Most commercial websites globally have two key objectives:
Site speed directly impacts both. It is a key rankings factor for search engines such as Google/Bing and it having a direct impact on conversion rate as shown by Amazon’s own testing. I personally manage a digital agency of some of Australia’s largest websites so wanted to prove how fast a website can be in a perfect scenario and the steps for this to be done.
How do I measure site speed?
Like most areas of marketing, it’s important to measure performance and benchmark it to your competitors.
Measuring for Google (SEO)
To see how search engines grade a page for site speed I recommend using this free Google tool. Google created this tool based on lighthouse and you can do unlimited testing, so I would recommend comparing your web page score to competitors outranking you for a particular term as a benchmark. The other feature I like about this tool is that you can keep a history of past tests if you’re logged in when you run them.
Measuring for the user experience
Getting a score out of 100 is great but what about the actual time taken for a page to load. In my experience, there are two reliable tests that let you test by region:
Again, I don’t want you to focus on the actual score but what your score is compared to the websites that you’re competing against. The aim is not to have the fastest website in the world but rather, to at least match if not beat your competitors.
I’m using my personal website Compare Forex Brokers for the steps taken for our case study. As Compare Forex Brokers is built on WordPress, some steps may differ if you are using a different platform. These are in order of importance.
1. Website hosting
The most important factor that impacts site speed is your hosting provider. It’s amazing how much money many of my clients have spent on coding to improve speed when in reality changing hosting providers would have achieved better outcomes. Choosing the right hosting provider is pretty simple:
The hosting provider needs to be cloud-based (physical servers are becoming a thing of the past)
The hosting provider needs to have a data centre in the region where your customers are located (i.e. Australia)
The hosting provider needs to be reliable
I went for a Google Cloud provider who specialised in WordPress known as Kinsta. You can see their site speed benchmarking study showing the logic for why I chose them. Kinsta’s own clients report a 45% speed increase when migrating across. Think about it, 45% improvement just by changing servers which for most people is pretty painless! This is why Website hosting should be your first consideration before anything else.
2. WordPress + PHP updates
Just like with Windows, WordPress (and plugins) regularly offer updates. Updates are regularly released tighten security and improve performance. Despite this, it’s amazing how many websites are not accepting these updates periodically.
In addition to updates of WordPress, there is another product commonly overlooked that needs updating, this is your PHP version. PHP provides the back-end to a WordPress website so should be updated every few months. This article also shows the performance improvements with each PHP version. If you choose a WordPress hosting provider, upgrading the PHP version can be a click of a button.
3. Image and video optimization
To get the most out of image optimisation I recommend the plugin “shortPixel Image Optimizer.” shortPixel makes it easy to reduce your image size which in turn will increase your website performance. To ensure you images keep their integrity (i.e. if it has text within the image) when compressed then you should save the image as a .png file (not a .jpeg file). A .png image won’t compress as much but it will maintain high quality unlike a .jpeg which can degrade.
Videos, much like images, are a great feature to keep your audience engaged however if not added to your website correctly can impact the user experience. Rather than upload videos directly into WordPress, I recommend uploading the video into YouTube, This will keep resources on your WordPress site free. Once you have done this, I recommend installing the Simple YouTube Responsive plugin. The Simple YouTube responsible plugin ensures your videos behave ‘responsibly’, which means your videos will scale to the size of the device your audience is using to view the videos.
While most people pay attention to image and video optimisation (and it is certainly worth doing), it is important not to neglect the first two steps discussed as these have a bigger impact on website speed.
4. Using a content delivery network (CDN)
Having fast hosting is great but it will be served out of a region (i.e. U.K.). If you want your site to be fast outside of these regions then using a CDN will allow your site to cache overseas and then load faster.
CDN networks improve site speed by copying your static content on a network of servers around the world. When one of your users needs to access content such as images, CSS style sheets and on-demand videos, your content is drawn from the server closest to the user.
There are three pricing levels when it comes to a CDN.
A Cloudflare account. This option is free but may have some limitation if you have a lot of static content.
CDN networks from hosting providers. Hosting providers offer discounted packages which may suit your needs.
A Cloudflare Business account which is $200 USD. This is the ‘gold standard’ in a CDN solution.
If your website does get serious traffic and relies on overseas users then it’s worth considering a Cloudflare Business account.
5. Removing third party advertising
Third-party advertising such as DoubleClick, Adroll or even Facebook can really slow down a website. If these are a critical component of your marketing campaign then keep them but otherwise, you need to remove them ASAP.
Googles own third-party advertising feature Google Analytics Remarketing slowed down compareforexbrokers.com by 0.8 seconds. A useful plugin to switch off Google Analytics Remarketing and manage third-party advertising sites I like to use is Perfmatters.
How did fixing these five elements improve my website?
Actioning these elements (and several more) led the most important forex broker page site speed to increase from 57/100 to 93/100 using Google Site Speed (Lighthouse). Looking at the ‘site speed’ index it went from 5.3 to 2.4 alone.
Other metrics that showed improvement include First Conceptual Paint which measures how much time before the site shows the first element of the site (thanks to better loading) and Max Potential First Input Delay which measures the time taken from when user first interacts with the site to being able to respond thanks to moving to Kinsta. According to Pingdom the site in Sydney now loads in 0.422 seconds (it was over 2 seconds prior).
Once you have compared your site speed against your competitors, you can gain an edge by implementing these 5 actionable steps I have provide which will make an immediate and lasting impact on site speed. These steps are
Switch to a hosting provider that provides fast hosting
Update WordPress and PHP versions
Optimise your images and videos
Consider which Content Delivery Network is best for you
Remove third party advertising
The key takeaway I want you to get from this guide is to consider changing hosting provider and upgrading your WordPress/PHP version first before any other site speed action. These are the easiest steps you can take and will have the biggest impact to improve your sites speed.