If you have a blog you’ll want to make sure that it loads really fast.
In fact, site speed is one of the most important things you can think about.
A slow load time will affect almost everything that occurs on that blog and have dire consequences for your long term success and usability.
Today I’m going to talk about why site speed is so important and what you can do to fix it.
Let’s take a look.
Why site speed is so important
Want to hear something scary?
40% of users will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. – Akamai.
Whatever your blogging goal might be, good site speed is obviously crucial. Many people don’t actually realize the impact speed has on various aspects of online business.
Have a read through this list and see whether you think your blog might be affected.
- It affects your sign ups
As a blogger your primary metric of concern is probably getting more email subscribers for your mailing list. A slow loading site makes it less likely that people will be patient through the sign up process. As there are already a lot of steps in this process, each delay will cause someone to bounce from the site.
- It affects your SEO
Google indicated a little while ago that site speed would be a major factor affecting a blog’s search engine rankings. They want to make the web faster and more enjoyable for their own clients and so we need to make sure our site structure is up to the task.
- It affects your sales and conversions
Waiting time is important for sales both offline and online and it will always have an effect on your bottom line. Roughly 50% of users expect a site to load in under two seconds and if it doesn’t they promptly hit the back button and look elsewhere.
- It affects your readership and loyalty
If people don’t enjoy being on your blog there is a big chance they won’t return to it. For example, although they produce good content I don’t click through to Forbes anymore because you have to go through an advert screen first. This is a form of load time and I suspect it would have a big effect on their readership.
Good site speed is so important for online business these days and failure to take care of it will have big impacts on how well you can perform in a variety of areas.
How to test your site speed to discover any issues
Hopefully now you’re convinced of the merits of speeding up your site. So what can you do about it?
The first thing you want to do is head over to Pingdom Tools and run a speed test on your blog. Here’s the results for Blog Tyrant:
As you can see, the homepage is loading in around a second (which is good!) and is ranked pretty well in terms of potential speeds. I’m going to change a few things this week to get it down below one second.
The really interesting stuff, however, is down below the result where they show you a breakdown of all the different things that load on your site. Take a look.
Here are two long bars that show Facebook and Clicky which tend to sometimes have a bit of a lag on the load time. Things like Facebook Like Boxes can really slow down your load time.
Go through and see what’s affecting yours the most.
How to make improvements to your site speed
Once you’ve done your test and have some ideas about what is slowly your baby down we need to go through and make some changes.
I can have an educated guess about what the main factors will be and so I’ll give you some tips below.
1. Consider upgrading from shared hosting to a VPS
As your site starts to grow in size and popularity there will come a time when you might need to move away from a shared hosting setup.
I recommend BlueHost shared hosting to all new bloggers because it is a great mix of simplicity, price and reliability. But this shared hosting becomes unsuitable if you start to get bigger – lots of traffic will see your site start to slow down.
Luckily BlueHost also offers a VPS (Virtual Private Server) option which is where you can upgrade to getting your own private environment. This upgrade is a bit of a learning curve but you’ll see site speeds skyrocket with this one change alone.
So how do you know when it’s time to migrate?
That’s a bit of a tricky question and will depend on lots of factors. If you notice your site slowing down under heavy traffic and you can’t fix it with other solutions that might be a key. Lots of throttling, used up bandwidth and so on are also signs. The best bet is to chat with one of the server staff and see what they advise.
NOTE: If anyone is interested in learning more about VPS servers and how to choose one I’d be happy to do a post.
2. Make your images smaller
Big images are usually a main reason a blog will load slowly. I am often really surprised to see people uploading images 2mb to 5mb in size!
Ideally, you want your images to be less than 100kb if possible – especially if you use a lot of images in each post. That’s not always possible but it can make a huge difference to load time.
One way to achieve this is to use a service like WP Smush which strips away some info from your images and makes them load faster. Here’s how it works:
You can also achieve this manually with individual images using Dynamic Drive Image Optimizer which shows you multiple versions of a reduced size image and allows you to choose one to your liking.
