In today’s guest blog post, Martin Malden talks about optimising WordPress installations.

Unless you’ve been living under the bloggers’ equivalent of a rock you’ll know that page load speed is becoming ever more important as a factor in your site’s success.

Giving your readers a fast, clean loading page has always been a top priority on my sites. It’s all about the users’ experience.

Then, back in April, Google announced to the world that it was including page load speed in its search results algorithm.

So if it wasn’t important to you before, it should certainly have become so at at point.

Over this past year I’ve taken 4 major steps specifically designed to improve page load times. And on each occasion I got a step up in page views – by nearly 30% after the last step.

Faster site load times benefit you in all sorts of ways!

Optimise Your Images

Images are notoriously slow to load, so optimizing them for the web is a necessity – especially if you use a lot of images.

If you have Microsoft Picture Manager you can optimize them with one click, but you don’t get much control over size or quality. For more control here’s a useful tool:

Image Optimiser

Enter the image URL, or browse to one on your PC, click the Optimise button and select the quality level you need from the optimized results when they’re displayed.

Activate Gzip

Gzip works like WinZip except that it sits on your server and zips (compresses) the page files requested by your browser before they leave the server.

I’ve achieved reductions in the amount of data transferred for a page by up to 70%, just by activating Gzip – which greatly speeds up the page load time.

This works particularly well on Linux/Apache servers and is very easy to implement. Just copy this code:

# compress text, html, javascript, css, xml:
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript

… and paste it into the .htaccess file, which you should place in your root folder.

When you’ve activated Gzip you can check that it’s working (and see the reduction in file size) here. Just type in your web page URL and click ‘Check’.

Make sure your styling is contained in an external CSS file

Putting all your styling into an external CSS file, which you link to in the <head> section of your page, means that the styling attributes for your site only have to be loaded once by the browser, instead of each time the page loads.

If you’re using one of the blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, etc) you’ll already be using external stylesheets.

Just make sure that when you’re customizing your site you make your changes to the theme’s (or template’s) style.css file rather than in the code of each page.

If you’re building pages with an HTML editor then creating an external stylesheet (rather than incorporating your styling commands into each page) will take a bit longer initially but bring noticeable speed benefits.

Put your JavaScript into an external JS file

The logic here is exactly the same as for putting styling into an external CSS file, particularly where you have functions that are repeated on several pages.

The browser only needs to load the JS file once, instead of for each page, and the content to code ratio on your page is improved.

Place your JS snippets into an external .js file and link to it in the <head> section of your page.

If you’re using WordPress review your plugins

There are some wonderful plugins out there that add all sorts of functionality to WordPress. There are also some shockers.

All plugins add overhead to your site and, in cases where the plugin needs to access a different server to do its stuff, they can really slow down page load times.

Critically review each plugin on your site and, if it’s not giving you a clear benefit, or there are other ways to achieve what it’s doing, deactivate and remove it.

An example of an alternative way of replicating a plugin’s function: I use RSS via TwitterFeed, rather than plugins, to tweet my blog posts to Twitter and Facebook.

WordPress again: Install and activate one of the Caching plugins

Having just suggested you review and remove plugins this may sound a little contradictory, but it falls under the category of delivering a clear benefit.

I recently installed and activated the W3-Total-Cache plugin on my site, and this is the step that brought a nearly 30% increase in page views.

It’s not rocket science: if your site is delivering a consistently good, fast user experience people are more likely to stick around and browse, bookmark it and return.

And, by the way, if you opt for W3-Total-Cache you won’t need to activate Gzip – it’s covered in the plugin.

Summary

It’s not difficult to speed up your page load times. The less work you can give the browser to do, and the smaller the amount of data that’s sent for each page, the quicker the page will load.

The benefits will be more page views per visit and an increase in search traffic – as long as your site is providing good content and loads faster than your competitors’ sites!

Martin Malden grew up in Zimbabwe and now lives in Hong Kong. He writes a blog on Internet Marketing Tips and Techniques.

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