Speed counts. Google uses a number of factors to determine your site’s ranking in its search engine results pages (SERPs), but among them is the time it takes to load your website. Google is all about improving user experience, so if your site takes too long to load, you could have a much harder time ranking for your target keywords. Lowering your site’s load time can put you in a much better position to rank for any given keyword.
WordPress, one of the most popular platforms for website creation, offers a number of different themes, templates, plugins, and widgets to give you a completely controllable user experience. For most businesses getting started on the web, this is a bit overwhelming, but it’s important to make the right decisions when setting up and maintaining your WordPress site. In order to give your users the best experience and improve your chances of ranking, use these strategies to improve your site’s load times:
Hosting may not seem like a big deal, especially if this is your first site, but the type of hosting you have makes a big difference in your load times. For example, if you opt for shared hosting in order to save a bit of money, you could be setting yourself up for drastically slower load times, especially under peak conditions.
As you might imagine, high-definition images can be a major drag on your site’s load times. Each individual user must download these images when accessing a page that contains them, so if you can replace those images with much smaller, faster images, you’ll instantly improve your load times. The WordPress plugin WP Smush.it is one tool that can help you automatically and efficiently compress the size and load times of all the images on your site.
The themes and frameworks available on WordPress are part of what has made the platform so popular, but not all themes are efficient. In many cases, it’s better to choose a simple, unadorned theme with lightning-fast load times than a bulkier theme you prefer from an aesthetic perspective. Don’t worry; there are tons of themes with light frameworks to choose from (including some of the defaults).
Some plugins can be valuable to your load times, like the WP Smush.it tool we mentioned above. However, many plugins simply take up space and make your site bulkier to process. Check out P3, the Plugin Performance Profiler—it can quickly tell you how each of your plugins affect your overall load times and give you direction for which ones to keep and which ones to disable.
Compressing your website as a ZIP file allows for much easier transmission to your users’ browsers. Essentially, you’re reducing the amount of data that is transmitted without changing the final product displayed. There are several zipping applications available, but any of them will suffice so long as they don’t otherwise interfere with your loading times.
Caching plugins tend to be free to download and install, and they’re relatively easy to use. By directing browsers to download files stored in a visitor’s cache instead of trying to download them from the server, you can cut significant loading time. It only works for repeat visitors, but it’s still valuable. Just avoid playing around with the advanced settings too much or you could interfere with its proper functioning.
Maximize your layout for speed. Show segments of posts rather than full content, make the length of your homepage shorter, and remove any widgets and plugins you don’t need on the homepage (including social sharing widgets, which belong on individual posts rather than on the homepage directly).
If you know what you’re doing, you can clean up your database manually, but the better way is to use the WP-Optimize plugin. With this plugin, you can quickly and easily establish settings that prevent the buildup of unnecessary information on your database. Since you’re storing information more efficiently, your page will end up loading faster on your users’ machines.
You can selectively control which images load immediately for the user in order to reduce the total amount of information necessary for a user to download from the server. With the right setup, only images above the fold will load immediately, and the remaining images will load only when the user scrolls down accordingly. It’s possible to do this manually, but it’s easier to do it with a plugin.
Pingbacks and trackbacks are notifications from external blogs that inform your blog that it’s been mentioned. Pingbacks and trackbacks automatically update the data contained in your post, thereby increasing the amount of data needed to load and increasing load times. Getting rid of pingbacks and trackbacks will preserve your backlinks but prevent the extra data from being stored on your site.
Drafts of old blog posts can weigh down your site more than you think. For example, if you revise a draft four times, you’ll have five total versions of your blog post sitting in your site’s database. You’ll never need to reference those earlier drafts, so update your database settings (perhaps using the WP-Optimize plugin we mentioned in point 8) to delete them and prevent unnecessary storage in the future.
This isn’t something everyone should do, but for those of you looking to cut load times dramatically, it’s an additional option. PHP is a useful way to improve the efficiency of your site, but it also occupies server processes while it’s running. If you can replace it with a static HTML equivalent, it’s worth trying.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) provide the same data you would ordinarily need to transmit to your users—such as CSS files and images—but on closer servers to maximize user download speeds. There are many CDNs available, but most will require a subscription fee to use.
Hotlinking is the process of linking to another person’s images, thereby increasing server loads without necessarily increasing your traffic. Disable hotlinking with a handful of steps and prevent that extra burden.
Obviously, load times aren’t the only factor Google uses in populating its search results. You still need to have a regular, high quality content marketing strategy, a social media presence, well-structured meta data, and a long-term backlinking strategy. However, if you put these tips to good use and decrease your WordPress site’s load time, you’ll be able to simultaneously improve your domain authority (and thus, your rankings) and give your users a better overall experience.