Some people complain the WordPress Twenty-sixteen theme is old-fashioned or plain. We think it’s fine for certain jobs. If the goal is to communicate and not impress with any animation, we think Twenty-sixteen fits the bill.
Even in 2019, we recommend Twenty-sixteen theme for speed. We’ve achieved page load times as low as a half second using this theme on cheap magnetic shared hosting.
Magnetic hard disk drives (HDD) are one of the most affordable ways to store large amounts of data. It’s old-school and used on cheap hosting like GoDaddy. The usual alternative is a Solid State Drive (SSD).
An SSD has no moving parts whatsoever. SSD storage is much faster than its HDD equivalent. HDD storage is made up of a magnetic spinning disk and has moving mechanical parts inside. HDD is physically larger than SSDs and much slower to read and write. In our experience, this still make insignificant difference in Time To First Byte (delays). There is no benefit for a website owner in reality. It’s all theoretical.
Many hosts brag about providing SSD servers. Yet, actually get worse TTFB than traditional magnetic servers.
So why do hosts offer SSD and claim it’s superior? It is superior but it doesn’t make a difference to the “renter” of cyberspace. It enables drastic reduction in power consumption, maintenance, and lowers expense from air conditioning to cool hot hard drives. SSD consumes a fraction of the rack space meaning lower square footage – less real estate is need. These overhead cost savings are benefits not passed along to you the user. The benefit is long-term profitability for the hosting company. Not you.
SSD hosting is a cost effective way of differentiating a hosting service for marketing purposes. It’s pure specsmanship. It’s inappropriate use of component specifications to establish presumed competitive superiority. No such superiority exists in real-world speed tests of the whole system. The component specs are good. But the change didn’t remove the punitive delays caused by oddities. Thing such as Google-mandated HTTPS/SSL handshaking for pseudo-security or innate latency from distant geographic location.
Back to the real topic of Twenty-seventeen theme quality. We liked the look for what our goals were but … the load time was 3 seconds. Too long. We decided to track down the speed culprits and eliminate them. We got the load time down to 1.5 seconds with just a few simple adjustments. The examination tools we used were Yslow extension for Google Chrome browser and Webpagetest.org online website performance tester. Here are the things we discovered and some of the possible fixes:
1Watch out for automatic image resizing.
When we placed the custom header image, the size increased from a 30k PNG to 96k. The solution was simple. Just skip cropping. WordPress automatically saves files to it’s own preferred specifications. Cropping can work OK for speed with Jpeg images – but rarely for GIF and PNG images. This sometimes makes the file size bigger – instead of smaller. That’s poor engineering but as long as you double check image sizes for aberrations like this one, you’ll always have a fast site.
2Comment out Genericons in function.php or use a plugin to do it.
Genericons are a special font symbol. They aren’t really used by this theme. Genericons are a bloated bane we have written about before. Commenting out a single line of code in the functions.php file is one solution. Find the file using the Editor. Use the symbols /** in front and **/ on the other end of the single line that has the three words “genericons” in it. That gets rid of almost 40k of deadwood page weight.
Get rid of calling Google Fonts from their remote server and load local websafe or mobile-system-stack fonts instead. We confess Merriweather slab-face Google font has more class but there’s nothing wrong with using resident “Georgia” and “Helvetica Neue” – the fall back fonts in the theme stack. We used “Disable Google Fonts” plugin first. But it failed to remove all offending instances. We then installed “Remove Google Fonts References” plugin instead. It worked great. All font calls were removed.
4Install a caching plugin.
We used to install the free WP Super Cache plugin and enable all recommend settings. We don’t recommend this plugin. It’s complicated and slow loading. We recommend using Cache Enabler plugin. It’s faster and simpler.
5Get rid of the funereal black border.
Under Customize, we changed the background color to #125faa blue for our border around the page. No change in page weight – but much easier on the eyes.
There you have it. We cut the page weight significantly and reduced the load time in half.
We turn conventional speed wisdom on its head. Sixty-four active plugins – on our site – load in under a second. Amazing. What’s our secret sauce?
When we do a speed audit – whether for PagePipe or for a client – we dial back PHP 7.x to version PHP 5.6. Then we can run P3 plugin. The goal is getting some feedback of where 80 percent of plugin speed goes – and reduce that load. It’s Pareto’s principle in action: the 80/20 rule.
We use selective activation or deactivation of plugins on URLs. That’s the real-top-secret sauce. Most people don’t know plugins can add weight globally to websites. Not just to the page where they’re used. For example, Contact Form 7 adds about 43 milliseconds to every page and post on a site. It’s global loading and we call it “site drag.” It’s best to activate that plugin only on the contact page.
Next, we remove plugins whose features don’t add much value. You’ll see in this audit we removed 8 test plugins for a gain of 194 milliseconds. “Good work, Steve!” [breaks arm patting himself on back].
But it’s theoretical. P3 isn’t that accurate. You have to check real gains in milliseconds with Pingdom.com or WebPagetest.org.
We labeled all deactivated plugins used during maintenance as “offline” in the table below. Deactivated, mothballed plugins don’t slow down a website. That’s a common myth. No harm.
So the total estimated plugin load time is 435 milliseconds (±30 percent). But that’s never loaded at the same time on all pages and post. Because selective activation saves the day again! More tweaking is always possible – but go for the low hanging fruit first. We even use selective activation to rid us of nasty plugin conflicts.
A selective activation example.
Easy Digital Downloads is a heavy 158-millisecond ecommerce plugin. It’s not activated on our high traffic pages. This accomplishes our main goals for now. We’ll tweak more later on that one. We repeat: selective plugin activation is the secret. It keeps the Home page fast on shared magnetic hosting with no CDN.
The plugins causing the most trouble to configure are Watu Quiz, Easy Digital Downloads, and UpDraft Plus. They required serious thinking and a learning curve. What made the effort worth the trouble? These are complex functions and important site features. It’d be a nightmare and tedious to achieve any other way. We prefer plug-and-play plugins with no settings. But for these three that’s impossible. They need customizing and making many settings. Once you’re done, it feels great. Like when you stop pounding your head against a brick wall.
“Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” – Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.
Our original intent was writing about each of our 58+ plugins. That’s too much work. So we decided to summarize PagePipe’s speed strategy.
OUR SPEED STRATEGY
PagePipe uses the default Twenty-seventeen theme. We’ve studied it, tested it, experimented, torture-tested, and written a lot about it. It’s fast.
Deciding what not to do on your site is just as important for speed as what you do.
1. Add Search to Menu – necessary for this theme. No sidebars on pages. [We no longer use this plugin. That’s here but we do on other sites.]
2. Add Widget After Content and Simple Content Adder (for top of content). These two plugins allow two random rotators for images and testimonials on all posts. They are selectively deactivated on pages.
6. Every resource we use is free! WordPress, the theme, and the plugins.
PLUGIN AUDIT TABLE
Our PagePipe plugins below are ranked slowest to fastest. We then examine the 80/20 ratio and focus the cumulative cutoff at 80 percent. Offenders are shown in “red.” Their value must be justified. Notice we deleted some heavy and redundant ones.
Susty is the lightest stripped-down WordPress theme we’ve ever seen. It’s not feature-rich like GeneratePress or Twenty-seventeen default theme. But we’re using it on a new site. It’s built only for extreme-speed fanatics like us. We don’t recommend Susty as a speed panacea.
Susty theme isn’t available in the free WordPress repository. It’s available as a GitHub download. Still free. (Susty-master: zip file size is 37.4k).
To illustrate the extremity of Susty theme minimization:
There are no widgets or sidebars. Period. The widgets section doesn’t even appear in the dashboard navigation.
There’s no home-page Main Menu navigation. Unlike widgets, you can edit the Menu in the dashboard. The theme author relegates the menu to a different page. We find this novel and are testing it. For a small blog like our test, it’s not a problem. There are navigational workarounds we’ll use later. (And comment on if you’re curious.)
There are no Google Fonts.
No Font Awesome.
No jQuery enqueuing.
So what customization is available in the stripped-down theme? Just background image possibilities and solid-color background selection. Pretty sparse.
The site’s minimal decoration with graphic elements except for one large JPEG background image of an eBook on inner pages. Default column width is 577 pixels. This site is a design experiment.
Here are interesting speed results on our Susty Home page:
Pingdom test results to NY:
Load time: 433 milliseconds, page weight: 8.8k, requests: 2.
Speed load times to other locations:
Stockholm: 746 milliseconds
Melbourne: 694 milliseconds
San Jose: 295 milliseconds
Where’s the host server located? Arizona. Using GoDaddy cheap magnetic shared hosting with no CDN. Of course, there’s no SSL / HTTPS certification overhead either. That helps. (SSL certification costs $69 per year on GoDaddy per domain. Gak! No thanks. A mere blog doesn’t need that junk).
Like other speed themes, you can inadvertently ruin designed-in speed gains. Simply enqueue (activate) jQuery by adding a simple top-of-page button plugin. That then adds around 33k to page weight. You can also enqueue jQuery weight with the WP jQuery Plus plugin for speed. So don’t use it unless you need jQuery for some other plugin. The Susty theme and WordPress don’t need it.
As mentioned, SSL would be bad (500ms site drag) and also Google Analytics (100 to 500ms site drag). Do you need those extras for a site where you have few pages and no ecommerce? Not at all. Unnecessary baggage.
When it comes to minimalism, Susty theme is king. Hands-down winner.
Would we recommend it for building a conventional website? Nope. We’d go with GeneratePress.
What you can’t get from other recommended and proven themes is the phenomenal low 8.8k page weight of Susty. Page weight is important for mobile user experience. Speed tricks like lazy-loading delayed images won’t reduce mobile data overhead. Those are tricks of speed perception – not actual speed performance. Susty resolves mobile speed problems with real speed.
Susty is fast and lightweight. We’ve proven it loads in under 1 second even with web graphics. But can you create an attractive site with Susty? Can it look better than classic Spartan aesthetic? Many stripped-down themes are mere text and CSS font styling. Pretty boring.
Stripped themes – like Susty – prevent excessive bloat. Why? It’s a “human temptation” problem – not a design problem. Site creators can’t discipline themselves to say “no” to unused features. They fill every slot and pocket provided. Self-imposed limitations using a bare-bones theme removes overload or gold-plating seduction.
You can’t overburden widgets that aren’t there! The unadvertised value of lightweight themes like Susty is:
Please remember relevant content is number one for SEO. Speed affects User Experience (UX). Good UX then influences metrics like dwell time, bounce rate, and click through. Google interprets those as user intent.
User intent is a major factor in search engine optimization and conversion optimization.
Speed affects page ranking less than 1 percent. But everyone hates a slow page. That’s not being hospitable or polite.
Speed is about kindness!
Common-sense tip number one: Good Titles.
Writing good titles for your WordPress posts should be obvious. But we’re always stunned at how many sites don’t use this simple tactic to improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and click through.
Page title is important. People choose to click your listing on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) instead of nine other competitive page titles. A title arouses human curiosity. If it doesn’t, it’s a loser. The WordPress permalink is written for machines (search). It doesn’t need to match. Title is an important controllable indicator of relevant content in the search listings. This affects findability, too.
People read your article based on it’s title.
A good title reads like a headline. A plugin we used for a year is a good teacher for writing better titles. Title Experiments is a free plugin available in the WordPress plugin repository. The plugin allows you to test multiple title variations for any post or page.
Title Experiments relies on the old classic WordPress editor. It won’t be updated to support Gutenberg block editor added in WP 5.x. This is the author’s excuse to ditch the paid plugin. It’s plain he’s disappointed by the lack of plugin income. No enthusiasm to go on.
Our workaround is simple. Use the Classic Editor Plugin with the Classic Editor Addon. So even if your core version is 5.0+ and your running PHP 7.x, things still work.
Title Experiments is a helpful plugin. We learned a lot about what titles work and what doesn’t for user engagement. But the heavy plugin was a top contributors to site drag. So we removed it after our education on writing better headlines (page titles).
Title Experiments relies heavily on the old editor of WordPress and will not be updated to support Gutenberg (WPv5.0+).
This is an excuse to ditch the plugin. The author was plainly disappointed by the lack of income.
Every year we review the last 4 months of traffic and see what is performing and trending. We’ve found our worst performing posts always have a lame headline (title). Renaming the post is the best thing to try first. We also dump dead posts or consolidate posts. This has proven effective for three years now.
For example, a mere label such as Ferritin and Hypothyroidism could be rewritten for human interest.
“What are optimal ferritin levels for hypothyroidism?”
That makes people curious and they click. Questions are always good. And including the word “you” is beneficial. Answer the readers question, “What’s in it for me?”
Purging your site is wise and focuses your content. That’s good positioning strategy. It affects perception of your site credibility.
How to find out what you should be writing about?
Intuition is needed for what future content to add. Not just metric history evaluation. The best article to write probably isn’t even on your radar yet. Our best post ideas come from reader’s emails who have questions. When we’re done writing long answers, we convert the email into a post – or add to an existing post.
Analyzing your inquiries isn’t something Google Analytics can do. Except for one helpful thing:
If you go to Google Analytics > Behavior > Site content > View full report (down in the right hand corner), you’re shown the top 10 of xxx pages. In our case 378 pages, we then change the “show rows” to 400. You then can see all posts and pages by popularity. You will see some entries with the following format:
This line above originated from our WordPress search box. A human couldn’t find something they needed on our site. Important info. They wanted to know more about Beaver Builder pagebuilder plugin.
We don’t have a Beaver Builder article. Do we need one? Maybe.
Going to the top of the GA page, there is an Export function on the right. We download the entire set for whatever period we choose and import that into a spreadsheet.
Then we categorize and sort the “searches.” The results reveal what people were looking for. We then test by doing a Google Search on the terms with the name “PagePipe.” That reveals what kind of placement the search phrase gets in the rankings.
This influences what we write about based on reader’s questions we’re not answering. So far this is helpful. How else can you learn what you don’t know?
From our recent analysis, we generated the following preliminary titles for future posts:
Why don’t we write about good hosts? Why only the bad ones?
How does cookie consent compliance affect speed?
Measuring HTTPS/SSL drag with ByteCheck
Why we don’t review paid themes
Why we don’t recommend CDN
How to use Cache Enabler plugin for speed.
Is Imsanity plugin good for speed?
How to use Autoptimize plugin for speed.
Magnetic versus SSD hosting for speed
What is site-origin optimization?
Speeding up Astra theme
Speeding up WooCommerce sites
Why use twenty-seventeen theme instead of twenty-nineteen?
PagePipe speed services uncover real speed problems fast. And we discover unrealized speed potential, too. Many web problems aren’t necessarily the ones you suspect. It’s often something else. Learn the speed truth.
PagePipe’s speed techniques are counterculture and unconventional. We only focus on the 20 percent of site features that cause 80 percent of speed damage (Pareto’s Law). Speed is an area rampant with web myth, unproven plugin habits, and Google dogma. We challenge and test those misbehaviors.
Speed problems are more often from site owner’s whims and muses. You must stop adding unnecessary and unwanted features. Let go of ideas simultaneously ruining performance and profitability.
We help you make wise speed decisions. We show you how.
We like helping but … we’re not a bottomless pit of charity. We have limits. We can’t rescue a site if performance goals are unreasonable, unattainable, or impossible.
There’s no miracle speed performance without sacrificing something you love. If you’re in love with your site or how you do things now, you won’t like what we’ll tell you.
“Everyone wants to hear the truth about speed until Steve Teare opens his mouth.” – PagePipe staff
We don’t sell *curative placebos* that never speed up your site.
ORIGIN OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY SPEEDS UP WORDPRESS
We cater to worst-case web performance scenarios. We optimize content at the origin on commodity hosting. Surrounding poorly optimized content with third-party CDN or caching services doesn’t guarantee success. Origin optimization is our first priority.
Cost-benefit analysis for page load speed is an important exercise. Are you committed to delivering the best performance possible to your readers? A site bloated with codes and scripts, especially external ones, can only load so fast … and there’s only so much that’ll speed it up. Loading only what readers need is the best performance enhancement. We help you determined that and optimize it.
Dumping whimsical or random stuff on your site ruins speed. Performance-fairy dust won’t magically deliver sub-second page load speeds. When your site has too much going on, it’s time for value analysis. Clean themes and the judicious use of plugins are key.
The single most effective solution to fix a slow site is keep what you need and jettison the rest. Don’t rush to use advanced components before taking care of basic needs.
We strip themes and WordPress to reduce WordPress bloat. We substitute poorly designed popular plugins with leaner alternatives to improve performance.
Pushing slow assets out to a CDN or caching service is a bad solution. That annual overhead is best spent on building a more optimized vital origin.
Slow-loading sites pull scripts from someone else’s network. These include advertising scripts, website analytics scripts, web fonts, and social sharing scripts from Facebook and Twitter. And more, of course.
These scripts are on very powerful networks and CDNs accessed by billions of users. They load slower than objects delivered from your site.
There’s NO magic potion to throw at third-party scripts. The only solution is a good ol’ cost-benefit analysis. If the profit benefits of third-party scripts outweigh their cost on your load time, fine. Keep them. If not, get rid of them. Is tiny ad profit slowing down your site?
We analyze your site and streamline it. We keep the objects you need. We consider with a skeptical eye those you merely want. And ditch what nobody uses – nor even sees.
Focus on the fundamentals – optimize your origin – before you look anywhere else.
WordPress is open source. People start with nothing more than a $5 website hosting plan. There’s a low-entry cost to the world of WordPress. It’s coupled with the availability of free WordPress themes and plugins. Many WordPress users feel entitled to get everything free of charge.
We’re advocates of free themes and free plugins for speed. And low-cost shared hosting. These are good enough when you build a strategic site with speed goals.
Are 60 to 70 percent of your traffic on smartphones and tablets?
The goal is often a desktop load time of under 2 seconds. This translates into around 4 seconds in a Starbucks parking lot.
People won’t tolerate a frustrating, slow-loading mobile website. They’ll leave. Many sites we build load in under 1 second. This is extreme optimization and the ideal. It’s not always achievable. Especially if a site has too many third-party scripts like:
You need speed strategy and value analysis.
Speed is about user experience. Speed is an indicator of site-owner hospitality and website quality.
Load-time or page speed is NOT an influencing factor in Search Engine Optimization. That’s a myth and even a deception. Regurgitating web propaganda doesn’t enhance our credibility as a performance optimization company. Stop the speed myths.
The biggest players on the Internet make untrue statements about speed.
Hosting and CDN service providers falsely boasting stellar performance and security benefits. Providers like SiteGround, FastComet, GoDaddy, Cloudflare, and WP Engine – but there are many more. It’s a long list.
Deceptive online speed tests like Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, GTMetrix, or WebPagetest.org (also a Google property). We love these tests and use them. But they tell us to fix stupid things making no difference in speed – only scores. Better scores are meaningless. Wasteful.
Lazy authors and resellers of bloated, heavy themes like Divi (1-second load time). For comparison, a free default theme is often under 50-milliseconds load time. (WordPress core loads in around 100 milliseconds). Which theme do you think has the shortest shelf life?
Apathetic authors and resellers of plugins. Most plugins cause global loading on every page and post of your sluggish site. That’s site drag. Plugins then load scripts whether they’re used or not – everywhere. This is a hidden, unpublished speed liability. Good coders make plugins that don’t slow down pages. Who are the worst offenders? Oddly, the most popular plugins with millions of downloads. Plugins such as Yoast SEO, Contact Form 7, and Wordfence Security. The more *essential* the plugin the worse the site drag. Even popular paid SPEED plugins like WP Rocket slow down pages globally by 45.3 milliseconds. Plugin authors neglect mentioning site-drag specifications – a sin of omission.
And the big fish: Google experts claiming speed makes an absolute SEO difference.
Do these speed people lie? No. We don’t think so. Do they zealously exaggerate? Often. They’re caught up in a self-created technological tornado. It’s cognitive dissonance. That’s where you accept as truth what reinforces your existing belief – no matter how twisted. Not facts. Stories that amplify propaganda.
Trusting unsubstantiated web gossip is most absurd. But it happens every day. These self-proclaimed credibility sources can’t stop spinning. Some accept ivory-tower experts proclamations and ideology. Others follow The Blind Herd of fashionable web speed myths. And jump without questioning. Lemmings.
How can you know what’s speed truth or error? Is the pervasive problem of speed deception that terrible? Do you need to fix it? Yes. You do! Fight the urge to swallow what others tell you about speed. And even more, be suspicious of implications there’s a penalty for non-compliance. Don’t trust speed predator’s doom-and-gloom predictions. They want you afraid. Anxiety motivates sales of speed services and products.
WordPress performance optimization services brag about improving site speed. We’re sorry. 7-second to 4-second load times still aren’t good enough improvement. Yes, it sounds good. And it’s a measurable improvement.
But a 4-second page load is still a flop. Now, if it was 10 seconds reduced to 1 second – or even 2 seconds, we’d be mighty impressed. But 4 seconds isn’t best practice for user experience.
If someone claims speed improves SEO. They’re misinformed – or a snake-oil conman.
Scores don’t count – millisecond load times do!
Surprise! Google doesn’t really care about speed. They say they do, but reality says otherwise. They don’t walk the talk. Every web service they provide slows down web pages – Google Ads, Google Fonts, Google Maps, Google Analytics, Google reCaptcha, Google-mandated SSL certification, etc. Who are they kidding? Those are some of the worst speed culprits for slowing down the web.
Increasing your Google PageSpeed Insights test score from 50 to 86 is no guarantee of anything. Really. It’s not scoring that count. Anyone can trick a speed test score with trivial changes. Do speed scores affect SEO? You wish! There’s no compelling evidence.
Load time in milliseconds and page weight in kilobytes are what counts. Not a colorful green flag – or arbitrary numerical score. That applause is artificial and fabricated to help you feel good about vain efforts. Test performance criteria (the measuring stick) is based on “theoretical speed principles.” Those egghead opinions don’t make much difference in real-world user experience.
Load time in milliseconds and page weight in kilobytes are what count.
Where did these “speed scores” originate? Steve Souders coined the term web performance optimization in 2004. Souders worked at Yahoo on the Extreme Performance Team. He helped invent the Yslow speed test. How did his speed philosophies migrate to Google? They pirated him over to the dark side in 2008. There he helped determine the PageSpeed Insights criteria. Does he still work at Google? No. But his legacy of obsessive-compulsive speed doctrine lives on. He’s not evil. We like him. But he left a residue (scores) that’s still accepted as truth even though outdated and obsolete. The web moved on. Souders now works at SpeedCurve testing the interplay between performance and design.
Ivory tower is a state of privileged separation from real-world practicalities.
Guaranteeing SEO ranking based on an achieved Google PageSpeed score is ludicrous! Don’t be fooled. Speed affects Google page ranking less than 1 percent. What improves your SEO most is offering something people value. That’s relevant content and good user experience. Those things you can control. Unless you’re selling irrelevant rubbish. Then nothing you write is relevant. Nothing can save a valueless offer. Relevant content directly, and indirectly, move the SEO needle. Not hollow speed scores.
How much do promises of miracle speed cost? About $100. That’s the usual pond-bottom, scum-sucking price tag. What do you get for parting with your green Franklin? Well, it sounds technical and complicated. But the benefits listed are *coincidentally* identical to specifications for the paid WP Rocket plugin. Shocking. They install that plugin and enchantment – done. Results? Good score – maybe. Good speed? Not necessarily. They didn’t promise a load time, did they? Not for $100. Only a feeble irrelevant score.
Fix your site speed problem without shelling out for the recurring expense of annual plugin or theme rent.
You can install free alternative plugins instead. We test alternative plugins. They work. It won’t cost you anything to test them for yourself either.
But what if you don’t have the time or the technical mental energy to make these changes yourself? What if you’re too busy counting your money? Nice.
Hire us to help you. Not those other guys.
Hypocrisy! Didn’t we say not to spend money on speed parasites? But we’re not leeches or bloodsucking lampreys.
Not everyone’s fanatic about speed optimization. We’re busy people, too. We’re not operating a 100-percent charity organization to save the Internet. If you want us to repair or rebuild your site, we’ll oblige. But we want you to understand what exactly you’ll get and why it’s important first. We don’t sell boilerplate speed tricks you don’t need.
If you want to reduce your pain of making speed improvements, we’ll help. We’ll even teach you skills. Then you won’t need us again. Self-inflicted obsolescence. We recommend changes. You approve them. We then do it. We benchmark before-and-after improvements.
Google edicts! We’re sick of them. The HTTPS speed penalty is incredible. To us, it’s horrible and appalling. There is a myth HTTPS / SSL Certification makes no increase in page delays. Our testing says otherwise. Read on.
“HTTPS sites also load significantly faster. In a test on HTTP vs HTTPS.com, the unsecure version of the page loads 334% slower than HTTPS.” – A3 creative Solutions
They have to be joking!
“HTTPS did have an impact on my page load times, however the difference is negligible and I only noticed a 300 millisecond difference.” – Dean Hume“
We’d sell our grandmother for 300-millisecond gains. Well, we’d dump Google Fonts anyway.
I need to make an apology … On Tuesday, I switched Blogging Wizard over to SSL (https). But in the process, I managed to crash the site completely… twice. Yep, twice”. – Adam
The quotes above reveal the foolishness of many people about site security and speed. HTTPS / SSL server handshaking creates an initial stall in making Internet connections. There’s a slow delay before anything starts to render on your visitor’s browser screen. This delay is measured in Time-to-First-Byte information (aka TTFB).
The HTTPS overhead (delay) is NOT due to the encryption. The overhead is due to the SSL handshakes. An extra time-to-first-byte delay of about 400 to 500 milliseconds is typical. Sites that were under 100 milliseconds TTFB are now over 500 milliseconds TTFB. When your performance budget is 2 seconds, that’s 25 percent waste.
HTTPS is slower because it does double the work. A normal HTTP request does a “2-leg” delay for network connections. This a round-trip request and response. With HTTPS, you have 4-legs (2 round trips). It’s 100 milliseconds to travel between the client and the server. That means your first HTTPS request is at least 500 milliseconds. (That’s what we’re seeing happen.)
HTTPS handshake overhead appears in Time-to-First-Byte information (TTFB). Common TTFB ranges from under 100 milliseconds (best-case) to over 1.5 seconds (worst case). But, of course, with HTTPS it’s 500 milliseconds worse.
Roundtrip, wireless 3G connections can be 500 milliseconds or more. The extra trips double delays to 1 second or more. This is a big, negative impact on mobile performance. Very bad news.
So if you use SiteGround 1.2 second TTFB + 500 ms for SSL + 125 ms for CloudFlare redirect = 1.825 seconds TTFB total. Subtract that from 2 seconds and you don’t have much left (175ms). That’s the result on a desktop – not mobile.
To put those times in perspective, a free WordPress theme loads in under only 50 milliseconds.
Big companies are the most compliant. Why? We suggest SEO PARANOIA. Fear of Google. Yep. Google has too much power. But you already knew that.
Don’t make the switch to HTTPS only for SEO purposes. It’s a resource-intensive process and there’s no strong correlation between the two. No benefit.
Less than 0.3 percent! Hardly the stampede of panic many bloggers claim. Some are saying 30 percent of the web made the switch. That inflated bump occurred after Wikipedia switched to HTTPS. This shows the impact one powerhouse site can have. The English Wikipedia includes 5,475,729 articles and it averages 650 new articles per day. You can see why it made a statistical difference in HTTPS usage. But that hardly means everyone is using HTTPS.
Google announced using HTTPS as a “lightweight” ranking signal in search algorithms. Google stated if all factors are exactly equal, HTTPS will act as a tiebreaker in search engine results. That was in mid-2014.
Google didn’t get significant compliance after 2 years. So, they incentivized moving from HTTP to HTTPS. Google Chrome browsers started shaming unencrypted HTTP websites. How? With a little “shield icon” in the Chrome address bar. See the chart below.
Doesn’t not using SSL Certification affect our SEO? Not in the least. Google said if everything on two sites is equal then SSL tips the scale for ranking. When are two sites ever exactly the same in Google’s 200-factor PageRank algorithm? (Factors are also known as signals). NEVER!
According to Google, HTTPS only acts as a “tiebreaker”.
Google Speed-Irony Strikes Again
We admit we love the irony of testing TTFB on Google’s homepage with ByteCheck.com online testing tool:
Google’s TTFB for their HTTPS-information page is 407 milliseconds. Oops! It could have been less than 100 milliseconds – if they left HTTPS off the site. Is there a monetary or even information transaction on this page? Nope. Sheer waste of speed. Especially for mobile users.
