If you’re a blogger, then I’m sure that you’ve looked into website search engine optimization (SEO) to promote your site and increase your website traffic. While you may have read a lot about keywords, writing great content, and links, you’ll also want to pay attention to your website speed and make sure that it’s not sabotaging all your other efforts to attract an audience. Why? Because if your website takes more than 5 seconds to load, you’ll likely lose the majority of your potential audience, regardless of how good your content is or how much you promote it! And for those who do stay on your website, the session times will likely be much shorter than they should be.
In this post, I’ll share with you the best ways to speed up your website, and the 5 things that I did to speed up my own website five times faster than before. And yes, that did lead to longer sessions, more page views and less bounce rates! AND I was able to do it without spending a ton of money on expensive hosting plans or services!
*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which helps keep this blog free of pop-up ads (you’re welcome!!). Learn more in my disclosure page. Thank you, I hope you enjoy this post! 😊
My Blog Speed Story
Imagine doing everything right for your blog – write useful and good content, use keywords throughout, take and edit beautiful pictures, enter titles and alt descriptions for your images, use an attractive theme, promote on Pinterest, etc, etc… only to find that few people end up reading your posts because they take so long to load…
I made that realization 5-6 months ago when I started using tools such as Pingdom, GTMetrix, and Google’s PageSpeed Insights to analyze my website pages. In particular, Pingdom’s website speed test tells you how fast your pages load from seven different locations around the world, in addition to providing information about your page such as page size, how many requests it makes, and a breakdown of content size and requests. (It also has suggestions on how to improve your page performance.)
To my dismay, I found that my pages often took forever to load… up to 20 seconds! Sometimes they would load faster, maybe 7-9 seconds, but other times, they wouldn’t fully load at all. How shocking and frustrating to find this out after I’ve already had my blog up for over a year! No wonder my bounce rates were high…!
Why Website Speed is Important
Website speed is a key component of SEO since Google uses site speed in its algorithm to rank pages, for both desktop and mobile users. Websites that don’t load quickly will appear lower in search results. So whether you’re starting a new blog, or want to improve your SEO for an existing website, I highly recommend that you start by making sure that your site speed is up to par!
Many reports and studies have confirmed that pages with a longer load time tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average times on pages. A DoubleClick by Google study found that 53% of mobile site visits were abandoned if a page took longer than 3 seconds to load. It also found that sites loading within 5 seconds had 70% longer sessions, 35% lower bounce rates, and 25% higher ad viewability than sites taking nearly four times longer at 19 seconds.
3 seconds is all you have to capture or lose someone’s attention on your website!!
Another one of Google’s studies found that the probability of bounce increases 90% as the page load time increases from 1 second to 5 seconds! So if you want your posts to have any chance of ranking high and being discovered by searches, then you need to make sure your site speed is fast enough, if not blazing fast.
Three Months of Website Speed Testing
So, after realizing that I’ve overlooked a key element of my blogging seo strategy, I dived into the task of fixing my website so that it loads faster than 3 seconds, because what’s the point of doing everything else for my posts if they don’t even load fast enough for people to want to read them?
After almost three months of trying many different things and doing a LOT of testing, I was finally happy with my website speed. And for the past three months since I implemented the changes on my website, my posts have been loading consistently between one and two seconds for locations in the U.S., with some pages even loading in less than one second! The speeds in European test sites are consistently between 2 to 3 seconds. Since the majority of my website visitors are from the U.S. and Europe, I’m very happy with these results. (all results are from Pingdom)
As you can see from the Pingdom page speed results, my pages are still quite large, almost 5MB for both of these posts, since I include a lot of photos in my travel posts. But they still load pretty fast!
Longer Sessions, More Page Views, and More Engagement
I love that many of my blog visitors now stay on my pages longer, for up to 30 minutes at a time (some even longer!), and also navigate to more pages than before, and I know that increasing my site speed was a key factor in making that happen. My page views and referrals from Google have also increased significantly, although I do realize that this is due to many other factors in addition to website speed. Some of the other changes that I’ve implemented over the past six months include: better SEO, better Pinterest pins, more pins, and of course, participating in Tailwind Tribes (sign up here if you haven’t already – it’s a game changer!).
So if you’d like to speed up your website as well, I’ll show you how, with the top 5 things that made the biggest difference for my website.
1. Resizing and Optimizing Images
The first thing that I noticed is that my image files were very big – up to 1.5MB each. And since many of my posts are about travel and travel photography, I tend to have a lot of pictures. One of my most popular posts (about my Honeymoon in Venice), has 14 pictures plus another one for Pinterest. So, yes, some of my pages were over 20MB, which is huge!
I tried a number of tools recommended by others, including several image compression plugins. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for me and some of them actually caused a number of unexpected issues that took quite some time to fix. I finally gave up and removed the compression plugins. I also tried a few Content Distribution Networks (CDNs), which serves your website content from servers around the world. I’ll discuss this more below, but essentially, I decided against it for now as well.
What worked best for me was to resize my images and optimize them BEFORE uploading them to my website, so that I have complete control over them and don’t have to deal with any issues resulting from conflicts or unintended effects.
My Revised Image Settings
I decreased the maximum width of my pictures to the maximum width of my blog (1200px) and exported them at 75% quality from Lightroom, at 72 pixels per inch. That decreased the image sizes to around 500-800kb each.
