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The Need for Speed: How Load Speed Can Make or Break Your Website

by Viktor Solovey

Fast & Furious

Every second counts. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t about a new Vin Diesel movie.)

Sure, every second counts, but some seconds count more than others, especially when it comes to websites. According to a 2019 study, 78% of all websites load in less than four seconds. Just five years prior, half of all websites took over five seconds to load. The need for speed is an arm’s race that businesses can’t afford to lose. You don’t have to be Fast & Furious, just Fast.

Speed Kills

We’ve all heard the old adage “speed kills,” but in the dog-eat-dog world of e-commerce, the lack of speed can kill your web traffic. How? Because users demand it, and their standards are unforgiving, especially as more traffic is handled on mobile devices. A recent study found that bounce-rate probability increases dramatically the longer it takes for a page to load, from 32% at 1-3 seconds to 123% at 1-10 seconds.

Translated into money, it looks like this: The conversion rate for e-commerce sites stays around 2% for loading speeds of more than five seconds. If your site can load faster, you’ll see conversion rates improve by 400% the closer to zero seconds you get. There’s no getting around it: if your page lags, then you’ll lose revenue.

A lack of speed can also result in a lower rank on Google because page-loading metrics factor into how their algorithms calculate search results. Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla known as “Mobilegeddon”, which has made the speed issue even more complex, because now Google takes into account page-loading speeds on mobile devices. So even if your desktop speed is decent, a slow mobile load can sink your overall page rank.

Don’t Get Mad…Get Faster

A bigger bounce rate and a lower Google rank aren’t how B2C websites usually find success. There are many tools such as Page Speed Insights and Web Page Test where you can determine the exact speeds of your WordPress web pages. Let’s say you use one of these tools and you discover that:

It…takes…a…long…time…for…everything…to…load.

Maybe even more than five seconds. Dejection sets in.

But turn that frown upside down, because there are actions you can take to fight back. The name of the game is optimization, and when it comes to WordPress and speed, it has to happen on many fronts, some easily managed by you, and other more technical in nature. This is when you need to call in the cavalry, a professional web development company that can gameplan a comeback.

Getting Under the Hood

But before you start a complete rebuild of your web site, you might want to take a look at your WordPress web-hosting provider. These providers are not all created equal. If you’re using one that features a shared environment, with lots of other web pages, traffic can crawl during peak times. You might want to consider WPEngine, which uses a proprietary platform to customize WordPress to your needs, and not the other way around.

But the reality is, switching web-hosting providers still might not fully optimize your WordPress page. Any external resources used impact site speed, and WordPress offers a blizzard of widgets, sliders, and dozens of other elements that can weigh a page down. Here’s where a professional web developer can swoop in and clean things up.

An example of a streamlined page shows how the lack of custom fonts can still look classy and convey gravitas. You’ll also notice that the page doesn’t have any JavaScript pauses, and so it loads in the blink of an eye. One key to handling JS is how it’s timed when the page unfurls, which requires a good coder. The best web developers have coders working in tandem with designers to maintain a consistent user experience.

But even if you want something more customized, you don’t have to sacrifice speed, as seen in this example. Here you’ll find customized fonts that conform to the client’s design preferences. The lesson is that speed can be maintained with a cache plugin like WP Super Cache, so that data is temporarily stored for optimized performance.

Another trick is to make sure that your images are all compressed, and for that, you can use a plugin like Smush. Resizing images might be the most important thing you can do to improve speed since images contribute most to increase the size of your page. It’s also important to ensure that your compressed images don’t look wonky on a mobile device.

Fully Loaded

Collecting data on your users will help you target advertising and maintain customer contact, but that can mean loading your page with lots of features like the Facebook Tracking Pixel and Google Analytics. As seen here, these pages can still be optimized for speed. But there’s a catch if you try it yourself.

Not all Google Analytics plugins are equal, and the Facebook Tracking Pixel sometimes needs to be tweaked because it won’t load. But if you buy Facebook ads, this tool is crucial for measuring how successful your expenditures are. Google Analytics is indispensable for measuring the performance of your web site. You probably need them, but they need to be handled with care in some cases.

If your site gets lots of traffic, you might want to think about a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which is a system of connected servers located all around the world that maintain a copy of your website in various data centers. To maintain top-speed, a CDN delivers your webpage to a user from the geographically closest location.

Given the world we live in today, where every second counts and the survival of the fittest has never been more fierce, relying on WordPress plugins alone to optimize for speed sometimes isn’t enough. A web developer can help out in ways you never imagined, fully loading your WordPress web site without sacrificing a millisecond of loading time.

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