Speed is crucial in those precious first seconds someone visits your site. If you can’t satisfy someone’s basic desire to get content quickly, they won’t care how good your content is and won’t stick around to find out if it was worth the wait.
There should be no wait.
People are an impatient breed. In separate studies, Amazon showed a 1% decrease in purchases for every 1/10th of a second of delay they intentionally added to their servers and Google experienced decreased searches when tripling results by taking 0.5 seconds longer. Page load speed directly influences how long people will stay on your site. Google ranks slower sites lower than sites with a faster load, all other things equal. The numbers any way you look at it tell you to speed things up.
I’ve been a constant tweaker of code, plugins, servers, hosting plans, and all of that stuff isn’t for everyone, so here is the quick version of all that work to find speed success.
Use a FAST host
If your hosting company/plan can’t serve up content quickly, it won’t matter what you do on the server, no one will be able to see content faster. You’re at the mercy (or benefit) of your host first and foremost.
I use WP Engine – a managed WordPress host – after a steady progression from bad shared hosting to good shared hosting to VPS to managed hosting. I have about 10 solid reasons why its $29/mo is the best money you’ll spend on your WordPress site and more than 25 of my clients have migrated their business sites to WP Engine, with more making the move soon.
Use an optimized theme
I’ve seen lots of free and “premium” themes do things that would make Hannibal Lecter cringe – things that ought not to be. Ever. Some slow a site down by multiple seconds because they were poorly written to load all of the “features” on every pageview and in the header rather than the footer (more on that later).
The best advice is to go with a reputable developer with a proven track record of quality and support. For me, that’s landed me with the Genesis framework by StudioPress since 2010. There are others, but I’ve been down “the path of many roads” and it led me to sticking to one and I’ve not yet regretted my choice in over the past 18 months.
Cache your content as much as possible
Some really good hosts offer automatic caching and CDNs while others just require you to use a caching plugin or a good 3rd party CDN to vastly improve the load times of content that’s already been processed and quickly fetched from the cache. CloudFlare is a great option for simple CDN setup and many hosts offer it as a simple option to enable it.
Be conservative in your use of plugins
Plugins can slow a site down just as much as any or all of the previous points. Sometimes, they’re five times worse than all of the other downfalls put together, taking 20-30 seconds to load a page. Not every new benefit or feature you want to add to a site requires a plugin. Often, there is a simple line or snippet of code that you can easily add using any one of hundreds of tutorials to avoid a plugin.
That’s not too much for the average semi-proficient WordPress user, at least not to receive the core benefits of these steps. You might have a more cookie-cutter site unless you happen to be able to do all of the changes (and modify the theme to suit your design style, if you change to a framework), but your site will instantly be a hit with Google and readers who aren’t so caught up in fancy design.
If you want/need any help, I’m always available via the comments or my contact page.