Let’s look at a few more examples:
This site formerly changed hosts to avoid a 1.5-millisecond TTFB. The new host had a TTFB of fewer than 100 milliseconds. Bravo! But today, after the site owner added SSL Certification, TTFB is 533 milliseconds. We ask: In this case, how much additional TTFB delay is caused by HTTPS / SSL Certification? Does he need SSL? No. He just has email signups. No monetary transactions!
459 milliseconds wasted!
That’s the same as adding a video or podcast player to every single page and post on the site.
If you botch installing HTTPS, you can end up with duplicate content issues. You’ll have both HTTP and HTTPS versions of your page getting indexed. Different versions of the same page might also show up in search engine results. This will confuse your visitors and lead to a negative user experience. HTTPS has a no effect on search rankings. Producing quality, relevant content is still the most important SEO tactic.
To correct HTTPS problems, you have to do 301 redirects for every page and post of your site. Bummer! It takes time for Google to re-index your website and a certain drop in rankings will most likely happen.
“Don’t make the switch to HTTPS solely for SEO purposes. It’s a resource intensive process and there isn’t a strong correlation between the two.” – Neil Patel
There is no point in serving a blog over HTTPS when you have no sensitive data exchanged. Why on earth would Google force you to do it? Why would you favor a secure blog over a non-secure blog, if you don’t exchange any sensitive data anyway?
“My recent profile of my homepage, HTTP vs HTTPS, the average load times were 1.5s and 4.5s, respectively. When looking at the connection details, the big slow down factor was the extra round trips due to the SSL handshake. Mobile browsers over 3G was even worse. The numbers were 5s and 9s, respectively.” – Clint Pachl
Do site owners realize the contradictory nature of Google edicts about speed?
Google’s claim: To help you stay safe on the web, Chrome requires websites to use certificates from trusted organizations. – support.google.com
The argument is that the website owner is assured they’re going to the right website owned by the right party. In a perfect world, this would be correct. In the world we live in though, it’s incorrect. Not because the certificate doesn’t verify the owner – it does. If a website housing a phishing page has verified HTTPS, it will show the user the lovely green padlock or “secure”. Deception!
HTTPS isn’t going to stop the spying of anything. The average user doesn’t care. HTTPS isn’t stopping websites from getting hacked. Nor the distribution of malware or keeping website owners safe.
Lets be honest–No one looks at site seals. As we progress forward the Green padlock does not mean you can Trust a website or its Databases, Frontend,. UI, or its back-end. HTTPS is not a SOLUTION to “hey my website is safe and secure now.” – Source
HIDDEN COSTS OF HTTPS
You can get an SSL certificate for free. Blog posts debate the value of a free SSL Certificate. But, the costs can shoot up to $1,499/year if you opt for an SSL certificate from a provider like Symantec. You don’t have to provide corporate documentation to get SSL Certification. The authorization may be a simple email. Confirm the email inquiry, and you’re accepted as the authorized domain holder. Can Free TLS Certificates provided by Let’s Encrypt still be hacked? Absolutely. Anyone can get an SSL certificate – including hackers. They can set up a site to harvest information.
SSL Certificates aren’t justifiable for small business owners with limited budgets. Are you a blog owner that only asks for email info from your visitors? You’re better off spending your limited budget somewhere else.
But what if you’re using secure PayPal as a payment gateway? Why do you have to wear the derogatory “Scarlet Letter” on your site’s address bar? Why does a site that’s collecting zero information from anyone need an SSL certificate? It makes no sense at all. If your website doesn’t have financial transactions, why do you need an SSL certificate?
If you have small, lightweight, 1M page weights or less, stick with HTTP. It’s all you need.
It’s often implied (pure lies?) HTTPS secures your website. It won’t. SSL Certification doesn’t make a website impervious to hackers. Labeling a site as secure because it has SSL is wrong. In error, users think they’re using a secure site when in reality it’s not better than before.
Let’s Encrypt has reportedly issued over 14,000 certificates to domains that impersonate PayPal. – source
What HTTPS will do is deliver the intended good or bad information securely. We repeat “good or bad” information. HTTPS is indifferent to what’s transmitted. Infected websites distribute malware. HTTPS doesn’t do anything to ensure displayed information’s integrity. HTTPS will also deliver manipulated information to unsuspecting website visitors. Installing a Secure Socket Layer certificate prevents man-in-the-middle attacks. That’s it. It doesn’t warn of evil.
SSL certificates are there only to ensure message confidentiality, but not server identity. … You couldn’t trust SSL for owner identity before Let’s Encrypt either, nothing has changed. – source
An encrypted HTTPS connection doesn’t stop attackers from hacking a website or server. It won’t stop an attacker from exploiting software vulnerabilities. They can still do brute force access. Or cause Distributed Denial of Services (DDOS) attacks.
The problem with making something freely available to anyone that wants to use it, something like free certificates, is that in short order you can be sure that there will be some unsavory characters wanting to use it. As you’d expect this was exactly the case and the bad guys very quickly started encrypting their websites too. This is a testament to just how easy and painless Let’s Encrypt have made the process of obtaining certificates. – source
Encrypting information over HTTPS can be a good thing for some users – but not all users.
If you need speed – and don’t have critical confidential information – forget HTTPS and SSL Certification. Stick with the cheaper and faster HTTP.
According to BuiltWith, the entire Internet has 0.3 percent SSL adoption. Hardly the massive exodus Google and hosts like GoDaddy would have us believe.
Google still says TTFB – time to first byte – should be 200 milliseconds or less. But even Google’s homepage can’t follow that “specification” anymore. Speed tests give a red flag with slower TTFB. Google’s homepage slowed down by 400 to 500 milliseconds. Google flunks their own test.
PagePipe is moving clients off shared hosting to Pressidium. Because they have a 100- to 200-millisecond TTFB. With added SSL overhead, that’s faster than shared hosts. The new hosting costs about 10 times more than cheap shared hosting. We can then tolerate the TTFB handshaking performance hit for mobile-dominant audiences.
SSL compliance is only to the advantage of hosting providers. They charge for SSL services or faster TTFB. No one else benefits. We don’t care what they say about improved data security. SSL is false security. You can study that for yourself. Those with technical savvy know HTTPS is as vulnerable to tricksters and hackers. Perhaps more so.
Who wants improved data security? Google? Not improved site security – improved DATA security. Why? Because they’re in the “data collection and analysis” business. They need clean data. Not fake data. Fake data would destroy Google’s pristine credibility – and source of profits.
QWith the improvements in browser throughput etc that comes with http/2 vs http/1.1, aren’t visitors likely to see significantly faster load times for https sites that include many small file downloads etc?
A: Is your host an HTTP/2 provider? How much does it cost? If so, then don’t worry about it. It’s encrypted already. But most of the world can’t afford the extra cost of HTTP/2. And it’s not available everywhere – yet. Note: Most HTTP sites have actually no need for encryption of any sort.
QAren’t there security benefits for encrypting traffic between the visitor and the server?
A: This is a vaporous web myth. Perpetuating it makes hosts millions of dollars selling little green “secure” badges. How does Google benefit – since they are the ones cramming this down our throats by blackmail? The idea SSL makes the web safer is ridiculous. There’s no reward.
QThe Chrome browser updates show all non-https sites as “insecure.” Doesn’t this have an impact on user perception even when there is no sensitive data exchanged?
A: Without question. Google Chrome shames site owners into compliance. This is absolute blackmail by Google to change the Internet for their gain. How deep is our disdain? Defeating. We can’t believe the world is caving into this.
We care so much about the mobile speed 500-millisecond penalty, we’re distraught. “Why try? It’s futile.” We’re David. They’re Goliath.
“Undoubtedly, Google loves its users and therefore, is coming up with every possible way to make us feel secure here on the Internet.” – Source
Baloney! Propaganda! Note all the SSL buttons on this source above are “go” links – in other words, affiliate links. The author gets a kickback selling SSL certificates! How credible are these sources?
Is the Internet going crazy? Completely!
Google doesn’t do things without getting something back. So what is it? What gives with the Google hypocrisy? It’s not madness. It’s logic.
Google keeps data collected from free Google Font users, free Google Maps users, free Google Analytics, etc, etc. Google’s secret motivation for SSL is about “clean and pure data” – not your safety. It’s always collected free data to make money. Google contradicts their own speed policies to make SSL compliance happen. Don’t be fooled. It’s not altruism. Eavesdropping conspiracy? Nah! Google wouldn’t do that. Would they? That would be like Russian’s trying to fiddle with American elections. Too Big Brother. Orwellian snooping?
But if site data is encrypted, Google can’t be accused by anyone of illegal spying. Convenient. It’s then legal instead.
Google isn’t spying on users. It’s monitoring user activities with their consent. Whenever you use Google products, you’re presented with the terms and conditions. Users accept this before proceeding to use Google products. Users are accepting paying with their data instead of paying with money. Google keeps track of all possible data. Except for sensitive details like credit card and banking details – and now with SSL, they can prove it. Right?
Legal spying is called data collection, not spying.
‘Secure’ in Chrome Browser Does Not Mean ‘Safe’
Other than verifying the domain owner actually owns the website, the certificate authority is not required to do anything else. SECURE does not mean that the domain is “Trusted”, “Safe”, “Not malicious” or anything else. Many phishing sites have a valid certificate issued by LetsEncrypt and appear as ‘Secure’ in the Chrome browser.
Cybercriminals slap a SSL certificate on their website and fool users into believing they’re safe. Because, let’s be honest, the average internet user has no idea what connection security is, much less what to look for. Too many people believe Secure = Safe. – Source
Our benevolent host, GoDaddy, emailed and then called by phone saying Google made the *big* Chrome change. We needed to switch to SSL right away. Emergency! And that had a price tag. We refused to pay the $69.00 dollars minimum per domain per year. None of our domains “need” SSL.
GoDaddy has 17 million customers. Do the math.
That’s over 11 BILLION dollars pure profit. GoDaddy loves customers drinking the Google Kool-aid.
We have 17 separate experimental domains on GoDaddy. That SSL price tag (tax) is a potential $1,173 per year. Most site owners are ignorant about what’s needed and trust GoDaddy to make recommendations and decisions. In the phone call, GoDaddy said, “As you know, Google now requires SSL.” As if to say, “It’s not our fault we have to ding you, it’s Google.” Credit card, please?
We’re digging in our heels. We loathe the pure absurdity of Herd Mentality.
It’s killing web speed.
A few extra thoughts: When someone tells us the sky is falling (you must have SSL), we always go, “Huh? We guess we missed that emergency.” Most of these events seem concocted and man-made. Exaggerated to cause a sense of panic. When we research the root cause, there exists a knee-jerk backlash overreaction to some anxiety-producing change. That “scare” grew disproportionately into a “web myth” – and then dogma.
This goes especially for promises of SSL security, SEO ranking, and performance speed. People are ripped off buying “promises of instant success and wealth.”
These panics – and ignorance – sell fear for profit, not actual results of helpful productivity. Scams prevail. In the case of SSL, we’re talking billions of dollars to fight a boogie man.
Panic gets people to act. So we approach these web mandates (propaganda?) with skepticism. We also don’t like bullies telling us there’s only one way to do things. Their way! Philosophical absolutism is rarely the real truth.
Why is Google so rabid about SSL shaming? They could just be flexing muscles to test their influence. They claim to favor web security. But they know SSL is full of holes and provides an opportunity for false user trust. Google says they also value and promote page speed. But SSL drags all sites by 500 milliseconds. Even Google knows that’s horrible.
What’s PagePipe’s thoughts on SSL being pushed by Google + Chrome to become a “standard” for all sites – even without ecommerce on it? Do you think certification might bring any disadvantage in trust and user behavior?
Surprise! We propose Google is self-serving. Forcing SSL certification is not altruistic or charitable. They have clandestine purposes to protect themselves from lawsuits. Everything Google recommends slows down the web including:
and, of course, Google Ads!
We haven’t seen any SEO advantage or disadvantage on our blog. PagePipe store must have SSL so PayPal will play nice with Easy Digital Downloads plugin. That’s the only reason – technical and artificial.
As far as trust goes, no first-time visitor trusts a website. They’re anxious and suspicious. They assume any sites is a potential deception, ripoff, or scam. Things producing credibility are:
Credibility affects SEO more than speed or SSL.
Good content brings people interested in your site. You don’t want traffic that isn’t qualified. It’s a waste of server resources and speed. Low bounce rate and long dwell time metrics show visitor motivation and intent.
Trust isn’t about a little shield in the corner of your screen. It’s absence looks scary to site owners – not visitors. It takes more than Google endorsement to gain visitor trust. Any scammer can get a “Let’s Encrypt” Certificate for free. Do you trust Google? They don’t trust you.
Unless you are transferring sensitive information, blogs do NOT need to support SSL for any technical reason. Blogs, like this one, primarily transfer plain-text data in the form of words and paragraphs. Encryption provides almost no security benefit for most blogs. – source
If you have a blog with no products, no memberships, no nothing except blog posts and maybe a contact form, SSL would be a waste of time, effort, and money. Any possible benefit from Google would be too minuscule to count. – source
… if you get a phone call from GoDaddy claiming that Google [will] punish your website unless you purchase SSL certificates from them, this is GoDaddy’s way of instilling fear in webmasters in order to sell their own products. – source
Shared hosting is Web hosting in which the service provider serves pages for multiple Web sites, each having its own Internet domain name, from a single Web server. … Although shared hosting is a less expensive way for businesses to create a Web presence, it is usually not sufficient for Web sites with high traffic.
Magnetic servers are old mechanical technology using spinning hard drives. Modern Solid State Drives (SSD) have no moving parts. An SSD is a type of mass storage device similar to a hard disk drive (HDD). Hosts claim SSDs are faster because they have faster access times. From our testing, that is theoretical improvement. We’ve never seen any real-world benefit. So paying more for SSD has no apparent advantage over cheaper magnetic technology.
The advantages for the host company are many including reducing cooling expenses and space and technical service time. They benefit. But should you pay more for SSD hosting?
We don’t usually recommend or prefer any hosting service. Because they fluctuate depending upon how well or bad their business is doing. It’s cyclical.
We use the two hosts with the most disrespected and low credibility for quality. Those are BlueHost and GoDaddy. They are the most hated hosts. They’re not a problem for us because of the way we build speed sites.
If you use original optimization as taught on PagePipe, about any host can get good-enough speed.
For clients who have money to burn, we recommend Pressidium hosting. But you can achieve the same speed results applying your brain and creativity – and cheap, shared hosting.
Remember, all hosts fluctuate from good to bad speed at some time. Our advice is don’t throw money at the problem. Build your site using origin optimization instead.
Because you like Elementor pagebuilder, does that make you’re a speed fool? No. Lots of people like Elementor (200,000+). But it doesn’t match our speed *philosophy* because it causes bloat. Not because of plugin page weight or load time. Because of human psychology. The herd can’t resist the temptation to create pagebuilder massive pages. It’s like a compulsive addiction. More is better is the assumption.
Elementor is the fastest and best of breed pagebuilder. But we don’t endorse pagebuilders!
For the computer to become “invisible,” you need 1-second page loads. That is when the user thinks they’re in control. That’s been the case with human-machine interaction for 30 to 40 years. Do any sites achieve this transparency? Yes. But they’re only 1 percent of the Internet. Rare. It’s beyond the reach of most of our readers and costs big money to achieve.
All web hosts, theme authors, and plugin vendors make speed claims. Their proof to sell is vaporous. If there’s no anxiety, there’s no impetus to change. Our goal is saving the Internet from WordPress abuse. It’s never WordPress’ fault – or themes even. Most themes (Divi not included here) load in 50 milliseconds. It’s abuse that ruins websites. Overindulgence. We preach the evils of millisecond delays to get people to back off on design overkill.
Why do stripped down themes run faster? Because there aren’t options to fill with junk and bloat.
If you use a pagebuilder, use Elementor. But realize it may not future-proof your site. We have a suspicion WordPress will “break” all pagebuilders soon. On purpose? No. But they want to own that pagebuilder space.
We don’t use pagebuilders on principle. Mobile sites don’t usually need them with only one column of content. We find pagebuilders frustrating (slow). In the end, we get the same results (only faster) using discrete plugins and other workarounds.
We recommend using Elementor as long as you’re aware of potential traps. We steer clear of all pagebuilders.
SEO guys say speed directly affects SEO. It doesn’t. It affect UX. And UX indirectly affects bounce rate, dwell time, and return visits. That, in turn affects Google’s perceived user intent. Get used to waiting for page ranking!
We satisfy the quest for speed, image stimulation, and short attention spans.
For over a decade, we’ve studied balancing expressive aesthetics (aka branding) and mobile speed. It boils down to value analysis of all web assets: combination, simplification, elimination, standardization, and substitution. And if you don’t have firm goals, you can’t make wise choices.
Market positioning is a creative communication strategy. It serves as a shortcut to the buyers motive. Users won’t wade through junk trying to figure out why you are valuable or why they should care about what you do. They don’t have the patience. It’s a much more intolerant world. But the world’s always been intolerant of slow things.
Pagebuilders don’t cultivate essential or simple UX.
UX is about overcoming three critical things for quality-first impression (aka credibility):
1.) Speed being prime. Why? If you can’t get past this hurdle the user won’t hang around to even see your cool presentation. Pagebuilders make available enticing options to overload the page with expressive design aesthetic. Too many extras. There are no limitations.
2.) Next attractive aesthetics. We react emotionally and holistically to what we see and instantly determine if a site is “good” or “bad.” Based on design appearance, we decide to stay-or-go. Too much clutter or moving elements can repel. Is this overindulgence the pagebuilder plugin’s fault? No. It’s lack of discipline on the part of the real builder – the site owner or developer.
3.) And lastly, readability and findability (like navigation and text size, etc). Websites are about reading content (or skimming at the least). People are foraging for entertainment or problem solving. Pictures are nice. But it’s words that communicate to humans – and are also machine readable. OK. Pagebuilders don’t encourage you to put the wrong words. But we needed to include this for UX completeness.
UX is that simple. Three helpful things – not thousands of tricks. And metrics (big data) are a tiny part of the evaluation. UX is about *feeling right* and being polite. What meter exists for measuring hospitality?
Short user attention spans want to click a button every 20 seconds.
Anyone can make a fast stripped down site. But can you make one that looks attractive? That’s the challenge. How good is good enough? Do pagebuilders help you reign in the desire to add more site features and functions? We don’t think so.
You merge simplicity, space, content, and colorful GIFs or PNGs. That breaks up huge content. It’s like orchestrating technology and design. Certain technology solutions bog down your site. Can you use faster-loading alternatives and still get the right feeling?
With a pagebuilder, you can add heavy parallax effects in many places. Parallax effects now and then, break monotony. They allow a few seconds before the next informational landslide. It adds visual relief to a heavy cognitive load – a time out. Or breathing room. But often the a parallax image doesn’t reinforce the theme or goals. Then it’s a waste and mere eye candy. If you add heavy JPEGs then they better do some work to motivate sales.
Using anything but system fonts on mobile is a waste of bandwidth. Mobile screens needs readable type more than decorative Google webfonts. Web designers don’t realize the utility of system fonts and fast loads are important. Pagebuilders allow the choice of many Google Fonts. It’s almost a pressure to add fonts. There’s no warning of the speed consequences.
Hardcore PagePipe readers get 70-percent mobile audiences. Then speed pain becomes intense and the need to differentiate from the competition is high. You must build and test for mobile first (that old mantra) because if you don’t visitors have bad UX and bail out.
Fight waste. And resist faddish pagebuilder trends. Classic design still communicates best. What can you eliminate or offload and still function? What’s the minimum viable product – MVP?
To be creative, set limitations. That includes the idea of not being seduced by pagebuilder features.
Something we see bogging down Home pages is the faddish inclusion of a huge Google Maps dynamic graphic. Often the trendy map isn’t needed on the Home page – or it isn’t needed anywhere! It’s gratuitous bloat.
We understand needing a good map and directions. Especially if you’re a brick-and-mortar store – or have offices where you meet clientèle. Or you run a restaurant. Then people need to find you. We get it. So what can you do to keep your pages lightweight – and still have an interactive map?
First, let’s examine how heavy are Google Maps? They use an API (script) to call offsite web assets from Google’s servers. You can’t host these bits and pieces locally. That means the assets for maps aren’t cached. There are delays when servers talk to each other.
Often, Google Maps add at least 500k page weight. That’s our observation. But others have seen worse speed damage than this. More on this in a minute. Depending upon how you install Google Maps, the page weight loads on every page and post of your site. Even if only using a map on one solitary page. Global loading of a plugin or script is site drag. Most site owners don’t even know site drag is a potential liability.
To load the typical Google Map, it takes about 70 requests which is 2 megabytes extra page weight. Or up to 2-seconds load time. On slower connections and especially mobile ones it’s even more. – Offsite resource
Why does a map take so long and is so heavy? The majority of site owners use the easiest plugin installation – an iframe method. It gets the job done. It begins *building* the dynamic map from remote components during page load. It doesn’t take into account if the visitor is looking at the map – or interacting with it.
Instead of loading dynamic map data chunks, it’s better to load one single, static image. That’s about 50k file size. That takes a fraction of the time. The user clicks the static map. The interactive version then loads in a new browser window or on a new page. Simple offloading trick.
We prefer to open the actual Google hosted map page in a new window and not embedding the map into a local page. This completely offloads all heavy assets to Google’s servers and hosting.
How do you get a static map image? There are two simple ways we like. First go to Google Maps and use their tools to build the map the way you want and then do a screen capture.
Another way is to use an online free tool.
Go to Static Map Maker and use the form on the left to change the map. Leave the API field empty. We selected the retina option to produce a larger map. You can adjust the width and height to fit your site’s needs. Google imposes a maximum static map size of 640 x 640 pixels. But using the retina setting, you can get a 1280 pixel square PNG image. You’ll want the default roadmap type. Play with “address and zoom” to get the map you need. The preview on the right refreshes as you make changes.
This PagePipe speed tip is the fastest way to manage Google Maps for mobile websites.
He’s the author of SiteGround’s free ebook. “SPEED MATTERS: 21 Expert Tips to an Ultra-Fast WordPress Site.” Hristo’s an expert on WordPress speed optimization. He has a video online from a 2016 WordCamp. But we have found a few ideas in his ebook that don’t measure up to our experience and testing. Naturally. But most of his speed suggestions are safe and sane.
SiteGround implies that somewhere there exists a mandated 1-second barrier. Is their hosting service the only method to break 1 second? Speed authorities think otherwise.
Why are they advocating an idealistic or sometimes impossible 1-second goal?
A well-optimized site and SiteGround’s servers on good days can achieve this. We’ve used SiteGround with clients. But it’s possible to do 1-second loads on cruddy hosting too, if you abide by certain principles.
Good mobile user experience needs the fastest page loads.
One second is instantaneous gratification for users – and has been for decades. But 2-second loads are a more realistic optimization and performance target. And those are desktop hardwired speeds.
What is realistic on wireless mobile? We suggest the performance budget is 3 seconds. That is also the user expectation – for today anyway.
From this web study, 4 seconds is average mobile speed: Read about average load time on mobile >
You can waste a lot of resources attempting unreachable maximization (100 percent). Optimization, or 80 percent return, is more affordable and realistic. Avoid waste from gold-plating or over-engineering your website.
Note: PagePipe’s Home load time is under a second (most of the time) – sometimes 1.2 seconds. We use cheap GoDaddy “evil” because our goal is good speed results even under bad conditions. We practice what we preach. Just like Google. Ha!
1Identify and Prioritize Issues. SiteGround lists GT Metrix and Pingdom online tests for speed benchmarking. Easy. Knowing what the test means takes some educating and reading. Learning curve stuff. Our preferred test is WebPagetest.org that’s geared for professional optimizers.
SiteGround gives a good piece of advice about speed testing:
“Even though most of the benchmarking tools will give you a ‘grade,’ don’t go too far chasing it.”
And this supportive quote below is from WP Rockets FAQ page about ratings:
“Performance ratings are mainly indicators of good practice. Ratings tools check that the optimizations have been made. These ratings do not indicate, however, the actual speed of a site, they are only indicators. Good ratings do not guarantee a fast site and vice versa. The actual page load time is the most important metric to look at.”
We’d add to that our puny opinion: “WordPress – by it’s very nature – cannot pass many speed tests. At least, not without major expenditure and effort. In the end, those improvements will not necessarily make the site faster. And speed (human perceived load time) is the only thing that counts – not scores.”
2 Reduce the number of Posts Shown on the Index Page. This is only a problem when the blog-listing page is the Home page. Then it may show too many featured images – if they are used. Installing a lazy-load plugin fixes this. We recommend Rocket Lazy Load plugin.
SiteGround recommends aninfinite scrolling plugin or changing WordPress for “show at most” values. Those are good ideas. But, infinite scrolling can activate jQuery and add page weight, too. So test before and after installing any infinite-scroll plugin.
SiteGround also recommends pagination of long pages into sections using the <!–nextpage–> tag. An easier method of insertion is using Page-Break plugin. It adds a control panel button.
3They recommend getting rid of sliders and using just one image. We agree. We’ve written about slider extravagance before:
SiteGround recommends two other slider plugins we’ve tested before. We weren’t that impressed with the load times. Our extreme speed philosophy is no sliders on the Home page. Period!
4 SiteGround recommends using appropriate image sizes. Again, we agree. They don’t have a plugin solution recommendation but our safeguard utility is using Imsanity plugin. We also use this plugin to solve the next problem they talk about:
SiteGround recommends using EWWW image Optimizer plugin. We don’t recommend it because it can cost money. We’re pro-free stuff. And there are plenty of other free alternatives and strategies. EWWW isn’t the best image optimizer as supposed and reported by many. It’s just one of a multitude of options.
Nothing will ever beat just optimizing images by-hand. Use an image processing program (like GIMP or Photoshop). Do that before uploading images to the WordPress media library.
Our most unpopular but best speed recommendation: Don’t use images whenever possible. That’s right. None. Just design with text and unicode symbols.
If you must use large images, don’t make them JPEG photos. Use PNG illustrations instead with limited color palettes. This produces the smallest, fastest file sizes and reinforces your branding.
6Reduce the usage of external fonts. We agree with this suggestion but we go even further. There are various plugins that can “exorcise” this font fluff. Our recommendation is Disable Emojis and Remove Google Fonts or Disable Google Fonts plugins. We’ve used all these plugins.
Or choose a theme that doesn’t use any webfonts – just websafe ones. Yes! Those themes do exist. We’ve written about those, too;
To get rid of Font Awesome, you’ll need to use Asset Queue Manager plugin. This plugin can “break” your site with some themes so proceed with caution. But we love this plugin and use it a lot to strip down bloated themes.
7Manage the volume of comments on your site. This isn’t the first we’ve read about comments slowing down sites. But we haven’t seen any real data to prove it (yet). We know a few reasons why comments in theory cause slowness from database issues. SiteGround makes two plugin recommendations for comment management. But we’re more hardcore about achieving goals and streamlining sites. We say, “Get rid of comments completely.” Read about our radical ideas on comment management:
8Enable Gzip compression for your pages. SiteGround recommends editing your .htaccess file but don’t say how to do that. So SiteGround must not have Gzip enabled like on some hosts. This .htaccess file edit is not an easy thing for newbies. We think it’s a pain. It’s easier to change the .htaccess file on your server with Far Future Expiry Header plugin. Read more about Gzip:
9Enable caching. OK. Unlike the rest of the world, we don’t think caching helps much on a well-optimized website. We just never see speed benefits. SiteGround makes two plugin suggestions. WP Rocket, a paid plugin, and WP Super Cache, a freebie. We’ve experimented with both of them and like we said: “We aren’t sure they help much.” Yeah. They’re band-aids for sloppy-built websites. But don’t help quality sites.
THEME AND PLUGIN OPTIMIZATION
The recommendations in this section are kind of silly or else just common sense. Someone must have been trying to fluff up the report with filler. SiteGround then goes on to tell us many things we’ve already covered:
10 Select a reputable theme from a solid provider. We only use free WordPress themes from their repository. That is our choice and self-imposed limitation. It speeds up our decision making and creative process. We don’t have time for shopping. We don’t spend money on complicated “premium” themes. Not us.
11 Avoid bloated themes. Their explanation of what is a bloated theme is good. Avoid sliders.
12 Always use a child theme when creating your website. This is common sense for safety sake. It prevents future updates from overwriting your customization. But what does a child theme have to do with speed? Nothing. Child themes load another CSS file. So this recommendation doesn’t make sense.
13 Optimize for mobile devices.Really? You need to tell people this? And they recommend the plugin WP Touch (non-native mobile conversion). This isn’t good. Even when they afterwards say, “Having a native mobile version is always preferable.” Even that isn’t a good idea. What’s preferable is using a responsive WordPress theme. A mobile version is a second version of your website that sniffs to detect a small screen device and then redirects to the mobile version. Not the same as responsive which just serves one site – no duplication.
