I got my report card last night. It wasn’t pretty. While there were lots of A’s, there were a whole bunch of F’s and my overall grade was a D. I’m bummed.
No, I didn’t go back to school. I discovered a Firefox extension that tells you why your website is slow. I use Thesis, a very SEO-friendly WordPress theme on this site which is also hosted on it’s own dedicated server. So I thought I would go to the head of the class but I was wrong. Think your site would do better?
We’ll see but before we get into that let me explain how I ended up in this spot.
Tuesday night, I attended a SEO/SEM meetup in Dallas which featured Charles “Chaz” McKeever and Christopher “Toff” Ward from Open Source Marketer. These two are of the firm opinion that speed matters to Google and while it’s nowhere near as critical as, say, relevance, it will become increasingly relevant now that Google is rolling out Google Instant Search.
Google claims that fewer than 1% of all searches are affected by speed but when you consider 1% to Google is roughly a million searches a day, that’s significant. But there are plenty of reasons to speed up your site.
Speeding up websites is important, not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.” Google Webmaster Central, April 10, 2010
At the Meetup, Chaz led the presentation from the front of the room. Toff chimed in from the audience with comments as needed. The first element discussed was environment.
Hosting: Where does your website live?
When it comes to hosting, websites are usually hosted in one of three ways:
- Shared Hosting
- Virtual Private
- Dedicated Hosting
Shared hosting is the type of hosting that you usually see advertised in the $5 to $20 price range. With shared hosting, your website is on a server (Servers are computers on the Internet that host websites, serving up pages to visitors on request.) with hundreds or possibly thousands of other websites. On the plus side, it’s inexpensive but tend to be pretty slow, especially if you or any of the other site owners get a lot of traffic. If you’re looking for hosting along these lines, check out the $4.95 package at HostGator. <-- Affiliate Link Virtual Private Hosting means your sharing resources with other site owners but far less than with shared hosting and the your hosting account is configured so you have a guaranteed amount of computer processing speed and memory. If you're looking for virtual private hosting, check out the VPS packages at HostGator that start at $19.95. <-- Affiliate Link Dedicated Hosting, which is what I use, means there's a specific server that only has your site (or multiple sites you own). This is the most expensive option but by far the fastest. Most hosting companies charge $175+ for a managed dedicated server but the server I use is only $99 a month. (Affiliate Link) I’ve been with them now for over five years. I don’t recommend them for the shared or virtual private options.
One sure way to speed up your site is step up to the next level of hosting.
Are your Plug-In’s Causing a Traffic Jam?
This is a great tip the guys offered which you can implement right away without spending a dime.
WordPress plugins can really beef up your site but some, especially older plugins, can slow your site down, even if they’ve been deactivated. Charles explained that every time someone visits your site, the file where all your installed plugins are stored has to be scanned and then matched up against those that are actually activated. So if you’ve got a several plugins you’ve installed but are no longer using, don’t just deactivate them, delete them entirely.
Beyond that, do your homework. Often you can find a single plug-in that will do the job of multiple plugins you’re using now. Doing so helps to speed up your site.
Time to Cache Up
When I started out building my own websites, I worked with what are called static pages built with raw HTML code. Whenever a visitor came to my site, his browser would store a version of that page (called a cache) on his computer. The next time they came to my site, the page would load fast because most of the elements that take time to download were already on their computer in the cache.
Newer sites built with software like WordPress don’t usually offer the same functionality for reasons I won’t go into here. However, there is a way to tweak your site so that certain elements like your logo or header graphic that don’t change from day to day are stored in cache on the visitor’s computer. So your site loads faster.
This is just a fraction of what I learned Tuesday night and I’ll have another post next week with more tips. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more now, Charles & Toph recorded a webinar which is essentially the same presentation I saw Tuesday but with some more examples included. I recommend you check the webinar now on Charles and Toph’s website. <- Affiliate Link
Want to see how your site measures up?
Download the Firefox Add-on “YSlow” and you’ll get graded on several different parts of your website with suggestions on how to improve the performance. It’s a free tool and also includes SmushIt which will optimize your site’s graphics. (There’s also a SmushIt plugin for WordPress that automatically optimizes your images.)
If any of this sounds too complicated, Charles & Toph have a membership site where they show you step-by-step how to make all of these improvements plus a whole lot more. I haven’t joined yet but, between the Meetup and watching their webinar, I’ve got a pretty good feel for their teaching style. They’ve got a pretty sweet deal on right now. It’s only $10 for 30 days. Go here now for details. <-- Affiliate link. Be sure and post a comment and let me know what kind of grade your site got. I'm going to share a few more tips the guys taught me next week.
Charles McKeever says
Hey Bill, thanks for spending time with us at the Meetup. It looks like you took excellent notes. Like we mention in the webinar replay, addressing these big items will get you 90% optimized and keep you from having to spend the big hosting bucks before you need too. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog. I’ll be publishing an article next week that covers another big tip for optimizing your WordPress website and it’s a tip that most SEO experts are getting wrong (myself included). In the meantime, don’t forget about the W3 Total Cache plugin. It makes every part of your blog faster.
Bill Hibbler says
Thanks, Charles! Looking forward to that next post. I installed W3 Total Cache but it’s functionality is limited because I need to upgrade to PHP5. Going to have my web guy check to make sure it doesn’t affect any of my other sites before switching over. I’ve got over 50 sites on my dedicated server so I don’t want to crash one.