Page Speed is an important factor not only for the user experience aspect but also for SEO. Google recommend a speed of below 3 seconds according to tweets by employees of Google.
If you have a heavy web page that takes an age to load, you will expect a high bounce rate and possible rankings drop. As websites are being built on content management systems and not being served as static HTML files, the websites are becoming much larger and taking longer to load.
How Do You Measure Page Speed?
Google have their very own tool called Page Speed Insights, which has seen an improvement as of January 2018. The tool includes optimization tips for both mobile and desktop as well as including a render of how Google bots see your website. It still does not give a clear page load time but there are alternatives for this.
GTMetrix is a more advanced website page speed testing tool that we use a lot for our technical SEO services. There are more enhanced optimization tips as well as a clear page time load. Pingdom Tools is another tool used for page load time and using this and GTMetrix for multiple tests will provide a reliable average load time result.
How to Improve Website Loading Speed?
Many SEO agencies do not have a clue when it comes to improving your page speed but not WebSpection. Below is a list of some of the things you can do to improve the page speed of your website starting from the easiest to the more advanced methods.
One of the most common and damaging causes of slow loading times are images that have not been compressed. Loosely compression of images retains the quality of the image by looking for repeat pixel values and assigning less data to common values. This is the exact sort of compression you should be doing to your images before placing them on your website.
Luckily you do not need expensive tools to perform loosely compression. Websites such as Kraken IO do an excellent job and it is completely FREE as long as you keep the image uploads below 1MB per image.
There are many WordPress compression tools that will automatically compress your images as you are uploading it to the website. WP Smush is the best plugin at doing this and again, it is totally FREE to use and it can help speed your WordPress site up. A combination of Kraken, followed by WP Smush is the best method of image optimization.
Another mistake many webmasters make is fully compressing an image but not cropping it to size. You will want to crop the image to size before uploading and ensure that is of the correct file type such as JPEG or PNG, which are the two desired formats for good page speed.
Slow Website Hosting
We have worked with some clients that turnover more than ?1,000,000 per year but they host their website on a ?3 a month shared hosting package. Some cheap hosting packages are okay for small websites with not many visitors but not in all cases.
If you are striving for a page loading time of less than 1 second, you will need to upgrade to a dedicated server that is not shared. Increasing your budget to ?20 to ?50 per month for hosting will boost your page speed dramatically and following the other tips in this article will see the site load in milliseconds.
Only Use Essential Plugins
Webmasters that do not deactivate unused plugins on CMS’s such as WordPress, which causes additional processing overheads. You want to ensure your activated plugin list is lean and reviewed on a regular basis.
Enabling compression can help reduced the download time of your website by around 70% (according to Yahoo). If you are not from a technical background, your hosting provider may be able to set this up for you but if you are on WordPress, there are many plugins for compression such as WP Super Cache and more.
The most common form of compression is via GZIP that can be achieved by the majority of web servers. This can be setup by updating your .htaccess files with the GZIP configurations rules according to your server.
Upgrading Your PHP Version
According to W3Techs, up to 81.8% of all websites use the programming language PHP and the majority are running outdated versions. The most popular version is PHP 5.6 but the latest PHP 7 (and over) featured a huge execution time increase by up to 200%.
WordPress and the majority of content management systems use PHP. Upgrading to PHP 7 and above will see a big increase in your overall page speed as well as WordPress functions.
Before upgrading your PHP version, you need to ensure your plugins support the latest version. The supported versions are all noted in the installation details before you install a plugin on WordPress.
Some PHP functions such as “mysql” will not work and you will need to updated your database calls to PDO functions. However, if you are still using mysql calls to your database, you should be updating this before anything else due to security issues but that is another kettle of fish for another article!
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
The impact of using a CDN comes in full force when you have a user from another country visiting your website. For example, if you have not setup the CDN and your server is located in the UK, a visitor from the US will see a longer loading time compared to a visitor in the UK.
When the CDN is setup, the US visitor will be served static files form the closest US CDN server, which will improve loading times dramatically.
Reduce External HTTP Requests
Retrieving resources from other websites is fine in small amounts where the file you are getting is already optimized. However, many websites performing far too many HTTP requests that are slowing down the website considerably.
Many themes and plugins are known for doing this and where possible, you should try and combine the external files and serve them through your own server/CDN. By doing this, you will also be able to further optimize the file by minification and have more control. can be further optimized via minification.
However, you will not be able to do this with all the external HTTP requests. For example, the Google Analytics script that the majority of webmasters will have on their site.
Enable Keep Alive Headers
The majority of users to your site will navigate around the site and the default HTTP connection will treat each request separately and close each connection. This uses up your servers processing power and can increase loading times by increasing the number of connections.
Enabling Keep Alive headers reuses the same connection to transfer multiple resources, which is much more efficient than several connections for a single user. The result is reducing CPU usage and improves the number of users your website can handle all at once.
You want to ensure your database is running lean without any unnecessary bulk such as revisions, trash, drafts and other WordPress features. There are many database calls back and forth to the database and they may not be optimized i.e. SELECT * FROM TABLE.
Although you can go in and modify these SQL statements for each plugin, you will be fighting a losing battle with updates that will overwrite your modification. There are two options that we recommend that are including a limit of post revision within wpconfig.php or using a plugin such as WP Optmize that clears all unnecessary data held in the database.
Not everyone will be using WordPress and if you have built your website from scratch, check all your SQL queries. If you see queries selecting all columns or nested within “for” loops, you should target these for your database optimization improvements.
The first 5 page speed optimization tips are fairly simple improvements that the majority of webmasters will be able to complete. Even with just those improvements, your page speed should start to see a well needed boost.
For those that are more serious, the final 5 optimization tips are advanced improvements that will see your speed go into the milliseconds.
At WebSpection, we have a list of page speed optimizations that include over 40 methods. We are the only Cardiff SEO Company that offer this sort of technical SEO improvements as a standard service on all of our clients websites.
Since creating this blog post, Google has again moved the goal posts. It now breaks down your page speed in multiple factors, which is known as the Core Web Vitals. This is now a known ranking factor as of May 2021.