Categories: Guides and Tutorials

Website Speed: A Practical Guide to Increasing Site Performance

Achieving lightning fast website speed is essential.

The problem is that most of you reading this aren’t tech-savvy…

...and so a long list of advanced website speed strategies will do little to no good since you won’t likely put them into effect (and worse: you get so frustrated that you ignore it!).

I want to share an 80/20 approach to improving site performance.

Specifically:

Here are the best ways to improve page load speeds and whole site performance without having to become an expert.

The importance of website speed

An individual will make a decision about their experience within seconds. This includes their first interaction with your website and brand. If a site is slow to load then they bounce, they’re also not likely to have a positive prescription of your brand!

Improving the speed of your website does three things:

  • Delivers a better, more enjoyable online experience
  • Increases the chance someone converts into a customer
  • Adds to other strong search signals that boost organic rankings

How can they engage with the site if it’s having trouble loading? How can someone buy a product or subscribe to a service if your website performance is poor? Why would Google place your site high in the rankings if it’s barely chugging along?

You don’t enjoy slow sites - neither do those coming to yours.

So…

It makes perfect sense that you put time into optimizing your website’s speed.

Step 1: Do a website performance audit

You can’t make smart adjustments without a baseline.

Luckily, there are many free tools that will help you understand your site’s performance.

The three tools I would recommend for checking site speed include:

Web.dev is Google’s newest tool for webmasters. 

This handy tool provides an overview of a site’s performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO. More importantly, it gives a Core Web Vitals assessment (the big elements affecting SEO today) which you’ll use to make logical improvements to the site.

Web.dev offers additional information and guidance for remedying issues on your site. I suggest going through and making note of each of the HIGH items since these have the biggest impact.

The other two tools also provide deep insights into page load speed.

Google’s PageSpeed Insight tool delivers much of the same information from their Web.dev tool but what makes this handy is that it gives you a MOBILE and DESKTOP view.

You can also click on the ‘See calculator’ link from your PageSpeed Insights report to get an idea of how much of a performance boost your site would get if you made changes. This is fantastic for figuring out the “big wins” when it comes to fixing speed issues.

So, now you have a general idea of how your website is performing. Now, we can begin making incremental changes to improve the site’s speed and have a baseline to reflect on.

Step 2: Get better website hosting

There’s a chance your site is built on whatever basic package you signed up for when buying a domain. Unfortunately, these bundled solutions are often barebones.

We recently moved TeachToScale from GoDaddy hosting to GreenGeeks and saw a massive performance upgrade. The best part? Transferring was automatic (thanks to GG’s team) and it’s only costing us an extra $10-$15 a month for this upgraded hosting.

Getting better website hosting is one of the biggest wins for improving site speed.

Why? Because:

Higher-tiered hosting solutions have better hardware and software solutions. They’re also configured to deliver better performance and uptime.

A few of the hosting providers we’d recommend include:

(Note: If you do go with GreenGeeks, through our link, then we’ll earn a small commission. This doesn’t add any extra cost to you. It helps support our efforts in creating content like this!)

There’s no wrong choice with these, to be honest. 

What you’re looking for is managed WordPress hosting if your website is running WP. Else, a medium-tier business hosting package if you have a basic website or eCommerce site.

You can expect to pay around $5 to $10 a month for better hosting (on promo), which then may go to $15 to $25 once the promotional period ends.

There are a lot of other little benefits of upgrading your hosting, too:

  • Free SSL certificates
  • Free CDNs
  • Free backups

It’s not all about website speed either.

Site uptime is super important for the success of your online efforts. If your site can’t be accessed then people won’t interact with your content and offers. The nice thing is that the hosting providers we recommend tend to have a 99.9% uptime.

Step 3: Setup website caching

Website caching delivers a cached version of your web pages to visitors. 

Think of this as a snapshot of the site where it’s still fully interactive but it’s not taxing on your site and hosting. The result is a faster experience.

Setting up website caching is incredibly easy if you use WordPress.

Consider installing one of these WP plugins:

Once installed, you can follow along with the installation wizard for its configuration. In a few minutes, your site will begin caching and perform better!

