Alana Claxton, Junior Digital Executive
We live in an impatient world. In our busy lives, we’re short on time, and to help us fit in as much fun as possible, we need things to be fast. Fast food, fast cars and, maybe most importantly, fast websites.
Users currently expect entire webpages to load in under a second, and as demands grow with each new technological advancement (I’m talking video, AR, and VR), it’s becoming more important than ever to get it right and make sure your website has that much-needed Pace. (Sorry.)
But what is it that slows websites down? And how on earth do we stop it happening?!
Luckily, I’m here to help in your hour of need. Here are eight ways you can increase your site speed and reduce those bounce rates once and for all.
Side note – when I mention plugins, I’m talking about the ones you install on a website built using WordPress.
1. Think about your theme
Let’s start at the very beginning. When building your site, unless you’re a pro developer, it’s likely that you’ll be using a CMS (content management system) or a website builder of sorts.
These usually come with built-in themes or have the option of downloading a theme that’s appropriate for the type of site you’re looking to build.
While themes are usually great from a responsive perspective, and allow a drop and drag approach to creating and customising your content, they can often come with reams and reams of CSS stylesheets that simply aren’t needed or used.
This can negatively impact the speed of your site, as these files have to be downloaded before the site loads for the user.
Be mindful when choosing your theme and don’t be tempted by crazy functionality if it’s not essential to the needs of your site.
As I mentioned previously, your website could be littered with endless dead stylesheets that aren’t crucial to its function, and removing them will instantly give your loading time a boost.
Instead of manually trawling through your code, there are various plugins that do all the leg work for you. One of my faves is WP Smush, not just because I love the name (get smushing), but because it can also help with compression of your images, which is something I’ll touch on again later.
One thing I will warn you about is that because minification directly affects the elements and styling of your content, I would suggest that you check the front end of your site with every change you make.
Don’t be worried, this sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.
In essence, when you tell your website to prevent render blocking files from downloading, it means that only the files essential to your website loading will be downloaded.
Forcing only the essentials to load vastly increases the speed that your website is loaded. In turn, this means one thing, a happy user!
This is available with the WP Rocket plugin.
4. Text compression (GZIP)
This can be done by enabling a GZIP compression – adding a snippet of code into the .htaccess file on your server. It can actually decrease your files sizes by more than 50%.
When your website files reach the browser of the user, they automatically decompress and display your site in all its glory, super-quick-time!
5. Compressing images
For best practice, I’d always recommend compressing your images, because this can benefit in terms of SEO, as well as your website loading time. People always forget that image search is just as important as text.
Nobody wants to look at a website that’s only text – or worse, a website that loads with huge chunks of blank space where the image is supposed to be (friendly reminder to make sure you’re using alt-text). That’s just not a great user experience at all.
Compressing your images reduces their actual file size, which makes them load faster, and doesn’t compromise on quality if it’s done right.
There are even various online tools that can help with image compression if you’re not a Photoshop whizz. These include Tinyjpg and Tinypng, something we’ve actually mentioned before.
6. Lazy loading
Lazy loading is a plugin that forces the content on each webpage to load as you scroll down the page, and when it enters the viewport (digital muggles, that means screen).
The only issue I have with this is that sometimes, not always, it can affect the way that images and videos display on the site.
You can always uninstall it if it doesn’t work for you, but try and see for yourself. It might be just what your site needs.
7. Use a CDN (content delivery network)
A CDN is a network of servers that exist in various different locations that store a cached version of your website and work together to speed up the loading of your site.
In essence, your website will load on a server closest to the location of the computer accessing the site – rather than halfway across the country or even the world!
Pretty cool right?
8. Caching plugins
Speaking of caching…
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, well I say plugin caching is a website’s BFFL.
When a website’s files are cached, it means certain content (such as images, videos, and frequently accessed pages) is temporarily preloaded, so no time is wasted on downloading those files, making your pages load like lightning!
These cached files are usually stored until your website is updated, or you force your browser to delete the cached files.
My favourite plugins include WP Rocket and WP Fastest Cache.
Bonus: testing, testing, 1 2 3
I’d totally encourage you to test the speed of your site at every point in this process. If that’s too much, at least test your site before making any changes. This will give you a baseline load speed to work from.
Two of my most-used website speed checkers are actually provided by Google. Page Speed Insights tests the combination of the speed of your site, as well as your SEO performance, and Test My Site solely tests your site speed.
The two sites display your speed for both mobile and desktop – and provide various recommendations to make things go a bit faster.
If you’ve made it through this list, congrats!
After all that talk, I’m ready for a big cup of tea and a biscuit. Go on, treat yourself too – you’ve got time now your website is loading so quickly.