Welcome to The Digital Brew, a podcast about making your business more awesome online.
Your hosts are Angela (a copywriter) and Stew (a web designer). Pour yourself a cuppa and let’s get started with today’s episode…
In this episode, we talk about how to make your website super fast!
This will be helpful for you if you manage one or more websites and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed about where to start. Maybe you’re worried your website isn’t fast enough – or you know it isn’t fast enough, and you want to know how you can speed things up.
For this episode, we’ll be focusing mainly on WordPress websites, but most of the ideas we cover here can also be carried over to any website.
Before we get into it, a quick note: the end goal when speed optimising a website is to serve a functional, high-performing website to your end-users. So, don’t get bogged down in ‘grades’ and ‘scores’. You might have scored really poorly or really well on one of those speed test websites, buuuuut that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Oh and a little disclaimer: I’m not an expert at optimising websites. It’s not something I do all day everyday, but it is an important part in the website building and maintaining process (which I do a lot of). So my aim here is to share some tips that I’ve learned over the years.
Hoookay! Let’s get into it…
Good and fast hosting
You’re off to a bad start if you choose a rubbish host.
If your website is important for your business, I would stay away from shared hosting. Shared host providers put multiple users on one server to share the resources. I’m not saying that all shared hosting is the worst, I just don’t think there’s any reason to choose it over cloud hosting. After all, cloud hosting is so affordable these days, and you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
Cloud hosting can be complicated if you go directly to the provider (for example, Digital Ocean, Amazon, and Vultr). But with services like Cloudways it can be super easy to spin up a server from one of these providers. And if you’re coming from a shared hosting environment, you’ll immediately notice the improvement in performance.
Managed WordPress hosting is built specifically for WordPress. It’s often built on quality cloud hosting services like Google Cloud (Kinsta) and Amazon Web Services (WP Engine). It’s more expensive, but you don’t just get a quality host with a custom WordPress specific stack, you also get security (even cleanups), backups, WordPress support, caching, and updates. So it can work out to be pretty good value.
Server-side caching has a big impact on your site’s speed. This comes down to the host you choose.
It’s important to choose a server close to your visitors’ location. If you have visitors coming from China, you probably want the server to be in China. You’ll need to make sure your host has datacenters in your location.
PHP Version is also important to consider – as this varies between some hosts, and with each PHP version update normally comes a speed increase. The most notable increase was from 5.6 to 7.0. So, you want a host that offers the latest PHP versions.
Choose a lightweight but flexible theme. Don’t fall into the Themeforest trap of using a theme that offers the world, while slowing down your website.
Plugins are amazing – and one of the reasons WordPress is so popular, but it can be tempting to use a plugin to solve every little problem.
Before you get all click-happy and add a new plugin, see if there’s a better way to do something. Sometimes you can do what you need with a tiny bit of CSS.
Use GT Metrix and look at the recommendations under the PageSpeed and Yslow tabs. If you’re not sure what they mean, research, ask around, and find out which ones are important and how you can fix them.
Look at the waterfall tab. Here you can see what is loading and how long they take to load. This will show you specifically what is stopping your website from loading quickly so you can get to the root cause. We’ll touch on this a bit more soon.
Don’t take the ‘grades’ as gospel. Your aim is for a fast site, not an A+ website that loads in 10 seconds.
GTMetrix will help you find which images need optimising. They will even tell you the size of the image that is being loaded and the size that the image should be. In short, don’t put a 1000px image in a 100px space. Resize it, and then compress it with something like TinyPNG before uploading it to your website. (Or even Microsoft Paint!)
Themes and plugins can load unnecessary CSS and JS files on pages where they’re not needed. Use GTMetrix to see where this is happening by looking at the waterfall tab.
If you see an asset being loaded on a page where it isn’t being used, then you can use a plugin like Asset CleanUp to stop it from loading on pages where they’re not needed.
For example, Contact Form 7 is infamous for loading assets on every single page. If you only have one contact form on your contact page, you don’t need those assets being loaded everywhere else.
If your website visitors come from all around the globe, you should probably use a CDN (Content Delivery Network). It serves copies of your website’s assets to many servers around the world and serves each user the files from the server closest to their location. Some hosting includes a CDN (e.g. Kinsta, WPEngine, Cloudways). Cloudflare also has a CDN included on their free plan, and there are a whole bunch of other CDN providers out there too.
Hopefully your host comes with good server-side caching. You can also use plugins like WP Rocket which includes page caching. They also tend to have many other features like:
- GZip compression
- Minify CSS, JS, HTML
- Lazy load images
- Database optimisations
Just make sure you test these additional features with your caching plugins on a staging environment to make sure they don’t break the website. (It happens rather a lot.)
Get it right from the start, if you can
Think of speed from the very beginning, not as an afterthought when the build is finished.
Choose wisely when it comes to your theme and plugins. Don’t pick the easy route! If it takes an extra 10 minutes of work, it’s worth it for the extra speed.
If your website is important, don’t skimp on hosting. You probably don’t have to pay hundreds for good hosting (unless you have a massive website and loads of visitors), but you shouldn’t settle for cheap shared hosting for $3 per month.
If you’re stuck, ask for help. There’s plenty of people in the WordPress community who love to help, there’s no harm in asking. And of course, if you work with someone like us, you don’t have to understand or worry about any of this because we take care of it for you on our website maintenance plans.
That’s it for today! The next episode is about how to fit business around your kids. We’ll catchya there!
Thanks for tuning in to The Digital Brew with Ange and Stew. Make sure you head over to thedigitalbrew.com for more episodes, detailed show notes, resources, and our newsletter. And if you feel like this episode has helped make your business more awesome, pop us a review. We’ll catch you next time!