A listicle from the desk of Wendy Placko
Your website is one of your key marketing tools. It’s important to care about your website’s speed. If your site takes longer than two seconds to load content, your organization or business is at risk for users abandoning their visit and for search engines, like Google, to deprioritize your site as a search result.
Artistic trends, like large photos and background videos, can eat up load time. So it comes down to this: you need a nice looking site to be competitive, but you need the site to load in reasonable time for it to even be seen or discovered by users.
The following suggestions can help you manage that balance.
#1: Know Your Score
If you don’t know how you stack up to others, you’re not setting goals for improvement. Google offers a helpful tool called PageSpeed Insights to rate your website speed on desktop vs. mobile. It then offers up some specific suggestions on what to do to improve your score. It will likely suggest that you implement several of the suggestions below.
#2: Cache in on Load Savings
Very few sites are made up of straight HTML –most are presented through a content management system (CMS) that stores the content in a database and serves up code based on which page a user requests. That means that the HTML code is generated on the spot when a page loads, and this adds load time. The answer to this load speed woe is caching.
There are different types of caching out there: site caching, server caching and browser caching. You have control over site caching and server caching, and these can really speed up your load times. To cache your CMS site, you can use a plugin like WP Rocket. Server caching will need to be set up with your hosting service provider (more on that later).
#3: Get Lazy With Image Loading
Big, beautiful, bold images are extremely common in modern web design. They are lovely, but they can be a major culprit for slowing down your load time. One way to nip this in the bud is to add lazy loading to your site. This technology tells your browser to only load an image when it is visible in the browser viewport. So, if a large image is several scrolls down, it will only load when the user has scrolled to that area and won’t slow down the initial load time. Plugins and theme options can help you enable lazy loading.
Another thing to consider is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for fast-loading images. A CDN is a service that stores all of your images at various sizes and is designed to serve them extremely quickly. Cloudflare, ImageKit and bunny.net are all examples of image CDNs.
#4: Streamline Your Theme
Many CMS themes offer a whole lot of options, but loading those options comes at a cost in load speed. Take a look at your theme and avoid loading unnecessary assets. Is there a cool slideshow tool you aren’t using? Make sure it is disabled and you aren’t spending precious load time on that.
Not to sound like a broken record, but images are really important to consider. Lazy loading and CDNs help, and those can be configured in your theme. Also, make sure your theme serves image assets at proper sizes using the picture HTML tag. While you’re at it, try new image types that load faster, like webp images.
#5: At Your Service
One last tip is to take a look at your web server. Your DNS should route to your server quickly – if it doesn’t, that means all of your work optimizing your site won’t matter. When it comes to the actual load time for the server response, this comes down to your hosting provider.
Hosting providers generally fall within the “you get what you pay for” principle. A hosting service like GoDaddy (with an average cost of $200/year) offers shared hosting, meaning that your site is on the same server as a ton of others, and load times could vary if the other sites on that server have lots of people visiting. We recommend a hosting provider like Pantheon (with a starting cost of $1,200/year), which is specifically configured to serve WordPress sites quickly and offers site caching.
Putting It All Together
In summary, there are a lot of things that can affect your load speed. If you are a can-do DIYer with some development skills, this article will get you started. If you need some help, a good developer can partner with you to diagnose your issues and improve your speed. Be prepared that the changes won’t happen overnight, and you’ll need to weigh your options with a professional. Good luck and Godspeed!