14 When using icons, use an icon font. We despise icon fonts. They are heavy and slow-loading – the bane of speed. We disable icons whenever possible.
15 Don’t overlap functionality with plugins. A good suggestion but isn’t this just common sense again. Don’t duplicate stuff. Simplify.
16 Always keep your plugins up-to-date. This is just good housekeeping. Staying updated and current helps speed? We haven’t seen any evidence yet. SiteGround claims it’ll give your site a huge performance boost. Serious? Got some experiential proof of that? Or is it just theory? Or exaggeration?
17 Cleanup your plugin options from your database. We do this as best practice. Again, it’s seems like just common-sense good housekeeping to us. We’ve never seen any speed boost yet from cleanup – even with big fat databases. There are several plugins to do this. We don’t make a recommendation. We’ve tried them all and it gives a nice feeling that you checked the databases and verified. But no speed improvements whatsoever measurable.
SERVER & HOSTING OPTIMIZATIONS
Now we’re into the promotional selling materials of the brochure. In other words, SiteGround specific features they hope to motivate us to buy.
18 Take advantage of sever level caching.
This is pure specsmanship and boasting about SiteGround’s capabilities.
19 Use a CDN. We’re not sold on CDN’s. They don’t help much for a well-optimized site. Just like caching. If you need a CDN, it is indicative you didn’t build your site as well as you thought. Another speed band-aid. The author said in his video to test CDNs since they can slow down your site. Good advice. That’s our experience with free CloudFlare. Slowed by server 500 and 501 errors. Longer TTFB (time to first byte). Badness.
20 Use SSL and utilize HTTP/2. This is a nice way to upsell and make money for SiteGround. These aren’t necessary for speed. SiteGround was kind enough to mention a free alternative. Secure third-party transactions like with PayPal means this stuff isn’t needed.
So what’s missing?
We think social links are a big culprit for site drag. That isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Ebook. Most site owners don’t realize social media gives little benefit. But they feel like an outcast if they don’t have it. Yes. There’s stigma to conform to the herd. Don’t give into this peer pressure. Social buttons and likes slow down pages.
Remember what your mother taught you about peer pressure and popularity. They can be bad news.
If you have to use social media, use static image buttons or CSS buttons links instead. The fastest loading social-sharing button is none. Do value analysis. What kind of return are you getting on your social media? Is it a time waste generating that social content?
Hristo advises on another blog against going overboard with Social Media widgets or plugins. He just forgot to include it here. Social widgets and plugins ping their respective servers, delaying page loads. Particularly, Hristo says not to use IFRAME. He recommends using one plugin that covers all the social networks. (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest etc). Don’t use a separate plugin for each network. Again, we think social media is as useful as a cast-iron paddle in a chicken-wire canoe.
We disagree with this ebook, web hosting isn’t key to great performance.
We’ve seen sites on great hosts (including SiteGround) with lousy speed tests. It’s more essential to use speed strategy for balancing aesthetics and speed.
They said nothing about failing some basic Pingdom tests and the simple plugin solutions:
Query Strings Remover 1.5k
Speed Booster Pack 82k
Speed Booster Pack allows you to improve your page loading speed. You’ll get a higher score on testing services. (GTmetrix, Google PageSpeed, YSlow, Pingdom, or Webpagetest). We’ve tested this plugin. We found it’s minification features succeed where other minification plugins caused conflicts or white screens. It’s not for everyone but worth noting here.
The SPEED MATTERS ebook is better than most with good speed suggestions. But plainly selling services. At least it doesn’t perpetuate the myth that speed improves search engine optimization (SEO). That’s always a disturbing lie told by many site optimizers.
We agree performance test “scores” are meaningless ratings. Only speed measurements in milliseconds count. Or even better user perception of fast speed.
We agree sliders suck. But we say get rid of them on Home pages.
We agree on image optimization. We even define how good is good enough in a downloadable PDF.
We agree on Gzip. We tell how to activate Gzip using a plugin without editing the .htaccess file by-hand.
Social links are baggage. Even though the author left that off. We know he agrees from other blogs.
Ideas we disagree on:
We don’t think a good host is the key to site performance. We think speed strategy is the answer.
They recommend a 1-second performance budget. We recommend 2-second loads for desktop and 3 seconds for mobile as best practice. Even though PagePipe is a 1-second site! Other experts agree. Even Google says 2 seconds is good enough.
They recommend EWWW image optimizer plugin. We say that’s poo. We recommend free Imsanity plugin instead. It’s configurable with a maximum width, height and quality settings.
We recommend using no images or substituting PNG illustrations for heavier JPEG photographs.
They recommend using Google Fonts sparingly. We say get rid of them completely by substituting websafe fonts for speed. We also say eliminate Font Awesome icon font when possible – and always get rid of emojis. We recommend various plugins to do these eliminations. These are drastic but necessary measures.
They say manage (reduce) comments on your site. We say get rid of them completely with a plugin.
They say use a caching plugin and CDN. We say these are unnecessary band-aids if you build a quality speed site using strategy.
We think recommendations 10 through 17 are common-sense housekeeping or plain silly.
We think items 19 and 20 are less-credible selling promotions.
So half the report – the first 9 items – are worth reading. We think they aren’t aggressive enough to achieve their one-second page goal.
SiteGround isn’t always kind to their customers. We probably only get whiners coming to PagePipe searching for change. Speed anxiety is their motivation.
SiteGround’s home page says, “Latest speed technologies are our passion.” We also have a passion about speed. But we say, “You can get WordPress speed on ugly, cheap servers.” SiteGround thinks no one knows more about speed than they do. Experts? Really?
PagePipe home-page loads in 900 milliseconds cached in our browser (at this moment). 1-second – even with cache cleared. That doesn’t mean we walk with the speed gods. It means our load time is good right now. We catch it behaving “just fine” much more than we find it failing. If it’s good for 80 percent of the time. It’s “good enough.” How far does it drift, ±50 percent. Horrible, huh. We don’t have an expectation that GoDaddy delivers better than that. Nor are we paying for better speed.
But more often than not, GoDaddy delivers 200-millisecond TTFB or better. Go figure. At his moment, it’s 139 milliseconds. That’s strange – but what we usually get. The other day a test was the worst we’ve ever seen, 15-second TTFB. Why? We don’t know. But that’s really rare. But we caught it. Are we ashamed? Nope.
Do we recommend GoDaddy? Of course not. They’re cruddy. We’re proving a point about cheap speed results. No SSD drives. No hopped-up CDN. No server caching. Only vanilla, shared, magnetic hosting.
If site owners don’t care about speed and choose ignoring it deliberately, then no big deal. It’s a business decision and choice everyone gets to make.
Do those 1-second reports above matter for desktop? Not much. But for mobile, it’s significant. Those translate into less waiting. In fact, they theoretically load at user-expected desktop speeds. For site owners with 70-percent mobile traffic, it’s a godsend.
People’s expectations with SiteGround is 100-percent goodness. Why? Because SiteGround claims having the “latest speed technology.” But it’s just mumbo-jumbo, theoretical speed claims – not actual measurable milliseconds.
Many hosting customers don’t know about speed – or don’t care. In that case, fine. If they are happy, no problem. But to finger point and say, “It’s not our server speed problem. It’s Google or WordPress voodoo or you’re technically stupid.” That doesn’t sit well with us.
HostGator (claim: powerful hosting 2X Faster) and Bluehost (claim: 2-million websites worldwide). Both brag about their prowess. [note: 2x faster than what? a turtle?]
SiteGround is on our radar. No one’s ever written us about SiteGround wonderfulness. We have a self-proclaimed mission to counterattack speed incompetence, hypocrisy, and deception.
Had a wonderful experience with SiteGround? Congratulations. But have you watched your TTFB (server delay) bounce around over time – for top-tier GoGeek prices. Better check it out. READ MORE HERE
Speed trivia? Perhaps. Remember, our grand purpose. It’s saving the Internet from WordPress speed abuse – one website at a time. We help our little corner of the world.
Web work is disposable dust. In the future, new solutions will obsolete our speed expertise. Except humans will continue to abuse and overload websites. That won’t go away. Job security? Nah.
The best and fastest websites and hosts don’t exist yet.
“SiteGround was driving me crazy blaming WordPress plugins and my site’s coding for the problem of slow page loads. They made a simple php script to show that their servers were fast. It then got terrible scores on GTMetrix and Google PageSpeed Insight. It was a simple script. They tried to prove a point, but ended up disproving it. Their simple script loaded slow! Then they said it was a Google PageSpeed problem. I said the times were always inconsistent. They said that was Google’s problem. What?
I’ll be leaving SiteGround soon. Great customer service for slow servers isn’t worth it for me.
The tech rep who was dealing with my support ticket eventually started getting snarky. He repeatedly said, “… as I’ve said before…” and similar things without trying to understand what I was complaining about or without trying at all to offer or look for a solution.
Eventually, I said I will start looking for a new host, and he replied along the lines of, “Thank you for your time. Please contact us if you have any problems.” Hmm…
I was SOOOO happy to find your PagePipe article as it mirrored my experience and frustration. I really like your analytical way of thinking.
By the way, I pointed my servers to FastComet hosting and although the PageSpeed Insight scores are inconsistent, they are consistently better than they were at SiteGround. My TTFB went from an F to an A at webpagetest.org.
These are things Siteground said they couldn’t help – because it was the coding of my website causing the problem. More importantly, the GTMetrix and Pingdom times went down. Not by much, but as you know, every little bit is hard earned when you’re under 2 seconds.”
Normally, we write about releases of default themes – and we torture test it for speed. Not so in the 2018 year. Why? Gutenberg delayed Twenty-eighteen theme completion schedule. The powers that be said, “Spring 2018” for introduction. That never happened.
Twenty-nineteen theme‘s official release was October 16, 2018. There is no Twenty-eighteen theme. A hole in the dynastic chain. So someone pounce on that theme name! Great opportunity to confuse the world. And perhaps make money from it.
Time limitations may cause temporary removal of Twenty Nineteen from WordPress core version 5.0. It’s set for a November 19, 2018 launch date – if it’s not ready in time – it’s a no-show.
Seriously! There’s so much controversy over the Gutenberg editor addition. Already plugins are announced to remove it.
Completely disables the Gutenberg block editor and enables the classic WordPress post editor (TinyMCE aka WYSIWYG) for lighter coding and simplicity.
We’re delighted. There’s rumors the controversy, disruption, and dislike of Gutenberg will fork WordPress. A project fork happens when developers take a copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it. This creates a distinct and separate piece of software. That would help WordPress get their act together. Or create competition, improving quality for both versions.
There’s a fork of WordPress already in existence. It merely adds Composer support. Composer is a development tool. It’s a dependency manager for PHP. Put simply, it’s for coders and programmers. It’s a method of not having to rely on third-party plugins. Everything is integrated into WordPress. That includes customized theme and plugin code. Updates then won’t overwrite any customizations. Do we care about this? No. It’s not part of our goals. We test and write about using WordPress plugins from the free directory.
Independent tests show Ghost to be up to 1,900 percent faster than WordPress. What does that mean? In the amount of time it takes WordPress to respond to 1 request, Ghost already responded to 19 of them. Is this speed hype for product differentiation?
Does PagePipe use Ghost or Ghost’s $20-per-month servers? Nope. Do we recommend it? Nope. We have a point to prove: cheap, shared-hosting can be fast. Ghost’s Home-page loads in 2.8 seconds and TTFB is 1 second. Not good enough. Even GoDaddy’s better. PagePipe TTFB is 245 milliseconds. So Ghost’s server delays negate fancy speed claims. Most fast, free themes load in around 50 milliseconds. WordPress core is around 100 milliseconds. So Ghost’s boost in speed is theoretical or ivory-tower.
Since WordPress originated as a fork of b2/cafelog – and almost forked before with Ghost – it may fork in 2018 or 2019. Who knows? It depends upon how much users hate Gutenberg.
You’ll weep when you read Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2018). Because it’s so sad? No. Because it’s so overwhelming. It an encyclopedic explanation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The article makes SEO sound so complex and mysterious – and confusing. It implies little nitpick details make a big difference. It’s anxiety producing.
But still, we recommend reading the whole thing anyway. Some people may then try gaming all silly 200 SEO factors. Don’t go there!
Will these “tricks” help more than writing good content?
SEO fiddling is a waste of time.
Be calm. Good page ranking is within your reach if you:
Write about topics people want to read.
Write content in an interesting way that keeps visitors reading more.
You make text readable. What’s readable? Readability is the appearance or perception text may be easy to consume. That mean placing subhead and captions for skim readers. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Then they will spend more time after skimming content cues and clues. Learn more about the best readability.
The article doesn’t reveal the hierarchy of ranking factors. What matters most is the summary list at the very end. Many will never make it there. It requires a lot of boring scrolling to arrive at the real pithy basics.
The author presents a shortlist at the end. These are the real fundamentals of what counts. They’re the most important Google ranking factors (or signals) in 2018 according to the SEO article. But they aren’t explained in plain English. So we’ll attempt translating some more.
Here’s his list with our commentary:
This is other websites linking to yours. It’s them choosing to advertise your site’s valuable content for free. Again, relevant content is good writing about interesting things. So get rid of your dud articles and uninteresting posts. Don’t make site-noise diluting “user attention.” That’s simple positioning strategy 101. Referring domains is the biggest influence on SEO. If you game inbound links with a link farm or purchased backlinks – there’s bad news. When Google gets wise to your ploy, they’ll punish you. Even blacklist your site. That sharp retaliation indicates the significance of this “ranking factor.” No mercy.
Organic click-through-rate Organic means Google non-paid listing. CTR is the percentage of *impressions* resulting in a “listing click” for a website. What’s an impression? That’s the number of times your listing (page title) gets viewed on the search engine page. You can view a page of 10 listings. If your your page title is chosen – bingo – that’s a “click.” If you own most of the 10 first-page listings, that’s called page dominance. When a searching reader suspects finding relevant content on your site, that’s information scent. What affects visitor suspicion or cues most? 1) The page title. 2) The “snippet” constructed by Google RankBrain, and 3) your publication date (freshness) if indicated. Publication dates are changed in WordPress for freshening up evergreen content. The snippet refers to a description extracted from page content.
The only thing controllable here is the longevity of your domain name. That’s right – the date when you registered your name. You can buy an old domain name that’s in use and re-purpose it. Gaming the system. But then it’s back to writing good relevant content as the main influence of authority. Serve up user-valued information.
Mobile-first ranking is only two things: responsive screens and fast speed. And avoiding certain stupid web practices anyway. Like interstitial ads. Google AMP and Mobile Applications aren’t mentioned as good tricks. Praise the Lord!
This is also called engagement. It’s time spent reading or consuming your wonderful page content. What helps with engagement? Good writing and interesting images. And suggesting relevant articles to keep people on your site reading more once there.
Total number of backlinks
You can’t game or cheat backlinks without penalty. See the first item “Domain authority.”
Isn’t this about writing quality? Learned skills. Writing stuff people want to read.
A page title is a solid suggestion. This is an interesting and attention-getting headline. But it also needs to contain your keywords (positioning statement). Example: Yoast SEO plugin affects mobile WordPress speed. Then change it into a question: How does Yoast SEO affect mobile WordPress speed? or 10 ways Yoast SEO ruins mobile WordPress speed. Use good headline writing styles developed during the direct-mail years of graphic design.
ESOTERIC ON-PAGE-SEO DETAILS FOR THE TERMINALLY BORED
Outbound links are a relevancy signal.
PagePipe uses outbound links (resources) for credibility enhancement. Readers appreciate offsite links. How do we know? Feedback! They tell us in emails. And they see it as courageous. Because we might be sending them away from our site for good. Risk taking or confidence our content is good enough. But most often, they return to our tab.
Internal links are good (of course you reference your other written material – duh. Common sense).
Speed affects repeat visits – is that a surprise?
Use synonyms for keywords – another “shocking” suggestion.
Use ALT and title tags with keywords on image file names.
Longer content ranks higher. Increase average dwell time by writing long, engaging content that keeps people reading. If you love your site topic or focus this shouldn’t be a burden. If you don’t have a fascination about your chosen field, you’d better quit now.
Isn’t “on-page SEO” obvious best practices and common sense for writing?
Here’s the bottom line:
WRITE CONTENT PEOPLE WANT TO READ
That includes readability – not mentioned anywhere in the article or list. Make words look fun, easy, or interesting to read is a goal affecting SEO. Or at least, get out of the way of reading the words like fast speed or responsive sites remove barriers.
On websites, transparent features mean being invisible or undetectable. Speed is transparent when it’s fast. No one notices a fast page. But everyone hates a slow one. The best speed is instant page changes when clicked. Good speed is a transparent feature differentiating a site from competitors.
It’s our opinion, social sharing doesn’t affect page rank directly. But in general, it takes traffic away from your site – and when there the seduced visitor never returns. Social rarely brings quality visitors. Social 1) slows down your pages, 2) causes link clutter, 3) and takes people away. Is that helpful?
We ask clients if they quantify how much profit is because of social media. They can never answer that question. Why? Because it’s immeasurable. They’re following the web herd. All paid themes come with social links built-in. So that feature must be good. Right? Themes sometimes have heavy sliders, too. Uh. Not good. Theme authors include every feature trying to please everyone.
In another article, the author recommends using “2018” “best” “guide” and “review” in titles. Make the title an “H1” tag. WordPress already does this.
We evaluated 35 theme candidates. All are available as free downloads from the WordPress theme repository. They came to our attention via email newsletters. Some are new and others are older but still popular. The alphabetical list is at the bottom of this page.
Here we report some theme trends that affect website speed and how to evaluate what is important.
Remember, our goal is a two-second, home-page load time using WordPress. The lighter the theme overhead the more headroom we have in our performance budget for adding things like images, forms, and other features.
There are certain cues and clues that help us evaluate a theme for speed potential (fast page load) – without installing it first. The download package size is number one on our list. Any theme download that is under 1M (zipped) usually is a sure bet for speed. But larger than that compressed file size doesn’t always mean a speed failure. You have to dig deeper by downloading the package and examining the contents. The 1M package size is a quick-and-dirty selection method.
A compressed theme package may contain many resources – or sometimes non-features. When we say non-features, we refer to fluffy bloat intended to deceptively entice website owners. Theme authors include these things to make the theme appear “feature rich.” But most features have a speed price.
Modern WordPress Speed Traps
When evaluating themes for speed, you need to consider the following:
Google Fonts (or worse the heavier Typekit) will slow down a website. It’s now rare to see a theme using fast-loading system fonts. Die-hards argue that most Google Fonts are now present in all browser cache. There is no way to prove this with present online testing tools. We estimate a 100 millisecond slow down uing Google Fonts instead of websafe fonts.
Fontawesome icon font – or an equivalent such as genericons or glyphicons. Icons are a popular inclusion. The downside is they load universally on all WordPress pages and posts whether the icons are used or not. How much this slows down a site depends on variables. We feel icon fonts are justified if you leverage them in your page design. But usually, it’s better to dequeue the font in the WordPress functions.php file and simply use icon PNG image files. If you remove the font files from your server using FTP or C-panel, you will end up slowing down the site even worse with 404 errors. Fontawesome can slow down a site by 500 milliseconds or more – 1 second delay isn’t uncommon. But how bad it really is depends. More typically, you’ll see delays of 100 to 200 milliseconds. There may be some improvement by using Better Font Awesome plugin and loading from their external CDN. We’ve played with this in tests and it has some potential for time-saving parallel loading.
Sliders are common additions now. When they are built into a theme, they may universally slow down all pages – even when they are only used on the Home page. How bad this delay is depends upon the slider. But for example, Nivoslider slows down all site pages by minimum of 200 milliseconds – even when no slider is present. The most popular in the 35-theme evaluation was Nivoslider (5 instances). Other sliders included: bxslider, OwlCarousel, Flexslider, Sldr, lightslider, and few custom ones. 19 of the 35 themes used sliders – that’s 54 percent. Over half. Sometimes, a better strategy is adding a standalone slider plugin and then selectively activating the plugin only on pages where it’s needed. The best plugin to do this is Plugin Logic.
Every theme includes a screenshot that serves as an icon in the WordPress theme control panel. These are rarely optimized images. In this evaluation, they vary from 100k to 2.5M Jpeg file sizes. The typical size is about 600k. This extra theme package weight doesn’t slow down the theme. But it’s an indicator of the theme author’s attention to speed details. A bloated screenshsot is simply benign, but wasteful, overkill.
It’s common for many themes to include sample or demo images. Like screenshots, these are rarely optimized images. 16 of our themes included header or slider images for easy setup. But they are extra baggage in the package. Worst case we had one theme with over 5M of Jpegs. But more typically, they were around 200k to 500k. These images are not intended to be used. They will be slow loading.
Theme packages may include language translations. These can add from 100k to 600k. But only 6 of our samples had these files. They don’t slow down a site. They just increase the package size.
The final proof is installing the themes and doing benchmarks. But, as noted above, there are things that can streamline our selection process before installation.
Fatness and popularity: Site owners prefer bloat.
The pressure to inflate theme package sizes is almost irresistible for theme authors. This is evidenced by the popularity of two examples: Zerif-lite (2.7M zip) 100,000 installs and Hueman (2.1M zip) 80,000 installs. And the incredible, 7M-download Enigma theme with 30,000 installs. Most themes are lucky if they get 10,000 installs. The fatter the more popular.
So if a theme is popular with the most installs, you can bet it’s a slow loading theme.
Aggregator websites getting 1 to 2 million visitors per month is pretty nice – and profitable!
Many agregator sites are somewhat “responsive” for mobile – but frequently don’t have good UX on small screens like an iPhone. It’s very cluttered and confusing. Aggregator sites have about a 70 percent bounce rate typically. Top aggregator sites are getting as low as 25 precent bounce rates with 2 million monthly visits.
Strategic monetization attempts forcing users to look at ads. It’s bad UX – but perhaps it pays out for your company. User’s generally have a low tolerance of anything that gets in the way of content. Perceived obstacles are bad.
Most aggregator home-page loads are between 8 and 10 seconds in the USA. Mobile speeds will be twice that. Our goal (performance budget) is a 2-second page-load time (4-seconds for mobile).
“Ads are always the worst code on the Internet, and once you include them you can’t really be accountable for performance any more.” —Matt Mullenweg: WordPress founder, August 2015
Aggregator sites use many third-party widgets.
There’s esoteric talk and proposals in the “website-performance” community to solve third-party integration problems – but few actually provide real-world solutions. They talk about the web future – but not today’s resources. Third-parties are often apathetic about speed. This is a killer for mobile (and desktops, too).
How to manage and control third-party content is the critical factor for speeding up your website. What this means with present “tools” is using better strategy to decide what third-party provider content can be synchronously loaded, deferred (or lazy loaded) – or disabled on critical pages. And things like not updating user-facing Facebook stats in real time.
Landing pages, product pages, and pages on the “money path” are of most interest.
Most offsite (third-party) assets have mechanisms (alternatives) for better browser behavior. But each has to be examined based on your goals.
How can you see the impact ads have on your site? Log into your free GTmetrix account and under the URL field there will be an “Analysis Options” button. Check the “Adblock Plus” option. Your URL will be scanned with the ads blocked. You can also enable this option in the “Page Settings” button on the Report page sidebar.
Blocking ads is helpful if you want to see the impact the ads are having on your page load times.
Is all of this investigation worth the grief? Common sense says, “Absolutely.” People hate slow-loading pages. Bloat is frustrating and annoying. But there’s also experiments (data) by large companies that prove speed affects profitability.
Speed helps you stay ahead of your competitors by differentiating your mobile UX. Optimization is best when it’s built-in with advance strategy – instead of after-the-build fixes. Measuring the impact of third-party content on a site’s usability is often an afterthought – if it even gets thought about at all.
Online speed test scores are especially useless. These include lame tests like Google PageSpeed Insights. Many test-result recommendations don’t make any measurable difference in speed. They’re not real-world practicalities. They sound rational and appeal to logic. But they’re a waste of time and energy. You’ll drive yourself mad attempting to achieve perfect test scores. Google doesn’t even use test scores in page ranking.
So if speed test scores don’t matter, what does?Forget scores. It’s load time in milliseconds and page weight. Cumulative file size (page weight) is expressed in kilobytes or megabytes. Load time and weight make the biggest difference – especially for mobile audiences. Speed is critical for good user experience (UX). Readable, relevant content is most important for SEO. But impatient visitors won’t wait for slow pages. Then you waste your hard-earned relevant content and it’s never seen. Most sites are “not good enough” for mobile users.
Google gives you technical speed suggestions. These are published in their web master recommendations. Few make any difference in mobile speed. Why? Is it sadistic torment of website owners? We wonder. The most infamous waste is testing with Google PageSpeed Insights.
We still feel this version 5 is the most inferior speed test for site evaluation. We don’t recommend it. Google conveniently now excludes Google Analytics and Google Fonts from the scoring. What? You’ve got to be kidding! Those things slow sites down – and they’re sweeping that liability under the carpet? Absurdity. Biased results. They changed the scoring so everyone wins. It’s a fake guarantee. So what do we recommend? Pingdom.com or WebPagetest.org.
Here are some weird things Google often recommends *fixing*:
This imperious rule is a great waste of time. WordPress almost always breaks this rule. The return on investment in improved speed is impossible to measure. It’s so small and insignificant. And there is high risk of breaking your site. If this *fix* tempts you, you’re a programmer and should leave PagePipe. You’ll hear disturbing things you don’t like here. Plugins don’t help much – like the oft recommended Async JS plugin. Work on others things that are more important like image optimization.
2. Minify and concatenate CSS, JS, and HTML files.
These improve your score – but rarely improve your speed. Scores are meaningless. It’s milliseconds of load time that count. Minification plugins frequently break sites. We don’t use a minification plugin on PagePipe. We’ve experimented with many. They make no difference in speed and only cause problems with Easy Digital Downloads plugin – among others. Does that mean we never use minification? No. If nothing breaks, fine.
Trimming HTTP requests cut down on number of calls to your server. The big theoretical gain is from concatenation (combining or lumping) JS script, HTML and CSS files together. These can break your site – white screen of death. It’s not worth it merely for an irrelevant score improvement.
3. Reduce server response time (TTFB 200ms).
This goal is laughable.TTFB is time-to-first-byte. It’s a measurement of server response time in milliseconds. Even Google’s home page can’t produce 200 millisecond time-to-first-byte specifications. That is because of HTTPS / SSL certification which introduces an additional 400 to 500 milliseconds of handshaking delays on the server.
How much load time does www.google.com take? Using WebPagetest.org online test (owned by Google), the result is: 2.196 seconds. The full-load time can vary from 1.270 to 2.204 seconds depending on test server location. That’s right: seconds. Not milliseconds.
Try Google.com on the *peerless* PageSpeed Insights test. They can’t even pass their own test on the simplest of pages. Enough said. Zero credibility.
4. Optimize images.
When is optimizing images worth it? Well, we tested a page and Google PageSpeed Insights said we failed. Why? Because we could still optimize two images by 2 percent. What!? That’s ridiculous. And it didn’t detect resizing one image dimensions to save extra weight. That was more noteworthy.
Is it worth optimizing to remove 2 percent? No. Why? Because images are loaded in parallel. Improving image weight doesn’t make as big of difference in speed any more. Browser image loading is faster now.
Should we still optimize images? Yes. It’s important. But we can’t only optimize images and say we’re done.
Imsanity is one of the best plugin solutions for automatic optimization.Why? Because it’s easy to set image size reduction to column-width size and also set the JPEG image quality to 70. WordPress default is 82 but only on cropped images – not on uploaded originals to the media library. Imsanity crops originals. Most other image optimizer plugins charge money once you pass a certain threshold number of images. So beware.
What’s better is plain-old, manual sizing and visual, save-for-web optimization in an image editor like Photoshop, GIMP, or pixlr.
It’s not enough to just compress the images. Specify the dimensions of the image, or else the browser loads the entire image and then resizes it to required dimensions. Stretching with browser math delays image rendering.
5. Avoid landing page redirects.
Simply configure your WordPress site. Go to the “Settings > General” page. See if “WordPress Address (URL)” and “Site Address (URL)” options include “www” prefixes. If they do, remove them, save the settings and that redirect will be gone. Tip: Use Redirection plugin when removing old post to protect SEO.
6. Leverage browser caching.
Browser caching is beneficial for return visitors. That’s about 20 percent of your traffic. On a well-optimized site, caching doesn’t help much. When an unprimed cache loads in 750 milliseconds, how much better do you need to get? Adding a caching plugin may get speed down to 400 to 500 milliseconds best case. That 350 millisecond gain is good – but not if the caching plugin is complex or breaks your site with concatenation. We only recommend one caching plugin and it’s Cache Enabler. Make one simple setting: change the far-futures cache expiry to 8760 hours (1 year). You’re done.
