Have you ever visited a website and waited and waited and waited for the page to load? I have and it sucks. If you have to wait for a website to load then you are much more likely to leave.
How fast your website loads is an important part of your visitor’s experience. One way to keep your visitors engaged is to make sure they are served up your content very quickly.
Why Page Load Speed Matters
How fast or slow your website loads can have an impact on your bottom line, conversions, readership, page views and bounce rate. Here are some examples to show this:
- Amazon is the largest online retailer. They did a study that showed every 100ms delay in loading their website costs 1% of sales. In other words every 1 second of latency will cost Amazon approximately 10% of revenue!
- Shopzilla sped up average page load time from 6 seconds to 1.2 seconds. The result was an increase in revenue by 12% and page views by 25%.
- Google says they lose 20% of their traffic for each additional 100 milliseconds it takes a page to load. Speed matters. Google also incorporates your page-load time into your site’s search rankings.
- Yahoo increased traffic by 9% for every 400 milliseconds of improvement in page load time.
- Mozilla made pages 2.2 seconds faster. The estimated result was 60 million more Firefox downloads per year.
- Walmart reported in a recent study that every second of improvement in the website loading time would increase conversion by 2%.
Statistics from Strange Loop Networks
The following graph from Uptrends shows the shocking relationship between page loading time and conversion rate.
Improving Your Ranking in Google
In 2010 Google officially announced that site speed would be included as a new signal in their search ranking algorithm. This was recently confirmed by Matt Cutts at The Search Marketing Expo in his presentation ‘Slow sites rank lower’.
Are you using Google Adwords? In addition to the organic search results, page loading time is also a factor in determining Google Adwords Quality scores. Not addressing your website’s page load speed could dramatically affect your conversion rates.
Now that Google is taking page load speed into account for ranking your website, you can improve your ranking just by speeding up your website. Fast and optimized pages lead to higher visitor engagement, retention and conversions.
How to test how fast your website loads
There are 3 tools that you can use to test how fast your website loads. They are Google, GTMetrix and Pingdom.
Google is serious enough about including page load speed as a metrics in rankings that they introduced its own web-based tool. The tool to test your website is called Page Speed Online.
GTMetrix is a free tool that will measure your website using two different metrics – Page Speed and YSlow. You will be given a score both as a percentage and as a letter grade. Since they test different measurements the two tests will not give you the same score.
Pindom is another free tool. They have a series of dedicated servers located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Dallas, TX and New York, NY. They will test your website with a bunch of instances of Google’s Chrome web browser.
Establishing a Benchmark
The first thing I did was to test my website using all 3 tools. This initial testing provided a benchmark to see how fast or slow my website is loading.
Here are the results of the initial test done from all 3 testing sites.
Google Page Speed Insights
As you can see from all 3 testing sites, the page load speed of my website basically sucks. Google basically gives my website a failing grade
GTMetrix has a little bit more positive ranking of my website giving it a Page Speed Grade of C and a YSlow Grade of D. GTMetrix reports my website page load speed is 3.10sec.
Pingdom gives my website a ranking of 90/100. It reports a much lower page load speed at 4.01 seconds. The good news is that my website loads faster than 39% of the websites Pingdom has tested. The bad news is my website loads slower than 61% of all websites.
Analyzing the Initial Test Results
Some of the easiest items listed for improvement were to optimize images, scale images and add caching.
I went through and downloaded every image that they said could be improved by loosely compressing them. I opened up every image in Photoshop and then turned around and saved it using a lower resolution. Once I was finished I uploaded all of the newer, smaller images back to my website.
There were quite a few images that were much bigger than they were actually being displayed. That meant my WordPress theme was forced to scale them down to be displayed. To reduce the strain on my theme I went in and resized all of these images so that scaling would not be required.
The next recommendation was to use a cache.
Using W3 Total Cache Plugin to improve page speed time
The W3 Total Cache is a free plugin that everyone should consider adding to their website. It touts itself as the only WordPress Optimization (WPO) framework. It is designed to improve user experience and page speed.
Installing the plugin is extremely easy. The challenge is figuring out how to configure the plethora of options in the plugin.
I initially struggled with trying all the different options. To save you from going through the exact same frustration, just read these two posts to know exactly how to configure W3 Total Cache Plugin:
Improvement in website page speed load after tweaking
After doing my initial improvements based on recommendation from the three testing websites, it was time to test my website again. Here are the improvements I experienced:
With Google I saw an improving score from 64 to 66. This was enough of an improvement to move from a failing score of 64 to a very low warning score of 66. At least now I was no longer considered failing by Google.
With GTMetrix, my Page Speed Grade actually decreased from 77 to 74. Even with the decline I still maintained my C grade. My YSlow Grade actually increased a letter grade from 67 – a D – to 70 which gave me a C Grade. The better result was my page load speed declined over 1 full second. I went from a load time of 3.10 seconds to 2.07 seconds.
At Pingdom I saw an incredible increase in page load speed which dropped to 1.92 seconds from 4.01 seconds. That is an improvement of over 2 seconds! Now my website loads faster than 71%. Previously I only beat just 39% of the websites.
Installing a CDN for more page speed load improvements
CDN (Content Delivery Network) allows you to serve your static content from multiple cloud servers rather than just one hosting server. This enables you to reduce server load and speed up your website.
