Matt Banner’s Speed Challenge

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Matt Banner’s blog makes a promise that if you use his suggestions to Speed Up Your WordPress Blog your web traffic will shoot up, along with your conversions. That is a big promise and we don’t agree with all of his recommendations or their importance.

On_Blast_Blog_-_2016-02-20

Reference: How to Speed Up Your WordPress Blog & Make it Insanely Fast
by Matt Banner

Matt recommends using Google’s Page Speed Analysis site for doing benchmarking. We don’t use this tool. We refer you to the following articles as to why:

Why you Shouldn’t Care About Google PageSpeed Insights

Why Trying to Get 95+ on Google PageSpeed Insights for Your WordPress Site Will Drive You Mad!

Why we don’t use Google PageSpeed Insights.

Matt then recommends the free Web Page Test and Pingdom. These are valid tests. We recommend and use them, too.

Matt then gives “Facts and Statistics to Consider” for why we should care about speed. We think only two are significant:

40 percent of users will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
47 percent of online users expect web pages to load in two seconds or less.

PagePipe’s recommendation for WordPress on cheap, shared Linux hosting is a 2-second Performance Budget. So we think Matt has valid speed ideas and goals so far.

But then Matt takes a wrong turn. He says about “Your Quality Score”:

“You may not know this, but Page Speed directly affects your Quality Score in Google’s eyes. … The overall performance of your landing pages is built upon the foundation of your Page Speed. In addition, when it comes time to start making money through your blog, your Page Speed will directly affect your bottom line and your success in advertising campaigns.”

This isn’t true!

“Our data shows there is no correlation between “page load time” (either document complete or fully rendered) and ranking on Google’s search results page.”

Source: https://moz.com/blog/how-website-speed-actually-impacts-search-ranking

We also recommend reading “18 Questions (and Answers) About Google, Site Speed, and SEO”

Google doesn’t even use it’s own speed tools to make calculations for rankings.

Matt then tells us:

“I know a large majority of people out there are wondering if Page Speed affects SEO, and the answer is a resounding YES! Since 2010, website loading speeds have been part of Google’s ranking algorithm for both desktops and mobile devices.”

Uh. We’ve just shown better SEO isn’t the case from improved Page Speed metrics. What we do agree upon is speed improves the user experience (UX) and thus people want to come back. But site aesthetics are just as important to attract return visitors. So let’s keep things in perspective. And content is still the most valuable factor in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – and User Experience (UX).

Matt boasts he has “hand-picked speed tactics” for us. He promises these are the top ways to get our site going faster in little to no time.

Below are his 16 recommendations for speed with our commentary:

1. Start With a Reliable Host

Matt recommends checking reviews on hosting sites. He then recommends only one: “Web Hosting Hub.” A place we’ve never heard of before. He supplies a link. Matt obviously profits from a kickback for any hosting signups from his blog page. Tacky. Profiteering reduces the credibility of the information presented. Immediately.

2. Choose a High Quality & Fast Theme (efficiency is key)

Matt’s content is weak on recommendations for fast-loading themes. What does he mean by “efficient?” He says,

“If you don’t wish to invest in a premium theme right away, you should just stick with the default WP theme because it’s simple and fast in its design.”

We agree the default WordPress Twenty Sixteen theme is fast (603k download zip file). No complaints there. Our observation is paid, premium themes are usually slower loading than free featured WordPress themes available at the Theme Directory. That’s because paid themes cram in too many heavy extras.

We recommend selecting from the approximately 1,000 responsive themes in the directory. Choose one that has a compressed download .zip file size of 1MB or less. That usually will get your pages under the ideal 2-second performance budget.

We’ve written several articles on the topic of choosing fast themes – and also some theme reviews:
http://pagepipe.com/how-to-choose-a-fast-theme/
http://pagepipe.com/fastest-free-themes/

3. Use One (And Only One) Caching Plugin

Matt recommends using W3 Total Cache (1.8M compressed download).

We prefer WP Super Cache (888k compressed download) based on our speed comparisons.

Plugin download size is frequently a key indicator of efficiency. Like themes, the more bloated a plugin zip file, the slower it loads. Not always – but red flag.

Note: Caching doesn’t always improve page load time. Check with benchmark before-and-after tests. If there is no change, disable the plugin.

4. Utilize a Content Delivery Network

Matt explains how CDNs work:

“The way a CDN works is by using multiple servers in various locations to deliver content more efficiently. Anything on your site that is static (unchanging) is stored on these servers and sent to people based on their location, which increases the delivery speed significantly.”

