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3 Simple Tweaks to Speed up WordPress


Taking two different WordPress themes from low to almost perfect Google PageSpeed insights scores. And improving page load speeds in the process.

After speed testing over 1000 WordPress themes last month, I thought it would be fun to choose a couple of them and try to make them even faster.

This experiment was a lot of fun. I was able to make some really impressive speed improvements with very little effort. The video showing the process is a little further down the page. Feel free to skip to that now, but first, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about why page load speed is so important.

Back in 2010, Google made an announcement on the Webmaster Central Blog.*

… today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.

Even though they clearly stated here that site speed is a ranking factor, how much weight it is given in the overall ranking of a site isn’t clear at all.

Since that announcement, several studies have tried to show a correlation between page speed and rankings (See here and here).

As far as I can tell, the corrections found were never all that convincing. The most recent research by SearchMetrics shows virtually no relationship.

So is site speed actually a ranking factor? Almost certainly, but I suspect the there are many other factors involved. To see what I mean, just look at the top Google search results for any query. You can almost always find really fast sites ranking lower than really slow sites.

So Why is Page Load Speed So Important?

Even if we completely forget about the question of search rankings, page speed is still extremely important. And here’s why.

In a page speed study, Walmart.com found that when page load speed dropped from 1 second or less to 4 seconds or more, conversion rates suffered significantly.

According to another study by Kissmetrics

40% abandon websites that take more than 3 seconds to load

We’ve got clear results from a reputable company (walmart) as well as good survey results (Kissmetrics) that really illustrate exactly why we should strive for fast loading pages.

So let’s start optimizing!

How to Speed Up Your Site

There are lots of factors involved in how fast a web page loads, including:

  • Prioritize visible content
  • Leverage browser caching
  • Optimize images
  • Minify HTML
  • Minify CSS
  • Minify JavaScript
  • Main resource server response time
  • Optimize database queries
  • Minimize render blocking resources

Don’t worry if a lot of these items don’t make sense. Fortunately we’re using WordPress, and we’ve got plugins!

Speeding up WordPress

When you think of WordPress, a blazing fast user experience might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But it’s actually not WordPress’s fault.

If you take away the beautiful, but very bloated theme (that’s probably loaded with a zillion bells, whistles, and special features) and uninstall those 15 plugins that you probably don’t need, you’ll find that WordPress on it’s own is actually pretty zippy.

Fortunately, we use WordPress and have access to thousands of amazing plugins. Including several great plugins for page load optimization.

Here’s the tutorial. If you find it useful, please give it a like and post your own site speed improvement results in the youtube comments.

Optimizing External Fonts (or Google fonts) for Speed

In the video tutorial I completely removed external fonts from the second theme example to improve speed. However, I said I’d add an explanation for how to optimize loading of fonts.

We’ll be using the “Above the Fold Optimization” plugin for this part. Just follow the steps below.

Step 1) Go to the settings for the “Above the Fold Optimization” plugin.

Step 2) Click the “Critical CSS” tab.

Step 3) Click the “Add Conditional Critical CSS” button.

Step 4) Add a name and “Save”.

Step 5) On the next screen, click the new CSS container (It will have the name you gave it in the previous step).

Step 6) Upload your font files and paste your CSS into the text-area. Click “Save”.
For this step, you can use a tool like FontSquirrel.com or transfonter.org. In the example, I used a Google font. Just upload the font and they give you all the files and CSS you need.

If you saw the video tutorial, you’ll see that adding the fonts reduced the PageSpeed Insights score from a 99 to a 90. But 90 isn’t bad at all. The font is pretty nice looking as well.

See the Optimized Hiero Theme in the Wild

I recently published a new site, so I decided to try out this theme. The site is PartTimePreneur.com.

*In April of 2004, Google announced that site speed was a factor for ranking web pages (Official announcement).