3. Consider using a caching plugin
Caching plugins like W3 Total Cache can have a huge impact on your site speed by caching a version of your website and showing that to visitors instead of loading the whole website every time someone visits.
The features of this particular plugin are far too numerous to name, and actually it can be a little overwhelming when you first look at them. If you have the budget I’d recommend talking to a server specialist to see whether they could help you install and configure it.
It’s worth the effort – getting your caching right can have a big impact on how quickly your blog loads. I’ll be adding a new caching set up to Blog Tyrant over the next few days to get it below that one second mark.
4. Enable GZIP
Enabling GZIP is quite technical and something that is best left for your server admin staff. It’s all about compression and how the server talks to the browser (here’s the details), but the end result is some pretty nice improvements on the page. Shoot your server admin and email and ask them about installing GZIP on your server and whether it’s a good fit.
5. Use a content delivery network (CDN)
Content delivery networks can be quite difficult to understand conceptually, but they are generally pretty easy to implement. They are so effective that many server technicians say that this is the most important step you can take assuming your server is set up correctly.
Basically what they do is place your content (images, files, etc.) closer to readers in order to save load time. For example, if your server is in New York and your reader is in Melbourne that content has to “hop” across lots of networks in order to display the content. A CDN chooses servers closer to the user.
Again, you’ll need to chat to your host about whether a CDN is appropriate for your blog’s environment. One popular CDN service is CloudFlare which has a free option available for WordPress users.
6. Remove widgets, plugins and add ons
It’s funny, sometimes you can do all this server-side stuff to speed up your site and still have bad load times. Often it is due to some plugin or service (like the Facebook Like Box) that is failing to load properly.
One example that highlighted this fact to me was when AWeber suffered a DDoS attack last year. Their website went down for days and during that time heaps of blogs began loading slowly because they had AWeber hosted opt-in forms embedded on their blog. Those forms failed to load because AWeber’s servers were down.
A successful and profitable blog doesn’t need to be busy. In fact, in my experience it’s the minimal blogs that have a very clear focus that make the most money and get the most subscribers. Remove any unnecessary plugins or tools and make sure everything is operating at the latest version.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry.
I contacted my friend David Steven-Jennings, an expert in Linux System Admin, to get his opinion on site speed. I asked about the mistakes that his clients make and found his answer quite interesting:
I think the biggest mistake I see clients make is being obsessed with site speed. Obviously speed is important but it’s easy to take things too far – ie when the results aren’t worth the effort.
The worst cases I’ve seen are when clients are willing to spend hours and lots of money to shave off the last few milliseconds from a 1.5 second load time. In their quest for the fastest time possible they don’t realise that their site visitors won’t even notice such minor improvements. In short, you should first focus on the big impact stuff first and don’t worry about the small stuff unless you are very sure the return on investment will be worth it.
Another big mistake I see clients make is trying to move to complicated hosting when they’ve outgrown their shared hosting, for example moving to cloud-based high-availability clusters or multiple redundant servers. I can see why – who wouldn’t be excited about their traffic levels growing like that? – however it’s usually never needed. The thing to remember is that if the site needed complicated hosting so soon it wouldn’t have worked on a shared host to begin with 🙂
Thus, my standard suggestion is to upgrade to a dedicated server or VPS first – this can last you a long time, especially if you sit it behind a CDN or proxy server, and is a hell of a lot cheaper. Most companies find that they never need to move past this, but if you find that you do you’ll probably already have a good idea of what you need.
This is great advice that I think will help a few people relax about taking site speed too far. Of course you want it to be as fast as possible, but you shouldn’t stress about a few microseconds that probably won’t make that big of a difference to anything.
How does your site perform?
I’d really love to know how your blog performs in terms of site speed. Do you have any drastic numbers that need improving? Head on over and do a speed test and let me know what results you get in the comments below. And if you have any questions about how to speed things up feel free to ask.