Then I found a great tool to compress the images even further without any noticeable change in quality – JPEGmini, a photo optimization tool (not an affiliate link, I just really like it!). After running my pictures through the Pro version on my desktop, they become 20-35% smaller – between 350-650kb. That’s a big improvement over images up to 1.5MB in size!
After testing the tool for free on 100 images and really liking the results and ease of use, I paid $59 for the JPEGmini Pro App desktop version (currently on sale for $47). There’s also a Pro Suite that includes plug-ins for Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One. There are also free online versions such as the browser-based TinyJPG/TinyPNG that have a paid subscription version if you want to remove limits.
2. Switching from Shared Hosting to a VPS Hosting Plan
After decreasing my image sizes, I noticed that my pages did load faster, but were very inconsistent. Sometimes they would load in 3-5 seconds, but other times, it would take much longer, 9-12 seconds in the U.S. test locations and longer in the European test locations. I contacted my website host and was told that my website’s speed will depend on the server load from the other websites sharing the same server since I have a shared hosting plan. It’s considered normal for website speeds to fluctuate with a shared hosting plan.
I started researching other web hosting plans and options and ended up switching to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) plan with my existing web hosting provider, Dreamhost, for a few dollars more per month. Having a VPS means that even though your website is still physically sharing a server with others, a certain portion of the server resources are reserved for your website alone. No more sharing bandwidth with other websites!! woohoo!
I signed up for the “Basic VPS” managed plan with Dreamhost and am sharing it with my husband Ken since we can host unlimited website domains on it. We have three websites between us, so the shared cost of $10 per month among three websites is very cost-effective. It costs $15 per month for a month-to-month plan, or $10 per month for the 3-year plan which we signed up for. We previously had the “Shared Unlimited” plan for $4.95 a month, so the cost increase was not that much.
I chose Dreamhost because it’s a highly rated California-based web hosting company that we have already been using for several years, and switching to the VPS plan took no effort at all after signing up for the plan. It’s one of PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice and their top choice for cloud hosting.
Another highly rated VPS web host is offered by Hostwinds, which is PC Magazine’s top choice for VPS web hosting. Prices for a managed VPS plan currently start at $5.17 per month (as of Spring 2020). You can check out Hostwinds’ VPS plans here.
A VPS is a great choice that’s a significant improvement over a shared hosting plan at a reasonable price. If you have a much bigger website with a huge amount of traffic, you might need a dedicated server that will cost much more, but if you have a small to medium-sized website that you’re at least somewhat serious about, then I highly recommend that you choose a VPS hosting plan!
3. Install a Page Caching and Minifying Plugin
Caching pages, minifying HTML and minifying CSS will also help your website run faster. There are a number of plugins that help with this. I use W3 Total Cache, which is one of the plugins recommended by my website host. A similar plugin is WP Super Cache.
4. Lazy-load Images
Another common tool to speed up page loads is lazy-load. What this does is to defer the loading of images below the fold until the reader gets there. This way, the rest of your content loads first and the reader is able to start reading right away instead of waiting for the website to load everything at once.
I use the lazy-load option available from the W3 Total Cache which works well for me. I’ve tried other versions that caused my homepage to not display properly, but I haven’t had any problems with this one.
Now that I’m using a VPS hosting plan, I don’t notice a big difference in speed from using lazy-load, but I think it does help especially since my posts tend to have a lot of pictures, so I’m keeping it for now.
5. Reduce the Number of Plugins
Yes, plugins can be are great, but too many of them will slow down your website! If you’re testing several plugins that do similar things, make sure to delete the other ones completely and not just deactivate them because they may still cause a conflict just by being installed (yes, I learned this from experience). And if you’ve switched themes, make sure to delete the plugins that were only used for your previous theme.
What About CDN?
Using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) is often recommended as a way to speed up your website speed. It essentially stores and serves your content from various servers throughout the world so that it’s closer to where the website visitor is.
I did try CDNs, both free and paid versions, during my three months of testing, before switching to a VPS plan. My experience is that the free versions did not work for me and in fact slowed down my website even more and in some cases caused unexpected layout issues for my blog. I also tried a paid service from Stackpath that costs $10 a month (on top of my regular website hosting fees). During the one-month free trial, it did improve my website speed noticeably for locations in the U.S. but the speeds outside the U.S. still fluctuated quite a bit.
With my VPS hosting plan, my speeds both inside and outside of the U.S. are more stable, with speed improvements similar to and sometimes better than using a paid CDN service. At $10 a month, my current VPS plan is also cheaper. I also like that I don’t have to store my images and content on multiple other servers owned and controlled by others. Another thing to note is that it does take some time to learn the technical terms and the setup does come with a learning curve and took a bit longer than I expected.
I can definitely see CDNs being very useful and cost-effective for a much larger website, but for my relatively small website, I’ve decided that I don’t need it for now. If I do decide to use a CDN in the future, I would use the same one that I tried from Stackpath, which offers one of the most affordable plans out there at $10 per month. They also offer a one-month free trial.
Site speed is essential for your blog and your website success. Nothing else matters if viewers leave within 3 seconds because your pages won’t load fast enough! Every second counts! Whether you’re starting a blog now or have an existing blog and want to improve your SEO and page session times, it’s essential to make site speed a priority.
For me, resizing and optimizing my images and switching to a VPS hosting plan made the biggest difference in terms of speed and consistency. The other three tools also help my pages to now load consistently from under one second to around 2 seconds for test locations in the U.S.!
Thank you for reading and I hope this has been helpful!