Google PageSpeed Insights – A Guide for WordPress Users

Google PageSpeed Insights Guide for WordPress Users

Listen, let’s keep it real, PageSpeed Insights is a tool best used by developers. Its intentions are good but it’s not targeted at the average WordPress site owner. Even with the recent introduction of some WordPress-specific messaging, many aspects of the report are too technical to be clearly actionable.

In this guide I’ll try to translate what PageSpeed is talking about and let you know which factors you can control, as a WordPress site owner, and which you can’t.

The basic principles that PageSpeed Insights is trying to communicate are:

  • Keep your pages light and simple.
  • Avoid unnecessary fanciness.
  • Consider mobile users, particularly those who pay for every byte of data.

These are solid principles but PageSpeed communicates them in somewhat obscure ways.

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How to improve the Time To First Byte (TTFB) of your WordPress site

The Time To First Byte (TTFB), or server response time, of your WordPress site can be an important indicator of performance. It doesn’t represent the whole picture, but a very specific part in the process.

Time to First Byte is a measure of how fast your server responds when someone tries to visit a page on your site. Specifically, it’s measuring how long it takes from the time the browser asks the server for the page, to when the browser receives the first piece of data from the server.

Visitors want sites to feel fast, so the sooner some meaningful content is displayed on the screen, the better. TTFB can influence this – the faster the server responds, the faster content can get to the user.

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Will HTTP/2 Make Your WordPress Site Faster?

Will HTTP/2 make your WordPress site faster

What is HTTP/2?

Without boring the pants off you, HTTP/2 is an updated and more efficient way of delivering web site components from server to browser. There are 3 conditions:

  • Browsers have to support it – most of them do now.
  • Servers have to support it. Many do, ask your host about it. If they don’t, using Cloudflare will enable HTTP/2
  • Your site has to use HTTPS

Now that it’s becoming increasingly widespread, most articles on the topic make sweeping promises of faster performance, “just like that”, simply by enabling it. But there are fewer articles which actually back up these claims with test results.

I recently converted a couple of sites from HTTP to HTTPS and decided to take the opportunity to see what difference, if any, enabling HTTP/2 made.

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WordPress Speed Optimization Glossary

WordPress speed optimization glossary

Trying to make your WordPress site faster is an already technically complex process, further obscured by all the jargon you have to understand. Here’s an overview of some commonly used site “speed up” terms. I hope it helps demystify the process!

General web terms

Browser

The program you open to get on the internet: Chrome, Firefox, Safari are the most common examples.

Server

A special computer, provided by your hosting company, where your website actually lives. By “lives”, I mean where all the files and the database are stored. This machine delivers your website to all your website visitors.

Just like your phone and computer run on a certain software – Windows or MacOS for example – there are a few different types of software your server may run on.

Normally you don’t have to worry too much about this – it’s a decision made by your host and you don’t need to get your hands dirty. But if you get really into optimization, there can be a few differences depending on your server environment.

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7 Simple WordPress Performance Test Best Practices

WordPress Performance Test Best Practices

These days it seems most WordPress users are aware of the need for speed on their websites: conversions, SEO, user experience etc. I won’t recycle all the usual stats here ;)

Maybe you’ve read some articles and seen that you need to speed test your site. So you click on whichever tool is mentioned, input your URL and proceed to freak out at the results.

But wait! Before freaking out, make sure you’re observing these rudimentary best practices when doing a performance test on your WordPress site.

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Which Speed Testing Tool Should You Use For Your WordPress Site?

Speed testing tools

Measuring the loading time of your WordPress site is obviously a critical step in optimizing for speed. You have to be able to find where the bottlenecks are and where you can achieve the easiest and biggest performance “wins”. There are numerous tools, such as Pingdom, GTmetrix etc,  available for measuring the performance of your site, each of them providing a different result, which is understandably confusing. Which one is “right” and which one should you use?

The answer depends on exactly what you want to measure and the level of detail that you want. They each provide different metrics which is why they provide different results, but it doesn’t mean that any of them is more “right” than the other.

However, no matter which tool(s) you use, what’s more important is understanding what information you’re actually getting, and being consistent with the tool you use. It’s not useful to compare results between tools – for example, between GTmetrix and Pingdom. It doesn’t matter if Pingdom says 2 seconds and GTmetrix says 5 seconds. You should only compare multiple results from the same tool, before and after you’ve made some changes.

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