Fast Like Never Before!
Does your website run like a flash? If not, it’s a serious problem because most people leave a slow website in less than 5 seconds. This means not only the loss of a potential customer (maybe forever), but also bad for your SEO rankings in Google. Search engines call it a “bounce” when someone clicks on a page and then leaves it quickly or returns to the search engine. If many people do this, it shows Google that your site doesn’t seem to live up to expectations.
Today, over 60% of all users are on a smartphone. Since Facebook and other social media are usually well optimized and load quickly, most people are now used to high speeds. So if someone comes across your website and has to wait, the back button gets pushed faster than you think. This expectation is a problem, but also a blessing for those of us who optimize our websites well.
1. The right web host
If you run a local business or small blog you don’t need to rent a dedicated server for hundreds of dollars per month. However, you should definitely use a hosting provider that charges more than $10 per month. Cheap providers sell hosting where you share the same server with thousands of other websites. They are usually slow, more vulnerable to hacking, and if the provider ever loses the whole database and backups, your site is gone.
Some of our clients have their company website on sub-par hosting, making this issue one of the first things we address in our SEO projects. It is not only about the quality of a provider, but also about the possibilities offered by them. For us, only hosting that uses a cpanel dashboard is acceptable and they should have Let’s Encrypt SSL installed in such a way that it can be activated at the push of a button – but more on this later.
Ideally, a local business should find a hosting provider in their own city, as the proximity means high speeds. Ultimately, however, the quality of the provider takes precedence over the local factor. As long as it is not halfway across the country, it does not necessarily have to be at your location. For international websites, a CDN (Content Delivery Network) should be used. A CDN is a network of servers around the world that has images, scripts, and other static parts of your website available on local servers in different countries, making websites load faster all over the world.
2. The right platform
WordPress provides the perfect basis for search engine optimization. According to our research, a whopping 65 – 75% of all US business websites are based on WordPress today. This content management system is a chameleon and has long since gone beyond its roots as a blogging platform. With WordPress, you can build websites for law firms, hotels, forums, online shops, and many other things. In addition, it has an enormous number of plugins and themes, which greatly simplifies web design and optimization. Make sure you don’t use site creators like Wix, Squarespace, and others like that. Also, don’t use Joomla, at least if you want to appear high up in Google. We see Joomla going down everywhere and it does not offer the possibilities of WordPress. People from Google themselves have stated that WordPress is ideal.
Today it is indispensable that a website is suitable for mobile devices (test here). If you website still appears on a smartphone the way it does on a PC, your visitors just blink and hit the back button. Google has already stressed many times that websites will disappear in mobile search results if they are not optimized for mobile devices, and it this point nearly all websites comply with this. Mobile optimization is normal for all modern WordPress themes, so you don’t have to worry about it if you use this platform.
3. Caching contents
Caching means that the content of your website is stored locally by the browser. If the visitor later returns to your website, the content does not have to be reloaded over the web. A decent web host always offers some type of caching function – otherwise, you need to use a plugin.
For WordPress, you can use W3 Total Cache, because it may be the best free plugin of its kind. Most web hosts recommend it as well. There is only one downside to this plugin: its countless settings. But fear not! Due to its popularity, there are many tutorials online you can use to set it up well. Just follow along!
4. Optimize images
We sigh every time we see a website displaying images that are too large and uncompressed, increasing the loading time astronomically.
The images on your site need to be made as compact as possible – even though there are now 4K monitors. Recently I came across a website where a small image was displayed, but that image actually had a 4k resolution and was over 20 times larger than needed. This image should have been adjusted to the displayed size and then compressed. Compressing means to save the image in quality of less than 100% and to delete its meta-information to save as many bytes of data as possible without ruining the quality.
Here is a tool we like to use to optimize *.jpg and *.png images: tinypng.com
We now primarily use and recommend the WebP image format: See our article on SEO trends.
5. Distributed hosting
We already talked about CDNs and that it’s possible to make a website locally fast in different places of the world. In particular, images and scripts (such as CSS) are stored on this server network so they can be accessed locally by your visitors. This increases the speed significantly and puts less pressure on your web host.
But not only images and scripts can be distributed. Above all, videos should never sit on your own server, but on Youtube or Vimeo and be integrated from there. For businesses, Vimeo is often the better option, because it looks more professional than Youtube.
Another advantage of such video services is their aspect as a social medium. Users are able to add likes to videos and follow the video channel. This, in turn, has a positive effect on the ranking of videos on Youtube (and Google) and also gives the associated website a little more authority. But all in all it’s mainly about making the video stream as fast as possible and to reduce the load on the web host.
6. Use http/2
The good old Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) is obsolete. Most websites still use it, but the much faster http/2 protocol has been available for quite some time now.
For your website to enjoy the increased speed, it must use SSL and become an “https” (like our website). A decent web host will then enable you to use http/2 and give you a good boost. It is also important to remember that websites get more secure by using SSL, which is essential for online shops that deal with personal data. Google even gives websites with SSL a small advantage in the search results, which means that more and more websites are switching to SSL. In fact, it is becoming the new standard.
So far, SSL has been fairly expensive, but with Let’s Encrypt there is now a free alternative. Some web hosts like Siteground have already integrated Let’s Encrypt into their cPanel and you just need to push a single button to install it. A WordPress website can also be converted to the new protocol at the push of a button by using a simple SSL plugin.
7. Test everything
Don’t do any optimization without performing a website test before and after. This allows you not only to detect problems but also to examine the impact of your improvements.
We recommend GTmetrix and Pingdom to test the speed of a website. Both are free and also allow you to test websites from different countries. This is especially useful for international projects and when testing a CDN.
With such tools, you can analyze the loading time of individual elements of your website. This makes it easy to find things that drag everything down – such as oversized images or problematic scripts.
Never forget that perfection is impossible. If a website uses Ajax or gets visited from the other end of the world, longer loading times are unavoidable, even if you use a CDN and a good web host. Experience shows that even some valuable sites at the top of Google struggle with long loading times. All in all, what is possible should be done, but not more than that!