Dear WordPress Aficionado,
“Are they crazy!?”
That’s what I was thinking, full of disappointment.
I had just ended a call with a salesperson who was supposed to take my order and schedule the delivery of my new desk. Instead, he announced that the desk would be ready in 30 days.
You see, on their website, they advertised it as “In Stock,” but actually, there were some custom elements that needed to be crafted after the purchase.
That was а deal-breaker for me…
My plans were to purchase it and go to their storehouse to pick it up by myself.
Was I feeling bad and angry while listening to the excuses?
Well, many people are constantly in that kind of a hurry. And when we’re thinking “technology,” we even expect it to be high performant. It’s like that mindset is deeply ingrained in our heads.
We live in a century where nobody likes to wait for nothing. No matter how badly they want it and no matter its price.
It can be a gift, and they want it now, not tomorrow.
It can be exclusively expensive, and they want it yesterday, not today.
So The Pillar of Instant Gratification is real, and it’s everywhere + search engine optimization. It either supports our websites and businesses or painfully punishes them with people’s indifference or anger toward them until they cease to exist or are reborn with better performance scores.
That’s one of the most important reasons why our websites must be fast, or they can’t compete with the hundreds, the thousands, and even – the millions of alternatives on the web.
But let’s start from the beginning…
SEO Trivia: Why is page speed so important (for your bottom line)?
“Speed! Speed! Speeeeed!” – were crying the zombies. They were stocked up with brains for years and now just wanted to eat it as fast as possible.”
This is a line from my future book that tells the story of a market researcher living in a post-apocalyptic society. It’s a work of fiction, but any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.
I’m joking, of course…
In the next few days, I will publish several articles on the ins and outs of making your WordPress site fast and furious. It will be a mix of philosophy, and practical stuff, so don’t miss it.
But before we go deep into the technical stuff, let’s be clear about that:
It’s a matter of money and business success
We won’t talk about “page loading speed” as something isolated. Something meaningless outside the world of the nerdy technical guys who like everything to be flawless.
No, no! I’m even advocating against the strive for perfection when we optimize for the search engines, but that’s another topic we’ll discuss later.
Your very business depends on your website’s performance because opening a page is like visiting a restaurant. When a customer sits down to eat, slow service from the waiter often leads to a bad review in Yelp and fewer customers in the future. Similarly, slow site speed can lead to fewer conversions, i.e. fewer sign-ups or sales.
The other way around is true, too: less loading time can mean more conversion.
- When retailer AutoAnything reduced page load time by half, they saw an increase of 12% to 13% in sales.
- When Pinterest reduced perceived wait times by 40%, they witnessed an increased search engine traffic and sign-ups by 15%;
- And the BBC found they lost as much as an additional 10% of users for every extra second their site took to load.
I bet you can quickly calculate the monetary side of 12% more sales or 15% more sign-ups…
Of course, don’t take those numbers for granted. Nobody can promise you specific results.
The important thing is that the mentioned case studies aren’t exceptions. If you offer decent products or services and start getting more traffic because your pages load faster, then there is a high possibility your sales numbers will get better.
That’s not theory…
The biggest search engine Google included page speed as one of its ranking factors way back in 2010.
In 2017 they made it even more important when they introduced their mobile-first indexing. And more recently, the search engine expanded the meaning of “loading speed” by integrating the so-called “Core Web Vitals” to its ranking algorithm.
So if your website loads faster, it will have better chances to receive more visitors.
That’s why it’s not surprising that everybody advocates for better loading times. And in most cases, it’s something you set it and forget it.
Anyway, next I will show you the “Four Horsemen Of Apocalypse” (if I must stick to the theme) who define what’s slow and what’s fast.
Technical SEO Intricacies: What Are The All-Important “Page Speed Metrics”?
Understanding the page speed metrics is not like licking both of your ears simultaneously, but they are created by software engineers with not much thought for the regular website owner.
And who can blame them?
Measuring the page loading time is not a simple task…
There are many moving parts. Many page elements start loading later or in parallel, after you request a page, so it’s not exactly clear when it must be considered fully loaded.
That’s why the engineers of Google defined not one but four essential metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP), Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay(FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
Let’s overview each one of them briefly:
1. First Contentful Paint (FCP)
“FCP measures how long it takes the browser to render the first piece of DOM content after a user navigates to your page. Images, non-white <canvas> elements, and SVGs on your page are considered DOM content; anything inside an iframe isn’t included.”
FCP is like how fast you can spot a dog crap on the alley. If you’re too slow, you will surely step on it and start spreading that “surprise” everywhere you go.
2. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
“LCP measures when the largest content element in the viewport is rendered to the screen. This approximates when the main content of the page is visible to users.”
LCP is like the size of your new $7000 sofa. If the sofa is too big to be carried up the stairs, you will need to get it in your apartment by other means that take more time.
3. First Input Delay (FID)
“It measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction.”
FID is like “puppy VS. old dog.” The puppies are always more energetic, more responsive. You just mumble their name, and they ecstatically run to you, ready to play all day long.
4. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
“CLS is a measure of the largest burst of layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of a page.
A layout shift occurs any time a visible element changes its position from one rendered frame to the next.”