Now, will a caching plugin get your sluggard 20-second page load down to a wonderful 2 seconds? No way. You won’t even measure a noticeable difference.
Ridiculous. How do tests propose we do that on a WordPress site? This is sometimes referred to as above-the-fold content. Over-optimizing for speed is not worth the frustrations fixing the problems. Run a PageSpeed Insights test on Wikipedia or YouTube. Bet the scores are crummy, poor, or *needs work*. Suggestion: Ignore this silly test result.
Other odd recommendations that usually don’t help speed much include:
Content Delivery Networks – CDNs are servers located in various geographical locations. They are closer to the users’ location and can reach content to them faster than the original server. A well-optimized site doesn’t need CDN. It’s a band-aid. Cloudflare has a free plan that we recommend you avoid. That’s right. Don’t use it. It slows down or delays your pages.
Accelerated Mobile Pages – Ignore making your webpages Google AMP compliant. This wasteful gimmick was announced by Google in October 2015.
Database Optimization – A periodic check and spring cleaning of databases to keep them lean and easily searchable. Cleaner plugins remove duplicate data, unwanted post revisions and more. Do they help with speed? Not anything we’ve ever detected. But it sounds like a good idea. We do it regularly. But it’s a matter of being vigilant and sleeping well at night. We’ve never seen speed improvement.
Removing query strings from static resources in CSS and JS files – Developers use “?” and “&” to bypass cached files before they are purged. However, URLs with “?” and “&” are not cached by some servers. You can use a plugin to remove them. This removal improves your score but not your speed. Remember, caching doesn’t really help so much.
Combining Images Into One – CSS Sprites – CSS Image Sprites were born out of the need to reduce the number of HTTP requests made on a website. The typical use of image sprites are for icons. This is where you bunch multiple images together into one big file. This is not very helpful and frequently won’t work on mobile-size screens. We say, “Forget sprites.”
So if those test parameters and tricks only help with scores – but not speed differences. What does matter most for speed improvement?
1. Themes without bloat. Popular themes like Divi and The7 alone take seconds to load – without any content or plugins. A typical responsive, free, stripped, WordPress theme with no bells-and-whistles loads in 40 to 50 milliseconds. Simplify.
2. Good Hosting – And we don’t mean expensive. If time-to-first-byte is too long (over 1 second), the only choice is changing your hosting service provider. You can have fast TTFB on shared hosting. We get around 250 to 500 milliseconds on cheap GoDaddy hosting. Test at ByteCheck.com.
4. Gzip – A compression technique reduces code files for faster transfer. It also saves mobile bandwidth.
5. Reducing Redirects – Get rid of as many redirects as possible. Redirects are good for SEO traffic. But you slow down the browser a little.
6. Disabling Trackbacks and Pingbacks – Trackbacks (manual) and pingbacks (automatic) appear in content moderation to let you know that someone else has put a link of your post on another blog or site. Most of these links are spam. It there’s too much of it, it can affect site speed. Disable them under Default Article Settings > Settings > Discussions. Or we can use a plugin that can deal with spam, like No Self-ping. Or use XML-RPC deactivation.
7. Disabling Hotlinking – Sometimes other *web criminals* use the content hosted on your site’s servers for their own websites. This is simply an extra load on your server. To stop others from using your server resources, the recommendation is changing your server .htaccess file code. A plugin will do the trick.
8. Identify plugins slowing down the website. Use the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler for this purpose. How much will this help? Our experience is you may save up to a second. That’s great on a site that’s loading in 4 seconds. But if it’s a 20-second page, you’re still in trouble.
Remember, it’s not the quantity of plugins that slow down a site. It’s the quality. We have 56 plugins. Our home page and most others load in under 1 second on shared hosting.
Use the performance report generated by the P3 plugin to remove or selectively disable the worst plugins dragging down site speed.
In Ancient Greek religion, Hestia is a virgin goddess of architecture.
Tiny Hestia is a free child-theme that strips down the full-Hestia WordPress theme.
There is no reported visual differences between the child theme and the free parent theme. No changes of style. The child theme removes all frivolous scripts to make the theme super fast and clean. That’s the claim. Let’s do some benchmark testing. All tests are done on cheap, shared, magnetic GoDaddy hosting. No CDN.
Version: 1.1.50 Active Installs: 40,000+ ZIP download: 4M
Version: 1.0.5 Active Installs: 4,000+ ZIP download: 785k
Decompressed Tiny Hestia is 1 megabyte. We note: 752k of that is the theme screenshot. That leaves 248k of CSS, PHP, and Bootstrap. Most notably, they removed heavy-loading Font Awesome. It’s replaced with a tiny 1.6k image sprite. The sprite (above left) contains only three icons: a shopping cart, a chain for links, and a magnify glass for search.
Here’s the included theme screenshots:
Pingdom.com speed tests for these themes:
The differences include slightly better speed, better page weight, and fewer number of HTTP requests.
So what if we optimized Tiny Hestia with some speed plugins? What would the results be then?
Tiny Hestia Before 〉 83.4k
After adding plugins 〉 71.1k
Tiny Hestia Before 〉 10 requests
After adding plugins 〉 4 requests
We’ve been using Magazeen Lite free theme. So we thought we’d compare it. Note: We’ve switched PagePipe to Twenty-seventeen default theme.
MAGAZEEN LITE Version: 1.0.11 Last updated: November 7, 2016 Active Installs: 400+ ZIP download: 432k
Any free theme with a zip download file size of about 500k or less will not include Font Awesome.
For Zip downloads that weigh below 1M, about 30 percent will have Font Awesome included. Font Awesome can add 70k to 300k of extra page weight globally (site drag). 17 percent of these themes will have lighter-weight Genericons. The remaining 47 percent will not have any icon font. The remaining 6 percent will have a variety of different lightweight icon fonts.
There is no easy way to remove icon fonts without messing up the mobile user experience. It’s plain – for extreme optimization – it’s best to start with a theme without Font Awesome.
Below is a list of 45 fast themes we recently evaluated.None have Font Awesome. They’re not beautiful themes. They only have speed potential. Load the theme up with:
And you’ll have a heavy, slow site. Use good speed strategy and common sense creating your website.
PDX Chambers Basic
VW Hospital Lite
Not necessarily. It’s better than Big Hestia. By simply leaving Font Awesome out, many trim themes easily have equal speed. But Hestia looks quite nice. And we like the design touches. We recommend Tiny Hestia for improved mobile user experience.
WP Engine is frequently recommended on blogs as the “Best Premium Shared Hosting for Advanced Bloggers.” Of course, blog authors sharing *trade secrets* get an affiliate-link kickback or commission. They make money touting others hosting services. No source credibility.
Many error thinking WP Engine must be better or even the best. It costs a lot. It’s recommended so often. They must be good because they have a good reputation, right?
That “feel-good” hosting is $420 per year. Yet, it’s the exact same terrible-speed quality you’d get elsewhere on cheap, shared hosting. For $5 (or less) month-to-month rent – only $60 annually – you’ll get the same perfectly-lousy server delay. That’s $360 dollars decreased difference every single year. Over 5 years, it’s $1,800 profit in your pocket. With the exact same speed results.
An unexceptionable, shared host may get the same poor TTFB (time-to-first-byte) of 1.5 to 1.7 seconds. That’s 1500 to 1700 milliseconds off our target 2000-millisecond performance budget. That leaves only 300 to 500 milliseconds. Short time to load WordPress core, the theme, all plugins, and third-party scripts and APIs – and images. Is it possible? Only if you use speed strategy.
You can’t be sloppy or apathetic.
So what hosting provider do we recommend? None! Why? Because hosting services cycle from better to worse with the host’s business whims. Without a crystal ball, we can’t predict odd behavior. One day a host provides mediocre to excellent speed. Six months later – with a simple ownership change – crammed overburdened servers slowdown. Your server turns into a dragging slug. Their hosting business suffers losses caused by poor services. They finally invest in better capacity. Speed then improves. Until the word is out, they’re doing better. Then the cycle repeats.
In one test, for a New York client, BlueHost crammed more than 2,000 domains on a single server.
That BlueHost squeeze strategy isn’t typical. Still, test for the number of shared domains using your URL at YouGetSignal. Test server TTFB at ByteCheck or BitCatcha. Warning: All bitcatcha.com’s recommendations are affiliate links. They promote hosts giving back the most. It’s all about money.
Blogs recommending WP Engine don’t examine the speed performance ramification. Let us tell you why WP Engine is bad news:
WP Engine’s hosting services have bad TTFB (time to first byte or server overhead). It costs $35 per month (or more). Do they specify TTFB in their sales pitches or online materials? No. Of course not. No one would use them if they knew the truth. So most hosts avoid publishing this important speed information. Is WP Engine the only one burying TTFB specifications? No. Is it a criminal cover-up plot? We hope not. It’s most likely a convenient sin of omission.
Every host avoids the server overhead delay topic. Why? Because TTFB wanders and is often unpredictable. Or they may make excuses and declare with authority, “3-second TTFBs are normal.” iMotion Hosting makes that absurd statement. They’ve got to be kidding! But we’ve measured iMotion unstable server delays producing double that slow time.
Hosts don’t want you holding their feet to the fire. They don’t want that responsibility. Making server-overhead promises causes disappointing buyer’s remorse.
TTFB ignorance is bliss. Until you discover during real load-time testing how much it affects speed. Go ahead. Complain to the errant host. They’ll usually recommend (upsell) more expensive servers. They may suggest trying speed first-aid like CDNs and caching services.
The real cost-effective solution is building a fast site instead. Hosts won’t recommend this speed solution. They make less money if you build a fast strategic site.
One of WP Engines claims to fame is they’re *managed* WordPress hosting. What’s managed hosting and why is it bad for mobile speed?
Managed WordPress hosting is an “attendant” service. The host takes care of (manages) all technical aspects of running WordPress. This includes security, speed, WordPress updates, daily backups, website uptime, and scalability. All that costs money. Normally, people use automated plugins for these features. The less WordPress knowledge you have, the easier the motivation to buy these fantastic services.
So what? What’s the big deal? Sounds like they’re being nice and helpful. If they live up to their fantastic speed claims, there’s no quibble. But they don’t.
What they do is lock you out, the “advanced-blog” owner, of Cpanel access and lock each file so it can’t be rewritten. Who cares about that? They do. They don’t want anyone mucking about on their server.
You don’t buy more features. You buy less flexibility – and then pay more. It’s brilliant.
But flexibility is how you increase speed! The irony. WP Engine won’t let us help you speed up your WP Engine site.
One big strategy for speed is selective plugin activation. That only happens when speed plugins (or even hand coding) alter the server .htaccess file. That can’t happen with “managed” locked files. Unlocking and altering .htaccess may mean going through an FTP client. Just very messy, inconvenient and a royal pain in the butt. The chances of breaking something are not reduced but increased with “managed” hosting.
.htaccess is a configuration file for use on web servers running Apache. The .htaccess file is detected and executed first. It give the server rules of special exceptions. Even WordPress manipulates how Apache serves files via .htaccess – especially handling pretty permalinks.
.htaccess is used for speed functions. Such as:
Hot-link image protection.
Removing query strings.
Leveraging browser caching.
… and other speed tasks.
Our other complaint seem trivial, but for speed fanatics like us, it’s not: We can’t rollback the PHP version from 7.1 to 5.6. Why would anyone want to do that? 7.1 is faster loading. Well, it’s temporary for plugin testing.
No surprise. We decided to stick with a simple workaround by dialing back the version to PHP 5.6. It’s simple to do – if you have Cpanel access. But with WP Engine shared hosting? No way. They don’t allow that. This barrier means we can’t quantify the worst offending plugins for site drag. There is an exception, if WP Engine screwed up and never advanced your version to PHP 7.1 – inconsistency. We’ve seen it.
So we ask, if you’re an *advanced blogger*, why the heck are you using WP Engine who assumes users are idiots? We’re insulted.
Aggregator websites collect and post syndicated material from around the Web, including news, specialized publishing, or the latest bargains and deals in Internet shopping.
Good aggregation helps readers find interesting news and information. It also gives sites they link to added exposure. They are middle men, but they greatly benefit both sides.
Aggregator websites are all about monetization.Website monetization is the process of converting existing traffic being sent to a particular website into revenue. The most popular ways of monetizing a website are by implementing Pay per click (PPC) and Cost per impression (CPI/CPM) advertising.
There are many WordPress themes that cater to the needs of this niche market. As near as we can tell, there is no free theme that can do all the necessary features. But there are paid themes and one in particular is of interest: Bimber by ThemeForest.
Bimber has great Mobile UX. Banner ad appears underneath a top feature, thumb-swipable, horizontal scroll. No scrolling jank from the ad shoving things around as it loads on the page. Very nice.
Aggregator websites have resource intensive hogs like Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google Analytics, YouTube, Vimeo, Google News, etc. There is nothing wrong with using plugins that may be resource intensive, but you need to balance the trade-off of the plugins’ functionality with the speed and optimization of your website. This requires value analysis. Especially for mobile users.
Value analysis includes the following: combination, simplification, elimination, standardization, and substitution. This is strategic performance optimization. A value analysis audit examines every requested component and it’s contribution to site goals. This requires setting self-imposed limitations. Aggregator sites are seductive for adding too many features in the hopes of perfecting revenue.
Perfection has too high of a price. Metrics need to be evaluated. Only 20 percent of assets provide for 80 percent of the profit-producing features.
Bimber theme is touted as a lightweight aggregator theme. Their marketing says they are a “viral & buzz theme.” Those are unmeasurable, unregulated advertising claims. How fast is “lightweight”? Viral and Buzz are jargon, weasel words. This diminishes their credibility.
Test results for Bimber speed reports vary depending upon the date of the test, the location, and the testing tool. Times ranged from best-case 1 second to worst-case 5 seconds. that is quite a spread. And page weights varied from 830k to 1.7M. Again, a big spread. So testing conditions with changing parameters render objective benchmarking a flop. It’s hard to say if our performance goal of a 2-second load time is achievable especially internationally.
The average Internet page weight today is around 2.3M. None of these test reports used a demo page of that size. It also appears that aggregator sites are above average in page weight with above 4M of files. This diminishes the prospect of good speed (under 2 seconds) for mobile users.
Bimber is frequently featured on articles dedicated to fast WordPress themes. Fast, of course, is relative.
The above article claims the following for Bimber load times:
Load time: 981ms, Requests: 61, Page size: 830kB
(Note: Aggregator sites are never this light – under 1M. These are unreliable results. A fake page.)
Google Page Speed Insights:
Desktop: 89/100, Mobile: 85/100
Another recent 2016 test claims the Bimber theme loads within 1.5 seconds. (Pingdom score 84/100 to Amsterdam, Netherlands), Page size: 1.7MB, 83 requests.
(Note: This is a more realistic page weight test. But still too small for any real-world aggregator situation. And only 83 requests is also not a real-world number. HTTP request would be in the 100s of calls.)
“On the (Bimber) homepage, you have a 728×90 ad banner, exactly below the header which will attract your users. A 300×250 is placed within the content so that it would look more like a part of your site rather than an advertisement. This is the most profitable ad placement in this theme.”
Bimber demo framebuster code won’t allow testing on browser-based iPhone simulators. Or on Yslow. So we couldn’t get results there. Yslow tests would have revealed how much lazy loading of assets were really occurring (if any).
About those HTTP calls: there were only 47 to 83 requests on these tests. That doesn’t represent the hundreds of usual HTTP requests that occur on a normal aggregator website. This demo is a best-case scenario. Or a mock-up dummy.
Bimber’s advertising page claims the theme is optimized for Google PageSpeed. We couldn’t care less about this test claim. But we ran the demo page anyway for verification. We got the usual frustrating, boiler-plate, error messages this lame test usually produces for WordPress sites. The scores are meaningless if the page loads in 5 seconds. Google doesn’t even use PageSpeed scores in it’s own ranking algorithm. Instead, Google uses Time To First Byte (TTFB). Bimber can get good time to first byte under the right conditions (322 milliseconds). That depends most on the hosting service.
This data shows the demo is “lazy-loading” about 400k of assets. But they are not using a lazy-load plugin. It may be part of the Google CDN feature or built-into the theme. We’re not sure. Most (half) images are stored in the media library.
The most important thing for SEO is Time To First Byte. Bimber TTFB is only 322 milliseconds (very fast) when hosted on a faster NGINX server (not Apache based).
But this speed number only influences less than 1 percent in the Google algorithm. Relevant content will always superseded speed for ranking. Speed is not a significant SEO factor. It’s a major UX factor.
The Bimber demo uses two free plugins from the WordPress plugin repository.
Sitelinks Search Box
Free plugin so people can reach your content more quickly from search results. If you use WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin version 1.6 or newer, you don’t need to use this plugin, as this feature has been included in the version 1.6 update.
After activating the plugin you only have to “Wait for Google Search algorithms to identify your site as a candidate for the new sitelinks search box”.
2. W3 Total Cache plugin
This is a popular plugin (over 1 million installs). Some people swear by it. But from our tests, we’ve never had improved speed results on a well-optimized site. The demo is successfully using WTO plugin for minification and content delivery network support. But other alternatives exist.
Note: W3T caching plugin wouldn’t be our recommendation. The most raved about caching plugin is WP Rocket. It’s a paid plugin we’ve never tested. And never will because all our tests of other available caching plugins reveal they only help improve speed if your site is grossly bloated. If the page is well optimized, there is no improvement whatsoever with caching plugins.
Elements that are significantly delaying or improving Bimber demo page load time:
At least, 1.5 to 2 second load time delay is for Facebook API JS libraries connections and calls. Out of 5 seconds total Facebook is a huge problem!
JS and CSS are minified and concatenated. This improves speed and is most likely being done with the W3T plugin.
The demo uses GStatic CDN (Google) to offload JS/images/CSS – and probably fonts. But mainly images. There are some blogger complaints that GStatic CDN does NOT improve performance and actually slows down page loading. It would require benchmark tests. We see CDNs as band-aids for sloppy web design.
About 1M of images on the Bimber demo page could have been compressed further by 379k (almost 40% reduction in file size — visually lossless). The speed gain would be less than a second – but worth it.
The demo page uses the Google viewport meta tag which means the content is optimized for mobile content. A viewport controls how a webpage is displayed on a mobile device. Without a viewport, mobile devices will render the page at a typical desktop screen width, scaled to fit the screen. Setting a viewport gives control over the page’s width and scaling on different devices.
The demo uses built-in Aggregation Functionality plus Pingbacks, RSS, Really Simple Discovery, and Window Live Writer Support. All of these things cause “drag” because they are offsite calls for assets or code.
We don’t know if the following are standard Bimber theme features or not: The demo also uses Open Graph Protocol (supported by Facebook). And Twitter Cards for linking content to Twitter. These cause drag.
Bimber uses “scrset” in their theme code for adapting images for high- and low-resolution displays. (Good for iPhones and iMacs).
Bimber Theme Conclusions:
Bimber theme has all the bells and whistles any aggregator business would love to have. It’s mobile UX is superior. It’s $49 price tag is cheap. To get load times below 5 seconds will take work. In the final speed analysis, every single HTTP request must be evaluated for contribution to site value.
WordPress released core version 4.7 in early December 2016. The default Twenty Seventeen theme included a new Customizer CSS editor. The new editor allows the removal of child themes and related plugins. This helps your site load a little faster – every little bit counts.
Before then, using child themes added custom code to WordPress themes. You edited CSS in a child theme with the WordPress file editor. It protected custom code from being overwritten by theme updates. Without a child theme, updating caused loss of code changes.
The custom CSS editor is in Appearance > Customize. Then select the “Additional CSS” option from the Customizer menu. That opens up a live CSS editor — no refreshing. Preview your changes immediately as you type. The live preview feature speeds up web work. There’s no waiting for page refreshes to view each change.
The “Additional CSS” menu keeps the edits safe in the confines of the Customizer. Your changes aren’t seen by users until you press Save and Publish. You can only edit CSS (not PHP or JS).
Child themes allow JS and PHP modification. So this doesn’t mean the extinction of child themes. But for most, it’s an opportunity to squeek out a little more speed. We do extreme performance optimization. We favor using the Customizer over a child theme.
“Additional CSS” is inlined before the closing head tag. This means no extra HTTP requests to fetch the custom CSS. Inlining CSS into HTML header removes CSS render-blocking. It also eliminates an extra HTTP request — both great things for speed. “Additional CSS” also does code syntax highlighting and error checking. Nice.
A child theme requires an extra HTTP request – unless combining by concatenation. Read more about minification plugins.
“Additional CSS” isn’t cached. It’s downloaded, processed, and rendered by the browser with every page load. This sounds inefficient. But for small amounts of CSS, it’s negligible speed difference. A few dozen – or even a hundred lines – of CSS loads fast inlined. Even Google recommends inlining CSS. No need calling an external style sheet when CSS code is small.
“If the external CSS resources are small, you can insert those directly into the HTML document, which is called inlining. Inlining small CSS in this way allows the browser to proceed with rendering the page.” – Google
From our past experiments with hand-coded sites, we agree with Google. This technique produces the fastest loading pages. Eliminating a child theme – by inlining custom CSS – produces a small boost in mobile site performance.
So, theme updates won’t wash away custom CSS – but that’s true only up to a point. If you change your theme (rather than just updating the theme), all the code added in the “Additional CSS” area disappears. Then it’ll all be gone.
Tom Usborne, the developer at GeneratePress, has a free plugin called “Simple CSS.” It’s a nice CSS editor – complete with code syntax highlighting to help you. It keeps all additional CSS safe from any theme updates and replacements. It works with all themes but Simple CSS is included as a standard feature with GeneratePress premium theme. With this plugin, you can also apply CSS only to one specific page. Navigate to your page or post in the Dashboard and look for the “Simple CSS” metabox.
NOTE: Don’t confuse this GeneratePress’ plugin offering with Simple Custom CSS plugin: 300,000+ active installs, 204k zip file, all-time downloads: 1,336,559, retention rate: 22 percent (average).
★★★★★ Simple CSS
Active installs: 70,000+
Zip file size: 136k
All-time downloads: 154,782 Retention rate: 45 percent (very high)
And it also opens up a new area in the Customizer where you can view your CSS changes live. This code saved by the plugin doesn’t disappear if the theme is changed.
Site owners can stop using child themes. Opportunities for CSS customization is in WordPress core.
Need to preserve your WordPress functions.php file changes besides the style.css file, here’s our tip use:
Code Snippets Add code snippets to your site. No need to edit your theme’s functions.php file again!
It’s a miracle this theme loads in under 4 seconds (sometimes 3) with all of these obstacles stacked against.
The client wrote:
To make a long story short, the job was to improve the look of the website and improve the speed to 2 seconds or less. When he started the site was loading close to 3 seconds and as you can see it got worse to about 4 seconds. I believe it was $680.00 through a “developer” in India.
You got at least $1,500 worth of work for $680 dollars. Many people would be satisfied with your site. It’s fresh and modern. You’re disappointed because your expectation of speed improvement didn’t materialize as promised. In fact, it got 1-second worse (depending upon the test used).
The theme “The7” cost $59. The visual composer (drag-and-drop) is built-in for maximum customization. It’s “feature-rich” – meaning the theme authors from the Ukraine included the kitchen sink to appeal to everyone. Multipurpose usually means slow. The7 has been sold 30,000 times. It’s popular. Popular means “slow.” That is because people are attracted to themes that look pretty and have bells and whistles. But learning how to use The7 is probably as complex as a new computer operating system.
$1.7 million dollars worth of The7 theme have been sold to happy(?) customers. In the Ukraine, that’s a lot of money.
Images on your page are 265k for background images and 230k for other images. The PNGs can’t be altered or it destroys the aesthetics. They require transparency. They are the biggest part of the image weight. They cannot be improved with optimization either.
This is typical: 50 percent code weight and 50 percent image weight.
The goal is to balance aesthetics (branding) and speed (load time). Anytime, you increase one you decrease the other. Push and pull. More decoration slows down a site. Less speeds it up.
There are two types of aesthetic design: classic and expressive.
A “The7” site leans toward expressive because of the colors, animation, and image usage. Image usage includes PNG transparency and large background images (layering effects). If too much expressive aesthetic is used, then the page gets visually noisy – and heavy. It distracts from the content (text). The goal is to get people to read – or click a response button.
Classic aesthetic is static, clean, and usually stark white. Sometimes referred to as minimalistic. But it has it’s roots in Greek and Bauhaus design theories with white space usage, invisible grids, and golden-aspect ratios.
If a page is too classic, it gets boring and repetitive. If it is too expressive, it turns into distracting noise. A balance has to be found again for wisdom. How “good is good enough” is subjective and biased by opinion and perception.
For me, it’s amazing The7 theme loads in 4 seconds with all the expressive design elements. 4 seconds is a typical load time for a WordPress theme that doesn’t have many images on the page –and no animation. But the Internet average load time is about 8 seconds. Which has been proven practically intolerable for users. The saving grace is the pages aren’t completely blank for 8 seconds. If it is blank, the site will most definitely be abandoned.
At this point, to get better speed, you’d have to throw money at the theme problem – or redesign. You’d have to sacrifice some expressive aesthetics – especially the animation. All for a few seconds of speed.
I do like the look of the site so my goal would be to improve the speed as you suggest. 4 seconds is just too long.
There are other things that can’t be changed: Fontawesome is included. It loads even if it isn’t used. SliderRevolution plugin is loaded on every page – even if there isn’t a slider present. Dashicons are loaded for every page. Various Google fonts are loaded. While all of these things can be removed with code modifications, they are part of the design and the site wouldn’t look the same – it may even break.
After he screwed up my site
Your site isn’t screwed up. It’s just not perfect in every way. Perfection can have a high price. It’s definitely an above-average website. Very usable. We wouldn’t have wanted to build it. We wouldn’t change it. Those animation addons have a steep learning curve.
We’ve never had any success with W3 Total Cache plugin. So you aren’t the Lone Ranger. In general, if the site is already as optimized as it can get, caching just doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t matter what caching plugin you use.
But recently Cloudflare and MaxCDN stopped working right so I disable both of them and they weren’t really working anyway.
Be sure to completely uninstall any plugins associated with those old CDNs.
Cloudflare CDN also failed in our speed testing. Same story as caching. Once a site is optimized, CDNs can’t help. Instead, they frequently slow down pages or cause “page not found” errors. It’s our opinion that CDN mainly helps with security and not speed. But if you have a grossly bloated website, CDN makes a difference. Or if you are selling to an international market (which you aren’t).
CDN and caching are band-aids for sloppy designers. Too lazy to optimize.
Yoast seo premium
Blubrry powerpress for my podcast
contact form 7
forget about shortcode buttons
Slider revolution-homepage animation
W3 total cache
WPbaker visual composer ( this is what he used to design the site rather than my requested CSS in the style.css document in the child theme which is blank).
There isn’t anything we can add that would significantly improve the speed. We do believe W3 Total Cache is minifying your CSS and JS files. It’s also gzip compressing all files. So you are getting some benefit from it. Those features could be added with other plugins – but there wouldn’t be a speed increase to remove the W3 Total Cache plugin.
Contact Form 7 is a heavy plugin. But changing it to something lighter won’t be significant. We’d leave it alone.
Conclusion: We suggest your website is good-enough to communicate for marketing purposes. Review the main goal of your site. Redesign should be postponed as long as possible.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We couldn’t agree more. But we know, the WordPress world breaks on a recurring basis. That’s the price of an open-source community. Things become obsolete or incompatible.
Looking into our crystal ball we predict some near term WordPress trends and how they affect sites. Presently, here’s our status:
A common blog has 170 posts and 21 pages. And 32 active plugins (the WordPress average is 25).
There was technical bumpiness (total panic!?) during past core updates. Many major themes formerly used homepage widgets for customization. Upon WordPress new customizer addition, widgets moved without prediction. These errant themes became non-complaint and had to change their code to match new WordPress standards.
The new standards make things more bulletproof. But actually nuked everyone using old standards forcing emergency compliance. We recovered from that heart attack. WordPress makes changes now by adding a Customizer for CSS code normally stored in a child theme. Child themes are considered obsolete – but there is no documentation saying this is so.
We recommend using Simple CSS plugin to safely add customized code to your CSS. It won’t be overwritten by theme or core updates.
But we don’t use child themes on new sites any more.
On the horizon looms the Gutenberg WordPress version. We’ll get nuked again. But there are workarounds as stopgaps to get us into safe territory and through the learning curves. Gutenberg has already proved and predicted not being compliant with over 8,000 plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. Is there a published list? No.
