Why Page Speed Matters
Google’s algorithm is a mystery, but out of the 200+ signals used, we know with certainty that page speed is a factor in web search ranking. And although it doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as relevant content, optimizing a site for speed can mean the difference between a page 3 rank and page 1 rank in search results.
Page speed matters because it makes for a better user experience. Nobody likes to stare at their screen while a website takes its sweet time to load. Faster-loading sites convert better and encourage people to stick around. According to KissMetrics, 40% of users will click away if a site takes longer than 3 seconds to load. For each additional second a page takes to load, studies have shown a 7% reduction in conversion.
Page Speed Measurement
You can measure your site’s speed by using a web page analyzer tool. Most tools score on a scale of 100, and the closer you are to 100, the better.
3 Free Web Page Analyzer Tools to Try:
PageSpeed is a free web analyzer tool provided by none other than Google. Because of its name, it’s important to note that the PageSpeed tool doesn’t simply gauge whether a site is fast or slow. PageSpeed provides an in-depth measurement of how well a site is optimized for speed.
ySlow is another popular, free web page analyzer. It is available as a browser extension for most common browsers (check here for availability). From experience, ySlow tends to score lower than PageSpeed, even when analyzing the exact same site. For example, my ySlow score is 82, as opposed to my PageSpeed score of 92 for my site at Modern Muse Web Design.
GTmetrix is my new favorite web analyzer tool because it will generate both a PageSpeed and ySlow score. Just as with PageSpeed Insights, all you have to do is type the URL directly into the GTmetrix home page to generate each score.
What’s a Good Page Speed Score?
Scores for top-ranking sites typically fall between 78-83, with an average score of 80 (source). When optimizing your own site, try to shoot for an 80 or better.
6 Tips for Optimizing Page Speed in WordPress
After generating a page speed score, most web page analyzers will generate a list of recommendations for how to improve your score. There are many ways to optimize your WordPress site for speed, but some are a bit too advanced for this post.
Below is a list of optimization tips every blog designer should be familiar with, along with links to additional resources.
For themes that are optimized out-of-the-box, use a premium theme framework like the Genesis Framework for WordPress (aff link). Genesis features streamlined, semantic code for search engine optimization. In fact, Google’s Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, recently started using Genesis for his own blog.
Be sure to read up on the benefits of WordPress-specific hosting, especially if you’re new to working in WordPress development. The next time a client asks for hosting recommendations, you’ll be able to give them sound advice on the different types of hosting available to them.
If you don’t have the budget for premium hosting, look into using a caching plugin. On that note, I recently discovered that HostGator has a one-click install for WordPress in their cPanel, complete with WP Super Cache already built in.
I will admit that caching plugins can be overwhelming. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can seriously mess up your site. That being said, if you’d like to try your hand at self-installing a caching plugin, be sure to use it in preview mode or in a test location before deploying to a live site.
Here is a Slideshare presentation, given by Ian Rogers, with suggested out-of-the-box settings for W3 Total Cache. I used these recommendations on my own site and my Google page speed score went from 54 to 92!
Use a CDN
CDN stands for content delivery network. It’s a network of servers all over the world, each with copies of your site’s files. When a visitor goes to your site, the server closest to them serves up the info, making your site load faster.
It’s worth mentioning here that Google has its own free optimization service called PageSpeed. This service is separate from their web page analyzer tool and includes CDN, plus other web optimization features. The PageSpeed service is free of charge for beta users until they decide to start rolling out fees.
There are lots of good articles and tools online to help you optimize images for the web. I personally use Photoshop’s Save for Web feature to optimize my images. The key is to strike a balance between reducing file size without compromising too much on image quality.
Some tools worth checking out:
These tools are free and a great way to optimize images for clients if you don’t own any image editing software yet.
The page speed optimization tips in this post are by no means comprehensive, but they should help to give you a solid start. If you have something to add to the discussion, please leave a comment below.
About the Author
KC White is a certified web designer from Las Vegas and the owner of Modern Muse Web Design. When she’s not knee deep in code, she’s running after her energetic toddler, reading up on the latest web design trends, or writing on her personal blog. To connect with KC, visit her on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram.