Have you ever been on a blog that took forever to load? (hopefully not yours.) And what’s your first impulse? Well, if it’s a new site and you’re not already a loyal reader, you’ll click your browser’s “back” button and move on with your browsing.
Nothing will kill the engagement of your new blog visitors like a super long page load time, and I’ve got five techniques for speeding up your blog’s loading time so your visitors can see more of you, faster.
First things first:
Find out how quickly your blog is loading.
You’ll want a more accurate baseline for comparison than “Honey, does my blog seem slow to you?”
For a true, accurate page loading time, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Just enter the URL (address) of your blog and hit “Analyze.”
While I’m sure you want to be an A+ student, I’d say any score above 85 is good. Below that number, and you’ll want to start looking at the following ways to improve your blog’s loading time.
If you’d like an actual value in “number of seconds” it takes for your blog to load, you can use the free online Website Speed Test. Running this prior to making any changes on your blog will give you an accurate baseline for comparing the results of any optimizing you do.
If you have results from either of these tests that you’re not satisfied with, the following five tips will give you a great starting place for making your blog run faster:
1. Start resizing your images *before* you upload them.
There’s nothing that will slow down your browser like a HUGE image being loaded into a small spot. I’m sure you’ve seen this: you can watch each image load, from top to bottom, and sometimes it takes forEVER.
When creating your posts, use a photo editor like Photoshop Elements or Picasa (which is free!) to resize your images to the size they’ll be displaying on your blog. A hint: if your photo editor only allows you to edit one dimension of your photos, then it’s requesting the longest side of the image – so, for horizontally oriented photo, if you resize to “525px” then the image will be 525px wide.
It’s not just resizing, but actually compressing your photos (lowering the resolution) that will give you faster loading time. Optimal resolution on a computer screen is 72dpi, which is far lower than the output of your camera. If you want to really speed up your blog, you can use any photo editing tool and adjust the “image quality” to a lower resolution, stopping just above the point where the loss of quality becomes noticeable on your preview screen. There’s also a great and FREE tool called the Online Image Optimizer which does the job nicely.
Resizing your images to the proper size before uploading them significantly reduces the amount of work your readers’ browsers have to do before displaying your page, which translates to faster loading time for your blog.
2. Use a caching plugin (or two).
If you’re using WordPress to manage your blog, you’re in luck: there are several FREE add-on options that will increase the speed of your site automatically. These are called “caching” plugins, and here’s how they work:
Normally, when a reader accesses your blog, each page they see is generated on-the-fly by accessing PHP (function) and CSS (styling) files and the post information itself, which is stored in database tables on your server. If 12 people are reading the homepage of your blog, the servers create this page 12 different times. Likewise, if 2,000 people are reading your blog, your servers are creating the page 2,000 times. As you can imagine, this slows things down.
When you use a caching plugin, WordPress generates a static (unchanging) HTML file for each post or page on your blog. That way, whether it’s one or 2,000 people looking at your home page, the server is only dishing out one page.
So which caching plugins should you use? I’ve had some great results from Quick Cache, which is ready right out of the box. Once you’ve activated Quick Cache and turned it on via the Settings, you’re ready to rock. W3 Total Cache is a more comprehensive tool, and it requires some adjustment of settings. That said, it’s the standard plugin for amazing caching ability, so if you want the very best, opt for W3 Total Cache.
If you have lots of sidebar widgets, you might also want to check out WP Widget Cache, although you wouldn’t want to enable this on widgets that contain live feeds – say, from an advertising network. WP Widget Cache allows you to cache sidebar images for a specified amount of time (say, 3000 seconds) so that when a new reader visits a second page on your blog with the same sidebar content, their browser remembers the sidebar information and doesn’t have to recreate it.
3. Store all your images locally.
This usually isn’t an issue for bloggers who started out on WordPress, but if you started blogging on another platform like Blogger, the images in all your posts may not actually be on your servers. Instead, each post pulls the image via a link to your old (Blogger) blog. Over thousands of images across your blog, the memory it takes to get these images each time someone views a page can really add up.
That’s why if you’re moving from Blogger to WordPress, make sure your blog designer actually brings over all your images from Blogger.
Likewise, if you have a thousand blog buttons on your sidebar and the images are all hosted on other blogs, you may want to actually download the images (right click + Save as…), add them to your WordPress Media Library, and get your links from there.
4. Get rid of unnecessary plugins.
Do you really need that plugin that makes it rain on your blog every time it’s 80% humidity outside? How about the 9 different social media plugins that put your social links on 9 different places on your blog, or the life size world map that lights up whenever a new reader comes online? Sure, these things are cool, but if you’re experiencing a slow blog, try deactivating and deleting a few of these and see what happens to your speed.
5. Minify the code on your site.
The best tools for this job are plugins like WP Minify and, once again, W3 Total Cache. These are plugins which – once set up – will run silently in the background, improving the performance of your blog.
If you’re having real issues with the speed of your blog (or receiving ugly emails from your web host…), there are a few additional steps you can take, like using Gzip to compress various components, using a content delivery network to distribute cached copies of your blog’s pages around the world, or enabling browser caching. These are definitely high-powered solutions to improving your blog’s performance, but the five methods I outlined above are foundational and should be done before you start taking more drastic measures.
Still with me?
Optimizing your blog for speed isn’t just about your readers’ experience. Google uses page loading time in determining your search engine rankings, so improving your blog’s speed can help push your blog up the ranks in Google, as well!
If you have questions about the content here, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
And if you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, I’m awarding you 15 points.