He then endorses the paid services of Max CDN Network.

From our testing and observations, CDNs do not necessarily achieve a 2-second performance budget. Sometimes they make no improvement at all in speed. They may actually deteriorate connections and latency. You’ll see more 404 page-not-found and 500 internal-server errors. CDNs are a programmer’s band aid.

We’ve found if a WordPress site is properly optimized for performance (fast theme, light plugins, compressed images, and Gzip compression) then using a Content Delivery Network is even detrimental to load times. There is no speed benefit with an optimized site. CDNs are a crutch for sloppy web designers.

We repeat. You can get fast load times on low-cost shared hosting if you properly optimize your site. No CDN is necessary. Only poorly engineered websites need CDNs.

5. Optimize Your Images

Matt then teaches us that high-resolution images can bog down websites significantly. But he doesn’t give many solutions. Just one recommendation. This recommendation should be #1 in this list – but it’s not.

We agree. Not optimizing images is the worst and biggest offence for slowing down websites. At least half the page weight is typically images. Since the majority of images are Jpeg format, they can be compressed with plugins or web tools or by-hand in Photoshop (or equivalent applications).

Matt recommends uploading images to Optimizilla for one-at-a-time, automated compression. We’ve reviewed ten online services in our article on optimizers. Optimizilla was one of the better ones.

We also have a free PDF download about optimizing Jpeg images by-hand – which is the superior method for visual and speed results.

We also have a review of the ShortPixel plugin which not only optimizes images but also PDFs.

There are even more plugin image optimization solutions.

6. Modify Gravatar Images

Matt recommends setting the default Gravatar image to nothing. (He means the Avatars).

WordPress Settings > Discussion and look for the option to set the  default to a blank space.

He means deselect the radio button if it is selected. The default should be off.

We’ve seen avatar-deselect make a difference on the Twentysixteen theme load time of almost 1-second reduction.
http://pagepipe.com/speed-up-wordpress/

7. Install the Lazy Load Plugin

Matt tells us:

LazyLoad is the term for a process that only loads the images above the fold first. As the user scrolls down, the other images will begin to load right before they appear on the user’s screen.

He recommends installing the BJ Lazy Load plugin for WordPress. (59.5k download zip file)

We recommend and use Rocket Lazy Load plugin (4.6k download zip file) Much faster.

It should be obvious. If you don’t use images, you’ll have the fastest loading pages and you won’t need a lazy load plugin.

8. Keep an Eye on Stored Revisions

Matt recommends using a plugin like Revision Control. This plugin allows you to set the number of stored revisions. (80.5k download zip file)

We recommend and use Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions plugin. It’s a ‘One Click’ WordPress Database Cleaner / Optimizer. (116k download zip file)

Cleaning out revisions doesn’t make your site run faster. But it does make more space on your server. And your WordPress control panel will often refresh faster when you’re editing posts or pages.

9. Remove Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Matt says:

The default setting in WordPress of constant tracking adds unneeded stress to your site.

Apparently, this tracking non-feature is now changed so it’s not automatically selected upon WordPress installation any more.

But to check your site, go to Settings > Discussions and uncheck the option to “Allow link notifications from other blogs.”

10. Scan Your Site For Malware

Matt recommends using WordFence plugin for site security. (920k download zip file)

We have looked at WordFence – but it requires a two-factor authentication sign-in using a mobile phone. We see that as a nuisance.

We’ve used BruteProtect (standalone plugin) before it was acquired by Jetpack and merged. We liked it – but not any more. The acquisition was a deal killer for us. We usually don’t advocate Jetpack plugin usage at all.

We’ve since used Captcha on Login plugin (554k download zip file) to prevent brute force attacks. Note: That plugin was removed from the plugin repository for having a hacker backdoor. We now just recommend using the popular WP Limit Login Attempts plugin.

11. Minify your JavaScript & CSS files

Matt teaches:

When we say “minify” things like JavaScript or CSS files, we’re talking about removing any code that isn’t absolutely required for the page to function. … This can include things like comments, extra characters for white space and ones for new lines.

He then suggests using online minifying services to convert code and installing the new code by hand.

That’s a tedious solution. Alternatively, there are many WordPress minification plugins available. But we’ve found only one that works reliably without breaking any themes or plugins: Better WordPress Minify (662k download zip file).

