What Is Page Speed Optimization? – The 5 Main Factors
There has been a lot of interest in determining what is page speed optimization and our page speed optimization service ever since Google announced that page speed is indeed a ranking factor for websites in their search engine results. And there have been tons of articles published by both the web development and SEO community that try to make an already complicated process even more so. The purpose of this article is to define the term and provide you with some good resources to get you started doing this on your site yourself if you have a few hours on your hands.
What Is Page Speed Optimization?
Page speed is the measure of how long it takes a website to load from a hosting server onto a users' browser.
I could bedazzle you with tricky developer terms to make it sound more complicated, but it's really not.
The theory behind having a faster site is two fold.
First, as I already mentioned, Google publically came out and stated that page speed is a ranking factor. While the article says that fewer than 1% of the search queries are affected by page speed, we venture to say that that isn't exactly true.
All queries are affected by it.
One only needs to look at Google recent attempts to force Accelerated Mobile Pages on webmasters to understand how important they think this metric is. Especially considering how much emphasis they are putting on mobile accessible websites and features.
Second, users love fast websites, plain and simple.
KissMetrics created a wonderful infographic that contains several data points on why page speed is important.
This image below is a portion that we will use to emphasize the point that users want faster websites.
As you can see, the rate at which your page loads directly affects your bottom line in many ways.
Regardless if you are trying to gain increased rankings in the search results or looking to increase conversions, the loading speed of your website needs to be one of your top priorities.
5 Main Factors of a Fast Website
Step 1 – Pick a good host
If a website is running slowly this is the first place I start looking.
Recently, we had a client whose website was serving customers in Europe, however, their website was actually hosting in the United States.
After we did the optimization work, the site was loading at 1.23s from Dallas, great right?
Well, no actually, because the same testing tool showed the site was loading at over 4.45s from European servers.
The point here is, get a host that is located in the same country as your customers at the very minimum.
Also, cheaper doesn't mean better.
Neither does bigger.
I have used HostGator before to host sites, and their $5 a month hosting plans are very attractive. At least until you get any amount of decent traffic running on a regular basis.
Then you site slows because you are sharing so many resources with other users.
Eventually, it ends up being a lost cause.
These days I only recommend two hosting companies.
WPX Hosting: (formerly know as Traffic Planet Hosting) I recommend this host for people who no intention of adding a lot of content or doing a lot of changes to their websites.
This host actually ran this site for quite some time.
The only downfall I have with it is that the server administrators seemed to have the right to change things on our site. For example, they changed my cache settings that I specifically optimized to load my site in around 989ms because they thought they knew better.
In fact, it slowed my loading time to over 2.30s.
Needless to say, a hosting company changing settings on my websites without my permission didn't go over well so I moved my sites off their platform.
However, I still recommend them, and a lot of my clients are using them very happily as a result.
Their set up is very simple for people to use, regardless of knowledge level, which makes maintaining websites a snap.
Also, their support team is top notch.
I can't remember ever having an issue that they couldn't help me figure out.
The reason I recommend them for people who don't intend on changing a lot on their sites or adding content is because they turn off a lot of features a typical high-end host will have on anyway.
This isn't a bad thing, they do it for security reasons, which is another added benefit.
However, if you add, delete, or test a lot on your websites you need to have that stuff already there without having to submit a support ticket all the time.
LiquidWeb: This is by far my favorite hosting company.
It took me forever to move my sites over to LiquidWeb because the price point is a lot higher than most other companies.
However, once you actually get your sites on their servers and take advantage of their additional offers like moving your site for free for example, you will regret not doing it much sooner.
We use one of the Storm Platform VPS servers for our sites.
The benefit of this is that when we do a launch we can ramp up our resources instantly for the duration of the launch.
Then, when it's over, we can put the server back to normal.
It's a great benefit because it allows you to better manage your monthly costs.
Their support is hands down the best in the industry.
I have yet run into an issue that they didn't take the time to help me with, even if it was related to a feature on my site and not the server. They have this thing called “best effort” support for stuff like that, and it's just as good as if they were doing work on your server.
Step 2 – Research Themes
I have an addiction.
If you looked at the hard drive on my computer, I swear, you will find no less than 1000 different themes.
I know it is absolutely nuts, but it does have its purposes.
You see, not all theme developers are created equal.
Some themes are designed for a specific purpose by the developer and then they end up killing off the project.
In the meantime, they sold copies of it to a few hundred people who are now stuck with an outdated theme that has security flaws.
When looking for a theme you need to find one that not only fits your needs and skill level but one that is updated constantly.
Premium themes are well worth the investment and will save you a lot of headaches down the road.
Plus, if you have more than one website, you can use that same theme over and over again.
These premium themes have already gone through a lot of users and page speed is already considered when they code as well, making them much faster for users.
Step 3 – Image Optimization
First, only upload an image in the size that you need.
If your theme calls for an image that is only 800 X 800 there is no reason whatsoever to upload a 2540 x 2540 image.
Make it the right size before you upload.
There are some other things you can do with Photoshop or another image editing software, however, I won't go into those because unless your super retentive you'll just upload the image anyways.
Get an image optimization plugin.
WordPress comes with a ton of plugin options available but in my opinion, WP Smush Pro is the industry standard these days.
That wasn't always the case, EWWW Image Optimizer is a great solution as well, but the folks at WPMU put a lot of time into WP Smush Pro.
There is a free version, WP Smush if you are not going to be doing a lot of content which works well too.
There are several differences but the one you notice right off the bat is that free one limits you to 50 bulk images at a time.
In the Pro version, you can optimize ALL of your images.
We have had clients with as many as 3000 images, Pro really came in handy.
Step 4 – Cache Creation
There is a big debate amongst SEO and web developer professionals on which cache plugin is the best.
Let me end the debate by saying, it depends.
W3 Total Cache is the premier plugin for cache creation and overall WordPress page speed optimization, however, it can get complicated.
When I first started using it, I broke my sites several times, just learning what all the options do.
However, it may not be the best choice for you to use in every instance.
As an example, WP Rocket does an excellent job with sites hosted on LiquidWeb, it's set and forget.
However, on other hosts, W3 Total Caches beats WP Rocket hands down.
Then, there are times when neither works at all and Autoptimize is used.
My point is, there is no such thing as “the best” plugin when it comes to cache creation.
Your theme and host will typically dictate through trial and error which one is best for your specific situation.
Whichever you chose, you need to create a cache for your site.
In simple terms, a cache is a preloaded resource browser pull from of you site in such a way as to increase speed.
There are page caches, object caches, and database caches.
All work together to increase speed.
Step 5 – Combine CSS and JS
Finally, you need to apply minification to your website.
This includes your CSS and JS files on your theme and added by the plugins and you choose.
99% of sites break when applying minify using almost every optimization plugin and this can cause you a great deal of headaches.
W3 Total Cache makes it even more complicated because you can specify which files you want minified and which to exclude manually.
In the end, I highly recommend that if the default options don't work for you properly, just hire someone to do it for you.
We do WordPress page speed optimization for our clients and other agencies on a daily basis and still run into unique errors daily.
Page speed optimization can be a complicated process when looking at from the technical point of view. However, most website owners are not as technical as theme developers, hosting providers, and plugin creators. This leaves a large gap in between what we as developers know about the topic and what business owners know. Unfortunately, we typically didn't do a good job at bridging that gap, until now. If you follow the 5 steps to optimization you will accomplish your goal of creating a faster website.
If you don't want to bother learning this yourself and want our expert team to do the work for you, just click here: WordPress Page Speed Optimization Service