiting depends on their motivation.

Now, you don’t need to worry about getting a 100/100 score. It may not even be possible given your theme and development situation. What is the most important is the perceived performance of your site by your visitors.

If you have a WordPress site that’s taking a long time to load, it’s time for an website performance assessment. You can do this free with Google Page Speed Insights.   Enter your site’s URL on the page and you’ll get some data back which will give you some valuable data.  You most likely already know your site has issues if your site is slow to load, but it is nice to have the data on how slow and what is causing it so that you can make some changes and reassess to see how much improvement you gained by your actions.

This screenshot of the New Tricks site shows the results of our latest test. It shows things we can work on and gives us brownie points for those we’ve already got a handle on.   And it always baffles me that no matter how much we optimize our images we never can get that to go away. It may be those 700 blog posts since 2009! Ah, a web designer’s work is never done!

Here is a short list of the most likely culprits:

1. Plugins. Performance tests with new installs of a premium theme without plugins show a pretty significant difference in performance when compared to the same site with plugins. Now don’t get panicky. There are sites that run 80 plugins with no problem. And plugins are necessary. There are plugins that we need for optimum performance, like Spam prevention and SEO plugins. And others provide needed functionality on your site like ecommerce or event calendars. There are some that have a small footprint and won’t bother you. Its not the number, its the quality of the plugins used.  You need to do but do a brutal assessment and delete any that you don’t really need, especially those that make data calls to another program like a Twitter Feed or Facebook Like box. Read more about this issue in this post at WPEngine.

2. Poorly Coded Themes. Many themes load java script in the header when for best performance it should be loaded last, in the footer,  so that the site shows up and then lets the java load. How can a lay person know this? Look at your “View Source” and if you see it then it may be time for a theme change. Another problem is sloppy redundant CSS.  Some of the theme frameworks like Genesis pride themselves on their code being optimized for best performance.

3. Huge Images. If you have a lot of images and most of them are huge, you are going to have major performance issues.  Sometimes WordPress is actually using a small sized image on your post or page, but other times it may be loading one of your huge images, (direct from your mega pixel camera) and letting the browser resize it with html. This is a big speed load killer. Get into the habit of resizing images to less than 1000 pixels wide before uploading them. Even better, resize them to the needed size before you import.  Whenever possible,  compress your graphics. Your eye won’t notice a difference, but your site will. There is a plugin,  Smush Image Compression and Optimization that will compress the images,  so they are compressed but you won’t see a difference on the way the images appear on your site.

4. Web Hosting. If slow performance remains a problem, you may find that the culprit is your web hosting. Many larger hosting companies stuff more than 1500 sites on one server and the resulting performance can be very spotty. We now recommend managed WordPress hosting with WPEngine or Pressable. These hosts optimize all of their settings to ge maximum performance from WordPress websites.  They also offer great caching and CDN services. Yes you can get that with plugins, but if you don’t know how to configure those technial plugins, you may end up worse than you started.  We also recommend Site-Ground  for most of our other sites, due to its quick cloud hosting and personal attention.

5. Caching. One way you can improve performance is to use a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache,  or a managed hosting company that handles caching and content delivery (CDN) for you, such as WPEngine. Caching makes a copy of the parts of your site that don’t rely on data calls by creating static .html files. These static files can be loaded quickly when someone visits your site, while your actual dynamic site is being loaded in the background. CDN, allows your site content to be delivered by a server located the closest to each visitor, coupled with caching the site’s data, this saves time in perceived site speed.

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