Are paid plugins better for Gutenberg compatibility? No. 15 percent of those are predicted by Gutenberg developers to fail.
In the past, WordPress maintained backwards compatibility with legacy themes and plugins. This will not be the case with version 5.0.
When Gutenberg is introduced in WP5.0, there will be unknown and unforeseen problems. They claim presently they will force the interface over the top of the traditional editor. It’s a god-like power play.
Don’t fear. Plugins are already created to defeat Gutenberg when automatic update occurs. We have installed on our sites. Postponing Gutenberg hassles is a strategy improving the return on investment for existing sites. We’re talking increasing shelf-life or longevity. We can make changes when we’re ready instead of having them shoved down our throats.
The life span of a typical website is 3 years.
One can’t know for certain but some of your favorite plugins may fail. Authors may chose to repair them or we may have to find substitutes. There are 55,000 plugins in the repository so we’re not worried about fixing it. We’re only worried about “breakage events.” We assume it won’t be plugins with active ongoing version updates. But we don’t know. No one knows. Just because a plugin is stale or abandoned by it’s author doesn’t indicate potential failure.
Presently, custom CSS is stored in the Theme Customizer > Additional CSS. This is fragile if the theme is changed. The way around this is to transfer the code to a nice plugin called “Simple CSS.” It acts in the same way, but is protected from theme changes. It also doesn’t cause an extra call like a child theme plugin. It’s faster loading. But CSS code isn’t always compatible in every way when themes are changed.
“Gutenberg has three planned stages. The first, aimed for inclusion in WordPress 5.0, focuses on the post editing experience and the implementation of blocks. This initial phase focuses on a content-first approach. …
These foundational elements will pave the way for stages two and three, planned for the next year, to go beyond the post into page templates and ultimately, full site customization.” – Source
The goal of Gutenberg is to become a site builder (full site customization) and replace all page builder plugins. Fortunately, we didn’t go down the path of page-builder-plugin temptation. But millions of sites will ultimately be affected. Why is WordPress doing this? Do they want to destroy page builder plugins? No. They want to destroy WIX, Weebly, SquareSpace, and any other CMS competitor. Matt Mullenweg said authors and users of page builder plugins are collateral damage.
So here are our strategic recommendations:
1. Install a preemptive-strike plugin against Gutenberg. This is a precautionary safety measure and stopgap. It will add a years time to adapt your site.
There are presently 3 to 4 plugins to do this, but the one we recommend is:
Oddly, it includes Font Awesome. We don’t like that. But that’s life. Once Gutenberg is out, do a staging area test of the impact on your theme and site.
2. Install the Simple CSS plugin and transfer the code in Additional CSS to it.
3. When the Twenty-nineteen theme is released investigate it for potential as a replacement for long term reliability and longevity. It is built for the Gutenberg editor. But we aren’t making that switch and hope for a WordPress fork. Read More offsite >
The goal is future-proofing your site and improve the return on investment.
Now the bad news, we recommend a complete rebuild of your existing site. It can be planned for. We expect planning a switch in 2019 would be prudent. It’s gonna cost (again). Start budgeting now. Your site will then have a 3 to 6 year life (ROI) from that version. One never know exactly since the WordPress market is dynamic (chaotic).
“I was thinking of using a theme like GeneratePress – or Astra. They seem to be the fastest but, now I’m unsure.”
Free Elementor is 61 milliseconds and adding paid Elementor Pro delays another 71 milliseconds. That slows down every page by 132 milliseconds.
GeneratePress (22 milliseconds) and Astra (36 milliseconds) are plenty fast. But only when using the free versions. If you buy the GP Premium plugin you add an additional 70 milliseconds. The theme authors don’t tell you those speed details. But that’s still minor compared to the real problem.
For comparison, WordPress core loads in 215 milliseconds. Ten times slower than your speed theme.
A typical free, discrete, single-function, no-setting plugin loads in less than 0.5 to 2 millisecond.
25 percent of plugin speed overhead is often consumed by one plugin.
80 percent of total plugin load time is burned by your 5 heaviest plugins.
The average WordPress website has 25 plugins.
Of PagePipe’s 70 total plugins, 12 load in under 3 milliseconds. And 29 of the 70 load in under 1 millisecond.
There’s usually one big-fat plugin killing speed – like WooCommerce 262 milliseconds – or more. Or perhaps Yoast SEO Premium plugin loading in 240 milliseconds.
We repeat. These plugin speed problems are minor compared to the real problem:
Speed killers: Undisciplined, novice site owners.
They’re the real problem. And some professional developers are apathetic about quality, too. You can do anything and everything dreamed of with a pagebuilder. That should be good. Right? But start adding incremental features and soon the site is overweight and slow. It’s not one slow thing – it’s everything. Ego mania. Then site owners ask us, “Can you fix this Elementor speed problem?”
Sorry. It’s not Elementor’s fault. They didn’t make you put in all that web junk. They only tempted you.
Can you fix speed on a bloated Elementor site? The answer is probably “no.” Pagebuilder plugins can’t be selectively deactivated to reduce site heaviness. Not without white screening an entire site anyway. Discrete plugins can be selectively activated or deactivated on pages and posts. This is important for speed. It’s not the evil your pagebuilder does, it’s the goodness that got left out. It’s a sin of omission.
WP Rocket is a $49 speed plugin with annual renewal (rent overhead). Most don’t realize WP Rocket caching plugin adds 29 milliseconds to global page loads. The irony.
Desperate site owners throw money at speed problems. Usually by adding CDN, caching, or more expensive hosting. Things get more costly. The speed investment is worse instead of better. Discarding whimsical features prevents speed waste.
How do I build a fast website from the start, without using a full-time developer?
What is the right decision about builder plugins?
Our speed advice is design without a pagebuilder whenever possible. Pagebuilder’s are slower, add more requests, and have a big learning-time commitment. But if you have no idea what you’re doing and are new to the game, go ahead – be a make-believe designer with a pagebuilder. It’s OK.
Pagebuilders are not the speed panacea you seek.
Will your pagebuilder site be slow?Most likely. The odds are high it’ll be slower than you ever dreamed. Why?
The answer: Because you own a rifle doesn’t make you a hunter. Just because you own a car doesn’t make you a race champion. Owning a pagebuilder doesn’t make you a web designer.
Using a pagebuilder doesn’t guarantee design quality. No surprise. There’s a pagebuilder learning curve. You still need to learn good universal design principles – aka best practices. It’s disappointing when your site is low quality. You need a speed strategy before you start. Say, “No!” to dull, faddish fluff that doesn’t matter and adds no real value.
How do you design a website to be fast from the start? Building for speed is called “origin optimization.” It happens even before the project begins. It’s not an emergency, after-the-fact, speed repair. It’s strategic.
Here’s what to do for WordPress origin optimization:
1Get the best shared hosting you can afford. What’s best? Find a normal host allowing writing to the .htaccess file on your server. Special hosting – like WP Engine – won’t allow this. That ability is important for plugin speed tricks. Don’t choose SiteGround. Their wild TTFB fluctuates and is erratic. Their servers are worse than mediocre for TTFB.
2Choose a host with stable TTFB (time to first byte) on your server. Excellent is 200 to 300 milliseconds. Ordinary is 500 milliseconds and poor is around 1 second or longer. One way to find out is testing the hosting company’s home page TTFB using ByteCheck.com. That’s the best possible it will ever be. Do at least 6 tests.
3Do NOT install SSL certification – unless you’re doing ecommerce. You don’t need SSL for a simple email signup. SSL handshaking slows down your site globally by 500 milliseconds average. SSL does NOT improve your SEO. There’s no proof. But you can measure the heavy toll on speed.
4Don’t put an email signup API (like MailChimp services) on every page.
Have a single page with signup and use image or text links to that page.
Use selective activation and only turn on your email plugin for that one signup page. Isolate the site drag.
5Use Twenty-seventeen default theme (48.4 milliseconds). Live within it’s limitations. There’s tons of articles online about how to customize Twenty-seventeen default theme. Why use it? Longevity. It’ll have an 8-year shelf-life. Don’t use Divi theme. It has a 1-second load time. Yes. Only the theme: Half your performance budget gone! Any theme is faster than Divi. Rather consider longevity a high value. Astra and GeneratePress are cool and fast. But they don’t have the potential longevity and risk-reduction of Automattic authorship.
6 Do NOT use free Cloudflare. It slows down your site with delays and 501 errors.
“Thanks for your time and feedback. You are definitely right about speed inconsistencies with free Cloudflare!”silvercoast-apartments.com, Portugal
8 When in doubt about some feature or frill, leave it out. What makes for a good website is content, not fancy things that move or animate. Like sliders, rotators, accordions, dropdowns, etc.
9Optimize your images with free “Imsanity” plugin. Other optimizer plugin promises are seductive – and cost money. Don’t use free Smush plugin. Don’t use PNG format for photos. Use JPEG images and compress quality using your judgemental eye – and not a robot machine for a brain.
Can you survive without social media links? Do you have to have comments? Are you using Avatars? These extras slow down your site and add little value.
Don’t use heavy, globally-loading plugins like Contact Form 7 plugin. Don’t use Yoast SEO plugin especially the paid version (or any SEO plugin). Don’t use a multi-function security plugin or any multi-function plugin. Stick with discrete plugins. Use more plugins – not less. Doubling the number of “good” discrete plugins will halve your load time. That’s right. 50 plugins are better than 25 if you choose the right plugins. Our ebooks are about this stuff. And the PagePipe blog is full of free plugin information. Buy both the “plugin alternative” bundle – and Toxic WordPress.
Paid Yoast SEO plugin is the speed equal to 250 discrete plugins. Bad site drag.
Accept that your learning journey requires frustration and failures. Nothing worth doing is easy. There’s a price. Pay your dues by investing in your brain power. “You” have future value.
BONUS TIP – If you use WooCommerce plugin, the best speed you’ll often achieve is 3- to 4-second load times. Reduce your expectations.
“I’m trying to make my website as fast as possible. I want to learn the best method and technical know how. I already watched WPfaster.org video on udemy. But they use W3 Total Cache plugin. So many technical settings – and difficult.” – Adzalan Yanggang
Surprise! We’ve watched their video, too. We don’t agree with their shady speed philosophy. It cost too much. READ WPFaster review
They recommend W3 Total Cache plugin. It’s not a good choice. Complicated.
We recommend Cache Enabler plugin (20k download file size). And three simple checkbox settings.
What about Swift Performance Plugin? It has so many cool features. It’s a multi-function speed plugin. It’s compressed download file weighs a massive 2.8M zipped – and 7.4M decompressed.
Very heavy plugins usually consume database and RAM resources on the server host. With these specs, we’re not interested in Swift Performance plugin. We prefer using single-function discrete plugins weighing about 4k and loading in under 1 millisecond. With discrete plugins, we do selective plugin activation on a page and post basis. This form of conditional logic significantly improves fine tuning a site.
The main valued functions of Swift Performance plugin:
Gzip Compression < This is activated by default on host servers.
Remove Query Strings
Async Execute Combined JS
Proxy 3rd Party JS
Inline Small Images
Google Analytics Bypass
You can add these features with single-purpose plugins with zero settings (no Wizard needed). Some are only used during maintenance and could be deactivated. But many don’t make a difference in speed at all. Just scores.
The Swift Performance plugin backend has animated advertising! Ugh!
Swift Performance Lite adds 131 milliseconds of site drag to every page and post of a website. Equally, we can install 131 discrete plugin instead. That’s the equivalent of adding the database-intensive Yoast SEO plugin (free version). Paid Yoast is even worse – 240 milliseconds. For the 20 features listed above, it should be a mere 20 milliseconds maximum: 15 percent of Swift Performance sitedrag.
Swift Performance Lite adds 6.2 milliseconds per feature whether it’s used or not.
And last – but not least – Swift Performance Lite plugin nuked the front end of the test site. All we had were gibberish characters. Our guess is this damage was caused by either concatenation in the minification process – or some caching weirdness – or a plugin conflict. Anyway. Not a fun plugin to deal with. We uninstalled it.
So how about using the monthly paid Pegasaas.com speed service? They charge $9 per month.
You can do all this for free – with plugins.
PagePipe’s homepage normal load time is 1.8 seconds according to the Pegasaas test. With their service tweaks, it’s 1.6 seconds. There’s easily that much drift for shared-server TTFB (time to first byte). The Pegasaas service essentially makes no difference – or a theoretical 200-millisecond potential improvement. You can get that gain by simply disabling Google fonts with a setting-less discrete plugin.
On a well-optimized page, minification rarely improves speed – only scores change. And test score are meaningless. Caching and minification are speed band-aids compared to website origin optimization.
‘I got a 100% score on Pingdom, GTmetrix and Google PageSpeed.”
Scores don’t alter SEO page rank or indicate good speed. Concentrate on milliseconds of load time as a better benchmark. Test scores are esoteric tweaks that make no significant speed difference.
We recently evaluated a London-based site’s home page for speed opportunities. Load times on Pingdom were: 2.05 seconds, 1.95s, 1.85s for three consecutive readings. And on WebPagetest.org: 2.86s, 2.6s, 3.27s. The site-owner Niel’s audience is predominantly on smartphones and tablets. Speed is important to them – and him.
We told Niel:
You are not sharing your server. Fast. But TTFB (time to first byte) is around 1.3s that is an “F” for fail. It’s your worst problem right now. Talk to your host and ask about TTFB specs.
We’ve written about TTFB specifications before in our article:
The Time to First Byte (TTFB) is the time your browser spends waiting on the web server to send back the data.
Niel contacted SiteGround. He asked what was the deal with their bad TTFB. Here’s SiteGround’s response:
“The website is quite fast from my end. It loads for 1.35 seconds from my browser and for 2.25 from GTMetrix.
The TTFB time depends mostly of the type of website used. There is a difference. When you(r) website is a simple HTML site the browser just downloads the HTML code to the browser and the TTFB is very low. You will get an A there, however if you have a PHP application for website like WordPress or Joomla the TTFB is the time needed for the web server to compile the PHP code in index.php file to HTML code so this is why the websites built on top of PHP are slower.
For WordPress for instance when the index.php is compiled all plugins of WordPress are read by the web server as well so this why it is so slow.”
This is the best attempt we’ve seen from SiteGround explaining their lousy TTFB.
But we suspect the information isn’t really true. One potential reason they’re getting long TTFB delays is they use NGINX (EngineX) servers instead of Apache – just like CloudFlare.
We have seen erratic TTFB on SiteGround hosting. There are spikes when average load times are 12 to 26 seconds for pages that normally load in under 1 second. For one site we have under test, this slowdown happened 4 times in the last 30 days on SiteGround. And about the same frequency the month before. The slow times seem to occur every 5 to 6 days like a wave. Everything goes sour those days.
SiteGround can’t give any scientific explanation. Voodoo. They just reset the server cache. Then cherry-pick a WebPagetest.org test result that looks good – and report saying, “Look! We fixed it.”
Being consistently bad on magnetic drives is better than being occasionally great on SSD drives.
But we can do the exact same thing ourselves. The cache reset has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t fix anything.
SiteGround is saying they can’t perform well as long as you’re using WordPress. What?! They’re pointing the finger at WordPress. It could be true – but we doubt it. Here’s why: a large percentage of the Internet is using WordPress – 500 new WordPress sites are created every day! Surely SiteGround isn’t ignoring this? Do all their WordPress customers see this badness? If so they have a big, fat problem – not WordPress.
SiteGround isn’t being honest about their TTFB problems. Cognitive dissonance? If what they’re saying is true, wouldn’t the speeds be consistently bad instead of erratically bad?
You can find out your TTFB on: ByteCheck for free.
PagePipe is a WordPress site on crappy GoDaddy hosting and it loads in under 1 second. We get a predictable 500 millisecond TTFB from GoDaddy (with PHP version 5.4. TTFB is improved to 175 milliseconds since switching to PHP 7.1). As long as that “badness” never changes PagePipe loads in under 1 second. (Note: Yes. We host on magnetic GoDaddy drives. This is evidence of what is really possible using speed strategy).
Why doesn’t GoDaddy produce the same “PHP compilation delay” SiteGround is claiming? One difference is the shared GoDaddy server is Apache. PagePipe shares its server with 20 other domains. Niel and others on SiteGround share with no sharing! With Solid-state Disk Drives (SSD) even! Are SiteGround customers paying for fantasy speed?
SiteGround claims the WordPress plugins are causing TTFB delays. They have to be kidding! PagePipe has 53 active plugins – and it’s not slow. That excuse is a smokescreen. A deflection away from the real problem which SiteGround isn’t disclosing. They need to own the problem, be transparent and responsible.
We smell a rat.
“I have been using SiteGround shared mid plan and the TTFB times are horrendous at least half the day and every day. I’m lucky in a sense at this point that my blog is small, theme is fast and it’s quite optimized. Even so, I’m giving strong thought to move to a (semi ) dedicated server in a month or so and not renew with them, even while acknowledging their outstanding customer support.” —author: Howard Milstein
Many sites we evaluate for speed testing are using free Cloudflare CDN services. A CDN (content distribution network) is a way to get servers geographically closer to user and thus reduce latency. That’s the goal anyway.
CloudFlare is a US-based website performance company founded in 2009. CloudFlare claims to improve page load times and performance.
In the recent past, we’ve used free CloudFlare CDN services and their plugin to bulletproof our WordPress websites. Testing the Codium Grid theme, we found CloudFlare doesn’t guarantee consistent load speeds. During this project, we saw unpredictable and random page load times from 10 to 25 seconds. That’s unacceptable even if the average time is one second.
CloudFlare uses a modified version of NGINX – a key Russian-created technology. Nginx (engine-x) is an optimized open-source server software used in the LEMP stack (Linux, Nginx, MySQL, and PHP).
We first thought there was traffic congestion on the shared-hosting server. We checked using yougetsignal.com and found only three domains resided on the shared server. One was inactive and the other two had benign, low-traffic content. The server wasn’t our offender.
After plugin testing, it was clear that CloudFlare was the culprit throwing in random delays. We canceled the account and removed the plugin. Then things stabilized. We also got better results in WebPagetest.org. Our cached time improved from 750 milliseconds to a 500 millisecond load. We’re giddy from this discovery.
Christian Nelson, ally and web critic, saw this weird, random, delay phenomenon years ago – but not on CloudFlare. He’s maintained a low opinion of CDN solutions since. He’s right on the money. CDN response times can be unpredictable.
We’re against any CDN paid or free services. Build with origin optimization. Then there’s no or little benefit from edge optimization. CDN is a band-aid for sloppy site owners. You can’t speed up a site that’s already fast. It’s a waste of money.
Now, on Shopify – one reason they have such fast loading stores – is the big money they throw at edge optimization. That’s the best place to host and build a store. That’s our recommendation. And we get paid to build ecommerce sites with WooCommerce. It’s no match in the speed department.
One more bad thing about CloudFlare CDN.
CloudFlare’s Nginx servers cause failure on time-to-first-byte measurements (TTFB). Usually shown as a red “F” as in failure or flunk using WebPagetest.org. This negative flag generated a brouhaha, and Cloudflare responded with a special blog entry about the topic and why they think it not a real problem. We agree. TTFB isn’t a problem. CloudFlare flakiness is the problem.
CloudFlare’s claim is “Gzip compression of web pages reduces the time it takes a web page to download, but the compression itself has a cost. That cost causes TTFB to be greater even though the complete download is quicker.” But only on Nginx servers. Apache servers are just fine.
Nginx waits until compression has started before sending the HTTP headers; when compression (Gzip) is turned off it sends the headers immediately.
Our complaint: Who cares about TTFB when CloudFlare throws a monkey wrench into the running engine and randomly gives 10 second to 20 second page loads? Hiccups aren’t acceptable.
Our experience is Cloudflare CDN is notorious for slowing down your site with 500 and 501 server errors. That’s probably where your TTFB errors are coming from. Cloudflare uses NGINX servers instead of Apache. This causes lazy loading of all Gzip compressed assets. Unnecessary delays. TTFB is the only metric Google uses in their SEO ranking algorithms.
Using Cloudflare would explain the reason for your speed fluctuations. We do not recommend them – nor any CDN for that matter. CDNs are band-aids for poorly optimized websites. It’s better to build quality into your site. That is called origin optimization. CDNs are edge optimization strategy.
Are Progressive Web Apps a remarkable phenomenon? Or another fad touted as rescuing mobile experiences?
Should you convert to Progressive Web Apps? Not today. And maybe never.
Progressive Web Apps salvage loser applications. These are the ones buried in oblivion on Apple store and Google Android store. Market noise grew loud – an ocean of app offerings. No one gets discovered. Lost in the wash. Thus the “brilliant” idea of converting apps into mobile websites hatched. A website with regular-old organic SEO may give a better chance of attention and adoption.
As of first quarter 2018, Android store contained 3.8 million apps. Apple’s App Store is the second-largest app store with 2 million available apps. – Source
The most popular free-download iPhone apps of 2017 were:
Apps are heavy. They convert to heavy slow websites. There’s no advantage for users – only SELLERS.
This alternative idea reminds us of the failed Google AMP propaganda. Another solution without a problem? Simple site source optimization is always a better strategy.
It’s touted PWA – Progressive Web Apps load instantly, respond to user clicks, and include an immersive UX. Wow! Really? Are they saying web pages don’t achieve these simple goals already?
PWAs are currently not supported by Safari on iOS. Fifty percent of mobile browsing is on Safari. This is a major detriment to the future of PWA acceptance. Steer clear of this potential problem. Some people see PWAs as the dawn of a new era in mobile technology. We view it as another future bone pile. It’s creative but not an innovation. There’s no audience applause.
The most used and popular mobile apps are Facebook, Instagram, and email apps. The average page weight of native apps is 30 megabytes while the average size of a PWA is only 2 megabytes. And they think 2 megabytes is cool? Weird.
That reported PWA “optimization” is no miracle. This isn’t an improvement for the Internet! It’s average performance optimization. Ordinary, average page weight is 2.1 to 3 megabytes. Optimized web pages are much lighter – less than 1 megabyte – in the 350 to 750 kilobyte range. PWA weight is mediocre. Their main goal is converting loser and drowning apps to web pages. Trying to get submerged apps to float to the surface. The hope is salvaging investments lost in the sea of iOS and Android store apps.
Installations from app stores have a negative and cumbersome user experience. The PWA idea is increasing app installation using URL access. User experience is not the main motivation of PWA authors. The goal is the sunset of mobile apps. App authors replace them with PWAs to reduce costs and the hope of increasing usage. PWA is a marketing bandaid. A mere ploy.
There is no redeeming value in PWA for users.
Turns out there are already about 15 plugins for WordPress PWA conversion. Half of those only have less than 100 active installs. The largest has around 10,000 installs. Insignificant. We don’t have the time or interest to test the PWA plugins since we see them as bogus or faddish.
The idea is loading your site as an app into a mobile device – then it’s a permanent download into the device. You get a supposed instant load with a click. Faster than a website? Doubtful.
Who is willing to clog their smartphone memory that way? Would you download a bulky website on your mobile phone? The potential blowback on PWA ignorance hasn’t occurred yet. Aren’t people afraid of risking precious device resources? The horror stories will soon unfold.
Google scared site owners into thinking SEO is now dependent on being “mobile-first.” Google states responsivity (screen-size adaptation) is claimed the number one priority. And speed number two on the mobile-first criteria list. Do those SEO signals outweigh relevant content? Google wants to manipulate and keep us in the dark. As usual.
Google claims the big switch to mobile-first listings arrived in July 2018. But geeks employed by Google say mobile-first rankings “won’t count” for SEO. At least not until 70 percent of the Internet adopts the practice. Why? They can’t afford to tick off their big advertising income. Big account’s ranking-damage would be bad for Google business. So do as Google says, not as they do.
Google employees think they’ve achieved a 30-percent mobile-first adoption. Uh? That’s the same stat they brag about for SSL adoption. But other sources like BuiltWith say it’s only around 4 percent of the Internet. We suspect this propaganda is a plea for “get-on-the-bandwagon” bias.
Mobile-first ranking doesn’t matter as much as relevant content. It may never matter. Google dogma sometimes has no teeth in the real world.
And PWAs waste energy and resources. Period. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
It takes special handling to keep GeneratePress fast. A simple plugin addition can cause Google font loading or jQuery enqueue and other blunders. Keep an eye on these things so the speed bonuses are wasted.
And the test results are incredible:
We’ve looked at GeneratePress before. When did GeneratePress become so magical and wonderful for mobile speed? Officially, December 14, 2017 version 2.0.1 was released. That’s when all these speed features appeared.
★★★★★ GeneratePresstheme Active installs: 100,000+
Compressed file size: 913k.
All-time downloads: 1,177,699.
Retention rate: 8 percent (or better – we don’t have access to the proprietary stats).
Most commercial and free themes now include Font Awesome. It is a workaround to create social icons, responsive-menu-hamburger icons, and search-field icons. It causes site drag. Dequeuing Font Awesome for speed unfortunately ruins mobile screens.
Authors of free themes include Font Awesome 40 percent of the time. On paid themes, it’s almost always present. The selected GeneratePress v2.1 theme doesn’t enqueue Font Awesome. The “Lightweight Social Icons” plugin (also authored by GeneratePress) loads a faster social-icon subset produced using Fontello. But what we’ve found to be even faster is using PNG icons as social-media links. Those are about 300 bytes each. Then no plugin or fewer HTTP requests are needed.
GeneratePress theme has American, English-speaking authors. They have a fantastic reputation and respect in the WordPress community. GeneratePress is on 100,000 websites. They only make one theme so they can provide stellar customer service.
Tom Usborne is the author of GeneratePress. It’s his one-and-only, pet-theme. And it’s all he need ever produce. The theme only weighs 30k on the frontend. Fantastic achievement.
Popular premium WordPress themes have a big commonality: They claim they do anything.In fact, the Divi theme’s motto is “The sky is the limit.”
Divi, the most popular paid theme, is the slowest we’ve encountered. It loads in about 1 second. That’s only the theme? Yep. That doesn’t include WordPress core or images or plugins or anything else. With a 2-second performance budget, our speed is half-way evaporated.
Speed tests are performed with Pingdom to New York. Hardly scientific. But results give relative comparisons of performance value. The candidate themes are hosted on the same cheap, shared GoDaddy server without CDN or caching.
The potential to “Doing anything and everything” is seductive to site owners. Imagine. No limitations. The promise of no limitations is saying, “Go ahead. Add all the heavy extras your heart desires. Fill all the slots and widgets our expensive theme provides. Gorge yourself.” Is it any wonder websites with these premium themes end up being the slowest?
It’s not the poor theme’s fault.
It’s a design self-disciple problem.
Creativity requires limitations. It’s when resources are scarce – like time, energy, or money – that creativity is most desirable. Scarcity forces value analysis on extra additions. It reduces the temptation to bloat.
And other top selling WordPress themes are full of extras.
They all have a hefty purchase license. That’s annual recurring $60 to $70 rental fees.
Every year. Cha-ching. You pay again. That premium theme adds to site overhead.
A paid/premium theme must be the best. Right? Surely, they’re better than free themes. Better for what? Not speed. That’s for sure.
Multi-function, multipurpose, feature-rich, do-everything themes do not guarantee fast page loads. These are the themes most abused by site owners. Stripped themes force prudence before adding features. All-you-can-eat themes don’t. They encourage gluttony.
Feature-itis or creeping featurism is the ongoing expansion of website features. These extra features go beyond basic needs. They result in bloat and over-complication – rather than simple design. This is also called gold plating or over-engineering. Trying to make something better than required is also called: wasteful.
A better method is building on a simple foundation using a stripped or bare-bones theme.
How do you add features and functionality to a stripped theme? Simple. With plugins. But plugins slow things down, don’t they? No. It’s the quality of plugins, not quantity that makes a difference.
How much do stripped themes cost? Well, they’re free. Is free bad? You know: shoddy and fragile? Nope.
Q. Automattic authored how many themes? A.117 themes in the WordPress directory.
Q.How many themes updated to 2018 code? A.Freshness? 34 themes. That’s it. Only 29 percent are garden-fresh.
We analyzed every one of the 117 themes written by Automatic. Inc. That’s WordPress’ parent company. 34 themes were recently updated in 2018. The rest are stale as dried toast. That’s right. Only 29 percent of Automattic-authored plugins are fresh. Those good-fresh-ones are on 2.8 million websites.
Last Year of Update
So what? Who cares?
Outdated and obsolete: that’s 71 percent of Automattic downloadable themes. Still hanging around in the WordPress Theme Directory. Without an update for over 1 year. Their shelf-life expired – molding – but still available for the unsuspecting. Why would WordPress keep old stuff laying around? Isn’t that unsanitary?
