The need for speed from 16s to 1.3s

My site was becoming dog slow

My blog has been growing in popularity over the last 2 years. This year it was give an award, “top 40 meditation blogs”. What that means is? I don’t know. All I know is my Google Analytic stats were indicating a very high drop off, and my site was becoming dog slow.

History of Just Being

Life began as a Wordpress site running off a Virtual Private Server hosted at a reputable hosting company. After finding a nice theme. Made sure it was mobile responsive, because I heard that is important. I began posting my first posts on emotional intelligence. And how a mindfulness meditation practice can help improve EQ. 

All was going smoothly.

I then began researching how to improve my blog, make it more noticeable, more SEO friendly. I read a book “SEO 2016” which has been recently updated with the latest SEO trends. This is an excellent book.

This is what struck me back in 2016 and is as relevant in 2018.

“Site load speed—Google magic dust. How fast (or slow) your site loads is a strong factor Google takes into account when deciding how it should rank your pages in the search results. Google’s former head of web spam, Matt Cutts, publicly admitted fast load speed is a positive ranking factor. If your site is as slow as a dead snail, then it is likely your site is not living up to its potential in the search engines. If your site load time is average, improving the load speed is an opportunity for an easy SEO boost. 

Not only is load speed a contributing factor to achieving top rankings in Google, extensive industry reports have shown for each second shaved off a site, there is an average increase of 7% to the site conversion rate. In other words, the faster your site loads, the more chance you have of people completing a sale or filling out an inquiry form. Clearly this is not an aspect of your site to be overlooked.“

Clarke, Adam. SEO 2018: Learn search engine optimization with smart internet marketing strategies.

If you want to find out how to test the performance of your website, check out “How to check the speed of your website?

Back in 2016 my site was performing quite well. Not super fast but an average 7 second load time which I thought was good enough.

At the end of 2017 my performance went to as high as 12 second load times. This was due to the increase in traffic and the under performing VPS Wordpress was running on.

And what was worse was that studies showed that from 2000 to 2016, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 7 seconds. Means I have very little time to show users my content and convince them to stay. A slow website means users will potentially leave your website before it even loads.

PANIC :(

How to improve Wordpress performance

In a panic you can do only one thing, search Google for an answer. Question: “how to increase wordpress performance”.

Google the above, there are tons of results. I was not the only one experiencing the problem.

The primary causes for a slow WordPress website are:

1. Web Hosting – When your web hosting server is not properly configured it can hurt your website speed.

2. WordPress Configuration – If your WordPress site is not serving cached pages, then it will overload your server thus causing your website to be slow or crash entirely.

3. Page Size – Mainly images that aren’t optimised for web.

4. Bad Plugins – If you’re using a poorly coded plugin, then it can significantly slow down your website.

5. External scripts – External scripts such as ads, font loaders, etc can also have a huge impact on your website performance.

Below are the suggestions I took from the plethora of search results.

1. Importance of Good WordPress Hosting

I was already happy with the hosting provider. Before I moved my entire site, I wanted to squeeze out every last ounce of performance. Recommended was to look for a managed WordPress hosting service. Would give you the most optimised server configurations to run WordPress. Managed WordPress hosting companies also offer automatic backups. Automatic WordPress updates, and more advanced security configurations to protect your website. WP-Engine looked the most interesting.

2. Install a WordPress Caching Plugin

WordPress pages are “dynamic.” This means they’re built on the fly every time someone visits a post or page on your website. To build your pages, WordPress has to run a process to find the required information, put it all together, and then display it to your user. Caching can make your WordPress site anywhere from 2x to 5x faster. I ended up using W3 Total Cache.

3. Optimise Images for Speed

I’m old school. Grew up in the era when optimisation was paramount. So my images were already as small as possible. If you want to tweak image size even more, I swear by “ImageOptim.”

Images bring life to your content and help boost engagement. Researchers have found that using coloured visuals makes people 80% more likely to read your content.

But if your images aren’t optimised, they could be hurting more than helping. In fact, non-optimised images are one of the most common speed issues on beginner websites. A quick and easy plugin to install is WP Smush if you want a more automated process. I prefer manually optimising my images.

