Improving site speed
It’s no secret that site speed is an important part of delivering a good user experience. All of the research says that faster experiences lead to faster organic growth, increased user engagement, higher customer satisfaction, and more conversions/revenue.
But building and maintaining a lightning-fast website (like this one!) can be challenging; especially if you don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch.
Fortunately, there are shortcuts, processes, and resources which even the slowest sites can use to take a step in the right direction. Here’s a list of my recommended tools, processes and techniques.
*Some of these links contain affiliate codes. I may be compensated if you sign up or buy a product/service. However, there’s nothing here which I don’t endorse wholeheartedly; and I personally use and recommend the tools I’ve highlighted.
This guide is a work-in-progress. I’ll be adding more sections over time.
Table of contents
Measure your performance
There are a thousand tools for measuring page speed online, but there are only two that I recommend for benchmarking and diagnosis.
Pagespeed Insights & Core Web Vitals metrics
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool (which is powered by Lighthouse, which you can also run directly in Chrome) provides an overall score and a breakdown of individual ‘Core Web Vitals’ metrics. These numbers are the best way to measure, trend, and compare your overall performance.
For sites with a bit more real-world traffic, you get extra insight into the percentages of users who have good, poor or bad experiences in terms of each key metric. Unlike most other speed tests, this data is compiled from real users. That includes people from all over the world, on all sorts of devices and connection types. That makes it incredibly good for identifying when, and where, you might be providing poor user experiences.
If you want to go deeper into understanding all of the moving parts of your performance scores, GTmetrix is a great resource. Like PageSpeed Insights, it also provides Core Web Vitals scores – but it adds lots of extra information, analysis tools, and recommendations.
Highlights include visual representations of the loading process, a detailed ‘waterfall’ view describing how each element on the page loads, and a history of the page’s performance over time.
In most cases, testing your homepage (or your most important / slowest pages) will give you a good indication of your overall performance. But if your pages vary a lot by template or content type, you might need to evaluate multiple pages to get an overview of the most serious or common issues.
Desktop ‘crawling’ tools like SiteBulb or Screaming Frog are great for this kind of analysis (and provide lots of other SEO insight) – but if you just want a quick (and free) overview, you can an online tool like EXPERTE.com’s bulk page speed test.
Get good hosting
But the system which powers and delivers those resources – as well as your HTML documents – can be just as important.
The quality and performance of your hosting influence how long it takes to connect, process and return every asset on your site. Slow hosting will make everything else slower, no matter how much you optimize it.
For WordPress hosting, I often recommend Servebolt*. They provide the fastest WordPress hosting I’ve ever seen, as well as excellent customer service, a WordPress plugin, and some clever tools.
It’s a bit pricier than other options, but it still delivers incredible value for money. I happily use Servebolt for all of my sites.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to Servebolt’s packages, or if you’re not running WordPress, I’d also check out SiteGround* (if you want something managed) or Digital Ocean* (if you want to get hands-on).
Cloudflare runs ‘in front of’ your website. It acts as a performance and security layer, which can have a radical impact on speed.
It’s trivially simple to implement and configure, and the free package offers enough features to speed up most ‘normal’ websites.
Paid tiers unlock additional optimization options and power tools.