12. Enable gzip compression

Matt tells us that Gzip code compression can reduce the size of pages up to 70 percent. What he really means is Gzip can reduce the file size of the code – not the page. It doesn’t compress images or icons.

His method requires that you access the server’s .htaccess administration file. You then do some hand-coding in the .htaccess file. He doesn’t say how or what to code.

This code editing is tedious, messy, and sometimes breaks your website completely if you make a simple error. We know. We’ve done it. White screen of death results on occasion.

We recommend instead the safety of installing: Far Future Expiry Header Plugin (7.5k download zip file)

Settings > FarFuturesExpiry > Select Enable Far Futures Expiration.
Set the number of days to 365.
Select all file types.
Select Enable Gzip compression.

Note: Some web hosting providers automatically Gzip all website content using Pagespeed Module from Google. Learn more about Gzip by reading our article, Gzip for code speed.

13. Database Optimization

Matt recommends installing WP-Optimize plugin. (656k download zip file)

We have already recommend the two-in-one Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions plugin. It’s a ‘One Click’ WordPress Database Cleaner / Optimizer. (116k download zip file). So WP-Optimize plugin isn’t needed.

14. Updated Plugins

Matt recommends:

Before you update to the next version of WordPress, make sure all of your plugins have been updated first.

He doesn’t tell us there are various ways to automate updates. We like to know when updates are happening and choose to do them ourselves. We have over 44 active plugins used on PagePipe.com. The plugin we use to email-notify us when updates are needed is: WP Updates Notifier (213k download zip file). Very handy plugin.

15. Remove underutilized plugins

Matt recommends:

Anything that you’re not using consistently should be removed to avoid cluttering your site and slowing it down.

Our recommendation: It’s a myth that using many plugins will slowdown your website. Being sloppy in judging plugin quality or necessity is the culprit. That’s within a designer’s control. It calls for wisdom and speed testing. The best plugins add no page weight at all.

It’s considered best practice to uninstall unused plugins (and themes). We’ve never heard any valid explanation except paranoia of security problems. There is no record we could find of any site compromised (hacked) by leaving unused plugins installed that originated from the WordPress plugin directory.

16. Utilize CSS Sprites

Matt says:

CSS Sprites take multiple images and combine them into a single image file to reduce load times and increase performance.

Another definition from a different blog:

For those unfamiliar with the term, CSS spriting is an image management technique brought to the web in 2004 by Dave Shea, creator of CSS Zen Garden and Mobify’s VP of User Experience. CSS spriting provides a clever way to include multiple images in a page using only a single HTTP request with no JavaScript required.

Also from Wikipedia:

Although the information above remains valid for most webservers, it is not applicable to modern Apache or Ngnix servers with implemented Pagespeed Module from Google. According to “Boost Business Friday” research, using CSS sprites with mod_pagespeed turned on will hurt the performance of a website, decreasing page load speed by up to 64%.

We don’t recommend “sprite-ing” images because it’s unnecessary, work-intensive overkill. It’s esoteric. It’s better to just reduce the number of images on the page and use static, 8-bit, PNG icon images. The goal is to reduce HTTP requests. There are many ways to do that. Spriting is just one solution. Not our preference. Responsive and mobile sites can be problematic for sprites because graphic elements may need to be under 25k in size to render properly.

Some of our extra recommendations for extreme WordPress optimization:

  1. Disable emojis with a simple plugin.
  2. Install Remove Google Fonts References plugin. Use browser default fonts instead.
  3. Load jQuery from Google (nicely compressed and minified). Use the WP jQuery Plus plugin.
  4. Restrict “heavy” plugins to just the pages where they’re needed. Plugin Logic (15k compressed download file) or Plugin Organizer (295.1k compressed download) both let you deactivate or activate plugins on a page-by-page basis.

The four recommendations above should be measured. They give varying degrees of improvement. They don’t always improve speed. It’s dependent on variables. These three optimization suggestions and others are explained in our article, Speeding Up the WordPress Twentysixteen Theme.

Also our article: Is removing the default version of jQuery in WordPress irresponsible?

Really extreme suggestion:

Comment out Genericons in function.php.

Genricons are a special font symbol. They aren’t really used by all themes. Genericons are a bloated bane we have written about before. Commenting out a single line of code in the functions.php file is the 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.

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"The navigation is seamless and pages load quickly allowing my visitors an easy transition from page to page." stacymjones.com Arkansas, USA

by - Stacy M. Jones