You may already know that the speed in which your site loads correlates directly with engagement, and in the case of commercial sites, profit. A slow-loading site can be frustrating to use and ultimately discourages visitors from taking your preferred action. All sorts of studies have been carried out that demonstrate the importance of site load speed to the user experience.
So it pays (literally) to increase the load speed of your site. With that in mind, in this article I want to give you a comprehensive overview of the actions you can take to both measure and improve your site’s load speed. Spending just a few minutes reading and implementing the measures below can potentially make a big difference to the success of your WordPress site.
Measuring Site Speed
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out how well your site is performing, both for current and future reference (i.e. when you implement improvements).
I have two recommendations, both of which are free:
The above tools grade your site based upon a vast number of variables and spit out a whole bunch of recommendations (of which many will be addressed below).
If on the other hand you’re just looking for a straight site speed measurement (in seconds), check out Pingdom. If you go down this route I recommend that you “ping” your site 4-5 times and take the average load speed in order to get a more accurate reading.
Now let’s move onto the actions you can take to improve your site’s load speed.
If you have been using WordPress for any length of time then you are probably familiar with (or have at least heard of) caching. To put it simply, caching takes your dynamically-created WordPress web pages and converts them into a “static” page. The science isn’t really important — the key thing to understand is that it makes your pages load more quickly. Installing a caching plugin alone should make a huge difference to your site load speed.
However, any beginner (or even intermediate) WordPress user can be left somewhat confused and/or intimidated by (a) the number of caching plugins available and (b) how to set up a plugin to get good results.
With the above said I’ll make it easy for you. There are two particularly popular (and similar) caching plugins available, of which I recommend W3 Total Cache.
There are an awful lot of posts out there that recommend little tweaks to improve your site’s load speed. Many of these tweaks can make a difference but few will have as dramatic an effect as optimizing the images that you use on your site, which usually make up a large proportion of the total size of any given webpage.
The first step is to only upload images that are (a) already the correct size and (b) saved in an appropriate format (jpg for color-rich photographs and images, png for limited-color images like screenshots etc). Click here to learn more about different image file types.
The second step is to ensure that every image you upload is run through a lossless optimization process, which does exactly what you might expect — optimizes images without any detrimental effect to their quality. While there are a few plugin options available, my suggestion is WP Smush.it — it’s a simple plug and play affair.
Finally, you may want to change the order in which certain elements on your site are loaded. Delaying the loading of resource-intensive elements so that all other parts of the page can load first can really improve the user experience.
When it comes to WordPress sites, there are generally two things that you will want to consider for lazy loading:
This should be pretty obvious — since images generally make the up a big proportion of a web page’s size, loading them last allows everything else to be in place in double-quick time.
My plugin recommendation is Lazy Load. It only load images when they appear in the browser viewport, which translates to lightning-fast upfront load speed. Furthermore, when a visitor scrolls down a page and hits a new image it is likely to appear almost instantly, as it is the only new element to be loaded.
Widgets can often put a drain on a page’s load speed — often because they rely upon 3rd party servers to load (a common example of this is the Facebook “Like” box).
Therefore, choosing to lazy load widgets can prevent the rest of your page struggling to load. My plugin recommendation is Lazy Widget Loader, which allows you to select which widgets are lazy loaded.
I also recommend that you choose a social media sharing plugin that supports lazy loading. My number one pick is Digg Digg — not only does it offer awesome functionality, but it also allows you to pick exactly when the buttons should be loaded.
Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Site
In reality you can implement all of the above features in less than thirty minutes. This paltry time investment is well worth the improvement it will make to your site.
Remember to keep testing your site speed as you implement the various measures above. Observing what effect caching, optimizing and lazy loading have on your site will add to your understanding of site speed (which can’t be a bad thing).
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below!