Behind the scenes blogging, part 5

Watching the Olympics over the last couple of weeks has got me thinking about speed. Katie Ledecky, Usain Bolt and all the other amazing athletes who competed in races are 100% focused on speed. Their aim is to run, swim, cycle, or row (or whatever) as fast as they possibly can; faster than anyone else. Many other sports — like football, hockey, fencing — also include an element of speed, and players dedicate a large percentage of their training time to working on moving faster to increase their chance of winning.

Speed is also a crucial element of blogging. It’s not THE most important part — content wins that medal — but if your site is loading too slowly, nobody’s going to read your blog, even if it includes the most amazing writing in the world. In fact, potential readers probably won’t even find it. Search engines penalise slow sites, and send less traffic to pages that load in their own good time.

So what to do? Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to speed up your blog.

1. Evaluate

Start by seeing where things stand — your site might be loading well already! However, be aware that it might be loading well for you and very slowly for users in another part of the world, or vice versa. Head to Pingdom and run the website speed test you’ll find there. It’s easy; just type in your URL and press “start test”. It will think about things for a few seconds and then provide you with a bunch of figures to consider.

The key thing you’ll want to look at is load time — how long it takes the page you’re testing to load completely when someone visits your site. Under two seconds is perfectly reasonable; more than four seconds is cause for concern. The other factors listed (page size, requests) will be directly correlated with speed. A larger page with more requests is going to result in a slower load time.

I recommend you run the test a few times, using different testing locations each time. You might find that your site loads well in the States but terribly in Europe, or that Australian visitors get to see your site much faster than anyone else.

2. Make time!

Armed with the knowledge that your site is loading slowly (if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t still be reading this article, right?), it’s important to dedicate some time to this issue. Go straight to your calendar or open your time planner, and book out a couple of hours that will be completely committed to improving your site speed. You’ll be able to make changes to your system that will make a difference going forward, but if your site is loading slowly now, it needs your attention now. Show it some love and give it some quality time.

Make the time
Make the time

3. Compress photos

By far the biggest speed thief we’ve seen over the years is photos. People load high-quality photos to their site, and every time a visitor opens their page, this photo has to be loaded in all its glory. I agree that it’s important to use high-quality photos, but you can make them smaller in size while not losing any quality by compressing them. We use Kraken.io to do this, which is a paid service. We spent quite some time testing the free compression plugins available and found that they all either use up a lot of bandwidth or were unreliable. Many of them didn’t do a very good job of compressing, either! We recommend you use a service like Kraken.io rather than one of these plugins.

At the very least, you should compress your images before you upload them. I use JPEGmini, which allows me to set maximum dimensions to all the photos I run through it, which is very handy! This means that every photo I upload to WordPress has a maximum width of 2000px (this is more than wide enough for any photo on a website, and is the width I recommend) and has been processed so that the file size is a lot smaller. It’s easy for me to see if I’ve forgotten to compress a photo, as it won’t have a width of 2000px. If that happens, I delete the photo from WordPress, run the photo through JPEGmini and upload the compressed version.

Dave and Deb”Images take up a huge amount of space and we slowed our site down a lot by having too many images and too large of files.”

Debra Corbeil, award-winning travel blogger at The Planet D.

4. Onsite or offsite?

Sites are often slowed down by requests to other pages. If you store your photos on another site, for example, every time the page loads it needs to request data from that other site, and this can take some time. You really want to limit how many of these requests you’re sending! One way to do this is to make sure your photos, fonts, and other design elements are all stored on your server and not offsite.

Of course, some things will need to be stored elsewhere — YouTube is a great place for videos, for example, and Soundcloud is great for audio files like podcasts. Once you upload the file, you can copy a link or embed code into a WordPress post and the podcast or video will appear. This is fine for blog posts, but if possible, keep them away from your homepage.

Same thing goes with advertisements — most of the time, they’re loading functionality from a third party, which slows things down. If you’re making lots of money from them being on your home page, it might be worth the lag. If not, move them on to secondary pages and posts.

Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for static files

Think of a CDN as an external hard drive whose only task is to serve media files as quickly as possible. You can have multiple CDNs in different locations around the world, so that users always have a nearby copy when they try to load the files — this is a standard functionality of CDNs, actually. If you’re looking for a CDN (and your host doesn’t offer it as standard) CloudFlare might be a good place to start, since it has a free account option (and a WordPress plugin). Photon from Jetpack is another option, which is also free.

5. Pare down your plugins

Plugins are an important part of any website, as they add useful functionality to the basic package. However, some plugins are very heavy and will slow your site down — and it’s important to consider whether the added lag is made up for by the extra functionality you get. Many website owners install plugins and then forget about them, which is a quick way to a slow site. Every month or so, look over your plugins list and disable those that you aren’t using.

Some plugins (like Jetpack) have various components, and you can enable or disable these components depending on what you’re using the plugin for. Take some time to disable the parts that you aren’t using.

We use a server-level service to find plugins that are using more than their fair share of resources. Unfortunately this information is hard to come by as an end user. There are a couple of plugins out there that aim to find this information, but we’ve found them to be very inaccurate.

Site load time improves after removing plugin
One example of speed improvements to be had by choosing the right plugins.

6. Check your theme

Your theme might also be a speed thief. Many themes are built to be all things to all people. This means that they will include a lot of functionality that you just don’t need — Avada, X-theme, Divi and the Divi builder by Elegant Themes are good examples of this. If you have the budget, we highly recommend having a custom theme developed, which means that your site contains exactly what you need it to, and nothing else. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, have a look at our list of the best free WordPress themes. We can help you change your theme with our Change Your Theme package.

7. Consider your server

I’ve left it till last, but your server is without a doubt the most important element of page speed. If you want a fast site, you need a fast server — and basic hosting services just won’t provide this for you. Consider upgrading to the next service level with your existing host, or move to a new hosting provider that has a focus on speed.

If you’d like to see your website loading faster (and don’t want to spend hours weeding out plugins or compressing photos), our Managed WordPress Hosting and Maintenance package will make sure your site is loading fast. We’ll compress your photos, evaluate your plugins, and give you advice about your theme, while running dozens of other processes to speed up your blog. If you just want a one-off tune-up, our Speed Optimisation Package is a good option.

Don’t get left behind — increase your chance of winning at blogging by improving your site speed.

How can we help you?

If you’re starting a new blog and need some help, we’re here for you. We love seeing small businesses succeed online, and we created our managed WordPress hosting and maintenance package to make things easier for small business owners and new bloggers — check it out to see if it’s for you.

Behind-the-scenes blogging

This article is part of a series about how to start blogging for success. If you’d like to receive a notification when subsequent posts are published, please enter your email address below.