Your Hosting Environment
When looking at your website’s load speed, it’s important to start by looking at the hosting. Most companies who don’t have a managed hosting provider start by doing it themselves and hosting their website on a shared hosting plan. We’ve all heard the old saying, “you get what you pay for, ” and in this case, it couldn’t be truer.
Shared Hosting Plans – A lot of hosting companies like to tempt potential customers with plans as low as $5 a month. These plans sound like a great bargain at first but can end up costing you a lot more in the end. On a shared hosting plan, your website shares the same server space and resources as every other site hosted on that server. The number of sites on a shared server could range in the hundreds or even thousands. As the traffic increases to these websites or if a site sees a significant spike in traffic this could result in your site becoming sluggish to almost non-responsive. Bad news if you’re counting on people getting to your site.
One more pitfall to the shared hosting plan is website security. No matter how secure you are, you’re only as strong as the weakest link on your server. That’s right; your site can fall victim to an attack that didn’t even come through your site. Hackers can gain access to your hosting server through another unsecured site and infect your site along with other sites hosted on the same server.
Now that we’ve covered some of the bad here is some of the good. Reliable shared hosting environments do exist, but it’s important to know what to look for in a provider.
Platform Specific Shared Hosting – When we say platform specific we mean a company that only hosts websites built using a particular framework, for example, WordPress. These types of hosting companies will typically have additional security behind the scenes already protecting your site from known exploits. They will often do a better job at managing the load speed on the server to make sure everyone receives the same experience. One thing to expect when it comes to this hosting is a slightly higher investment.
As we mentioned before our company of choice for WordPress hosting is WP Engine. If you are looking for a place to host your WordPress site, they offer a variety of affordable shared hosting plans.
Optimizing and Compressing Photos
Page speed isn’t just about convenience but can play a role in your bottom line. Nearly half of the users on the web expect your site to load in under 2 seconds and most will hit the back button at the 3-second mark if it still hasn’t loaded. In a world of endless options, your website needs to be there when they click on your link in a search engine.
One of the main contributors to your overall page file size are the photos. It makes sense that the smaller your file size, the less a user has to download, and the faster they see your page appear. Here are a few tips on how you can decrease the file sizes and amplify your site’s speed:
- If you have photos without transparency and are using the .png format, you should convert them to the .jpg format. The .png format is primarily for when the photo contains a transparent background causing them to always be significantly larger in file size. Free tools are available online that will help you convert images simply by uploading the photo and choosing a file type.
- Use the correct size photos for the space on the page. If the picture area fits 250×300 pixels, then use a photo that has been cropped and sized down to that specification. Using an image that is much larger than needed can result in extra time to load, and that’s what we are trying to avoid.
- Compress your photos and remove the extra hidden data. Most notably was a service called Smush. Yahoo! created this program many years ago, but they recently discontinued it. Since that time, other sites have taken its place and began offering the same style of service, almost always free. For the fellow WordPress users out there you are in luck. There is a plugin we would highly recommend by WPMUDEV called Smush Image Compression and Optimization. There is both a free version as well as a premium version available through their membership service with some additional features
For WordPress users, typically a plugin can be used for minification purposes. A free plugin that has tested well for us is Better WordPress Minify. If you are looking to go one step further, WPMUDEV has a great premium plugin called HummingBird that has many additional options to help speed up your site.
Caching can take your site from 0-100. Essentially, caching takes a snapshot of your web page and then stores a copy of that away for a specified length of time. If another request is made to the server for your web page, it will first look in the cache. Once all the criteria are met, the server can immediately display that cached version without having to rebuild the web page. Web caching can reduce a larger site’s load times by seconds.
If you’re using WordPress, here are a few options you can choose from:
- W3 Total Cache – This is one of the most popular free caching plugins available and even includes CDN support, which we’ll get into next.
- WP Super Cache – Another free plugin put out by the team at Automattic who also support a lof of other popular free plugins.
- WP Engine – WP Engine handles caching a little differently. They are a WordPress specific host that have developed a caching system that works behind the scenes without the use of a plugin. And not having to run an additional plugin is a step in the right direction.
Otherwise known as a Content Delivery Network. A CDN is a network of servers deployed strategically across the globe to help serve information faster to you by using a data center close to your location. CDN’s can deliver a variety of things from photos, videos and even the scripts that make up your website. By delivering these items to you from a localized data center, it can reduce the wait time it might take your web host to respond thus reducing the time it takes your site to load. MaxCDN and Cloudflare are two independent companies that offer reliable CDN services at affordable prices. WP Engine also provides a CDN service built right into their dashboard and can be implemented on your site with the check of a box.