One thing to note about caching though:

If you’re changing a lot of pages and doing development stuff then caching can delay what’s showing up on the site. You can either turn the plugin off when doing big changes. Or, you need to clear the cache after these changes to reflect on the live site.

Step 4: Setup a CDN

Another MAJOR impact to our site’s speed came from setting up Cloudflare.

Cloudflare offers security, DDOS protection, AND a content delivery network (plus a ton of other features if you’re digging deep into its technical side).

What is a content delivery network (CDN)?

Think of it as a distribution center but for your website.

Once using a CDN service, your website is delivered from the node closest to the person who visits it. These can be all over the world! The result is a faster site experience because there’s less distance between the visitor and your site.

Setup is very straightforward:

  1. Sign up for Cloudflare (free)
  2. Install the Cloudflare plugin on your WordPress site
  3. Connect the API key from the account to the plugin

Cloudflare will then confirm everything and then begin caching and distributing your site!

We saw a solid 25%+ boost in TeachToScale’s website speed after setting up Cloudflare.

If you don’t want to use Cloudflare then there are also solutions like CloudFront, Fastly, Azure CDN, Sucuri, and Akami. These scale to your needs and don’t cost a lot of money.

The basic free plans are a great place to start. Then, if you upgrade, it’s only an extra $10 to $20 for improved performance and capabilities. Not bad for the performance boost!

Step 5: Optimize your site’s images

Images are important for branding and interactivity.

But…

They can really slow down a site!

Google is looking for a quick and seamless experience for its users. If your site is sluggish to load because it has a ton of images then this isn’t hitting the metrics Google wants to see.

Now, you could always remove those images but that breaks the design.

What do you do?

Smush it.

There are free and paid options for optimizing images and believe us that they really help!

You can do this manually with tools like:

You just upload the image that needs compression, hit Go, and then save the output. You then add it back into your site, replacing the older image. Viola! You’ve got a compressed image.

What’s neat is that these tools can compress images without a lot of quality loss.

If you’re looking for a simpler way then install one of these WordPress plugins:

These will compress images automatically (old and new). Some even have conversions for modern web image formats such as WebP. Give them a try if you’re seeing that images are causing a major slow down on your site.

Step 6: Make sure to trim the website “fat”

The last tip isn’t so much a direct action but an ongoing practice.

What I mean is being conscious about what’s going onto the site so it’s not becoming bloated.

Bloat can happen in a number of ways:

  • Installing tons of plugins and scripts
  • Too many injected ads and media embeds
  • Assets that are simply too large (i.e. huge images/videos)

Approach your website from a lean mindset.

Do you really need this element to make it functional?

If not, then don’t add it.

In fact, go through and do an audit of your site to find and remove things you don’t need. This could be unused code and images to outdated plugins, clearing out accounts, and more.

Bonus: Keeping things secured

What good is going through all this effort in speeding up a site if it comes crashing down because of site viruses and attacks? Put effort into site security while you’re at it!

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Create strong passwords and never use the same between accounts
  • Keep your site’s plugins and databases up-to-date
  • Install security plugins like Sucuri Security or Jetpack to protect a WP site
  • Do regular checks to see if any weird pages and elements show on your site
  • Learn how to avoid phishing attacks and compromising events

Managed hosting solutions will keep a lot of the technical things up-to-date and secure. But, you still need to be safe on your end. Do this and you won’t have to worry about the site coming down for maintenance -- or becoming so damaged it can’t recover!

Improving website speed isn’t hard…

...and it doesn’t take that long to implement these site performance strategies either!

Take the 80/20 approach to make your website faster.

Can only do one or two? At least get better hosting and caching. Can do all of them? That’s great! It all adds up in the long run, especially when it comes to usability, conversions, and search engine optimization!

So, looking for more ways to grow your business online?

Get the latest insights that’ll make your business a success by joining our free Office Hours chat!

And, be sure to connect with us on Facebook.

Finally, drop us a line if you’d like to work with us in taking your business to the next level.

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