CLS is like an earthquake. The more powerful the earthquake, the more messed becomes your home, the more time you need to get your shit together.
Next we will talk about why improving those metrics can be very tricky, and later I will mention them again in a “WordPress context.” That means we will talk about improving them with plugins, so you will not need any development skills.
Web Dev Confession: Why achieving higher page speed is “tricky”?
Look, building websites is much like having an orgasm: It’s very pleasurable, time flies, and it’s fantastic every single time. It also shares some of the challenges related to orgasms:
It’s hard to get laid, and there’s many trial & errors before you know what you do so that in the end, everybody involved is happy.
Some Tricky Parts Are Never Fully Handled
For example, take your website’s performance:
If websites were meant to be used on our devices like desktop or mobile apps, it would be relatively easy to create them with performance in mind. Not that tough decisions wouldn’t exist, but that’s why I said “relatively.”
Unfortunately, websites run on devices called “servers” that are located elsewhere, and the content we want is “served” to our laptop or smartphone with the help of a “network.”
So when visiting a page, we’re making a “request” that travels through the network to a server. That server generates an “HTML document” and sends it back to us as a “response.”
And if there’s a big storm, it can damage the network or the data center, bringing down all the sites hosted in the area.
There are many such “What Ifs”:
What if the data center is too far away?
What if the servers are not well-configured?
What if the user’s device isn’t so good?
What if there are too many plugins?
What if there are too many users at the moment?
All these and more can negatively affect the loading speed of a page or a website. Sometimes we don’t have control over the thing that causes us trouble.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice, like when we’ve installed a bad plugin ages ago, and now it’s tightly coupled with our WordPress and database in a way that we can’t just remove it.
So achieving “perfect scores” is causa perduta (not possible), and trying to do it will cost us unreasonable amounts of time and cash.
But if we’re reasonable in our demands for higher performance, we can achieve pretty good results with the help of good plugins and some third-party services.
What’s more important…
We can achieve these results at a lower price, so our ROI from the technical optimization will be even bigger because there are no considerable one-time or yearly expenses.
As we’ve discussed this “tricky matter,” we’re finally ready for the nitty-gritty stuff. Next I will give you a list with a bunch of strategies, plugins, and services that will make your website faster.
And in the following days, I will elaborate more on each item from that list so you can get all the knowledge you need to apply the stuff we’ve talked about.
Faster WordPress: What do you need for a higher loading speed?
One of the good things about using WordPress is that there are a lot of plugins. And one of the bad things about using it is that there are a lot of plugins.
So the plugin variety is a blessing and a curse.
Yeah, I know…
I hate this “two-edged sword” stuff too, but think about it:
if you make the mistake of installing too many of them, your website wins membership in the club “Slow & Buggy.” Moreover, you’re always one bad plugin away from some disasters, like finding adult advertising all over your place.
So the first and most important thing when it comes to WordPress performance is the number and the quality of your plugins.
You must always think hard about do you really need yet another one and if that’s the case, you must choose very carefully. That includes deep research on the pros and cons of each available option.
Of course, some services and plugins are strongly recommended if you want your site to be fast.
Here are the most important:
If your hosting server is not reliable or your plan doesn’t offer enough resources like RAM and CPU (processing power), then your website is doomed to underperform.
I will publish a whole article on this topic with a simple strategy for finding the hosting offer that suits your needs best.
When you try to open a web page in your browser, you send a “request” to a server, and that server uses its memory and processing power to generate an “HTML document.”
A good caching plugin saves that document in a file or memory, and now, every time someone makes the same request, they receive the saved document.
That way, the plugin saves a lot of resources for generating the HTML document again and again.
We will talk about all this with details in another article to help you find the best caching plugin for your WordPress site. It’s really important to get one, so don’t miss the blog piece.
If you get visitors from all over the world, then the loading speed of your website varies according to how far away they are from the data center.
A website hosted in a U.S. data center will load slower for users in Asia.
The first step to speed up the site is to subscribe to a CDN service. Basically, it’s a network of servers around the globe that cache all of your website’s images, CSS files, js files, and more.
And when the users request a page, the CDN network serves them those files from the closest server.
Again, there will be a detailed article soon…
According to HTTP Archive images make up more than 60% of data loaded on web pages.
So it’s critically important for your images to be “optimized” if you want better loading speeds for your web pages. That means they must be resized and compressed as much as possible while their quality remains good enough.
You can achieve that with plugins, third-party services, or manually (my favorite choice).
As usual – I will spill out the beans in detail soon.
Minifying Plugin (Optional)
Depending on your caching plugin and CDN service, you may or may not need a minifying plugin.
We will talk about that later too.
There is much stuff to be covered, so now you understand why I didn’t start with services and plugins names from the beginning. We must do some research and carefully choose if we want to cater to the instant gratification crowd, i.e. all Internet users out there.
In the next few days, we will do exactly this…
The Code & Marketing Combinator
P.S. Yesterday, I announced some bad stuff about my SEO app. Now I will announce some good stuff…
I fixed the speed issue, and BuhalBu’s Kit is comparable with the alternatives.
Moreover, I came up with a strategy that shortens the crawling time by a third so my app can be faster than the competition in some instances.