Website expectations have greatly changed over the past decade. Online users expect pages to load quickly or they won’t hesitate to click the back button.
Having a site that takes too long to load leaves a negative impression. Nothing is more frustrating than landing on a site only to continue staring at a blank screen after several seconds pass. Those first few seconds are absolutely critical, as the last thing you want is to give new visitors a reason to leave your site.
Here are additional reasons to make site speed a priority:
Poor Performance Leads to Lower Rankings
Back in 2010 Google announced that site speed would be a ranking factor:
“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.”
Faster sites translate to a better browsing experience. It means that users are able to find answers quickly without having to wait for pages to load. Google states that site speed doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. But poor site performance can result in drop in search engine rankings.
Every second matters as even a slight boost in rankings can turn into more traffic and sales.
Site Speed Affects Conversions
Consumers today have more choices than ever before.
If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, all they have to do is simply hit the back button and click on a different result. Your business loses potential sales in the process.
The following chart illustrates how loading times affect bounce rates:
The results are clear: Every second matters. Poor loading times put your site at a major disadvantage and ultimately costs your business a lot of customers
WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems in the world. Combined with its ease of use and vast repertoire of plugins, building a fully developed site has never been easier. But even WordPress sites are prone to performance issues.
Here are several steps you can take to speed up your WordPress site.
Install a Caching Plugin
Installing a caching plugin will a great impact on your site in terms of speed and performance.
Here are some of the benefits of caching plugins:
- Higher website speed and performance
- Reducing bandwidth (useful for those on shared hosting plans)
W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching plugins and is essentially a complete framework.
The plugin offers advanced features that, when fully configured, can increase site performance by 10 times as claimed by the developers. W3 Total Cache can also be configured with content delivery networks such as MaxCDN.
One thing to note is that the vast array of options and various caching methods can make it difficult to set this plugin up. If you are familiar with WordPress, you can expect major improvements in site performance. But if not, W3 Super Cache is a more user friendly option.
Compress and Optimise Your Images
Including visual elements in your content is a must to keep visitors on your page. Images not only improve readability by breaking up blocks of text, but they also increase engagement and are more likely to be shared. Data from eMarketer has found that photos accounted for 75% of content that is posted to Facebook.
The problem though is that images are rather resource intensive. Not compressing your images or using the appropriate format can significantly slow your site down as they take longer to load.
So in addition to installing a caching plugin, optimising your images is another way to speed up your WordPress site.
WP Smush.it is one of the more popular plugins available to optimise and compress your images.
Visual graphics are great to make your content more appealing. But the larger your image files, the longer they take to load. A slow loading site is the quickest way to get visitors to click the back button. This is especially the case for mobile users who are looking for immediate answers more often than not.
WP Smushi.it works by reducing file sizes and stripping the metadata from JPEGs and unused colors from indexed images. The plugin also includes options to set a max width and height so images automatically scale down.
Another useful plugin is Lazy Load. This plugin works by loading only images above the fold. Additional images load as visitors scroll farther down the page. Lazy Load not only improves loading times, but also reduces bandwidth as some users won’t scroll all the way down.
Here are additional tips to keep your image sizes down:
- Don’t upload high resolution images: Regardless of the format, avoid uploading images at their maximum dimensions. DSLRs take great photos but they should be edited and resized first. Otherwise they will take a long time to load for visitors.
- Export images at a lower quality: If you are using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you don’t need to expect JPEG images at 100. Instead, choose 60 or 70 to reduce the file without compromising on image quality.
- Set a max width and height: Generally, it’s a good idea to set a maximum width and height especially for lightbox displays which are overlays to showcase images. Restricting image dimensions keeps file sizes small and still allows for faster loading times.
Minify Your Code
Minifying entails cleaning up unnecessary code which reduces the amount that is transferred over the web, helping your site run and load more smoothly.
Minifying your code involves removing:
White space characters
And any other code that is not needed to execute properly. While it is possible to minify code manually, it can be rather intensive and you also run the risk of destroying parts of your site if you’re not careful.
A better and more efficient approach is to download and install a minifying plugin such as WP Super Minify
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Mobile usage has seen explosive growth over the past decade. In fact, global traffic from mobile devices has now surpassed traffic from desktops.
The importance of mobile cannot be stressed enough. But even with a mobile friendly site, your pages need to load quickly. Online users searching from mobile devices are often on the go so they are looking for answers right away. If your pages don’t load quickly enough, you can expect them to tap the back button.
This is why anyone serious about driving traffic and sales online also prioritizes mobile responsive web design and/or AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).
The AMP Project is a web framework that is specifically designed for loading pages quickly for users on mobile devices. It can be added to existing sites without a complete redesign but only works for static content such as blog entries and informational pages.
Download the official plugin to enable AMP on your WordPress site.
Activating the plugin will create dynamically generated AMP versions of your pages. Note that the plugin only created AMP content but doesn’t automatically display them to mobile users. Be sure to check the FAQ for additional details.
The reality is that simply having a professional website design is not enough to compete.
If your site takes too long to load, visitors will be quick to leave for a competing site. In an increasingly competitive digital landscape, you need to make use of every advantage you get. Even a second improvement in loading time can translate more to your bottom line.
Start by installing a caching plugin, optimizing your images, and minifying your code to speed up your WordPress site. Taking these steps will lead to a faster browsing experience on your site across all devices.