Speed optimization isn't an easy task. It's not just a matter of installing the right caching plugin, optimizing images or deleting plugins. There are many elements slowing down your WordPress website you need to take into account. Yet having a fast loading website should be on your goal list because it affects many areas that are all eventually connected to your business.
If you think that over half of the visitors to your website spend a little more than 10 seconds on it, you'll start to see how speed and, in general, the performance of your website is a key aspect to your monthly revenue.
As WordPress developer and Codeable Expert Justin Frydman tells us:
Enterprises that rely on sales or leads from their websites spend a great deal of money trying to decrease loading time by 100 milliseconds or more. It’s not surprising that an eCommerce site that makes $100,000 day will lose $2.5 million in sales every year for every second their website takes to load.
You have mere moments to captivate your audience, provide them with what they're looking for, and try to convince them to buy it from you. The more you're good at lowering friction within these macro-steps, the greater your revenue stream will be.
But a speed optimization project can't happen overnight, as it requires an in-depth analysis of your situation. On top of that, if you really want to improve your website's speed, you should be aware that you might be required to compromise, change providers or even modify your usual workflow.
So the question is: what are the most important things you should be aware of before starting a speed optimization project?
Let's see all of them!
Look for data-driven optimizations only
The first thing to understand here is clearly explained by Justin, who says:
Every website is unique. The underlying code, themes or plugins used to build it, how visitors consume the site and the goals it is trying to achieve. These are all considerations when coming up with an optimization strategy. There's no one-size-fits-all solution.
Acknowledging this aspect is the best step you could take toward having a faster website. Your website (or eCommerce store) has unique setups, goals, and features that can't be ignored when you're trying to make it faster. That's why you should work exclusively with developers who start from understanding your current scenario and comb through your existing site to collect data on your load times, page sizes, first-time byte, requests, and all that can slow down your pages.
A data-driven optimization process always starts with collecting data to have a clear picture of your website, find bottlenecks that should be fixed, and have something to ultimately base the end results off of.
If any developer doesn't start with collecting data from your website, run away (by politely declining) and look for one who does.
Your hosting provider might not be good enough
If your website is hosted on slow servers, there are really high chances you won't be able to greatly improve on speed. This is often the main reason why pages just don't load fast enough. That's why to being able to see real improvements in your website's performance, you should consider moving to a better-performing hosting provider.
As Justin explains:
If you're on a server with another 700 people, you just don't have the resources to make your site as fast as possible. It's pointless to optimize when a shoddy host is responsible for your delays. If your host is, for example, dedicating one server to thousands of websites, no single optimization tactics will help you until you find a better service provider. One with a configuration tailored to the type of website you run.
Re-think bells and whistles
Analytics tools, social sharing tools, exit-intent pop-ups, lead capture elements. All these third-party tools stack up on your pages loading time and, for the vast majority of websites owners, they bring in low value. Many of these had been installed before putting any consideration behind them or having looked for alternative options.
Identifying which 3rd-party tools are slowing down your website is an important step during the optimization process. Once identified, it’s important to gauge the value vs speed decrease to see if you should be continuing to use those tools.
These tools generally add many extra requests to your website, which can slow down visual loading. Speed doesn't get along with things that get in its way, so you should always understand and re-evaluate whether a tool, a plugin, or any other element is worth having.
You might need to revolutionize your workflow
Once you and your developer are sure your website runs on good servers (thanks to a better hosting provider, as said before), you need to understand what's the developer's main goal after that: caching everything they can.
When a developer knows for sure the server is no longer the bottleneck, the speed optimization process can then focus on finding out what can be cached, which is the ultimate goal of speed optimization. Caching is a way to store data temporarily to be able to serve it faster for future requests. Here's a good example to better understand what's caching.
As Justin explains:
Your cache temporarily stores website data that's accessed often so that retrieval can be achieved quickly. One of the ultimate goals of optimization is caching everything you can. You don't want to serve stale content or data to people, but if you can serve cached data as much as possible, you're already taking a huge step in mitigating performance speed issues and lighting the load for your server. This will allow you to serve more visitors at once.
This aspect of a speed optimization process might require you to change the way you and your coworkers normally operate on your website. This is something people often don't think about when they want a faster website.
So if you're used to creating your content on your live website, for example, with a more advanced caching setup you won't be able to keep doing things as you're used to. You'll need to set up a new workflow, a new procedure to be able to keep up with your website management, content updates and so on.
Aggressive caching optimization can bring incredibly positive results, however, it adds more complexity to adding content and updating code on your website. If you’re just used to logging in live and posting a blog post, this will require a few more steps for getting that content to the masses. Adding in staging websites, development workflows and clearing the numerous caches becomes the norm.
Data is at the core of any site optimization strategy that wants to bring positive results. To stay on top of your performance over the long-term, you'll need a data-driven approach.
Pay attention, though, to well-known tools like Pingdom, GTmetrix, and Google Speed Test despite their popularity. Take those grades always with a grain of salt because some of these tools aren't up-to-date, thus they don't support some of the new technology like HTTP/2. It could be helpful to get help from a professional to weed out the important metrics from the reams of information these tools provide.
Optimization forces you to question every element of your website, letting you realize what's getting you closer to your business goals or else getting in your way.
Justin Frydman is a top-rated WordPress expert constantly delivering quality projects of all different types for clients on Codeable. A specialist with WordPress site speed optimization, Justin understands the value of what a faster website can do for a business and truly enjoys the work of testing and optimizing to produce the best end result possible.