Site Speed Optimization 101 – An Easy Blueprint to Increase Traffic and Leads

Site Speed Optimization 101

This article was originally published as a part of the Smash Digital Inner Circle.

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One of the Top Reasons Websites Don’t Rank Well

Over the last six months our team has done over 200 site audits and one of the most common issues we see is with site speed.

Today we’re going to talk about why it matters and how to address the issue for good.

Let’s get straight to it.

Time to learn: 10-15 minutes

Impact (1-10): 8

Tools required: GTMetrix Site Speed Analyzer

Tools suggested: WPSpeedFix, WPRocket

Why Does Site Speed Matter?

Let’s start with the obvious.

Most people have websites for business reasons. The primary goal of a business is to make money, whether it’s through selling products or services.

The speed of your site is massively going to affect conversion rates – how many people buy things from you and ultimately, how much money comes in your bank account.

You’ve probably heard this statistic before, because it’s mind-blowing. For each additional second your site takes to load, conversion rates can drop as much as 12%!

Here’s an example from an eCommerce store who increased their (projected) annual revenue by $968,700 by improving their load speed by two seconds.

site speed impact on revenue

Now you may notice that not only did their conversion rate increase, their average order value went up and so did traffic.

That’s because Google wants to give their users the best experience possible, making site speed a massive ranking factor. Google has been increasing the importance of this every single year.

We’re getting  to the point where Google Chrome is even going to display warnings about slow sites before you click on them.

Here’s a random keyword I analyzed and there is an undeniable correlation between faster pages and higher Google rankings.

site speed and google rankings

So How Can You Make Your Site Faster?

As a disclaimer, I am not a developer nor a site speed expert.

But I have owned hundreds of websites over the last decade and optimized them to the best of my capabilities. 

I’m sure you could find a site speed expert who can do this better, in fact, I will recommend the guy we use…

But if you’re not looking to invest into maximizing your site speed quite yet – these tips will go a long way. 

Step 1. Run a Site Speed Test

Before we can optimize things, we need to know what your baseline is and see if there’s even an issue.

The two page speed testing tools I like to use are GTMetrix and Pingdom.

smash digital site speed

A common mistake people make is only analyzing their homepage, while the majority of their sales actually come from product pages, category pages, or blog content. 

I’d recommend starting off with your homepage plus five of your most visited pages.

Ideally, every important page on your website should load in less than two seconds and three seconds at most, for lengthy or less important pages.

Step 2. Is Your Hosting Good Enough?

While most site speed testers put the emphasis on optimizing your site and it’s contents, the number one cause for slow websites is actually your hosting company.

Head over to Bytecheck and measure your “time to first byte” – in other words, this checks to see how long before your server responds and actually starts sending data to the user.

The average TTFB is between 100 and 500 ms but Google says you should aim for 200 ms at most.

So if yours is higher, it’s likely time to switch away from your hosting company and look for something faster.

Here’s a few hosting companies we’ve worked with and recommend:

  • Kinsta – Premium managed WordPress hosting that is blazing fast. This is what we use for Smash Digital.
  • WPXHosting – Another highly recommended managed WordPress host that some of our team members use for their sites. Slightly cheaper but just as good.
  • LiquidWeb – LiquidWeb is best for the giants out there – they’ve got amazing managed dedicated servers and other similar options, but are on the pricier side.

Now, I’m sure there are more great hosting companies out there but these are the ones we personally have experience with…

On that note – you’ll want to avoid…

  • Bluehost
  • Godaddy
  • Namecheap
  • Siteground
  • HostGator
  • Dreamhost

Now, with that out of the way, let’s start tweaking your site.

Step 3. Check Your Plugins/Extensions

Ever since I first laid my hands on a WordPress site, I’ve been obsessed with WordPress plugins.

For a non-technical person, it’s the easiest way to make your site convert better, sell more, and do all kinds of cool stuff.

Picture my face when I realized these also slow down your site… Massively!

Whenever I see a site with speed issues, my first move after upgrading the hosting is to disable very single plugin on the site. 

Then run a site speed test, turn one of them back on, and retest.

While you’ll see that most plugins are not that bad, there will be a few that may slow down your site a whole second, or even more.