Well, it makes their big theme collection look BIGGER, doesn’t it? But finding a current theme that’s NOT stale is sheer gambling. And perhaps prohibited in some states and countries.
Let us save you some time and trouble. We’ll share some theme observations.
We deleted a few theme candidates failing to qualify for our test criteria. Those are:
Boutique and Deli are both child themes for Storefront theme. So we cross them off the list. Also, Twenty-eleven theme and Twenty-ten theme aren’t responsive. They never were. That’s no good for Google mobile-first page ranking. So they’re history, too, even though they are still available.
That culling left 30 responsive fresh themes.
Now, let’s reduce the remaining theme contenders another notch. We only consider theme’s with zip download files under 1 megabyte. That size has the potential for speed. 1MB is our cutoff. We don’t have time to mess around looking under the hood of every single theme. The theme author didn’t care enough to lighten the package! We won’t reward bad apathetic behavior with an active installation. No vote from us.
Most themes by other authors and companies in the Directory are not responsive. We tested that stuff. There are over 1,600 responsive themes out of 5,100 free themes. Anything authored before 2012 is most suspect. So watch out! Test to be sure.
That eliminated 10 more fluffy themes:
Are the 10 themes above our 1M-cutoff the slowest? Well, they’re on the high end. Storefront is the slowest Automattic-authored theme at 26.50 milliseconds load time. We admit. That’s pretty light. But it was the worst. It’s often used with the 280-millisecond WooCommerce plugin. Very heavy site drag. Much of our 2-second performance budget – Gone. Ouch!
We axed it. Cruelty.
What did Twenty-fourteen default theme ever do to offend PagePipe? Besides being over the 1MB weight limit? It activates 120k of Google fonts and enqueues Genericons. That’s all it took. Do we care that 300,000 sites are actively using it? Nope. We never even liked the look of that lame theme. Sorry.
So of the remaining candidates, who’s the fastest loading theme? Shocking. Twenty-twelve default loads in only 14.7 milliseconds. Dang. That’s fast.
Susty theme is the fastest loading theme on the planet – it also loads in 14.7 milliseconds. We use it for experiments.
So what’s the slowest theme we’ve ever encountered? Without question: Divi by Elegant Themes (480,000 customers). Go figure. About 1-second of site drag – just the Divi theme. It’s a dog. Isn’t it popular? You bet. Don’t follow the herd.
Do we like the speedy Twenty-twelve default theme? We’ve seen worse. Customize it. Fix it. At least, it has optional and popular one-column design. No sidebar if you desire. But in the end it gets the ax, too. Read on:
So here’s the top speed winners:
Theme speed doesn’t translate into the fastest load time when combined with core.
The fastest theme under those conditions is Pictorico with 632 milliseconds. Twenty-twelve and AltoFocus are over 1 second. We’d ax those two from our list.
Is this a fair test? No. Of course not. Some themes come loaded with an image. The Twenty-seventeen theme is one of those. It has a large sample image header. Yet, it’s number 5. Twenty-twelve theme which was the fastest loading theme when installed is now a loser.
It’s a quick selection process when you have no time – and tons of prospects to test. The goal is building a fast site. There’s no perfect speed theme. Never will be.
Our point? If a theme has a zip package weight under 1 megabyte, it increases your chances of being fast loading. It’s a filter reducing theme-selection waste. The rule of thumb is free WordPress-authored themes load in under 20 milliseconds.
But they’re often snubbed by techno-geeks.
20 milliseconds – that’s fast. But it doesn’t translate into real speed once running on a real website with WordPress core. Why? Too many nuances to list here but they include things like Google Fonts and jQuery. Some even have sliders. Gads!
We strip all that junk with removal plugins.
Our biggest point: Free themes get a bad rap for speed. We see so many blogs telling how important it is choosing a fast premium theme. It’s implied only paid themes achieve long product life cycles. That produces a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
Can you say: Affiliate?
The main thing is avoiding extreme slow 1-second themes. Divi theme is almost 2 seconds with core added. Avoid using a paid theme. Never trust a vendor’s demo. They’ll be slower in the real world because they’re “feature rich “- aka heavy. Choose a stripped-down free theme. Then add as many plugins as needed for the functions and features you need. It’ll be faster loading than a prepackaged, off-the-shelf, paid theme. Avoid the most popular plugins. They’re the slowest.
That’s our speed formula – and it works.
More Theme Strategy
The twenty-ten default theme is now retired from WordPress.com. Themes retire on that host when they are no longer compatible with WordPress.com. Twenty Ten is still available for sites hosted elsewhere using WordPress core. Twenty-ten isn’t responsive for mobile devices.
Gutenberg won’t force change on any site theme. (Promises. Promises.) There are still sites on WordPress.com using classic original themes. WordPress no longer supports retired themes, but they don’t force anyone to change it.
Why stick with a trusty default theme?
Support and upgrades keep arriving for a long, long time. Twenty-thirteen got a refresh in 2018. That’s 5 years of free upgrades. But so did Twenty-ten theme. That’s seven or eight years!
That means Twenty-seventeen default theme will be thriving from 2022 to 2025. Think about it. Future-proof your site. Twenty-seventeen is still our go-to theme for building speed sites.
NOTE: The typical site shelf-life is 3 years. Then the owner or audience gets bored and the theme changes.
We admit we use themes like GeneratePress.Tom Usborne is the theme author and has a two-man company. If Tom gets run over by a bus, it won’t go well for the future of GeneratePress theme. But will a bus run over WordPress? They’d have to throw a hundred web developers under the same bus. Big bus.
WordPress claims a valuation of over 1 billion dollars. It’s not going away soon. Of course, Google could always buy WordPress with pocket change – and ruin every single theme. Stranger things happen.
Meanwhile, until Google Armageddon, default themes are the winning ponies to bet on. Customize with free plugins.
Is my site slow because of my theme selection? It’s the theme you should NOT pick that’s important. Don’t choose a paid, multi-functional theme especially Divi or The7. Chose a free, current, Automattic theme.
Be the fastest.
What we’ve described here is site origin optimization strategy.
1Start with a free theme authored by Automattic preferably a default theme with a download zip file size under 1 megabyte.
Why an Automattic theme?
It’s free. No annual renewal fees.
It has a longevity of at least 5 years free updates – maybe longer. A team of hundreds and a billion-dollar company support it. Not a few. Hundreds.
It’s faster that feature-rich paid themes. Always under 30 milliseconds load time.
2Add plugins that aren’t multipurpose. Avoid popular plugins. Use instead discrete plugins. Best case, discrete plugins only have one function and no settings. It takes several plugins to match the features of a multifunction integrated plugin. But many discrete plugins still load much faster than a single heavy plugin. How much faster? At least, 10 times faster.
Why use discrete plugins?
They’re not complex and simple to setup.
They’re faster than paid or popular plugins.
They’re prone to very same problems as paid plugins.
One features can be selectively deactivated. Individual selection is rarely possible with a multifunction plugin.
3Finally, use selective deactivation and activation of features only where they are needed. The easiest plugin to use for selective activation is Plugin Logic. Remember most plugins cause site drag. That’s global loading on all pages and post whether the functions are used or not.
If you search the phrase “Essential WordPress Plugins,” you’ll get about 1.8 million results. They all tend to regurgitate suggestions for the same old plugins. Copycat content. No wonder the identical plugins keep getting more installs. Even when better alternatives exist.
Includes important tips for mobile speed without coding.
Sorting and testing all the new plugins is too much work. So people don’t test. They assume. The assumption is “popularity” is good. For plugins, that is usually decided by looking at the number of active installs. Active installs is not a sign of quality or performance. It’s a standard of herd mentality.
Herd mentality, or mob mentality, describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors. Examples of the herd mentality include nationalism, stock market trends, superstition, and home décor. —Wikipedia
To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroskiis a book about engineering failures – mainly of buildings and bridge structures and airplanes during the 1980s and before. The main takeaway from the book is still applicable – and maybe even more so today: When technology or ideas are changing rapidly, there is never the opportunity to build a history or library of experience. This increases errors. Experience is what prevents accidents and disasters.
New upgraded versions of WordPress come out multiple times each year. And new plugins are being introduced at a breakneck pace. In 2013, 15,000+ plugins were in the WordPress plugin repository. In 2014, there were 29,000+ plugins in the repository. By 2015, the number was 35,000+. By Sep. 2016, over 46,000+ free plugins in the repository. And today, over 55,000 plugins. It’s difficult to stay on top of that rapid rate of change. It’s staggering.
To make a fast decision, it’s plainly easier to select from the most popular plugins – and consider that good enough. There are over 55,000 free plugins in the repository. And this doesn’t count any of the plugins available on GitHub where authors refused to go through the WordPress red-tape of acceptance.
You can choose any plugin from the TOP100 and from our experience it will be the slowest and most bloated plugin in its class. For example: #1 Akismet: 52M installs, #2 Contact Form 7: 42M installs, #3 Yoast SEO: 33M installs, #5 Jetpack: 28M installs. These are all heavy plugins and either directly or indirectly affect load time. We see these plugins installed on most slow sites.
Plugin popularity is rarely an indicator of good value. People assume they must be good. At one time, they were either the-only-game-in-town or repaired or compensated for WordPress deficiencies that later became solved with new WordPress versions. So even though the need for “repair” was gone or obsolete, the herd kept installing out of habit and myth. It became de-facto standard best practice.
Many recommended “essential” plugins have negative speed repercussions.
Our rule of thumb is: the more popular a plugin is (active installs), the higher the probability it’s a slow loading plugin. Why? We don’t know exactly why this correlates. But it holds up in our speed testing.
It’s the quality –not quantity– of plugins that slows down a site. Speed testing free plugins and themes is our specialty. Millions of herd-mentality WordPress plugins slow down the Internet, waste web resources, – and use up your precious time.
PagePipe.com (our blog) has 53 active plugins. It loads in under a half second in the USA and about 1.2 seconds for Europe (Pingdom.com). It can vary. That is using the cheapest, shared, old-magnetic GoDaddy hosting located in Arizona. No CDN. It will go even faster when GoDaddy updates to PHP 7.1 – but they’re running on outdated version 5.4. We share our server with 24 other domains. Why? We want to prove a point: You can use “speed strategy” rather than throwing money at load-time problems.
Our Mantra is avoid popular plugins. High number active installs means they’re the slowest.
We don’t know why “popular = bloated.” We speculate the plugin authors are content and apathetic to speed and quality. Popular plugins existed first and use old unoptimized coding techniques (obsolescence). They tend to get heavier with revisions instead of lighter (kludges).
The authors of old plugins don’t have competitive motivation to be lean for speed. This isn’t true for newer, less-installed, lighter plugins. Speed (load time) is now a desired feature we’re seeing more because of mobile devices. But fresh, fast plugins are not easy to find. There are 55,000+ plugins in the free directory. Wow! An ocean.
What is more characteristic of “goodness” is retention rate. That’s calculated by taking the active installs and dividing by the number of downloads for all time. A plugin with a retention of 20 percent is pretty good. If it’s 5 percent or less, it’s a danger sign. They were tried – and dumped.
Slow plugin’s download file size is a clue. Bigger files load slower. There are some exceptions – but they are few.
In our new Toxic WordPress, we present typical time-wasting herd plugins suggested on thousands of WordPress blogs. And we give you speed alternatives.
… having read your book and browsed your site I had installed pretty much every plugin that you warn against using! I’ve spent I don’t know how much money buying plugins … I’ve reassessed the plugin functionality I actually need and struck a line through most that I had installed; the rest I think I can replicate with the lighter versions you’ve educated me about. … I am hugely grateful for the help and advice on your site and in your book: it’s great to know that good things are possible with WordPress on shared hosting!
One of the biggest decisions is deciding what to not sell, who not to sell to, and what not to promise. Telling people who you’re not is just as important as telling them who you are.
You must have something of value to sell. This is called the value offer for other people. This is about some pain or anxiety visitors are trying to resolve. This is their motivation.
Creative positioning strategy is a short cut to buyer’s motivation.
An offer includes terms, warranty, delivery, price, incentives and more.
People won’t be instantly convinced you’re a credible source. Web visitors are suspicious of every website.
In Google-speak, motivation is “intent” or “relevance.” Search engines attempt to rank the content of your site for intent, relevance or credibility.
Relevance is often determined by how many people searching for a key phrase go to your site (click-thru).
So. Why aren’t you getting traffic? First, look at your first-page Google listing competitors. They’re big companies with tons of articles, authority and credibility. You have to outperform them.
Does your site appear on the first 20 pages of Google for your preferred search term. Or after ten pages do you still have nothing? Focus on what matters most to people (relevant topic).
If 33 percent of your blog traffic is funneling through an unrelated topic page, these people have no intention of buying services or products. We recommend monetizing the page with a relevant paid download – or spin it off as a separate website – or else get rid of it.
Why get rid of a page creating 10,000 visitors a month? Because they aren’t qualified leads. It’s causing noise or dilution. Content pollution.
What’s a qualified lead?
A qualified lead (visitor) has money (budget), authority to buy, is ready to buy (timing), has the problem you can solve (need).
If a site bounce rate is 80 percent, those are people who don’t care and leave immediately. While we’ve seen worse, that isn’t goodness. Only 20 percent of people visiting stay and read something. The most they’ll read is a partial article. 80 percent leave instantly.
Maintaining an email list may not improve business profits. Selling an Amazon book may not increase business profits. They do increase “credibility” but they don’t increase profits.
Credibility consists of three components: trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm. Credibility influences people or persuades them you can deliver what you promise. Remember they’re suspicious of all websites, not just yours.
Content is the user experience. What helps convince visitors you’re credible is how much content you’ve written related to solving their problem. That’s an “authority” goal of 50 articles. But if the articles don’t help them and are just fluffy, they won’t be convinced. “Fluffy” is referred to as thin content by Google. When you give away valuable information, visitors (and Google) are more prone to trust you more. The trust less if you charge for every little thing.
We dump 30 percent of PagePipe’s technical content each year. Typically the 30 to 40 least popular articles. Why? We revisit our core pages, homepage, etc. and improve how well they target our specific audience. We don’t want to dilute our best content with thin content. That makes it hard for people to decide what to read.
Our goal is selling:
Our break even is incredibly low. We don’t use any paid plugins or themes and we host on a cheap, shared server ($70 to $95 per year) with no paid services like CDN. We don’t advertise or monetize.
If you have no enthusiasm for your site topic, people will know. They will be unconvinced you’ll improve their life.
Will you produce valuable content for your audience? That’s more important than speed.
Speed is a component of User Experience (UX). Visitor’s check speed at a subconscious level. And even a conscious level for delayed page loads. Visitors judge site quality and web hospitality before assessing written content or images.
Site visitors hate slow loading pages. It’s frustrating and annoying waiting to see page content. Slow loading pages delay critical decision making. If a page is too slow, visitors leave. This abandonment reveals human intolerance and impatience. They want to have quick answers: “Is this the right place for me or not?”
Good user experience enhances source credibility. Credibility is trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm. Speed cues us how much a site owner cares about our experience. It’s website body language.
Credibility is the intangible effect Google is evaluating. They examine 200 plus signals that generate their page ranking algorithm. Speed is one of those signals. How much does it “weigh” in the formula? Less than 1 percent. Focus on content quality. It’s the primary and biggest SEO signal. Content must be relevant and engaging.
User experience and credibility are intangible feelings.
Google determines relevancy and engagement based on measurable parameters. This is also called visitor intent. It’s not traffic volume (unique visitor counts). It’s affected by bounce rate, return visits, and dwell time.
Speed affects many metrics – including bounce rate.
Does data like bounce rate not make sense to you?
Bounce rate is the number of people who knock on your door and then leave before doing anything on your website. For example, perhaps 89 percent of your people leave immediately. They hit and “bounce” off the site. One look and they’re gone. Use the knowledge to improve. You will improve your site by measuring.
We’ve seen many different bounce rates. For example:
On a French life-style site, traffic is 100,000 visitors per month. 95 percent of those visitors bounce. They immediately click the browser back button or starting a new search.
In the French case study, 5,000 visitors had “intent” or “engaged” with the site. That is indicated with click-thru or long dwell time. Dwell time is how long they stay on a page consuming (viewing or reading) content. Click-thru is exploring further into the site.
On a medical site, there were 30,000 visitors per month and 85 percent bounce rate. This means 4,500 visitors engaged.
On our speed site, PagePipe, we have 6,000 visitors per month with a 20 percent bounce rate. This indicates 4,800 engaged.
So which site achieves the most successful engagement? We’d assume the French site with the most traffic is best. Is bigger better?
Let’s compare the real engagement results:
The standard deviation of visitors choosing to stay is 251. That spread is ± 5 percent.
We could say all these sites are equal in engagement. We could further quantify engagement quality by inspecting dwell time. How long did they stay?
In the beginning, where did all these blogs start at? Zero visitors. Often for months. It took time to determine what they were offering and how to make money. And build credibility.
There is no site credibility for first-time visitors. They’re suspicious and anxious. They assume all sites will attempt ripping them off. Speed helps overcome that distrust. Speed’s a reassuring feature.
Now, one NY site we evaluated had 1 million visitors per month. The bounce rate was 20 percent. That meant 800,000 people engaged every month. Wow! A gold standard. The site was about tech gadgetry for women. Female geeks. This is the most successful site we’ve investigated thus far.
The site owner is now a self-made millionaire. But her site became slow and clunky. The mobile experience wasn’t good and most of her visitors were on mobile devices. Her visitors tolerate that so far because they value her content. But her competitors are delivering similar content with better user experience. Speed is fundamental UX. That keeps her awake at night.
We couldn’t help her with site origin optimization. The site speed was swamped by the negative effect of ads. Advertising scripts from third parties were big culprits slowing down her site. We had no way to remove those without affecting her income. Speed was in the hands of third-party sources. Ads and affiliate links were her main revenue source. Sadness.
The quality of PagePipe’s visitors gets better and better. We don’t want more visitors. We want better ones. Quality not quantity. Will we ever have 1 million visitors per month? No. We’re OK with that. It’s not our goal. Interacting with people who want to improve is good enough.
Credibility translates into SEO ranking.
All three sites mentioned (but not NY) have the same quantity of qualified visitors (between 4,000 and 5,000). How long they stay (dwell time) also indicates the quality of content. Again, when you engaged them, it indicates their investment of time in your offering.
How many monthly visitors you get is insignificant to efficiency. How many buy something is the metric that counts most. One visitor buying thousands of dollars of profitable services or products is worth as much as 5,000 who spend 50 cents. This is niche market thinking. It works for us.
One million visitors can produce no money. People must show interest in your offer.
The goal is helping a few people – or even one. Today perhaps you’re our one. We offer you a free education. This street knowledge cost us with learning-curve pain.
Bounce rate helps determine the quality of leads you get on your site. The lower the percentage, the better visitors are understanding you have what they’re looking for. It means you passed their mind filter. They understand what you do and why. They value it. “Staying” is their vote.
I’m glad to see traffic picking up. But out of all the people visiting my site over the last few days, I had one new subscriber.
Who cares? We get about a few subscriber per week. We collect subscribers to build a list. Our list is small – less than 1,000 names. That list may have future value and is worth money. It’s not making us anything yet. It’s a hidden asset.
On some sites, a signup is the most dominant site element. On PagePipe, our signup form is on our About page. Selling ebooks is our emphasis – not list building. A list is cool – but it’s not top priority. What are you sending your list? If you never use it, is it valuable? Only if you start an email campaign. Then it may be an opportunity. Or an opportunity cost.
Is there a way to see visitor’s URL addresses from metrics and start marketing to them?
No. They belong to Google at best. But they don’t compile a list. List building is done with onsite email signups. You can own that.
The single best thing to enhance your SEO is write relevant content for your target audience. Make it your goal to get up over 50 posts. But it can’t be thin content. It has to be engaging and interesting. People won’t read or watch non-entertaining drivel. Solve problems. Save them from themselves and their foolish behaviors. Give away your knowledge. Then they’ll trust you.
PagePipe gives you free knowledge.
You can put too much energy into improving UX and speed. Then it’s an inefficient waste or obsession. It may not move the SEO needle even after two years of analysis. It may mean there’s no deterioration or erosion of traffic to competitors. Sometimes keeping what engagement you’ve earned is good enough.
Metrics may reveal 70 to 80 percent of traffic is on mobile devices. Then future-proof with mobile-friendly changes.
We don’t regurgitate herd myths about speed. We want you to find the truth.
Incsub, LLC (aka WPMU DEV) have the art of producing customer fear down to a science. For example, you can take their WP-Checkup for free, once in a 24-hour period. Their speed-test is scary but nonetheless wimpy at best. We’ve written about other SEO and Security portions of that test. Read about it.
But in this article, we focus only on speed. Our performance score was a 96/100. But these scores are meaningless. There are 10 speed parameters. Here they are:
1Remove render blocking. 24/100
The test identified one offending file on PagePipe. It’s a CSS file loaded by a plugin called Add Search to Menu. We like this plugin. The test told us none of the above-the-fold content could be render until this CSS file got out of the way. Now from experience, we know above-the-fold rendering blocks are a deceptive waste of time. It’s pure crock. They gave us a red-alert alarm on this little thing. Why? Instilling fear.
Where is the fold on a mobile device anyway?
WordPress almost always fails render-blocking tests. Does Google punish your SEO for your failure? No. They don’t use any concocted speed parameters from PageSpeed Insights for their secret algorithm. They only use Time to First Byte (TTFB). That’s a function of your server responsivity. It has nothing to do with website design – or site performance optimization. Fast TTFB is something you buy from a hosting provider.
People ask us, “Should I rewrite my code or use plugins to remedy render blocking?” The answer is: no. It doesn’t make any difference in speed or SEO. So forget it. More than likely you’ll end up breaking your site over nothing. You’ll see a white screen of death – or a page of unstylized CSS. Not worth the grief.
Remember: This wasteful test doesn’t tell you how fast your site loads in milliseconds. That’s what counts. Not some silly score. Go test PagePipe.com on Pingdom. Milliseconds count, not that 99 “A” score.
2Minify CSS. 85/100
The test said we should minify a theme file: twentyseventeen/style.css to save 3.9k in page weight. Almost 4k. So much! We know how to minify with online minification tools using copy and paste. We could do that hassle – and maybe we will. But really. Is this significant? They gave us a yellow alarm on this one. Grrr!
Anyway, this test said we could reduce two theme-related files by 1.9k. Almost 2k. Wow! We’d risk breaking our site for that? I don’t think so. And we’ve tried minification. It breaks our ecommerce plugin for selling books. No thank you.
4 Enable compression: 100/100
This refers to Gzip compression. It’s probably already activated on your server by default. If not, a simple, free plugin can switch it on. Learn more about Gzip compression here.
5 Prioritize visible content: 100/100
Boy-oh-boy! What a relief since we didn’t even try. This is another bogus and silly parameter. Makes no difference whatsoever.
7 Minify HTML: 100/100
Interesting result. We’re not minifying HTML with a plugin. Again minification is not a big deal. Small gains – if any.
8Improve server response time: 100/100
This is Time to First Byte (TTFB). The only way you can improve it is switching to a different hosting provider. Our TTFB is 176 milliseconds on magnetic, shared, cheap GoDaddy hosting. That’s fast because we don’t use HTTPS/SSL certification which slows down TTFB by up to an additional 500 milliseconds. We don’t need it. All our transactions are via PayPal. And we don’t use signup forms for anything but email addresses. Read more about how HTTPS/SSL slows down your site.
9Avoid landing page redirects: 100/100
We’ve heard some people have problems with redirects. We don’t. It’s a simple matter of using the right settings in WordPress. And the Redirection plugin for changes. This is a silly thing to check in a speed test.
⒑Leverage browser caching: 100/100
We use two caching plugins: Cache Enabler and WP Super Simple Speed. Two caching plugins? Really? How odd. Are we paranoid? No. We’ve just found these two together do a nice job for us. Only repeat visitors benefit from browser caching. First time visitors are the bulk of your traffic – usually new visitors are around 60 to 80 percent. So caching doesn’t help everyone. Sometimes there’s no speed benefit at all. You have to test using millisecond comparisons.
Your theme and page builder are half of page weight – and another 14 percent is Facebook overhead – can pages still load in under 2 seconds?
Maybe in Heaven.
There’s no way on Earth. Not on today’s Internet. Maybe tomorrow?
We help in the plugin department.
Removing 100 percent of your plugins isn’t an option either.
The more wasteful and diseased your plugins – the more we can help.
Theme as speed killer.
If you’re using the Divi theme, it’s doubtful to get good mobile speeds.
Or, say, Salient theme with Visual Composer (now called WPBakery page builder).
Or The7 theme.
Those “solutions” aren’t mobile speed solutions – never were. Their day in the sun is over. Appreciated and adored no longer.
With this bad news, we recommend rebuilding for speed. Insult to injury! Nobody wants to hear that! Horrible pain.
Make what you’ve got stretch for as long as possible.
Get a return on your investment.
We’re healers. Not bandits. Results are what count.
A diagnosis of terminal site cancer?
Do doctors bill for delivering such cheery news: “You’re gonna die soon, son.” Oh, great. They do charge for that.
We’re not that kind of doctor.
Sometimes healing requires chemotherapy or radical surgery or radiation treatments. Not a mere bandage.
Healing a website is painful. Painkillers, anyone?
Radical site rebuilds for mobile speed? Don’t they take time? Yeah. It’s expert, detailed work. Make mobile speed your goal and it eventually happens. Patience.
Our suggestions for radical site surgery:
1Use a theme that’s fast loading. And we don’t mean “mediocre” fast. We mean faster than greased lightening. Built and tested for speed. Don’t believe theme author’s speed bluster. Test it – or don’t buy it. If you must use a page builder, we recommend Elementor (with caution) – or wait (forever?) and see what Gutenberg offers.
We prefer a free theme because they’re not loaded with features. Paid themes are usually gold-plated and over-engineered with non-features. Free speed theme recommendations include: Basic theme, Tiny Hestia, Astra, GeneratePress, and Twenty-seventeen default theme. Many don’t activate code baggage like jQuery or Font Awesome. You can strip them of anything lacking substance.
NOTE: The pro (premium paid) versions of the above speed themes double the page weight. This is not super significant. But we find it annoying. They brag about the free version’s speed then don’t publish the additional drag added by the premium version. That’s an adverting sin of omission. So if you’re really into extreme speed (1-second or less load time on a shared host), use the free theme without the extras. That takes creativity.
Creativity is the inverse of dollars. C=1/$
Do you think these insignificant improvements? Think again. Speed theme authors are deliberate in removing non-features for mobile speed benefits. It’s unconventional and bold. If pages weigh 5 megabytes to 3 megabytes – or even 2 megabytes, they’re doomed to fail for mobile user experience. The goal is superb quality pages weighing 100k to 500k.
2 Add features using discrete plugins.
Not multipurpose plugins like Jetpack or Yoast SEO. This means also living within the theme limitations. Keep It Simple, Stupid. The KISS principle.
3Install proven fast-loading plugins. Avoid popular plugins like Yoast SEO and Contact Form 7 and many others. This includes WP Rocket, which functions great, but adds drag. Yep. 32-milliseconds of site drag to every page. Yes – believe it – a caching plugin slowing things down while speeding things up – oddity. We build WP Rocket’s features with discrete plugins. It takes at least 4 plugin – but adds only 4 milliseconds to load time instead.
With discrete plugins, activate features where most needed – instead of globally.
4 Find ways to either not use Facebook or using it in a limited way. Reduce the load as much as possible. Is Facebook making you money? Be honest. Or do you dream it might?
5Abandon the grandeur of Google fonts. If they’re in the theme you choose, disable them with a plugin. Even though they only add 100 to 300 milliseconds. On a fast mobile site that’s a 30-percent loss. Google Fonts are stinky bad for mobile.
There are more non-surgical extras for speed we place into the fine-tuning, tweaking basket.
Do you suppose examining your site that images are the biggest problem? They’re not. It’s rarely the case any more. The two biggest factors are usually theme-related and Facebook. Even worse than much-hated, third-party ads – but barely. PS- We optimize your image library for speed.
We don’t hate Facebook because we’re demure introverts and antisocial. We despise Facebook for what they did to speed innocents. Dirtbag destroyers of velocity. Apathetic.
Thanks for trusting us to help improve your site’s mobile health.
“CloudFlare has released a new privacy-focused DNS service that runs on IP 126.96.36.199. They supposedly rotate logs every 24 hours and don’t store anything long-term. Seems cool, but I wish it did security filtering as well.” Link
This 188.8.131.52 Link told us who the real benefactors are:184.108.40.206 is a partnership between Cloudflare and APNIC. The speed project is at a research phase. Just like Google AMP has been for years. Both are ideas or concepts under test. 220.127.116.11 DNS services launched April 1, 2018. Brand spanking new.
