10 steps that can reduce your load speed to half

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Website speed is one of the factors used by search engines in their ranking algorithm; it also has a significant impact on user behaviour. According to Google, the probability of users bouncing off your website increases by 90% when your website load time increases from 1s to 5s. So website load time is a key element to consider both to improve SEO and user experience.

The first step to improve your website’s speed is to measure it. You can check your website’s speed with PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom.

These sites show a report indicating how long a site takes to load. They also provide information to help you understand what is slowing it down (the details are a bit geeky, so don’t worry if you don’t understand everything!). 

Before you start making any changes, make sure that you:

1 – Have an up to date backup of your website.

2 – Test any changes that you make. Preferably, make one change at a time and then check your website for any errors, so you can quickly identify what is creating the problem.

3 – Think about when is the best time to make changes to avoid any user impact

Most of the changes suggested below should have no impact at all on your users, but there are a couple, like installing the CDN network and the upgrade to PHP that you need to perform carefully. 

Follow these steps to speed up your site:

1 – Install Autoptimize plugin

Using Autoptimize’s free options only, my site’s speed improved for mobile from 53 to 75 in PageSpeed Insights and the load time decreased by 1s in Pingdom. So installing this plugin can quickly improve your load speed with minimal effort.

To install Autoptimize:

1 – Go to Plugins > Add New in your WP Dashboard.

2 – Search for “Autoptimize”

Autoptimize WordPress plugin

3 – Install and activate the plugin

4 – Go to Settings > Autoptimize in your WP Dashboard and select the following options in the “Main” tab:

Settings for Autoptimize WP plugin

5 – Save the changes.

2 – Move to HTTP2

 HTTP2 is the latest version of HTTP and it’s optimised to provide faster load times. 

Whether your site can support HTTP2 or not depends on your hosting provider, so you will need to check with them if they support HTTP2.

If you are using Siteground as a hosting provider, they support HTTP2. To be able to use HTTP2 you will need to install a security certificate to use an encrypted connection. Siteground provides free let’s encrypt certificates that you can easily install through your cPanel going to the Security section and selecting “Let’s Encrypt”.

Let's Encrypt icon

You can use the following link to test if your site supports HTTP2:https://tools.keycdn.com/http2-test

If you are using a different hosting provider, you will need to check with them if they support http2. You will still need to install a security certificate to support a secure connection (HTTPS) to be able to use HTTP2.

3 – Use a cache solution or plugin

There are free plugins like W3 Total Cache or   WP Super Cache that you can install to cache your site’s content and increase site speed. 

If you are using Siteground for your hosting and have the GrowBig or GrowGeek plans, make sure that you enable the SuperCacher feature that is available in those plans. You can do that through your cPanel:

SuperCacher icon in Siteground's cPanel

 I use Siteground’s SuperCacher and also W3 Total Cache. Make sure to check that your site is displaying correctly and working as expected when you activate any new features.

4 – Optimise your images

There are two key steps that you can follow to optimise your images:

1 – Re-size your images to the size needed.

2 – Compress your images using either image optimisation software like ImageOptim or installing a free WP plugin like Shortpixel to automatically re-size and optimise any images uploaded.

For step-by-step instructions on how to re-size and compress your images, please check this blog post.

5 – Install WP Optimize

WP Optimize is a WP plugin that will optimise your database and remove old data such as old post revisions and comments.

To install WP Optimize:

1 – Go to Plugins > Add New in your WP Dashboard.

2 – Search for “WP Optimise”:

3 – Install and activate the plugin.

4 – Going to the WP Dashboard > WP-Optimize > Database you can run the different types of optimisation.

6 – Enable gzip compression

If you have installed W3 Total Cache, you can enable gzip compression going to Performance > Browser Cache and enabling HTTP (gzip) compression as shown below.

You can also enable gzip compression using WP Super Cache or other cache plugins.

7 – Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN is a network of servers in different locations. A CDN network delivers content more efficiently, as it uses the closest server to the user to provide content, reducing transit times.

Some CDNs offer a free option. Check with your hosting provider if they have an agreement with a free CDN. If you use Siteground, you can join and configure CloudFlare CDN through your cPanel, going to “Site improvement tools >Cloudflare”:

For more details about how to install and configure CloudFlare through your Siteground account, follow this link.

If you are not using Siteground, check your cPanel for a similar icon to install Cloudflare (or ask your hosting provider about installing Cloudflare). If your hosting provider does not have a one-click install utility for Cloudflare, you can find instructions for manual installation here.

8 – Upgrade your PHP version to PHP7 or higher

PHP 7 provides a considerable performance improvement over older versions so upgrading to PHP7 can improve your website’s speed and general performance. 

Before you upgrade:

   1 – Check compatibility with the new version of PHP that you are upgrading to. Some WordPress plugins are not compatible with the latest versions of PHP. 

    2 – Run a full backup so you can go back to the current version if needed.

How to upgrade your PHP version

If you are using Siteground and have installed SG Optimizer, click on “SG Optimizer” in your Dashboard and then click on “Configure” in the PHP Config area:

The next page will show you your current version of PHP and will give you an option to check compatibility with PHP 7.0. Run this compatibility check to see if any of your plugins are not compatible. You can then upgrade to PHP7. See full instructions here.

If you are not using Siteground, you can install the plugin PHP Compatibility checker plugin/

Check your speed again

After running the above updates, make sure you check out your speed again PageSpeed Insights .

You should see a considerable improvement in speed; I saw an increase from 46 to over 90 for desktop before I installed the CDN; installing the CDN significantly improved the load speed for mobile for my site.

If you are still having problems with your load speed, you may need to review your hosting or the WP theme that you are using. Continue with steps 9 and 10 if you are still having problems with your speed.

9 – Hosting provider 

Are you using free hosting? If you are, this could be the reason for your low load speed. Look at upgrading to a free hosting package. Most hosting providers run offers starting at £2-4/month for the first year. I recommend Siteground which has been my hosting provider for a few years. As you’ve read through this article, they offer many free options to improve your speed, security and SEO, they have an excellent customer service and great overall performance.

10 – WP theme

Nowadays WP themes include a lot of different options that tend to increase load time; as a result, there can be a big difference in load times depending on how the theme has been programmed and optimised. I’m not going to recommend a theme, as the choice of theme will depend on many factors, an important one being your own personality. However, I would recommend that once you have selected a few options, you test the demo for those themes for speed, pasting the demo link in PageSpeed Insights. When I started looking at improving my load speed, I realised that one of the problems was my theme! The load speed of my current theme shows a score of 50 for mobile in PageSpeed Insights, while the demos for other themes show a load speed of 80+ for mobile. 

I realise that changing your hosting provider and theme are options that can take longer than installing a plugin or many of the other options suggested above, which is the reason why I’ve included them at the end. I’m still using the same slow WP theme (yes, I’m being lazy and prioritising other tasks… I’ll get to it eventually! I love my theme!). Even if you have a slower theme, you can still manage to improve your load speed considerably if you follow the other steps suggested above. My current score in PageSpeed Insights is 70 on mobile and 96 for desktop, which is not bad. My load time is under 2s which not bad.

I hope that you have found this article useful and that you have managed to improve considerably your load speed. If you want to receive regular updates from my blog, please subscribe below.

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