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.

1. 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.

A Lighthouse report for my homepage

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.

And example PageSpeed Insights report (not for this website, thankfully!)

GTmetrix

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.

A GTmetrix repot for my homepage
A GTmetrix waterfall report for my homepage

2. Get good hosting

For most sites, the biggest performance problems and opportunities will be on the front end. Images, JavaScript, CSS, and fonts can add a lot of overhead when not loaded efficiently.

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.

Servebolt

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.

Other options

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).

3. Get Cloudflare

Cloudflare runs ‘in front of’ your website. It acts as a performance and security layer, which can have a radical impact on speed.

How Cloudflare works

It’s trivially simple to implement and configure, and the free package offers enough features to speed up most ‘normal’ websites.

The simplest setups mean that your site’s assets – its images, CSS and JavaScript – are all served from local data centres (instead of your server), and at lightning-fast speeds.

Paid tiers unlock additional optimization options and power tools.