speed testing for wordpress websites

Update: In 2019 we migrated this website over to Teachable to offer a streamlined online learning platform. But the speed testing tips here still apply to your own WordPress site!

Sometimes as a web designer, you set up a website based on certain specs and needs and then whoa! Within a very short time, you realize the business has already evolved way beyond what your initial vision imagined and your specs are suddenly much, much different. And the website that was all shiny and new and fun just a short time ago is laggy, getting laggier, and (as its designer) downright embarrassing.

That’s what happened with the first version of the Current ECG website. Our initial WordPress website launch was reasonably good, with a few hiccups (see my article here about what I’ll never do again!) but otherwise pretty smooth and straightforward. We monitored and analyzed and made tweaks over the next couple of weeks, but all seemed to be going okay.

BUT… within a matter of weeks, the site was laggy. As in, 8 seconds+ on PageSpeed, GTMetrix and Pingdom load reports. Even knowing these reports vary a bit each time they run, try counting out loud to 8. It’s a reeeeeally long time when you’re waiting for a website to load.* Who’s going to wait for 8.53 seconds for a homepage to load? I certainly won’t.

*Full disclosure: this load time is how long it takes for ALL the elements of the web page to load, not just the immediately visible ones – ie., it doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be looking at a totally blank screen – or the (God forbid) spinny wheel of death or worse, some cutesy little icon – for 8.53 seconds.

Below is Pingdom’s initial result. You can use Pingdom yourself for any website, and if you own or design a website it’s a worthwhile tool for your resource belt: https://tools.pingdom.com/

GoDaddy’s so-called premium WordPress hosting (more on that another time, but for now let’s just say we are not amused) couldn’t seem to handle the loads that they’d initially assured us they could do. And when we questioned it, they wanted us to “upgrade” and assured us again that it would do the trick. Combined with a whole ream of new ideas that had evolved after the original launch, I realized we needed to do something drastic.

WordPress Hosting for Speed

WordPress has a reputation as a bit of a resource hog. If you’re on shared hosting, which is generally what a “budget” package will provide, you’ll probably be okay with their standard hosting package until your website gets too much traffic, too many features, too many products, bigger, or otherwise complicated. Although budget hosting can’t address high volumes of traffic or specific e-commerce needs, if those aren’t an issue for you then often the budget hosting can be just fine. The best trick is usually a combination of awareness of the problem and making sure that you use a super-clean, well-written theme and you don’t get carried away with third-party plugins. And continually manage your website!

Unfortunately, the theme that we started with for Current ECG looked pretty, but it was bloated – another common problem with WordPress themes, free or otherwise. Combined with the necessary plugins to run all the features we needed, all of a sudden it had become a whale of a WordPress site. Even though there wasn’t all that much content (photos, videos, etc) on it yet, the back end was getting crowded. At one point we had almost 30 third-party plugins, and that was just to run the theme and the necessary components for the business! If you didn’t already know, LESS IS MORE with WordPress websites and having more than, say 10 plugins, can be problematic.

Despite all the tricks applied, it was impossible to streamline it and get it to below 5 seconds to load the homepage. This is, obviously, no good for a website today, especially for one whose primary audience is accessing the site on their mobile devices.

So, over the course of a few days, I initiated a complete re-do.

speed it up

Despite the popularity of the original theme, it wasn’t intended to function as a forum, or a blog, and even the podcasting series (never mind the video podcasts) were already starting to slow it down. It also didn’t seem to work well with memberships and subscriptions, and managing a membership base that is growing fast. Because we were still stuck with the shared hosting of GoDaddy, I moved several components to subdomains, copied the website theme elements to each so they’d keep a consistent brand, and began the process of paring down each subdomain so it could function as fast as visitors expect.

Note the difference in the load time, down from 5.4 to 3.42 seconds, and the number of requests from 76 to 42! 3.42 is still not my final target, but it’s a big improvement over 8+ with the original theme. Most of these improvements came about simply from changing the theme, which required a whole whack of third-party plugins just to function and then didn’t work well with all the other necessary plugins for podcasting, memberships, and subscription management (among other things). That simple change enabled me to remove a huge number of now-unnecessary plugins, and from there ran a series of changes to further improve the performance of the website.

There are several free pagespeed tools available, so don’t rely on just one to test your site. See below for a list of the best wordpress speed test tools.

There are other ways this streamlining could be done (moving to a new host is an obvious one), and this project is an ongoing one so we’ll continue to target improved speed and performance. My own personal target is always going to be the 1-second WordPress website, but sometimes you have to balance the functions you need with your hosting limitations (looking at you, GoDaddy).

the Best WordPress speed test tools are:

Read more about 5 excellent WordPress Speed Test Tools here: https://themeisle.com/blog/wordpress-speed-test-tools/

Happy designing!

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