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Optimizing Your Website To Be Lean And Mean

If you’ve developed an attractive and high-functioning website packed with brilliant content, it will fail if it’s not fast.

You probably developed and designed your website via a low-latency, high-bandwidth Wi-Fi and fixed-line connection. However, your user may be accessing it via a mobile phone with a tiny battery and 2G or 3G radio communication. And they’ll still expect your website to load in a flash.

We want quick, mobile-friendly content at our fingertips. Our attention span has fallen with our raised expectations. We’re very demanding, and if we don’t get what we want, we’re very impatient.

Various studies have shown that if a web page is slow to load up, users are not only quick to give up and go elsewhere, they’re also putting off visiting the site again in the future, and likely to pass on their bad experience. To add insult to injury, site speed is also a ranking factor in Google’s search engine, so being slow could affect where you land in a web search.

The difference between your website’s success and failure, between a high and low conversion rate and a good and bad reputation is just a matter of seconds. Speed really matters.

Starting Out

If you’re not aware of how fast your website runs, you should be. With numerous online speed testing tools available free of charge (such as PingdomWeb Page Test, or Google’s new Page Speed Online), it’s easy to get an overview of your website’s performance along with some good pointers to getting it faster. We like the Google Analytics plugin, which helps you keep track of all kinds of performance metrics (including speed) on an ongoing basis.

We’ll take you through 9 ways to optimize your website speed to make it lean, mean, and ready to go!

Use A Decent Web Host

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to use dirt-cheap web hosts for your WordPress website. Alongside a host of irritating, time-consuming features, bargain-basement often have cheaper setups and heavily-loaded servers which reduce server performance and increase resource restriction DNS response times and your Web page load time.

Decent, reliable web hosts give you plenty of bandwidth, a decent share of the CPU, reasonable disk input/output, plus lightning-fast DNS lookup, and HTTP response times. When you’re choosing, refer to an online guide (such as this one) to make you aware of any pitfalls, including the seemingly attractive offer of “unlimited storage” and “unlimited data transfer.” If someone sells you a pipe that can take unlimited water, it’ll still take you an age to fill a bath if the pipe is a millimeter thick and the water pressure is low.

You might benefit from going for a managed WordPress host, which will take care of most of the performance side of your website (for example, all of the caching) so you don’t have to think about it.

Cache It If You Can

If your website can cache and display only the latest version of your web pages to users, it saves the browser having to dynamically generate the page each time. This, in turn, saves a lot off web page load times.

A lot of caching plugins (like WP Super Cache or W3TC) also do a lot of other useful things, such as:

  • ‘Super Caching’ is where the PHP is bypassed and all the files are served in static HTML, which frees up server resources and makes your website faster.
  • GZIP compression and deflation. Like ZIP file compression but for Web page files, these are efficient ways of transmitting content from the server to the browser, saving bandwidth, and speeding up page-loading time.
  • Minimizing the number of HTTP requests made to your website’s servers by combining JS scripts, HTML, and CSS files. Minifying will increase your efficiency, especially if your website has a lot of plugins.

Slim Down Your Frame

A bulky framework crammed with flashy plugins leads to a heavy, bloated website that takes an age to load. Build your website around a high-quality, lightweight theme, such as those by Headway Themes, StudioPress (Genesis) and iThemes, and you’ll have a sound attractive framework that won’t slow you down. When you’re choosing, it might be worth testing the speed of its demo page using an online speed tool.

Use A Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If you haven’t already set up a CDN, you’ll find that it’s one of the best ways to improve page-loading speed.  CDN works by hosting all of your static files across a massive global network of servers, so that users download your files from the server that’s the closest to them. Accessing a cache rather than requesting site data from servers is much faster and more efficient. The most popular CDN is CloudFlare, which also has a solid free tier.

Naomi Miles

Freelance writer and Editor Naomi Miles (MA Oxon), is based in Cardiff, UK. Starting out in documentary production, she currently splits her time between Twitter Editing and writing for UpdraftPlus, a world-leading WordPress Backup Plugin. When not working, she's kept busy looking after her three young children.

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