Search engines love speedy sites, as do visitors. Site speed is one of the key factors that determine whether you get a decent placement in Google search results. On top of that, it’s also crucial for user-friendliness and getting a good conversion rate.
Slow WordPress sites are quite common now
But, WordPress business websites are not inherently fast. They’re typically 50-70% slower than most others. Yes, Google ‘prefers’ WordPress over other sites due to the clean url structure and frequent content updates. But a slow site can undo all this and result in a below average ranking.
The goal should be a complete page load in under 5 seconds with something appearing in under 2-3 seconds. And every second counts. An Aberdeen Group study showed an extra 1-second page load delay caused a 7% decrease in conversion rates and 11% fewer page views. Also, it had 25% of visitors abandoning business websites after waiting just 4 seconds to load. For eCommerce sites, expectations are higher with 40% abandonment after just 3 seconds with little showing.
A typical industry example and case study we use to illustrate what can go wrong with WordPress sites is the agency-designed site www.palmers.co.nz.
It is nice looking with new promotions each month. But this Palmers site has a massive 15 seconds initial load time – twice this for mobile viewers. This slow speed is likely killing their traffic, Google ranking as well as annoying visitors. (Ref mobile speed test results).
Results from a recent repair job
Let’s look at the results of our most recent tune up this month, a small business WooCommerce site www.hungbythread.com Based upon a very popular 4.5 star US$59 themeforest theme, the complaint was a very slow site, various site errors, resulting in very little traffic or sales the previous 12 months.
The original web designer that purchased and assembled this site had no answers. It looked amazing, but clearly performance wasn’t part of the brief. Our initial testing showed a huge, unacceptable 26 second initial load time, enough to scare off visitors and Google. Even the theme demo site had major speed issues, proving that theme designers are not good at speed optimisation and frankly don’t seem to care. They’re selling the look, nothing else. Other sites using this same pretty theme had total load times of 10-20 seconds, yet the theme still had great reviews! We see this problem a lot.
Yet in our case, after just a days work, we reduced the load time for this theme and site down to under 4 seconds and put in place systems to keep it fast. Before/after test report links below…
We subsequently migrated them to better host too, since although we’d greatly improved the speed, the existing shared host proved quite unstable and was obviously overloaded, crashing when editing or when images were added to the site. Both site stability and speed is great now, with page rendering at 1.6 seconds and completed in just 3.8 seconds, being 6x faster. Additional work over the coming months around SEO should steadily improve both traffic and sales results.
Slow Website or WebHost?
In around a half of our site tune ups, we discover that the host is also a significant factor, aside from the site optimisation issues. Cheap shared hosts (like openhost; crazydomains), even some ‘cloud’ varieties are not only slow, but leave your site more open to being hacked. If your site is slow, then Google is slow to index it and then gives you a lower ranking. Even speciality WordPress hosts like WPEngine have limitations when used here in NZ. Amazon’s popular EC2 scalable cloud host service, discussed in the video below, is another poor choice here if highest speed, Google ranking and sales is the goal.
The above is a 2 min extract from the developer conference. The full 15 min talk is here.
Yet a fast site is essential for visitor engagement, higher traffic and sales conversions. Yet too few WordPress sites owners review their site performance as a client would. Like Palmers, their focus is how pretty it looks and if it has the right message or branding. Sometimes I’m told there’s no money left in their budget for a days tuning work or a faster host to accelerate their site. All their money has gone into the visual design! The end result is a very pretty, but incredibly slow, unreliable website that is easily hacked.
Imagine if you purchased a paper or magazine and it took you 10-40 seconds to open the first page? You’d likely demand your money back from the designer and publisher. It’s a strange world we live in…