Remember dial-up internet?
If you went back in time to your 1999 computer desk, you may remember clicking a web page and having to wait through painfully slow loading times just to view a website. Sometimes… This took several minutes to load a single web page.
Speed is a crucial factor in the success of any website. It influences several key performance indicators (KPI) like search rankings, bounce rate, conversions, and many more. Thankfully, we’re past the days of dial-up internet, so I don’t have to wait minutes for pages to load. But… even a few seconds can make a huge difference to your site visitor, and impact their decision to stay or escape.
So what can you do about it?
Well, there’s actually a lot you can do to ramp up your website speed. In this guide, I’ve laid out nine actionable tactics you can use to increase the speed of your WordPress site.
Will you have to use all of them to see results? Thankfully, not.
Your best bet is to start with the easiest tactic depending on your capabilities and resources. Even a small change can make a huge difference. You can always do more to optimize your site speed later.
Why Should You Optimize the Speed of Your Site?
You probably have a million things on your to-do list. So why should you take the time to optimize the speed of your site?
Besides the fact that a slow site is painful to the end-user, there are a few reasons you need to optimize your WordPress speed.
3 Reasons You Need to Increase Your WordPress Speed
Optimize User Experience
If your site is slow, it will frustrate your visitors. And a frustrated site visitor is one you probably won’t see again. According to a 2018 study by Google, 53% of mobile users abandon a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. If you want to offer a solid user experience (UX), you’ll need to have a fast site.
If you want to improve your site conversions, you’ll want to make sure your site is fast. Not only can optimizing your site speed improve your conversions, but it also reduces bounce rate and increases revenue. Studies have shown that conversions increase for every second reduced from page load time.
According to Neilpatel.com, every extra second delay in page speed can result in a 7 percent reduction in sales. Studies have also shown that when your page load time is reduced, your conversions will increase.
According to Cloudflare, a site that takes 4.2 seconds to load sees an average conversion of under 1%, while a site that takes 2.4 seconds to load sees an average conversion of 1.9%.
Increase SEO Rankings
Improving web page speed directly impacts on-page SEO. If you have a slow site, the search engine lords at Google and Bing won’t want to show your site to anyone. If you want to ensure you rank higher than your competitors in the search engine result pages, you’ll need to improve your site speed. It’s a major factor in your SEO ranking.
What Is the Optimal Web Page Load Time?
Your website’s load time is the KPI that describes how long a specific web page on your site takes to load entirely. This method includes not only HTML, but also all the images, scripts, CSS code, and third-party apps and resources on your site.
Load Time Defined: The time between when a visitor navigates to a web page and the moment all of the web page content has loaded.
So just how long should it take for a web page to load?
Ideally, a great web page will load in under two seconds. This is even more important for mobile web pages since they’re impacted by longer load times compared to desktop pages.
2018: The Mobile-First Year: In March 2018, Google announced a major change to its search engine ranking system. They stated that they were switching to mobile-first indexing rather than desktop indexing. Now, mobile web pages are considered the focal point of indexing and ranking in Google’s SERPs.
In the same 2018 study by Google, they found that the average load time of a mobile landing page dropped from 22 seconds in 2017 to 15 seconds in 2018.
This is great news… right? Well, it’s a start. But it’s still 5 times longer than site visitors want.
Remember… more than half of a site’s visitors will leave after 3 seconds if the mobile site hasn’t loaded.
As a web page load time increases from 1 to 7 seconds, the likelihood that a visitor bounces increases 113%. Likewise, when the number of elements increases (text, images, titles) from 400 to 6,000, the likelihood of conversion drops by 95%.
Your website’s real opponents are long load times and bloated page sizes.
Now, let’s break down the page loading time.
Breaking Down the Page Load Time
Unfortunately, a page’s load time isn’t an easy metric to measure.
The optimal load time of 2 seconds mentioned above is the final outcome after a succession of different events.
When you open a web page (whether by typing a URL into the browser, reloading a page, or clicking a link), you trigger a series of dominoes that occur in the back end of the website.
You probably won’t notice it (especially with faster sites), but there are nearly 20 dominoes in this loading process. Each domino takes a certain amount of time to act. The whole set of dominoes impacts the final web page load time.
These dominoes can be grouped into 4 events:
- Request: This is the initial trigger that occurs before the HTTP request gets sent to the server. It’s also called “navigation start”.
- Response: This is the sending time from the request to the browser combined with how the answer is received by the web server.
- Build: This is the time it takes for the browser to process the requested data from the server so it can build the page.
- Render: This is the time it takes for the browser to reveal the search results on-screen (onLoad).
Page Load In Action
The final load time is determined by how long it takes for the dominoes to fall between events 1 through 4. Every speed test tool will include these separate events in load time calculations.
Some speed tools will even go as far as to tell you what happens after the onLoad (Event 4). They will often add a metric, “Fully Loaded”, which includes the activities triggered once the main page loads, and once no network activity has taken place for 2 seconds.
While load time may seem to be a simple metric at first glance, once you dive into the makeup behind the number, it can be quite complex.
How Can You Test Your Website’s Loading Time?
First off, you’ll need to check your website’s current load time. Remember, the speed may vary from page to page since it relies on a few factors, including:
- Page size
- The number of requests it generates
- If it’s cached or not
- What type of content (dynamic or static) it hosts’
Your website’s homepage is generally the benchmark to test your site’s load time. If you want to check the speed of your site, you’ll want to use one of the following five tools:
These tools offer a detailed analysis of your web performance. Not only do they show you your loading time in seconds, but will often give you recommendations on how you can improve your site’s performance.
It’s important to note that your site speed takes several factors into consideration. According to Addy Osmani, an engineering manager on the Google Chrome team, “…there isn’t a single metric that fully captures the “loading experience” of a web page.”
Why Do Various Speed Tools Offer Different Load Times?
You’ll notice that different tools will show you different speed results. This is normal.
This isn’t to say that one particular tool is right while another is wrong. Tools differ based on a variety of different locations, recommendations, and metrics.
Your best bet in finding a dependable load time assessment is to determine your site’s benchmark speed by using a combination of tools. The most dependable tools won’t just give you recommendations with a score. They’ll also give you accurate numbers.
Speed is measured by time and not by a letter grade.
While some tools will give you a letter grade or score on your site’s overall performance, the most important metric is speed. Your site visitors don’t care about your website’s “letter grade”. Neither does Google. In fact, Google will heavily weigh-in your site’s load time when it comes to your SEO.
These other recommendations you find on speed tools can be useful to show you where your site is weak. However, if they don’t show you a trustworthy load time that’s measured in seconds, your speed assessment will be null.