How to speed up your website with simple tools and boost your search rankings

How is your page speed?
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Back in March, Google let us know that page speed is a factor in how your website ranks. It’s not the most critical factor, but as Google aims to give users the best experience possible, so they keep coming back, part of that means getting answers to user questions quickly. So if your website is slower than another site that also answers their question, chances are, your website will take a back seat in rankings. Speed also impacts how quickly Google adds new content to their search index. Slower site, slower crawl, slower index. Bringing it back to the user experience, it isn’t just a benefit for Google it’s also a benefit for you. If you are selling something, even if it’s just written content like free blog posts, speed is essential. People buy more AND read more on fast loading websites. So having a snappy site can help to generate more organic traffic through better rankings, and that’s what you want, right?

Tools To Test Your Speed

Your site speed will vary on every internet connection and in every country. So much so that some of these tools will give different results running a test moments apart with no changes to the site. That’s why I would recommend using all of these tools to get a more complete and accurate picture of what your site is doing, and what you can improve. Keep in mind though, that some things can be complicated or expensive to improve, so you might not be able to do everything all at once. It’s also important to remember that getting a score of 100/100 on tools like Google PageSpeed Insights is virtually impossible, just aim for the highest score you can get.

  • Google PageSpeed Insights
    Test mobile and desktop speeds and get recommendations from Google on what can be improved.
  • Pingdom Tools
    Test your speed from different locations with similar improvement recommendations as PageSpeed Insights.
  • GTMetrix
    Runs a few different speed tests and displays them really nicely with a comparison to the average scores of other sites tested on their platform. It also gives you a great breakdown of recommendations.
  • WebPageTest
    Can take a little longer to run depending on the queue, but gives you an amazing breakdown of everything that is loading and the impact. It is a bit more technical oriented though.
  • Google Lighthouse
    A part of the Chrome Developer Tools, Google Lighthouse is designed for testing on mobile devices and gives you pretty close to a real-world test.

WordPress plugins to improve site speed

If you are using WordPress, one of the simplest and quickest things you can do to improve site performance is install a caching plugin. There is an assortment of free caching plugins available like WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache as well as tools like Autoptimize that works well with WP Super Cache to reduce the size of your HTML, CSS and JavaScript files. If you are new to WordPress, read my instructions on installing and configuring WP Super Cache. Depending on your website, you may notice some things look a little odd, especially if you start reducing files with tools like Autoptimize and the minification settings in W3 Total Cache, so be prepared to do some troubleshooting if anything is a little odd.

W3 Total Cache and Autoptimize have paid upgrade options, and there are a number of paid caching solutions as well. One I particularly like is WP Rocket. It does a great job and is very cost effective for the performance improvements it provides. If you are tight on funds though, the free options can still make a massive difference and without testing on your specific configuration, you may not see much difference between a free and paid solution anyway.

You may also want to look at optimising your site images, either before uploading them, or using a plugin once they are on the server. EWWW Image Optimizer is an excellent tool for reducing image sizes in WordPress. It is the plugin that I use, and I suggest for low budgets because it comes free to get you started. It also offers paid upgrades to compress your images further and speed up loading times even more. The free plugin runs solely on your server and may require a little more configuration to get working if your hosting provider has some settings limited. Another great option is ShortPixel. I’ve had a lot of success at getting high-quality images with high compression rates using their cloud-based service. Their plugin is free, and you get 100 images processed per month at no cost. If you need more than that, then you pay a small monthly fee or purchase once-off image credit packs. So if you don’t have stacks of images, they are a great competitor to EWWW Image Optimizer.

Not using WordPress? Most content management systems have some form of caching available these days, and the two image optimisers above can both be used on other platforms with varying levels of ease.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Something else to be aware of is AMP, a technology driven by Google with the purpose of improving mobile performance. In essence, it’s a slimmed down version of your website without any extra bits that can take longer to load. It is similar to a printable view. The idea is that it will be ultra fast for mobile devices with dodgy connections. WordPress has an official plugin to generate AMP blog posts, but you will probably want something like Yoast Glue along with the Yoast SEO plugin to get some control over SEO and how your website looks when loaded in it’s AMP form.

What else?

There is a range of things you can do to improve site speed, from caching to image optimisation and much more. You could also consider using a CDN. If you use Jetpack on WordPress, then you can run your images through the free Photon CDN. You could also try Cloudflare‘s free and paid options, or a paid service like MaxCDN. Another option that we often tend to avoid due to the hassle factor is your web host. They can play a huge role in site speed. Is their server fast enough to handle your site and the amount of traffic you are getting? Is it physically located close enough to your primary market? Is the server itself optimised to run as efficiently as possible? If you are running WordPress, a lot of hosts now offer WordPress optimised hosting, like Hostgator’s Managed WordPress platform that offers a platform designed to deliver the best performance for WordPress websites. Dreamhost offers another great platform called DreamPress. It’s a bit more expensive than Hostgator but includes a premium JetPack subscription on the plus and advanced plans.

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