4. Remove Unused Plugins and Keep Your Plugins Updated

If your WordPress website has an excessive amount of plugins, then it will be better to remove the theme. The more the plugins, the higher the chances of conflict that may reduce the speed of a website. So, use only necessary plugins and remove the rest from your website. Also, make sure to keep your plugins up to date with the latest version.

CRITICAL from a security perspective. Make sure Wordpress is updated as well. My biggest concerns is the high security risk of using Wordpress.

5. Reduce the Number of HTTP Requests, Also Fix 404 Errors

Another reason for slower loading time of a website is due to the increasing number of HTTP requests. Compress the CSS files, combine JS files, and merge images in data sprites to reduce HTML requests. Your aim should be to minimise the number of HTTP requests loaded per web page. You can achieve this by compressing all these elements in a proper manner.

This I found added a significant reduction in my actual page size. A smaller page size means the user can download your page quicker.

6. Use a Theme Optimised For Speed

When selecting a WordPress theme, it’s important to pay attention to speed optimisation. Some beautiful and impressive-looking themes are actually poorly coded and can slow your site way down.

It’s usually better to go with a simpler theme and use quality plugins to get the features you need, than to choose a theme that’s bloated with complex layouts, flashy animations, and other unnecessary features.

With a background in development I have the skills to tweak the theme to eek out its performance. In my final speed boost I ended up moving to a more cleaner and faster theme.

7. Optimise WordPress Database

After using WordPress for a while, your database will have lots of information that you don’t need any more. For improved performance, optimise your database to get rid of all that unnecessary information.

This can be easily managed with the WP-Sweep plugin or WP-Optimize. It allows you to clean your WordPress database by deleting things like trashed posts, revisions, unused tags, etc. It will also optimise your database’s structure with just a click.

8. Use a content delivery network (CDN)

A CDN, or content delivery network, takes all your static files you’ve got on your site (CSS, Javascript and images etc) and lets visitors download them as fast as possible by serving the files on servers as close to them as possible.

I ended up using Amazon Cloud Front which W3 Total Cache  supports. Their are many option but I was familiar with Amazon Cloud Services, so was a breeze to setup.

9. Use CloudFlare

CloudFlare, along with the W3 Total Cache plugin discussed above, are a  potent combination (they integrate with each other) that will improve not only the speed, but the security of your site.

You maybe asking, what is Cloudflare?

“CloudFlare protects and accelerates any website online. Once your website is a part of the CloudFlare community, its web traffic is routed through our intelligent global network. We automatically optimise the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance. We also block threats and limit abusive bots and crawlers from wasting your bandwidth and server resources. The result: CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks.”

My best results were 6.99 seconds

the best I could get performance wise out of wordpress The best I could get performance wise out of wordpress. Pingdom

After applying many of the suggestions above I found using AWS Cloud Front and the W3 Total Cache, gave me the best results. But it was not enough, it was sitting at the very end of the average users attention span, the time they are willing to wait for a site to load.

So how was I going to improve performance? Back to Google I went.

What is the JAMstack?

When we talk about “The Stack,” we no longer talk about operating systems, specific web servers, backend programming languages, or databases.

The JAMstack is not about specific technologies. It’s a new way of building websites and apps that delivers better performance, higher security, lower cost of scaling, and a better developer experience.

Your project is built with the JAMstack if it meets three key criteria:

  1. JavaScript - Any dynamic programming during the request/response cycle is handled by JavaScript, running entirely on the client. This could be any frontend framework, library, or even vanilla JavaScript.

  2. APIs - All server-side processes or database actions are abstracted into reusable APIs, accessed over HTTP with JavaScript. These can be custom-built or leverage third-party services.

  3. Markup - Templated markup should be prebuilt at deploy time, usually using a site generator for content sites, or a build tool for web apps.

Why the JAMstack?

  • Better Performance
  • Higher Security
  • Cheaper, Easier Scaling
  • Better Developer Experience

Cool, JAMstack looks interesting, so what next? So began the MooStars journey. Lets figure this out and lets move our own personal sites and see if there is a difference. And OH! my word was there a difference!

My site performance is down to 1.3 seconds. Incredible. :)

We can probably tweak the results even more, but hopefully the attention span will stay around 7 seconds for the next couple of years. By then we may have implants and not sitting in front of screens and mobile devices anymore.

the best I got performance wise so far out of new JAMStack setup The best I got performance wise so far out of new JAMStack setup. Pingdom


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