Common culprits for this are:

  • Sumo plugins (sorry Noah)
  • Updraft Backups
  • Broken Link Checker
  • Backup Buddy
  • Jetpack
  • Yet Another Related Post Plugin
  • ShareThis

Again, these are the ones I’ve personally had experience with but you’ll want to test it yourself – perhaps some of these have been updated and had their issues sorted.

Step 4. Optimize Your Images

The next most common issue is with images because they tend to be the largest resource on your pages.

We’ve written an in-depth guide to optimizing images so I’m going to recommend you give that a read – it also covers the SEO side of things.

But to sum things up, the most important thing to remember is uploading your images in the right sizes.

If your blog has a max width of 800 pixels, there’s no reason to ever upload a 4,000×2,500  pixel image. The same goes for your product pages – if the images are in a small column that is displayed at 300 pixels wide, you’ll need to resize the image before uploading it.

It’s always tough to give examples of people doing things wrong, because you won’t find them on the first page of Google. Here’s an example that I found for the keyword “Jungle Scout review” buried on the 6th page.

Note the image display size and the uploaded size:

poor image optimization example

The image is nearly three times bigger than what it is displayed at and it’s 700 KB. For reference, the Smash Digital homepage is 950 KB TOTAL.

Now if you take a 6,000 word blog post with 30 images or a category page with 50+ products – these really stack up.

In summary:

  • Upload images in the sizes they will be displayed in
  • Use the right file formats for each image
  • Use an image compression tool

Step 5. Use WPRocket

WPRocket is one of the most powerful site speed optimization plugins out there.

You could find free plugins that do the same thing – one for a content delivery network, one for caching, and so on… But that’s counter-productive.

WPRocket is only $49 per year and does everything for you. I’ve been able to take sites from 4+ second load times to under a second by simply installing it and enabling a few of the features.

Now, I’m not an expert when it comes to the tech side or speed optimization, so don’t take this as the gospel – it’s the process that has worked for me.

Site speed plugins can be tricky and they can break things on your site. Some of these features may not be compatible with other plugins on your site or even the theme itself.

You’re going to want to start off the process by backing up your site in case anything goes wrong.

Once you’ve set up WPRocket, here are the features I’d recommend you enable:

  • SSL Cache
  • Minify HTML
  • Combine Google Fonts
  • Removing query strings from static resources
  • Minify CSS files
  • Enable caching for mobile devices
  • Combine CSS files
  • Optimize CSS delivery
  • Minify Javascript files
  • Combines Javascript files
  • Load JavaScript deferred
  • Enable LazyLoad for images
  • Enable LazyLoad for iframes and videos
  • Activate preloading
  • Enable CDN
  • Install Imagify

Again, you’ll want to enable these one by one and:

  1. Run a site speed test between enabling each one to see if it helps or hinders you
  2. Test your most important pages and forms to ensure nothing breaks

Now, for the sake of this newsletter, I just went through the process myself on one of our side projects.

Here’s a screenshot from before WPRocket…

site speed before wprocket

And after, by simply ticking all the features I outlined above…

site speed after wprocket


Optional: Hire an Expert

While I follow the process outlined for the majority of our sites…

For the most important businesses, such as Smash Digital, I prefer to work with industry leading experts.

The site speed optimization wizard we used for our own site and recommend to our clients is Brendan Tully, from WPSpeedFix.

Him and his team have 20+ years of experience in networks and IT infrastructure and now your site can benefit from that. 

When I first heard about the service and the results (our site went from 3 seconds to 0.9 seconds), I expected it to cost in the range of a thousand dollars.

In reality, the pricing starts from $179 and the most advanced package caps out at $495.

It’s a no-brainer.

That’s all from me for this week!

Let me know if you have any questions about site speed optimization or topic suggestions for upcoming weeks.

I’ll see you next week with yet another actionable SEO strategy.

Meanwhile… Let’s Smash it!

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Karl Kangur

Karl Kangur

When being a chess prodigy turned out to be too demanding, Karl converted to being a marketing nerd. He loves to theorycraft and when he starts talking about SEO, he can't stop.
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