Let me give you an analogy of how a CDN works. Amazon has shipping facilities in four different locations spread throughout the United States. I am located in Georgia. If I order a product from Amazon, they are able to ship that item from their shipping facility located in Tennessee allowing me to get my order the next day.
If you ordered the exact same product and you live in California then Amazon will ship the product from their warehouse in Oregon. That allows you to get the product the next day just like me.
If they only had one shipping facility say in Oregon, then users who ordered products from the West Coast will get their delivery faster than I would living on the East Coast.
People who live overseas would see a much longer delivery time.
A CDN network allows the east coast user to get information from your website from the Tennessee facility while west coast users get information from your website from the Oregon facility.
The distance the information has to travel to load on their computer is greatly reduced because they can get it from the nearest facility.
A CDN network provides multiple facilities throughout the US and overseas. This allows users to experience the fastest load time of your website.
A user in Australia does not have to traverse the internet from Australia to Georgia to display my website. Instead the Australia user would go to Hong Kong to get the same information. The reduction of the distance greatly improves the page load speed of your website.
There are multiple CDNs out there that you can use. The most popular are MaxCDN and CloudFlare.
I chose to go with MaxCDN. I purchased their cheapest plan which costs $9 per month and covers 2 websites. It took just a few minutes to sign up for an account and get started.
MaxCDN provides detailed instructions on how to configure your CDN and integrate it with W3 Total Cache Plugin.
MaxCDN also offer a free service to install their product on your website if you want. I followed their instructions and got it installed myself. I did setup a free appointment with MaxCDN which was scheduled 2 days later.
On the scheduled date and time, an incredibly talented and knowledgeably company employee called me. He went through and checked my installation and then spent the next 30 minutes giving me great details on what to do to improve my page speed time.
If you decide to purchase from MaxCDN make sure you take advantage of their free installation service to get insight on how to improve your website.
Here are the improvements to my website page load speed after installing MaxCDN.
Improvement after Cache and CDN
As you can tell from the above pictures I have greatly improved the page load speed of my website. The best indicator is that now Google ranks my website as an 86. This is an improvement from my starting point of 64. The 86 score is green meaning Google says my website is passing!
With GTMetrix my page load speed had decreased by more than 50%! Initially it took 3.10 seconds for my website to load. Now my website is loading in only 1.49 seconds. My Page Speed Grade has gone from a 77% C to a 92% A.
On Pingdom my page load speed has decreased by over 50% just like GTMetrix. Initially I was at 4.01 second and now I am loading in 1.61 seconds. My website is now loading faster than 77% of all websites. This is a tremendous improvement from my starting point where I only loaded faster than 39% of all websites.
The final improvement in page load speed
Even though I have decreased my page load speed by more than 50%, all three of the testing websites were reporting problems with how images were displayed. I was using the Metro theme using the Genesis framework produced by StudioPress.
I posted in the support forum for suggestion on how to improve the display of images so that I can make one final tweak on my website. Even though Genesis is considered one of the better premium WordPress themes, I got very poor support in response to this problem.
After going back and forth with posts in the support forum, I got absolutely zero support from Genesis. This completely irked me because as my website grows then this issue will continue to grow.
Just on a hunch I decided to try a different theme. Genesis and Thesis are considered two of the best premium WordPress themes. I have used Thesis version 1 on many of my websites. Thesis recently changed to version 2 and it completely changed how you interact with your theme. I avoided it because I didn’t want to spend the time to learn something new.
Well now I was highly motivated to improve the performance of my website so I was willing to take the time to learn. So I installed Thesis version 2 and the Marketers Delight skin. I spent almost 12 hours learning how to customize it.
Once I configured my website a little bit I decided to see how Thesis compared to Genesis. Since everything had been tweaked, this would be a test of the two WordPress themes head-to-head. Here are the results from all three testing websites using the Thesis 2 framework.
Thesis vs Genesis Themes
Comparing Thesis with Genesis on a head to head basis showed some incredible results. First the most obvious difference is that Thesis is without a doubt much faster than Genesis.
Google ranks the increased speed of Thesis very favorably. With Genesis I had a rating of 86. When I changed to Thesis I was able to increase that to 91. This was quite an improvement.
With GTMetrix I saw an incredible improvement with Thesis over Genesis. Just to recap with Genesis theme I had a score of 92% A and 79% C. My website loaded in 1.25 seconds with Genesis. With swapping to Thesis my scores increased to 96% A and 87% B. My page load speed decreased to 1.25 seconds.
Pingdom really liked Thesis over Genesis. With Genesis I was at 92/100 with a page load speed of 1.61 seconds. This allowed my website to beat out 77% of all websites. When I switched over to Thesis my score jumped up to 96/100. My page load speed dropped to under a second at 805 milliseconds. Now my website loads faster than 92% of all websites.
Should you panic about your load time affecting your Google rankings? The great Matt Cutts says no since it is just one of over 200 signals Google uses in determining rank. But that is not to say that you should put it off either.
Optimizing your page load time is a smart thing to do to help visitors get where they are going faster, and it is a better use of your time that obsessively tweaking your meta-tags.
Overall, while load time isn’t a significant contributor to Google rankings, it can contribute to the rise and fall of your conversion rate. Remember that for every second you shave off of load time, you will tend to boost you conversions. In those cases, a few seconds can make all the difference.
If you want to improve your page load speed time then you should get W3Total Cache and MaxCDN. Both you and your readers will appreciate the increase in page load speed by making this improvement to your website.