Optimising your site
There are some good reasons to optimise your website and improve speed and load times. Forefront of these is a good user experience. A slow website can be a frustrating experience and won’t reflect well on your business or organisation. Another strong motivator is that search engines penalise your site if they perform poorly. Google has introduced specific tools to test your site for mobile responsiveness as well as mobile performance.
Below we’ve outlined some tools we can use to diagnose your website as well as improvements that can be made and how hosting can have a dramatic effect on your website’s speed and performance. As we create our websites using WordPress some of this information is WordPress specific.
Quite often it’s pretty obvious when a website isn’t performing well. However, as there are a number of factors such as the quality of your connection or your location, it’s worthwhile running some tests on your site to get some metrics. Also, these tools often give some guidance as to what’s slowing down your site and where improvements can be made.
The big three
GT Metrix, Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom are all well-recognised tools for analysing your website. It’s quite useful to create accounts for these services. With GT Metrix for example, you’re able to see a historical record of your results meaning you can see if any optimisations are working (or not!).
Google PageSpeed Insights
With all of these tools, you’ll see a quick summary of your website performance. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find suggestions for improvements. For example, one suggestion might be to optimise your images or streamline your code. In the following points, we’ll show some tools we use to help with this process and maximise the speeds we can produce.
Ideally, the images you upload to your website should be ‘web-optimised’. There is a balance here in that you want to reduce the file size to the smallest possible but at the same time you want images to appear sharp and with the required level of colour depth. Ideally, images should only be output to the maximum size they will appear. This might be 1920px wide for a slider image but only 140px for an icon.
We use Adobe Photoshop to output images and with the sites we create we also install plugins that will help maximise any optimisation to uploaded images. This means if our clients aren’t optimising images before uploading images the website speed won’t be compromised. With Photoshop we’re able to judge the balance between image size and quality before we save and upload our images.
3Caching and optimisation plugins
As well as installing plugins to improve image optimisation we use a caching plugin to speed up page load times. The caching plugin provides page caching, file compression and code improvements. Here’s a list of popular WordPress caching plugins:
4CDN (Content Delivery Networks)
Another option to speed up your site is to use a CDN. Most of these services are paid services (and can be costly) but there are free options such as CloudFlare. Here’s a description of the purpose and uses of a CDN from their website:
The choice of hosting can make a huge impact on the speed of your site. However, small businesses and start-ups may have financial limitations on their options. We’ve highlighted a few below and, in some cases, our recommendations within these. There are hundreds of articles out there comparing hosting packages. The recommendations we make are based on our experiences.
This is by far the most popular choice. The reason for this is that it’s relatively cheap compared to the other options (from as little as £5/month). As well as being cheap, this option is usually aimed at small business and individuals and as such is relatively easy to set up. Any upgrade, security and maintenance to the server is carried out by hosting company. Bear in mind this is usually just updates to the server and not your application such as WordPress and its associated plugins.
However, there are limitations and issues related to shared hosting. Your site may not perform well as you’re sharing server resources. There are also security risks associated with this option and it’s difficult to scale meaning if your website starts becoming resource-heavy or inundated with visitors, it may struggle.
We’ve experienced a number of shared packages because we sometimes have to work with our client’s existing host. The biggest issue we’ve encountered is a problem with speed. WordPress and its associated themes and plugins require a reasonable level of resources. With some ‘big name’ hosts offering cheap packages we’ve experienced slow websites, in many cases in the backend, making updating the site time-consuming. However, any shared hosting packages we use for our clients are with trusted hosts and speed, reliability and security have not been an issue. SiteGround has been a great option that we supply for our clients looking for fast but reasonably priced hosting.
VPS (Virtual Private Server)
VPS is similar to shared hosting. Your website shares a server with other sites but the number of websites is limited and resources are partitioned into different virtualised environments. VPS usually provides guaranteed resources as well as additional resources if your website were to unexpectedly require them (such as a spike in traffic for example).
A server all to yourself! You get all the server resources and can fully customise it to your requirements. The disadvantage to this option is that it’s usually only for experienced users (although you can pay for management) and it’s normally comparatively expensive. This option is good for large businesses with high-traffic.
Cloud hosting is like a network of virtual-servers acting as a single machine. It’s good for speed and resource management (as it’s easily scaled). There are a large number of options with this choice and true cloud hosting isn’t an easy option to set-up. However, there are managed services meaning the experience can be very much like shared hosting but with potentially improved speeds and scaleability. A couple of managed Cloud services we’ve used personally are provided by CloudWays and Hostinger and can be recommended.
Another consideration of any hosting package is the server location. You’ll see from the analysis tools there are options to choose your location for testing. It makes sense for you to choose a server located in the country where the majority of visitors reside as this can also affect speed. In the majority of our client’s cases, this is the UK and there are usually London-based server options. You might even consider searching for server location even closer to home. In our case, there’s a company based here in Brighton: Fastnet.
A good guide to the differences, pro and cons of the options above can be found here: Hosting guide.