Know your starting point
Before we dig in to getting your site to load faster, we need to know what you’re working with. Head to Pingdom, my favorite free site speed tester, and paste in your URL to start the test. You’ll get loads of data + info, but right now we care about 2 things — your load time + how it compares. That way, you’ll know when the work you put in is paying off.
For example, when I tested tinyblueorange.com I learned that it was faster than 86% of tested sites. I’m pretty thrilled, but saw some areas I could improve on.
Images are resource hogs
The biggest culprit for site slowdowns that we see at tiny blue orange is clients using giant images throughout their site. That doesn’t mean you need to strip images from every page on your site, but it does mean you need to prep your files before they are put on your site.
One easy way to make a big difference in image load time is to use a service like tinypng.com. This site lets you upload any image you want + it will compress the file so that it loads faster without losing the image quality.
And before you think it only impacts large images — like those full-width banners — think again. Compressing my social media icons saved me 0.15 seconds of load time. It may seem like a small amount, but 3 icons sped up my site by 10%!
Tinypng also has a WordPress plugin that you can use, but you’ll see by the next point on our site speed quest that you’ll want to really think about it before installing it.
Plugins don’t always help you
Every time you add a plugin to your site, you risk causing a big slowdown. That’s because plugins have additional files + scripts that need to be loaded on your site, and if the plugin creator didn’t care about site speed, they could be dragging your site to the bottom of the results pile in Pingdom.
Start by going to your dashboard + heading to Plugins > Installed Plugins. Pay attention to the active plugins + remove any that you aren’t actually using. (I just removed 8 active plugins from a site because the previous developer had installed a bunch of options for a chat program + never deleted the ones they didn’t use.) While it’s a smart idea to delete inactive plugins as well, those won’t help your site speed.
You can also look at your results on Pingdom to see which plugins are hurting you the most. It involves looking at query string results to pick out your plugin names (which is getting a bit nerdy), but the info is super helpful.
Redirects will slow things down
I love using redirects for clients who have changed their WordPress domain (link) or want to provide easy to remember URLs for important content on their site. But the downside to redirects is that it adds one more step before the site page will load.
Say you have a redirect for your most popular blog post. Someone types in the redirect URL or clicks the link on your twitter feed. Instead of going right to the content they are interested in, they first are routed to the short URL, but when they get there the server says “nope, go here instead” + the browser then loads the final destination. Oftentimes this process happens in the blink of an eye, but as I pointed out above, even 0.15 seconds can have a big impact on your overall speed.
Cache is almost as good as cash
Sorry, I had to get punny at the risk of boring you to death with some nerdy information. Caching is what browsers + computers do when they visit a website. Depending on your settings, your browser may store copies of the content you viewed for a while, which helps it load faster the next time you visit.
While browser caching is user independent (meaning you have no control over your site visitor’s browser settings), you do have control over server caching.
There are numerous free plugins that help you with this, like WP Super Cache, but there are also services your hosting company may provide, like CloudFlare. What server caching does is optimize the site delivery to your visitors so they get the fastest version possible. Typically they also block attackers which can help speed things up because your traffic is reduced by not allowing hackers to view your content.
Test your results
Once you’ve compressed your images, cleared out your plugins, removed any unnecessary redirects + set up caching, it’s time to run another speed test.
Head to Pingdom again + retest your site. Take a look at the load time + see what the results show. (To figure out your improvement, subtract the new load time from the old + then divide the result by the old load time.
For example, my original load time was 1.35 seconds + once I compressed my icons, it was now 1.2 seconds. 1.35-1.2= 0.15 seconds 0.15/1.35=11%
You likely tested your homepage URL at the start of this, right?
If so, run tests + go through the steps for your most popular pages + posts. in fact, I would start with your top 5 blog posts before working on your homepage because those are the users (folks coming from direct links on social media) that you want to have stick around.