Feeling a Need For Speed?

Updated June 9, 2011

Doc Sheldon

Although Matt Cutts has said that pageload speed is a ranking factor, he also said that fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal, and that relevance was still a much more critical factor.

That said, though, we all know the frustration of landing on a page that takes 10, 15 or even 20 seconds to load. And if we find it frustrating, it’s a safe bet that we’re not alone. In the days of dial-up connections and 28.8k modems, a user might have assumed that a slow load was the fault of his connection. Today, though, that’s no longer the case.

If your pages are loading in 2 or 3 seconds, then you probably won’t gain much by streamlining your pageloads. If you’re up in the 5 or 6 seconds range, or even worse, however, you might be well advised to see what you can do about speeding things up a bit.

So the first thing you may want to do is find out what your typical pageload speed is. WebPageTest is one great place to determine that. Running a performance test there will give you some excellent information on your page, broken down by individual items.

Here’s one I just ran on my home page. Still some room for improvement, and a puzzling second run, but I think I know what I have to do. My JS and CSS files need some work.

WPT Screenshot

Time to First Byte, Start Render, number of Requests, Document Complete, Document Fully Loaded.. these are all valuable insights in analyzing your page’s performance. WPT also gives you a snapshot grade on items like Keep-Alive, Compress Text, Compress Images, Cache Static Content, Combine JS/CSS files and Use of CDN. Each of these can be viewed individually, broken down by individual items on your page, enabling you to see where you can achieve the greatest benefit.

Keep-Alive, Compress Text and Compress Images are three areas with which most of you are already familiar, I imagine. Cache Static Content and Combine JS/CSS Files, some of you may not have looked at before. Both of these last two provide a great potential for improvement on most WordPress sites.

As luck would have it, there’s a Jim-dandy plug-in that can help you manage caching and the combination of JS and CSS files… W3TC, or W3 Total Cache. Visit their page, and you’ll be blown away by what they claim to be able to accomplish. Install and set-up the plugin and you’ll be even more blown away!

Don’t forget to clear your cache after each change, before running the WPT performance check again.

Feel free to post your before and after pageload times in the comments.