APNIC is the Regional Internet Registry administering IP addresses for the Asia Pacific.
Many think PagePipe is technocratic. That’s anyone who thinks technology will save the future world. That’s a bad assumption. Ironically, we’re safety-seeking, risk-adverse late adopters. Or even laggards – when it comes to technology changes. That’s because “new” often means “buggy” – or worse a ticking time bomb. But our attention is now on this method.
What’s the downside of Cloudflare’s claims of reducing site speed by 54 milliseconds? No one knows yet. We’re optimistic skeptics. But we usually wait and see how things work for Guinea-pig innovators. We’ll do testing when time permits and let you know what we find. We find it odd that Cloudflare brags about saving 54 milliseconds while at the same time boasting about how they converted the biggest chunk of early adopters to SSL certification. Using SSL/HTTPS slows down every site by 400 to 500 milliseconds. Speed hypocrisy!
Some international service providers are blocking 18.104.22.168. Why? That’s yet to be revealed. 22.214.171.124 doesn’t work in many countries because it’s blocked. What? Why would it be deliberately blocked? Time will tell. And in some cases, it’s not blocked but slowed down. Again, why? Odd mysteries to solve. 126.96.36.199 is plainly not a panacea … yet. Or maybe ever.
Cloudflare CDN publishes deceptive time-to-first-byte (TTFB) speed specifications. Because Cloudflare uses marketing weasel words, our level of trust is low.
Cloudflare is getting free PR and press. Proof of concept really lies in user testing. That’s where they’re at today. Testing on users. We wouldn’t adopt this technology for at least another 6 months and only after thorough research of real-life user experiences. Our intuition says there’ll soon be revealed a hidden downside or that this service makes little to no difference.
Cloudflare has low source credibility. They promote something for nothing often with a speed gotcha embedded. From our experience and our clients, using Cloudlflare services increases site fragility.
Other elements have greater impact than Cloudflare 188.8.131.52 speed claims – like TTFB, SSL, heavy plugins, page builders, webfonts, email APIs, video, etc.
The 184.108.40.206 gain is the equivalent of disabling a related-posts widget plugin. Maybe.
So we’re watching and waiting.Benchmarking Cloudflare 220.127.116.11 services against Google’s 18.104.22.168 – and others like Quad9 and OpenDNS is the norm. Who is using those services? Geeks? Multi-billion dollar corporations? Certainly not non-programmers using shared hosting. None that we’ve ever seen anyway. We’re talking a difference of a millisecond per parallel-loaded request. Is this significant? Probably not.
22.214.171.124 is a distraction from speed fundamentals making a real performance difference.
If 126.96.36.199 makes a difference, it indicates the web page under test had too many calls (requests) in the first place. A bloated page always benefits most when optimized. How fast would the page be if built properly? Where do these DNS calls show up in speed testing? They don’t. They are smothered in the TTFB.
They aren’t giving us real benefits yet in language understandable to normal website owners. They’re using GeekSpeak.
For example, if a site has 24 calls. How much difference does using a special DNS make in real-world speed results? 24 milliseconds? We doubt it.
Why not eliminate 200 milliseconds by getting rid of a plugin like Social Warfare and stop linking to Facebook?
This 188.8.131.52 DNS trick is misguiding site owners from true solutions: discipline, Pareto-based measurement, and value analysis of website components.
First byte or Time to First Byte (TTFB) – Delay between the first HTTP request from the web browser and the reception of the first byte of the web page by the browser. It’s recommended a time less than 200 ms. It’s a server delay. You can’t fix TTFB except by changing hosts or upgrading services. $$$
Load time – The web page is fully loaded, all the resources are fetched, parsed and executed. Pages must loaded within 4 seconds. We always shoot for 2 seconds but under 1 seconds loads gives us goosebumps. At 10 seconds, people are long gone.
Page size – The total size of assets loaded: CSS, JS, HTML + other (like scripts, images, ads, etc) Also called page weight and is expressed in “k” or “M” bytes.
Page score – The score calculated based on a number of factors: compression of the resources, enable/disable caching, CSS/HTML/JS minifying etc. Score is irrelevant.
Pingdom.com is for quick-and-dirty best-case scenarios. First test is unprimed cache and second test (click again) is primed (faster).
WebPagetest.org is for worst-case scenarios. It’s more reliable but takes longer to test.
Never evaluate with Google PageSpeed Insights. WordPress can’t pass their criteria. Google doesn’t even use that data for ranking anyway. They have people chasing their tails.
Most site owners and developers just don’t test plugins. They rely on popularity numbers. Moo! Herd mentality.
For example, iThemes Security and WordFence are both popular security plugins. That’s an immediate red flag that they’re slow. Why? It’s crazy. But the speed results for popular plugins always turn out slow in tests. Same for themes. People just go for the heavy plugins loaded with the most features. Overkill. The herd starts following the path thinking active installs must mean goodness. Nope.
Researching plugins on the 52,000 plugin directory is difficult and tedious. We’ll keep researching and testing plugins and themes for improving speed benefits for your sites.
How could we resist a list of select WordPress websites reported as “cool” – as in neat-o or spiffy? They described the sites as astonishing and perfect examples. Our curiosity got the best of us. We had to know how fast these “cool” websites loaded in browser windows. You can see the article and website thumbnails at: 25 Cool Websites Made with WordPress
T urns out not all the websites were done with WordPress. Oops! They note these errors in the article’s comment section. There were only a few offenses – but demonstrated this wasn’t a well-researched article. Credibility in the toilet!
To make fast measurements of load time (speed), we used a Firefox Add-on. It allows us to get the page load time of any web page. That add-on is app.telemetry Page Speed Monitor. The Chrome browser extension equivalent is Page load time. As soon as you access a page, you’ll see the load time in the Firefox browser status bar. Is it a more scientific measurement? Not really. But it’s better than nothing and fast. We didn’t want to wait in line at Pingdom.com or WebPagetest.org.
We accessed each featured website’s home page. As expected, we saw appalling long load times. But just how bad were these “cool” websites for poor speed?
How good is good enough?
We’ve written before about the audience expectation for wait time. Here’s a quick summary:
Usability studies established how long people expect “machines” to take. Passing seconds alter human perception. These human expectations have not changed for over 30 years.
Sub-second page loads have the illusion of instant response. This is often achievable on the web under excellent and pricey hosting conditions. Or use cheaper speed strategy and build a fast site – even on shared hosting.
A one-second page load, or page change when clicked, yields a seamless flow of thought. This meets an ideal criterion of having the user be “in the flow.” Changes are not noticed thus causing no distractions.
After 10 seconds of waiting, attention begins to wane. This is the point where users will bail out off a page. They may begin another search or hit the back button. At 11 seconds, the “visitor” is usually gone for good. Only the die hard who arrived with an exact purpose – or knows the value of the website content – will hang on – maybe? But at the least, it’s still annoying and frustrating.
We’ve suggested a WordPress standard of a two-second, load-time goal or performance budget. Especially for Google’s mobile-first indexing. This is for sites using low-cost shared hosting. It’s not perfection but it’s “good enough.” We’ve proven it’s possible.
So how did the sample of 25 “cool” websites measure up?
Eleven sites loaded in under 11 seconds and eight were under 10 seconds. None of the sites loaded in under 2 seconds. The fastest site (Facebook blog) was 3.44 seconds. They were trying to set a good example but still had poor performance.
The rest of the 14 remaining websites loaded anywhere from 12 seconds to 40 seconds. The medium being 15 to 20 seconds. These are horrible load times. Many sites showed spinner indicators. Users then wait and watch the little animated whirling icon. These are throwbacks to Flash animated websites that most everyone hated.
Our conclusion: the “cool” factor had too big of a performance price tag. It rendered a poor user experience – or even better said, “No user experience.”
Is your site traffic declining? Speed and mobile strategy will improve your user’s experience. And “potentially” SEO. Other things influence traffic most. The biggest factors are content relevance – or economic conditions that create “need or motive.” This is frequently referred to as “market pain.”
Analyzing the popularity of your posts and pages is a good idea. You can drop or merge up to 20 to 30 percent of your site’s worst visited pages. This does more for better quality traffic than speed improvements.
Are you serving old-school, fixed-width web pages? Then at least 40 percent of viewers are having a bad user experience. When pages aren’t responsive and dynamic for small screens, we promise, it’s not good. Speed is secondary to that flaw for mobile. Making site changes to new faster, responsive pages, doesn’t yield immediate results. You must be patient. Making a site responsive and fast is a long-term investment. It future-proofs your web business.
There is no Google SEO improvement worth mentioning from making speed improvements. Honest! Their algorithm only takes into consideration less than 0.5 percent for TTFB. That’s all. They don’t even use their own PageSpeed test criteria. The irony. TTFB is something you pay for with your hosting. It has nothing to do with efficient, quality site construction.
Do you have expectations of SEO improvement from speed? Be aware it’s a myth spun by Google to manipulate web designers and developers. Google has their own ivory-tower, change-the-world agenda for bettering advertising revenue. But that’s another story (rant?). We’re all caught in the Google riptide.
Relevant content for good SEO.
Fast speed for good UX.
Our speed strategy is having subordinate pages and posts load in under 2 seconds. We measure with Pingdom.com testing. Your more important pages (like a 50-percent-of-traffic homepage) need to be much faster. How much faster? Well, 1 second would be wonderful. Subsecond fantastic.
Fast speeds are difficult with a Home-page slideshow and third-party advertising. Disappointed? Sorry. Speed is usually about compromises.
How high is your anxiety level about traffic dropping? How would it affect your income? A drop of disinterested, unqualified leads is immaterial. It only counts if it influenced your income. A 50-percent traffic drop may only reduce income by 10 percent. What’s the damage estimate?
OK. So you have third-party ads. Any ads cause severe distress for speed. This is because we lose control over ads hosted on another server. We can’t cache the ads or use CDNs. They cause unpredictable load time delays. Ads are a necessary evil to make money. But not all ad suppliers are created equal. Some serve their ads faster than others. You must make business judgments. But eliminating the “noise” as much as possible helps with reducing load time. Only you as a business owner can make those value decisions.
Our recommendation is usually to remove all comments from WordPress. They don’t help SEO enough. But our opinion isn’t a hard and fast ruling. If you have a reason to keep comments onsite, it may have justification. Here’s our article:
One reason to keep Facebook is comment-spam management. Spam volume can be horrific and loads down your server resources. That affects page speed.
With good image optimization, large images can be 10 times lighter weight. Not 10X faster but better anyway. Image presentation with slideshows (sliders) is inferior for speed. But strategic workarounds help. Sliders are not as cool as site owners think. And not only because of speed problems.
Handle future image optimization with automated plugin solutions. Some of the better ones are even free. Cutting down the number and dimensions of images is the main trick. That and using an image lazy-load plugin.
If a key competitor’s site is mobile responsive and yours is not, that’s their biggest advantage – not speed. Page speeds of under 2 seconds for first visits are good performance goals for your site. WebPagetest.org – a test owned by Google – is a good site for worst-case scenario speed testing.
Internet average page weight is 2.3M. Not fast pages – average pages. A few image loading tricks help. Visually-lossless compression for JPEG images is the goal. Optimization pre-testing will show images often are 10 times bigger than needed. If you’ve been conservative – it’s costing you speed. These “fat” images are usually in sliders, headers, and featured images.
HTTPS / SSL is the worst thing Google ever forced upon the web for poor speed. It doesn’t make your site secure. It only encodes transmissions. Your site can still be hacked or pirated. They’ve caused an unnecessary panic for compliance. All pages slow down by around 500 milliseconds with HTTPS / SSL. Even Google’s home page is now slower and they don’t have any e-commerce on the page. Ridiculous! Grr!
Google is not our friend when it comes to their edicts. We should definitely liberate ourselves from HTTPS / SSL costs and speed deterioration. Google is using terror tactics. They claim it will affect SEO. There is zero proof. Relevant content affects SEO. There’s no SEO benefit whatsoever from SSL. Another web myth.
Many are using LetsEncrypt for the HTTPS / SSL certificates. It’s not a plugin. That’s a free service/code a developer must install on the host. It’s faster than some alternatives. But eliminating it completely is better for mobile speed. Installing HTTPS / SSL is not something we do or recommend.
All third-party scripts affect speed a lot. We add helpful plugins to do lazy loading of Vimeo and YouTube. Widget links (APIs and third-party scripts) are always bad for speed. If you keep Facebook, use a static image link instead of a scripted widget. Much faster. Same with Twitter.
Google Maps is heavy. If you use Google Maps, use creative workarounds. But our recommendation for mobile is avoiding Google Maps at all costs. Very slow.
There are various ways to manage email signups. It could be simple or complex. MailChimp can be fast. But sometimes people use the wrong plugins and slow down the entire site.
You can improve your web projects with speed strategy information. Or we can do actual speed optimization (hands-on). For that, we need WordPress administrator access to your site. In other words, we can do either before or after work – aka tweaking (speed strategy vs speed repair)
The strategy focuses on value analysis and avoiding or offloading heavy site features. Our approach uses creative workarounds. Speed skills get better performance for your business objectives.
Attempting to dictate the rules of speed quality, Google made the mobile Internet worse. How did they shoot their own foot?
Well, it didn’t happen overnight. Google shot over and over again. Destructive repetition. Foot target.
Google’s speed misadventure began in 2010. They announced speed as a factor in ranking websites. But Google was vague how much speed would affect SEO. Nor would they tell which aspects of speed made a difference. Everyone got excited. Lots of wild guessing. And soon, a web myth emerged. Never spoken by Google but assumed by the herd: “Speed is now critical to good SEO.” A blatant lie people use to sell speed services, addons, plugins, themes, and books. Panic in the air.
The truth is “page speed” never made much difference at all. Not for SEO anyway. It did for UX. It’s bad user experience to keep visitors waiting – especially on mobile devices. Google even said relevant content and UX were more important. But many website owners and bloggers ignored or missed those important words.
How much load time does www.google.com take? Using WebPagetest.org (owned by Google) the result is: 2.196 seconds. The full-load time can vary from 1.270 to 2.204 seconds depending on test server location. That’s right seconds. What? That naked page only has a logo and a search field. Tell us more: 16 HTTP requests. 471k page weight. Time to First Byte is 593 milliseconds.
Improve Server Response Time: This rule triggers when PageSpeed Insights detects that your server response time is above 200 milliseconds. – Google.com
Google TTFB (Time to First Byte) is 593 milliseconds?! Surely that’s a mistake. Nope. Their TTFB alone is almost triple the 200-millisecond Google rule.
Google doesn’t even keep their own edict of 200-millisecond TTFB (server response time). Their homepage TTFB ranges from 369 to 774 milliseconds depending upon where in North America the test server is located. So results fluctuate and vary.
Faster TTFB size is a benchmark of a well-configured server application.
TTFB is server overhead. An unfortunate delay caused by mechanical or physical parameters. It has nothing to do with page content or web code. TTFB is mostly hardware dependent. It’s usually beyond your control. TTFB is the duration after calling for server assets until the arrival in the browser. Good TTFB is under 200 milliseconds. Bad TTFB is one second and up. Terrible is above 4 seconds. Yes. Some servers are just that rotten.
So TTFB is something you buy. You pay for it. Your host owns it – not you. You can’t build or code it into your WordPress website. In other words, the poorer you are, the worse your TTFB. The richer … well, you get the idea. So much for web equality and democracy.
Yet, TTFB is the only parameter Google uses to check your site speed in their secret algorithm. And it improves your ranking less than 0.5 percent.
But, Google has the fastest servers in the world. Correct? Wouldn’t their TTFB be the best and faster than 593 milliseconds? I mean, our cheap GoDaddy hosting gets better than that. Why the difference? It’s Google’s SSL Certificate. Read more below how this causes speed delays.
PagePipe doesn’t use SSL certification. We don’t need it. We’ll save our 500 milliseconds. Sales transactions are managed securely and efficiently by PayPal. Yeah. We sell a downloadable ebook, Toxic WordPress.
Well, here’s another place Google shot themselves in the foot: Their HTTPS / SSL initiative in 2015. It wasn’t moving along like they wanted after a few years. So they again said, “SSL certification will not only affect security – it will now affect page ranking.” Everyone got excited again. People started adding this non-feature to their websites in droves. Did they all need it? No. Did it help SEO? No. Did it kill speed? YES!
HTTPS / SSL server handshaking creates an initial stall in making Internet connections. There’s a slow delay before anything starts to render on your visitor’s browser screen. This delay is measured in the Time-to-First-Byte information (aka TTFB).
What is the typical TTFB delay caused by SSL certificate handshaking? 500 milliseconds. That’s 25 percent of a 2-second performance budget.
Learn about the gory details of this silly blunder by Google:
Are we done bashing on Google and their weird speed policies and practices? Not yet. We want to mention Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).
In 2015, Google said articles served from its Internet network were four times faster. That’s right. But developers disagree. Engineering or “designing in” page optimization gives the same or even better results. That’s right. It appears Google has a hidden agenda not-so related to speed. That’s their mask.
PageSpeed Insights is the worst speed test on the web. Why? It’s usually impossible for WordPress to pass this test. WordPress almost always has jQuery enqueued. That causes goofy warnings. But Google doesn’t use PageSpeed test scores in it’s ranking algorithm. They use TTFB (time to first byte). It’s a frustrating waste of time.
We’re almost done! We must discuss Google Fonts and their impact on mobile speed:
External font scripts like Google Fonts slow down your site. We guarantee websafe fonts are faster. According to HTTP Archive, as of October 2016, web fonts (like Google Fonts) are just over 3 percent of an average page’s weight.
Disabling with Remove Google Fonts References plugin makes an average difference of only 53 milliseconds. But in the extreme, one theme had a 300 millisecond gain in speed. In some cases, there was no change in speed at all.
The difference in weight is anywhere from 60k to 300k. Again, it’s wasted mobile bandwidth.
Would we delete Google fonts and go with default browser fonts to save 300 milliseconds? You bet. When we’re working on getting under 2 seconds or even 1 second, that can make a big difference.
Again, there are times requesting Google Fonts will throw a 1-second delay. Why? We don’t know. Go ask Google. And, of course, the more fonts you call the slower things get. There’s a plugin that combines the Google font requests. Google WebFont Optimizer finds every Google Font request. It bulks them all together. Then your website only asks Google once for the fonts, instead of multiple times. Still, our preference is to delete Google Fonts completely.
OK. We’re finally done bashing on Google ruining speed. We may get blacklisted. It was worth it.
We hate waste. We’re unconventional thinkers and love creative problem solving. We take a different path to page speed improvements. Our odd ways make us smile.
As late adopters of WordPress, we balked and complained about WordPress slowness. But we accepted the challenge. We’ve proven it’s possible. But not without sacrifice of unproductive and expressive aesthetic features. There’s usually some *precious* but non-productive gadget or plugin destroying speed. It must be placed on the sacrificial altar to Mercury, the Roman God of Speed.
Our goal is to save the Internet from WordPress speed abuse.
Expressive aesthetic design in web-speak is often called “feature rich.”Feature rich and speed require a fine balancing act. Speed is a kindness to your users.
Yet more than speed, we’re concerned how UX affects profitability. Speed is the first barrier to good UX. Classic design aesthetic makes it so nothing distracts from the focus: the products or content. But too much classic aesthetic can be boring.
The Internet average page load time is 8 seconds. Way too slow. A site’s better than average when it meets the expectation of 2 seconds or better. Subsecond page loads are best for mobile. But that’s extreme performance optimization. We go into the red zone whenever we can.
This pullquote is an expressive design element.
Expressive design elements are intended to attract attention. But, they slow down site speed and make for a poorer user experience (UX). Specifically, anything that “moves” is expressive aesthetic. But it’s not limited to animation. If you get too much expressive aesthetic, you end up with visual noise and confusion.
What’s most important? When the user wonders what they should click next, you’ve failed. The hope is making sales – not noise. So these are the offenders: chat box features, sliders, disappearing Main Menus (make it persistent-on-scroll instead), popup surveys, animated product rollovers. And of course, poor hierarchy on the page (bad emphasis).
From our experimentation with human memory and boredom, users only tolerate 12 choices on a page. Then they feel overwhelmed and overloaded by cognitive burden. The more choices, the harder a buying decision.
Animation is more negative than positive for UX. It distracts most. The assumption is because humans are hardwired to snap visually to anything that moves out of fear, this instinct can be harnessed to direct attention.
Have you ever tried reading a page with a fly crawling on it? Annoying isn’t it.
Popups and sliders are intrusive. Flies! Even repulsive to user attention. They annoy. Users feel they’re manipulated by faddish, slow-loading gimmicks. We don’t care how effective the popup or slider plugin authors – and affiliates claim. Their opinion doesn’t count. It’s biased. No source credibility.
Carousels and sliders address two mythical universal design problems:
1. “How do I fit more content into such little space?”
2. “Our committee can’t decide what content is the most important.”
These are seductive temptations for sliders caused by above-the-fold design delusion and myth. It demonstrates how design-by-committee sucks. Dilution of attention is the result.
What’s above-the-fold on mobile devices?
Get rid of sliders as a design crutch. This forces better content and design decisions. It lightens the page weight. What’s the most important content? How can you meaningfully and simply present one, single, most-important motivating idea?
You can’t emphasize everything. Emphasizing everything equals empathizing nothing – a marketing adage (E2=E0). If you attempt emphasizing more than one idea, you create cognitive and visual noise. Confusion, delay, or abandonment results.
The screen real estate is better used by a static image. Or even better – NO IMAGE AT ALL. State with non-moving text: who you are, what you do, and why it’s important to your audience. That’s your positioning statement or elevator pitch. Advertise it everywhere on your site.
Of course, these concepts really only matter if your home page gets traffic. If not much, then none of these tricks and strategy are significant.
So what are your 5 most trafficked pages? The ones that get 80 percent of traffic. Let’s look at those. Is the home page one of them? If not, then we don’t need to worry about it.
Get rid of:
Unprofitable products. (Reduce the site clutter).
Do Pareto efficiency analysis. Dump the duds. Unless these items listed above have quantifiable benefit and actually produce profits (not sales or traffic but real profits). Justify keeping them.
Facebook is often your worst non-productive site drag. 762k of assets loading for what purpose? Quantify how much Facebook *helps* your site profitability (not traffic numbers – quality not quantity). Then decide. Facebook usually takes traffic away from your site. Focus on profit – not artificial expectations.
There are other esoteric performance tweaks we do on our site. Like selective plugin activation – and dumping emojis, webfonts, and Font Awesome. Optimizing WooCommerce. But we’ve listed some low-hanging fruit above.
We make speed improvements for a $500 project fee. But read PagePipe and you can make the changes yourself (DIY). Save money.
The first theme presented is one of wpmudev’s themes called “Upfront.” But you must be a paid member to download it. We don’t use paid themes. So it’s instantly off our evaluation list. All other themes on the reviewed blog page are free and available from the free WordPress Theme Directory.
We’re searching for web-speed treasure.
The article claims to focus only on theme’s with excellent site performance. As you will see, many of the WordPress themes recommended don’t match our selection methods or guidelines.
Page load time (speed) is especially critical for small-screen mobile websites. That’s because mobile must connect using slower, wireless bandwidths. Today, mobile websites are built using responsive WordPress themes. Responsive means the page content resizes to fit any screen – whether it be on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop. Old websites just for desktop viewing were built with fixed-width pages. That method no longer is in vogue.
We’ve found theme download file size is a big indicator of speed potential. A theme download file below 1M is most apt to create web pages loading in under 2 seconds. This delay is the longest site viewers are willing to wait without feeling frustrated, impatient, or bored. Load time affects the user experience (UX).
Of the 15 recommended themes, only 7 might be fast. Only one speed theme is of particular interest – and we find it a great discovery. Who knows? Perhaps, the treasure we seek.
Comparison of download file weights (smallest first):
Twenty Sixteen 603k
Veggie Lite 682k
Silk Lite 787k
Altitude Lite 907k
Responsive Mobile 1.4M
At 356k download, the Graphy theme has by far the greatest potential for a fast-loading WordPress theme. As an extra bonus, Graphy has nice, readable typography. Custom, non-browser-default fonts usually are not a speed asset. Only further testing will tell. The text font stack is: Lora, Georgia, serif. And the header font stack is: Bitter, Georgia, serif. Bitter is a slab serif font. These must be called from Google’s cloud font library. Font calls create delays.
We find that Graphy including Lora and Bitter fonts adds about 700 milliseconds to the load time. That is almost one-third of our performance budget. If we add images, it may be necessary to switch off the fonts with Remove Google Fonts References plugin.
The download file decompresses to 581.1k. This is quite small. We find that 161.4k of the file is a screengrab. This will not affect load time. Neither will the 142.3k of languages translation files. But we do see one speed offender we don’t like: Genericons.
We consider theme use of Genericons dead weight.
Genericons is 174.2k of the theme file size. How much drag is added depends upon how Genericons are used. Some themes activate Genericons HTTP requests (calls) even when the icon font isn’t even on any page. So further testing will reveal the cost of the theme author’s choice.
We do notice that Graphy uses an image icon instead of a Genericon for it’s ubiquitous, top-right search field – a magnifying glass icon. This is a good sign. It means it doesn’t call the heavier Genericon equivalent. Genericons may not be activated at all if not used by the site owner.
Graphy includes some nice customization features.
Graphy theme has an optional widgeted sidebar and 4 footer widgets. If the sidebar widget isn’t used the theme is single-column, full-width.
The footer width (columns) is automatically adjusted depending on how many footer widgets are used. If you do not use any, none will be displayed.
The theme has a few other extras not usually included in stripped-down, fast themes. You can upload an image logo. This logo can replace the site title and you can add border radius for spacing. You can also specify the link color and a second hover color.
Additionally, you can choose to display summary text – or alternatively, full text for posts. You can also hide or show the author or category. These selections are made with check boxes.
You can add a single custom header image.
Only one custom menu is available. That limit is only a minor negative.
Don’t trust WPmudev theme recommendations for speed.
Certain falsehoods about web speed are repeated over and over on blogs that should know better. They drive us crazy. Can we get rid of these mythical speed ideas? We doubt it. But we’ll feel better if we inform you of propaganda that’s unwittingly passed along.
Here’s our list of chronic speed misinformation:
1Speed affects your search engine optimization (SEO).
Barely. While Google pays lip service to speed, it clearly isn’t a major concern. They send out mixed messages about speed’s importance. The most notorious third-party widgets slowing down websites – other than Facebook social links – are Google’s Cloud-based API services, Google Fonts, Google Maps, Google Analytics, Google Adwords, etc. Most modern WordPress themes incorporate these things. Research studies show that speed affects Google page rank by less than 1 percent. Insignificant. What improves SEO most? Plain and simple: relevant content. Relevant to who? To people trying to solve problems!
2Fast websites enjoy high conversion rates and a healthier bottom line.
Really? Then, where’s the long line for speed optimization services? Where’s the market pain?
There is evidence speed makes a significant difference in profitability for very-large, big-name sites – like Amazon, Ebay, Mozilla, and Apple. For most low-traffic sites, there is no measurable monetary gain. What does change is visitor perception of how credible website content might be. This is first impression or UX. Speed is a subconscious indicator of someone valuing content enough to deliver it quickly and efficiently. It’s the opposite of apathy and bloat. It’s web hospitality, etiquette, and caring.
3Running a successful website starts with choosing a good host. Hosting makes a difference in SEO.
Baloney! Wrong again. Hosting may add conveniences and security for site management. But speed is dependent upon optimizing and limiting the number of website components. Hosting can make a difference in Time-to-First-Byte (TTFB). This is the parameter Google uses in it’s search algorithm. But we repeat, TTFB only influences SEO by less than 1 percent. Is special, costlier hosting really benefiting SEO? No. Remember, content relevance is more important – always! The average website now weighs 2.3 to 3.0 megabytes. It doesn’t matter how long it actually loads for SEO. It does make a difference in how frustrated a site user feels. The upper tolerance seems to be 2 seconds. Even though the average page load is now 8 seconds. Those load times have nothing to do with hosting and everything to do with extravagant and out-of-control developers and designers.
4Caching WordPress is so effective that it can result in a 10x speed gain over a non-cached website.
5Too many plugins slow down your WordPress website.
7Google says I need to have a performance goal of 400 millisecond page load times.
Google is full of idealistic waste matter. The average load time today is 8 seconds. Most website-optimization professionals agree a 2-second load for WordPress is doable with good optimization discipline. That is our goal. The saving grace is user-perceived load time – not actual load time.
8Content Delivery Networks (CDN) always speed up load times.
