Speed Up Your Website in Just a Few Clicks
Slow websites cost you visitors, sales and leads.
For every one second delay in mobile page loading time, conversions can be hit by up to 20%.
Because speed impacts user experience, higher speeds will lead to better results in SEO. Google announced some time ago that site speed was a factor in ranking websites in search. So, all other things being equal, if your site is faster than your competitor's, your site will rank higher.
Speeding up your website can in many cases be done with just a few mouse clicks and without spending any money.
It's all done using something called caching and in this post we'll look at how to implement it in a few clicks on your website.
Why are web pages slow?
Think of a web page. It consists of assets including text, images, fonts and maybe videos.
When you request that page via your web browser, the request is sent to the web server. This is a cloud-based computer which stores your website.
But normally, the page is not stored in one piece ready to be delivered. To make it easier for website owners to create pages, the individual parts are stored in a Content Management System (CMS). The most popular CMSs are WordPress, Joomla, Wix and SquareSpace. There are many others including specialist e-commerce CMS such as Shopify.
The reason for this is that it makes it really easy for website owners to create web pages and websites. But it does introduce another problem. All the bits and pieces of the web page have to be stitched together into one whole web page, every time the page is requested, because they are stored separately as components within the CMS.
Stitching all the bits together to create a page is very time-consuming and uses a lot of web server memory, processing power and indeed electricity (an increasing concern for webmasters as we know web servers contribute to climate change).
That's where caching comes in. With caching, the web server creates an ready-to-serve version of every page, with all the bits and pieces stitched together into one web page, in advance. It then stores that stitched-together version ready to serve. The ready-to-go web pages are stored in an area called the cache.
When the user comes along and request a page, the web server sees that the user is requesting a particular URL, does a quick look-up to see if the page is ready to go in the cache, and if it is, it serves up the cached version. If, for any reason, the page is not in the cache, only then will then server go and build a version of the page and serve it. It then stores that version in the cache.
There is a big difference in power needed to serve a ready-to-go version of a page from the cache instead of building it from scratch. In practice the time needed to serve a non-cached page could be (let's say) 4 seconds, but the cached page may take only 1 second to serve.
"With a 0.1s improvement in site speed, we observed that retail consumers spent almost 10% more, while lead generation and luxury consumers engaged more, with page views increasing by 7% and 8% respectively."
So how do I get my site running faster?
The good news is that in many cases caching is available to your website. How to switch it on will depend on how and where your site is hosted. Let's have a look at a few very common scenarios.
Is your site built on WordPress?
If so, you are in luck. It's incredibly quick and easy to switch on caching on your site if you use WordPress.
First, let's consider where your site is hosted because we are seeing more and more businesses hosting on providers who already provide WordPress caching as standard. For example Flywheel, SiteGround and WP Engine have built-in site caching, which they have created especially for WordPress.
If your site is hosted on any of these you won't need to worry about caching because your host is already providing it. You can however configure the caching on these platforms to meet your own special requirements.
If your site is not hosted on a WordPress specialist hosting provider, it's still a doddle to speed up your site with caching. You simply need to install a plugin into your site. There are dozens of fantastic WordPress caching plugins available. Some are better than others and whilst most are free-of-charge, some do command an annual fee, which in many cases is worth paying.
Let's take a look at two well-known WordPress caching plugins and do a quick comparison.
This excellent plugin has been around for a few years and is becoming increasingly popular.
It is not free and starts at around $49 per year, which includes free updates and support. However, in many cases it's worth the expense because in our experience it really does speed up your website.
WP Rocket claims to boost speeds on nearly 1.5 million websites around the world.
W3 Total Cache
This plugin is extremely well-known and installed on over 1 million websites around the world.
One reason is because it's free of charge. It's regularly updated to keep up with all the latest WordPress updates.
It can be installed in just a couple of clicks and if you stick with the default configuration you'll have sped up your website considerably.
There are many other WordPress caching plugins available. But you probably won't need to spend much time looking into them as the most popular are, in general, the best.
For a great reference on how faster websites increase conversions, see this report from Google/Deloitte.
If your site is not on WordPress
If you use one of the myriad of alternative Content Management Systems, all is not lost. Each one has a version of the popular caching techniques described above. Joomla has caching built-in to the core and there are many 3rd-party caching extensions available for Joomla also.
Drupal has a caching system built-in too.
Shopify already has many speed optimisations built-in. Beyond that, because Shopify is hosted on Shopify's own platform, you don't get as much control over your website as you might with another CMS. Instead, you should focus on reducing the size and weight of images, reducing scripts, choosing lightweight Shopify themes and so on.
Measuring site speed before and after
How will you know if your site is running faster? Well of course you should be able tell simply by using your site. It should feel snappier and more responsive. Pages appearing near-instantaneously instead of the several seconds it used to take.
But before you install caching on your website we strongly recommend taking some measurements of your current site speed.
Two well-known ways of measuring site speed are Google Page Speed Insights and GTmetrix. These measuring tools are both free to use.
The two tools do different things. Google Page Speed Insights carries out a tick-box analysis of your website and notes the optimisations that are already in place. It then gives you a score out of 100 for mobile optimisations and for desktop optimisations. It makes suggestions for what optimisations can be put in to improve the score. Go to Google Page Speed Insights and put in your URL, then note the score out of 100 for mobile and for desktop.
GT Metrix carries out a very comprehensive list of checks to see which optimisations are in place. (Update Jan 2021: GT Metrix now uses the same technology as Google Page Speed Insights so we are currently waiting to see whether there is any significant difference in the reporting).
If you want to test many pages all at once, try the Pagespeed tool from Experte. You can drop in a list of your URLs and it will do all the hard work for you.
So you've switched on caching, what next?
Switching on caching is very often a super-quick and simple way to increase page speed. But it's not the end of the story. For SEO, search engines are looking well beyond page speed.
Today, User Experience (UX) is considered one of the most important elements of SEO. UX includes: whether your page moves around as it is loading, how quickly the most important parts of the page appear on the user's screen, and much more.
All these things are beyond the scope of this article but maybe we'll get round to posting about them in the future.
Other ways to speed up your site
This article has focussed on caching but there are many other ways to speed up your site. These include optimising images, combining script files together and removing unnecessary scripts and fonts, using speed-up technologies such as AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), compressing the server output and improving the specifications of the web server itself or placing some assets onto fast, outsourced servers (this is called a Content Delivery Network).
These items can get technical, like tuning a Formula 1 race car, but most are possible to achieve without spending too much money.
A note of caution. Whilst site speed is a known factor is ranking in search results, it's not the most important factor.
More important factors include relevancy of your content and inbound links from other high-quality websites. So get these right before looking at site speed (unless your site is incredibly slow).
What if I'm on Wix?
Wix is a platform that provides all the hosting infrastructure for you. That's one of its great advantages. It also means that most of the caching is automatic. However, you can enable or disable caching on a page-by-page basis. See the Wix documentation for more info.