Really? Maybe for international locations, but we’ve never seen improvements inside the USA. We have seen CDNs (like CloudFlare) actually slow down load times and cause missing content errors. Again, a well-optimized site rarely benefits from CDN. Caching and CDN are band-aids for sloppy web design.
Performance Offloading delivers content, features, or functions. But from different hosts, domains, or web services. This improves speed.
We saw performance offloading by using two domains with a French client. It was a brilliant accident. He hosted his lifestyle WordPress blog on one domain. And his super-heavy, subscriber, real-time, location map on another subdomain. He styled the two sites the same and used different themes to manage specialty functions. Users were unaware of the theme switch because the domain names were similar. And the user interface and navigation were identical.
It was seamless and amazing.
He quarantined all his poisonous Google Map requests on one domain. Google Map bits-and-pieces load on every page and post – a bad undocumented effect we call site drag. This nasty effect wasn’t happening on the blog posts and pages. They had speed purity. Untainted.
This ploy kept global loading (site drag) from slowing down all his blog posts. He didn’t discern the speed benefit – until we brought it to his attention. The blog posts were his visitor entry pages. Not the map section. The map got limited member traffic. Perfect.
Did this division hurt his SEO? Not from what we could determine. He received over 100,000 visits per month to his blog.
USING THE “FRENCH CONNECTION” TO OFFLOAD Secure Sockets Layer handshaking – SSL
SSL offloading keeps encryption and decryption on another website. It’s moved to a separate location for the task – like for an ecommerce store. Performance efficiency of the main site blog increases. We distribute the workload between two or more websites on the same server.
So what? Why would anyone care about this speed trick?
By offloading SSL, PagePipe achieved two goals:
PagePipe Goal #1: Reduce backup plugin overhead.
We wanted to get the heavy self-hosted PDFs off our media library. And stored somewhere else for free.
Our downloadable PDFs slowed down backups and consumed server resources. Offloading meant producing two site backups. The media library and our store didn’t need updating as often as blog content. Splitting backups improved server-resource efficiency. Our PDF inventory was pretty static compared to daily blog changes. This efficiency idea produces optimal resource usage, maximizes throughput, and minimizes response time.
Automatic site backups cause server-resource consumption. During these period of high server activity, your shared server will slow down. The more you need to backup, the longer you’ll slow down the site. Keeping our media library light helps speed up the backup process. Our blog is set to backup weekly and our store backs up fortnightly.
Is this a huge speed advantage? It depends upon how bloated your media library is. We’ve encounter some huge 45-Gigabyte media libraries. Those can’t be backed up with a free plugin and stored on a free 2-Gigabyte Dropbox account. This means extra cost purchasing backup, storage and restoring services for your website. Keeping your media library lean reduces your site’s annual overhead.
Merely backing up on your host server is not recommended. If the server gets hacked, you’re out of luck. Keep a backup offline or in the cloud – or both. And be sure you can restore. Many site owners don’t test this.
Our Goal #2: Secure PayPal connections per PayPal’s specifications.
Our PagePipe ecommerce pages for selling ebooks needed SSL compliance to communicate between PayPal and Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) plugin. We were resisting PayPal dictates. Results: We got random transaction misfires.
By not complying, sales were still booked by PayPal and Easy Digital Downloads plugin. (We got our money!) But some buyers weren’t getting their confirmation EDD email with download links embedded. We also didn’t get email verification of payment received generated by the EDD plugin. Some buyers were left hanging out in the breeze with no product fulfillment. Terrible user experience and resultant distrust if not sheer panic of a scam. UX dud.
“Merchants and partners use HTTPS to securely connect with PayPal servers. We use the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to encrypt these communications. To ensure the security of our systems and adhere to industry best practices, PayPal is updating its services to require TLS 1.2 for all HTTPS connections. At this time, PayPal will also require HTTP/1.1 for all connections.
Oddity. It was in June our disgruntled buyers started writing saying, “Where’s the #$%@& stuff I paid for, you *&(%^!?.” An embarrassing coincidence of ignorance and techno bliss caused us loss of credibility. Buyer’s remorse.
PagePipe forced to use SSL/HTTPS?! Horrors! Instant revulsion. Why? The disgusting thought of adding 400 to 500 milliseconds SSL handshaking to normal slow server delays. That meant doubling or tripling our server losses. An excellent TTFB (time to first byte) is 300 milliseconds on a shared host. That’s a best-case scenario.
On shared web hosting, the TTFB is 500 to 800 milliseconds most often. And in bad scenarios 1.0 to 1.5 seconds long. With a 1.5-second TTFB, plus an extra 500-millisecond SSL handshake, we’d consume our entire 2-second performance budget in one greedy gulp.
A full TLS handshake involves 2 round trips between the client and the server. Because of the difference between latency and bandwidth, a faster internet connection doesn’t make these round trips any faster. This handshake will typically take between 250 milliseconds to half a second, but it can take longer. SOURCE
[fade-in fortissimo weeping sounds here]
We can do minor miracles and build speed sites loading in under 2 seconds even with a cruddy 1.5 second TTFB. That’s right. Compromise. Cram everything in the 500-millisecond remaining. But if you add SSL handshaking on top of that then we’re doomed. Thwarted.
So we setup a separate website for speed to handle the SSL delay (also know as load sharing).
That’s the SSL speed travesty. Loss of speed.
What does it mean for your site? Well, loading of WordPress core, plus the theme and any plugins. Or images. Or any other doodad widget like email signup, YouTube video, podcast, or ads are deal killers. The results? A performance optimization nightmare!
We’re hosting on cheap, GoDaddy shared, mechanical servers to prove the impossible. That’s right – a website page-load time in under 2 seconds with our open-source plugin methods. No CDN. Using a stock Twenty-seventeen default theme with 70-plus free plugins activated. Extreme? Sure. But not for the speed obsessed. We’re walking the talk. Trying anyway.
Does GoDaddy SSL support TLS 1.2 and HTTP/1.1? We had no idea.
We tested the host GoDaddy’s homepage (go ahead test your own site if SSL certification is activated.) It’s takes about 1 minute to complete.
Our web hosting services by GoDaddy are already supporting TLS 1.2 connections. Great! How much does that cost to activate? The cheapest “Standard DV SSL” is:
$69.99 U.S. Annual Repetitive Price. Per domain.
It wasn’t a joke. Every stinking year: $69.99. Serious business. Opportunists! Gougers! Millions of domains. But it seems there’s a GoDaddy SSL sale for signup enticement – about $50 US annually.
We don’t want to move our blog. So let’s do “The French Connection” trick – but without any crime. We’ll offload our store pages to another cheap hosting but with free SSL. Are we that desperate? No. But … we’re determined to practice what we preach. Workaround these dirt-bag web weasels.
Where does one go for cheap hosting with free SSL? Take a dart and throw it. Every host out there has poor or angry revues. Don’t trust reviews. All hosting cycles from good to bad and back again for many reasons.
So build your site rugged and tolerant of variations in server speed. Test your new host. Get a refund and leave it they aren’t good enough.
Moderate 500 to 1000 millisecond TTFB (magnetic or SSD doesn’t matter).
Easy WordPress installation with Installatron or equal.
Enough storage space for our 333-megabyte site. (Yeah. Small, tight and clean).
Good enough uptime.
Register a store domain name.
30-day money-back guarantee.
We decided to give Asura Hosting a try. Why not? A few people hated them. Mean, nasty, vindictive and vulgar people. Always a good sign!
We’ll be dumb and trust our instincts and move forward into the unknown. We can always pull the store and move.
They had the right specs. TTFB with SSL handshaking for their homepage is 848 milliseconds tested using ByteCheck.com. That leaves us a whole second to load store pages – plus 152 milliseconds for dessert. And their site design didn’t look abandoned in the 90s like some other hosts.
Twenty bucks versus Google’s $70. Savings: $50 per year.
So about Asura: their default PHP version is 7.0. We dialed that up to version 7.2 in Cpanel. That’s a 15-percent boost in speed for WordPress, theme, and plugins.
But we never could login to our Asura WordPress backend dashboard. We became instant haters!
So we dumped that host. In the name of time savings, we went ahead with a $48.74 on-sale GoDaddy-sponsored SSL annual license fee.
Remember, we’re not doing this silly SSL trick to beef up security. PayPal is secure enough. We’re complying with PayPal’s dictates for reliable product fulfillment. PayPal broke our Easy Digital Downloads plugin and we’re fixing it. We work hard salvaging every millisecond of speed we can.
Do we feel ripped off by GoDaddy? Yes. Especially when after purchase, we found out we didn’t need to buy their pricey certificate. We could have used a free one.They didn’t mention that alternative, of course. “Too soon we grow old. Too late we grow smart.” We want to install “Let’s Encrypt” free SSL certificate.
Was there any recourse – like a refund? Did GoDaddy bury that refund information? Yeah. They don’t make it obvious.
Here’s the GoDaddy service-chat answer: 30-day refund from date of purchase. OK. We got our money back. But not without consequence.
When GoDaddy pulled the now-cancelled SSL certification, it nuked all the image links on the new store site. Every image was broken.
So we reverted to our backup and reinstalled WordPress and the store.
Let’s-Encrypt free certification expires every 90 days. You then must renew. But we’re determined to reduce website overhead. Here’s how we did that installation:
Follow the instructions, and you will end up with the following files:
a) a domain key
b) a domain CSR (certificate signing request)
c) an account key
d) the domain certificate
Copy each of those into text files (not a Word Processor. It adds junk).
Go to cPanel on GoDaddy.
Scroll down to the Security section
Click on SSL/TLS.
Under “Install and Manage SSL for your site (HTTPS)”, click on “Manage SSL sites”.
There you will see a simple form where you provide (copy-and-paste) the following information:
a) the domain
b) the certificate
c) the private key
d) the certificate authority bundle.
Items b, c, and d are all things received from ZeroSSL. Duh!
Included as parts of the certificate are the beginning and ending markers, e.g. “—–BEGIN CERTIFICATE—–” and “—–END CERTIFICATE—–“. If you don’t include these, you will get an error saying the certificate is not valid.
Also, the certificate you get from ZeroSSL has two parts. The actual certificate and the Certificate Authority Bundle (CABUNDLE). These are each marked with beginning and ending tags. Place them into two separate boxes on the form. Once you have filled in the form, and you have an indication that the content is correct, click on “Install Certificate”, and you’re finished.
Install Easy HTTPS (SSL) Redirection plugin if needed. We didn’t. https://wordpress.org/plugins/https-redirection/
ONLY USE THIS PLUGIN IF YOU HAVE INSTALLED SSL CERTIFICATE ON YOUR SITE AND HTTPS IS WORKING CORRECTLY
You’ll be asked to create two files with encrypted file names with encrypted content. Put these sub-directories on your hosting account root directory. The path will look like this: /public_html/.well-known/acme-challenge/ These are the files proving you have website ownership. When requesting the certificate at ZeroSSL, specify both yourdomain.com as well as www.yourdomain.com as a subdomain.
We used Cpanel file editor to created the nested folders and write the two single-line files.
The SSL installation wasn’t hard but it was somewhat confusing at times. Now we’ve done it once, it’s a piece of cake to repeat.
PagePipe Blog homepage 398.2k page weight, 17 requests
Pingdom to San Francisco
590 millisecond load time
Pingdom to Frankfurt
1.60 second load time
Pingdom to London 1.93 second load time
Pingdom to Sao Paulo, Brazil 2.06 second load time
Pingdom to Tokyo 2.07 second load time
Pingdom to Sydney 2.28 second load time
PagePipe Store homepage – No CDN 193.9k page weight, 31 requests
Pingdom to San Francisco
730 millisecond load time
Pingdom to Frankfurt
1.88 second load time
Pingdom to London 1.81 second load time
Pingdom to Sao Paulo, Brazil 2.29 second load time
Pingdom to Tokyo 2.33 second load time
Pingdom to Sydney 2.98 second load time
Does Easy Digital Downloads and PayPal work with SSL only activated on the store domain?
Yes. Everything is working great. Cha-ching! Wanna buy an ebook?
After migrating our store pages, https://secure-store-pagepipe.com/ didn’t show a green padlock in Firefox on the homepage. But it did for all other store pages. We figured it was a mixed-content error as defined at this link:
The homepage flashed a green padlock and then after page load switched the lock icon with a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark.
We tried two plugins first. We installed called “SSL Insecure Content Fixer.” and “Easy HTTPS (SSL) Redirection” Neither fixed anything.
We identified “mixed content” using the Firefox addon or Chrome extension called Web Developer. This extension adds various web developer tools to the browser.
How to use Web Developer toolbar.
Click the web developer icon in your tool bar. Click the Images tab. Then click Display image paths. A popup shows the address of each image. All images should show “https” addresses. If you have any “http” addresses, these are causing the error. For the PagePipe store, we needed to remove image links back to the media library on vanilla PagePipe blog. That fixed it.
There is more to this story. After the 90-day period with Let’s Encrypt, we deliberately let the certificate expire. We wanted to see how much of a hassle this would be. It was a nightmare. In all fairness, Let’s Encrypt’s “expiry bot” did send a couple of warning emails, one 30-days before expiration and another 1-week later. This means the certificate really is transparent for 60-days and then you better start worrying about renewal.
“Worst Web Hosting Companies” yields 16 million Google search results. Ironically, review sites not only tell you who they think are the worst – but then advertise acclaimed best hosting with affiliate links.
Those affiliate links pay kickbacks up to $100 – if a sale is made. Sweet! Let’s all put affiliate links on our sites – and get rich.
Affiliate links often use link cloaking. Read more about that ploy (and speed) here. We think link cloaking is deceptive. It masks or hides where users are taken when selecting links.
There are no affiliate links on PagePipe. Hallelujah!
Be aware, any blog post recommending hosting – and free critiques – almost always makes affiliate money. So they’re biased or manipulative.
Despite the low credibility of review sites, we’re confident the negative reports of bad, lame hosts is mostly true. There’s commonality in the results. The worst-ranked hosts vary in list placement – but it’s usually the same hosts. Two are widely dispised and claimed to be THE worst: GoDaddy and Bluehost.
It doesn’t matter about technical reality. Being perceived as the worst by many is sufficient judgement. [Note – We don’t think they’re that bad.]
Because we do NOT follow the herd, we deliberately selected GoDaddy for PagePipe’s hosting. Our goal is proving origin-optimization efficiency. You can achieve fast speeds even on the worst cheap, shared hosting. Use discipline and care in your site design. We teach you how on PagePipe.
Economy hosts take in the unwashed masses. They appeal to some of the worst-case, non-technical users – the ones with no money and no training. And so these cheap hosts get bad reviews. That hasn’t slowed down their growth one iota.
We abhor their marketing ploys and lies to maximize profits. But this article isn’t about up-selling, bait-and-switch, or duping uneducated victims. We write about speed – not recommendations for hosting companies.
GoDaddy Inc. is a web-hosting company headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. GoDaddy has around 8.5 million customers. Their annual net income is around 2 BILLION dollars. They clear 6-percent profit on those sales ($140 million approximately). They’re the biggest web host.
Bluehost is a web-hosting company owned by Endurance International Group. It’s one of the 20 largest web hosts. Bluehost hosts 1,248,507 websites on economy, shared servers. The company operates its servers in Provo, Utah, USA.
Why are we mentioning Bluehost since PagePipe is hosted on GoDaddy?
PayPal changed how it interacts with Easy Digital Downloads ecommerce plugin. This forced us to use HTTPS/SSL certification on our site store. Not for Google ranking – rather for the requirements of successful PayPal transactions. PayPal changed it’s rules in July 2018. I took us a while to figure out why automated ebook deliveries were failing. We got our money but customers didn’t get their ebooks for awhile. SSL compliance fixed the failures.
SSL adds 500 milliseconds of server handshaking to every page and post of your website. That’s 25 percent of our performance budget.
We use a 2-second performance budget. Adding SSL ruined our page load times. We use a speed trick of “offloading” the store using a separate GoDaddy domain on the same server. That domain name was secure-pagepipe-store.com. (Yeah. That domain tidbit is important later in our horror story.)
Originally, we tried GoDaddy’s expensive SSL certificate.
Next, we got a GoDaddy SSL refund and switched to Let’s Encrypt’s free SSL certificate.
This hassle wasn’t fun. But we were determined to figure things out. And we did it – eventually. Because of our curiosity, we ended up reloading and rebuilding our site several times. Why would we inflict so much pain on ourselves when SSL is free at other hosts?
We’re determined to stick with GoDaddy. The pain.
It’s notorious. GoDaddy cheap, shared hosting proves our point. You can get fast speeds even under the worst conditions. But not if you injudiciously throw SSL on your site. You must use speed strategy – or spend money.
Bad news. SSL overhead can’t be cached. We choose not spending money – and using creativity for speed instead. In this case, it meant dividing the site.
You may wonder if site-splitting is self-defeating behavior. In this case, it’s not. The assumption is you lose caching speed benefits when you switch users to the sister store site. One secure and one unsecure (insecure?) site. But BONUS, we can’t use caching with Easy Digital Download ecommerce pages anyway. Caching and minification mess up the EDD plugin functions.
PagePipe has very few store pages compared to many blog posts. Most people enter our site from organic search via the blog posts. They then wander the site reading other content – and ultimately visiting the store. The store is rarely the landing pages.
This division into two sites meant we successfully maintained minification and caching plug complications on the biggest site. And it’s at our front door (our blog) where speed expectation is highest. By the time someone enters the store, they’re curiosity is often high enough to endure a longer wait. In this new case, no waiting was required.
We stupidly wondered, “What would happen if we let our SSL certificate expire?”
We decided, “Let the 90-day period run out.”
It was a nightmare. The needed GoDaddy server changes in the Cpanel SSL settings were obscure at best. The store was down during prime time: a Friday night and Saturday morning because of our repeated fumbling.
We got our “Welcome to Bluehost” email at 4:33 pm Pacific time Friday. They immediately started email spamming us to buy more web stuff.
At 4:51 pm Friday, Bluehost billing department deactivated our account. Suspended forever.
Why? They didn’t like the word “Secure” in the domain name. It was too “spammy.” They said we had to provide approved proof of government identification to restore the site.
Hmm? GoDaddy never cared about our domain name of “secure-pagepipe-store.com.” Why did Bluehost care? Different standards – we guess.
Undeterred, we setup a new Bluehost account for another $59 with the domain name “PagePipe-ebooks.com” We’re getting good at this now – no spam judgement call – and got the store working again in short order. Wonderfully, we never touched the blog with all this buffoonery.
We migrated the store one more time. It’s working now and with free SSL. Whew.
And now we don’t have to worry about 90-day expiration or renewals any more.
Bluehost over charged us about 72 dollars on secure-store-pagepipe.com during registration. We’re working to get the money back plus the $59 hosting fee. We’ll see if we just ate $136 dollars learning from an unfortunate web experiment (mistake?). The cost of our education! We deselected all those silly Bluehost registration options and still got billed for them anyway. You know, those ridiculous opt-out features including:
Codeguard Basic – $35.88 annually.
SiteLock Security – $23.88 annually.
Domain Privacy Protection -$11.88 (secure-store-pagepipe.com) annually.
Tax – $4.66
PagePipe was billed: $135.70 total. Bluehost notified us the next Wednesday by email the hosting plan was cancelled and a refund issued. But to allow 7 to 10 days for processing.
So why in the world are we leaving our store on Bluehost? To prove we can take a ruthless beating. And still produce a fast site on cruddy hosting even after being treated like garbage.
Why did we use Bluehost when we could have bought a 1-year certificate from GoDaddy for $70 dollars? Well. It’s the value of speed. We’d die for good speed. It’s all about speed achievement in unconventional ways. We want to learn why things work the way they do – and then find a better alternative.
So today, the new PagePipe-store with SSL loads times are:
International Load Times, No CDN
PagePipe Blog start-here page
http://pagepipe.com/best-page-speed-starter-resources/ 424.6k page weight, 25 requests
Pingdom to San Francisco
1.43 seconds load time
Pingdom to Frankfurt
3.27 second load time
Pingdom to London 1.93 second load time
Pingdom to Sao Paulo, Brazil 2.06 second load time
Pingdom to Tokyo 2.07 second load time
Pingdom to Sydney 2.28 second load time
No CDN, no minification, no caching. BlueHost 421.8k page weight, 35 requests
Pingdom to San Francisco
1.32 seconds load time
Pingdom to Frankfurt
1.75 seconds load time
Pingdom to London 1.79 seconds load time
Pingdom to Sao Paulo, Brazil 2.44 seconds load time
PHP 7 is twice as fast as PHP 5.x and requires one fraction of the server memory.
A 3,760-word article at WP Elevation is about the pain of producing websites. The article expresses everything we hate about website creation. The thought of building “explosive live hand grenades” stresses us. Just reading the article was stressful. Why?
Because it’s true. The nit-picky horrors described are exactly what occur during web projects. Client or website owner expectations are high. Their technical knowledge is often low.
A new monster arose on the WordPress horizon. New problems for PagePipe anyway.
The fragile nature of WordPress and PHP v7.x.
Why does adding PHP 7.x break your site? Our recent GoDaddy-host-server transition rattled the nerves of even the initiated. It’s a good example of what goes wrong. Upgrading PHP version 5.6 to version 7.x is a simple C-panel setting – but not without potential consequences.
PHP 7 released long ago on December, 3rd, 2015. GoDaddy didn’t add this server option for a year and a half. Why? Because they knew the changes might break hundreds of thousands of WordPress websites. They left it up to users to perform the update. And they delayed the service call costs for as long as possible. The GoDaddy default version is set to 5.4. Making users choose their poison was smart. Users then are responsible for breakage. Or dialing back the PHP version themselves – or tracking down fixes. GoDaddy is blameless – sort of.
Above: Pie chart – Percentages of WordPress sites using different PHP versions.
Risk breaking my site? Why even care about PHP version 7.x?
PHP is the code of WordPress, a server-side programming language. It first appeared in 1995. All themes and plugins use PHP, too. Upgrading your site to run on PHP 7 instead of PHP 5.6, you’ll improve the performance of WordPress by 2x. That’s right. Twice as fast is the typical gain in speed. For us, that’s phenomenal. We’ve anxiously waited and watched for this no-extra-cost, speed opportunity. Free speed. Most vendors upgraded long ago. So we felt snubbed. But we didn’t change hosts. We like bragging about good speed achieved under the worst conditions!
PHP 7.x isn’t going to break WordPress – it may cause some of your plugins to malfunction. Perhaps your theme. But the result is the same, your site appears broken. You can test all your plugins using a free plugin. Naturally! We tested with:
With this plugin above, you can check which version of PHP your site is using without using Cpanel access.
So what broke after the change from 5.6 to 7.x?
Broken Link Checker – compatible – warning 1 – This plugin broke the site when viewed on an Apple iPad. Meaningless code was all over the screen. We disabled the plugin.
Simple Content Adder – We got a red flag for the file revisions.php. But we couldn’t find it breaking anything. We left it as-is.
SS Downloads – red flag – This favorite old plugin broke the site with PHP error screen. The plugin failed because it triggered a fatal error. The plugin is for email capture before PDF downloads. We had to dump the plugin. Presently, all our downloads don’t need signup.
Title Experiments Free – compatible but 7 warnings. We wrote plugin author, Jason Funk, and he updated the plugin to version 8.9 for PHP 7.1 compatibility. No more warnings. Thanks, Jason.
WordPress Popular Posts – compatible – 24 warnings. The plugin stopped gathering data for page visits. This is the primary reason we use this plugin. It’s very popular with 300,000+ active installs (v3.3.4) but not updated for over 1 year. Why? It’s a pain to get things approved by WordPress. GitHub has version 4.0.0 free substitute – and it’s PHP 7.1 compatible. It has slow Font Awesome onboard but it’s not enqueued. We’re thankful. We like the new GUI control panel for the plugin. The original plugin was a 125k zip file. The new one is 759k. Most extra weight is font overhead for the control panel. It doesn’t affect your site’s front end.
How fast was PagePipe home page after the switch to PHP 7.x? 699 milliseconds unprimed cache and 440 primed. Super fast even on GoDaddy mechanical, shared server with no CDN.
So a quick comparison of primed cache: PHP 7.2: Pingdom NY PagePipe home page – primed cache: 559ms. PHP 5.6: Pingdom NY PagePipe home page – primed cache: 567ms.
8 milliseconds gain with TTFB fluctuations. Maybe? Insignificant gain on an optimized page. He’d be better off economizing in other areas.
Why no big gains? Because we have optimized the Home page. There’s a point of diminishing returns. Only fat bloated slow websites benefit from the PHP version switch.
PHP gains are overrated and exaggerated. A bloated site gets the most improvement. So PHP is actually a test of site bloat. Big improvement from PHP means big potential for site optimization.
Today, PagePipe uses 70 plugins. About 30 of those not updated for over 1 year. Some for many years. We’re not embarrassed about that. It’s not a mistake.
Plugins listed in our ebooks are currently used on PagePipe. And also on client sites.
So the question is “Outdated? By what definition?”
Some think outdated plugins produce a warning like:
“This plugin hasn’t been tested with the latest 3 major releases of WordPress. It may no longer be maintained or supported and may have compatibility issues when used with more recent versions of WordPress.”
Being orphaned or abandoned doesn’t mean “bad or rotten.”
These lonely plugins still work. And often for over a decade without complaints. That isn’t brokenness.
Above, we explain retention rate is more important than plugin popularity. Or even freshness.
But also in the article, we explain:
“Does 8 months since an update concern us? Not in the least. There are plugins that are 8-years old in the directory that work fine. Those “best if used by” freshness dates are silly. They throw people off with their arbitrary “expiration-date” warnings.”
WordPress places warnings when a plugin isn’t tested with recent versions. Does that mean it won’t work any more with new versions of WordPress? Nope.
WordPress’ motive is their legal protection against liability and lawsuits. C.Y.A. If a plugin doesn’t work any more or presents security hazards, it’s removed fast. And some are. In particular, malicious plugins. They call those “take downs.” Plugin authors remove some because they didn’t get the market results they wanted. But generally plugins stay as long as there isn’t any noise about them. Retired or dead author’s plugins stay in the WordPress free directory.
No plugin is safe. Not paid (premium) plugins. Not obsolete plugins. And not recently updated plugins. A common plugin problem is automatic updates loading onto managed WordPress sites. Bugs in the new version mangle the site or causes conflicts.
There’s no such thing as a risk-free plugin or theme. Even reckless WordPress messes up with their own Automattic-authored plugins.
Good-old “Plugin Logic” is our secret, speed-weapon plugin. It’s used on every site we touch. SELECT.ME issue #11 talks about it. It’s an amazing plugin.
Want to keep a specific plugin from updating? We recommend “Block Specific Plugin Updates” plugin. There are times this is handy.
There’s plugin churning in the 55,000+ plugin database. Don’t let silly warnings discourage you. They aren’t for your protection. They’re protecting WordPress.
Don’t fear old plugins.
How many plugins is too many?
PagePipe is hosted on cheap GoDaddy magnetic servers with no CDN. GoDaddy hosting is the second most hated provider in the world. The first is BlueHost. We’re out to prove even “bad” hosting can get fast page speed. (We host our store on Bluehost! Our blog on GoDaddy!) PagePipe.com is living proof these recommendations for speed actually work.
PagePipe now use 70 plugins on the blog (GoDaddy) and 24 plugins on the secure store (BlueHost). Even with this many plugins, load time is under 2 seconds on cheap, shared hosting. It’s not plugin quantity, it’s the quality that makes a difference. Web designers can’t be arbitrary in loading and activating plugins. The result is slow pages. And all our plugins are freebies from the plugin directory.
It’s a myth using many plugins slows down your website. Being sloppy in judging plugin quality or necessity is the culprit. That’s within a web designer’s control. It calls for wisdom and speed testing. The best plugins add no page weight at all – weightlessness! (In reality, about 1 millisecond – or less – per plugin to the initial page load.)
Studies such as those from Moz demonstrate site speed is a small part of Google ranking factor. Nothing suggests it improves SEO more than 1 percent. We agree that overall page load time is not the SEO killer many make it out to be.
While the Moz article seems stale (2013), nothing changed in the speed business concerning page ranking since 2010. The content is still valid today.
Backlinko’s detailed 2016 investigation of wider ranking factors shows relevance and authority remain the driving forces in terms of organic traffic.
Nevertheless, users demand fast-loading sites, and the potential negative impact of slow speed on conversions is well-proven. With the rise of mobile showing no signs of slowing, the need for speed remains strong.
Google’s in 2010 announced site speed as a ranking factor, but the actual details revealed were vague. Citing previous internal studies, Google confirmed that site speed would be added into the mix of existing ranking signals, but stopped short of discussing how much weight it would actually carry. A number of points were, however, stressed from the outset: