Stripped-down Susty theme: example of speed amplification.

Updated: July 2018
No bloat

We use our creative concept of speed amplification. It’s the deliberate choice of severe self-imposed site limitations. These WordPress speed strategies include:

  • Stripped-down free theme.
  • Extreme-optimized graphic elements.

We also remove extraneous WordPress core and theme elements such as:

  • Emojis
  • Font Awesome icons
  • XML-RPC Service
  • Comments
  • oEmbeds
  • Heartbeat
  • jQuery
  • Google Maps
  • Google Fonts
  • Google AMP
  • Google Analytics
  • Google YouTube
  • Google no-Captcha reCaptcha
  • Google imposed SSL certification

We avoid:

  • API and scripts
  • social media counters
  • advertising
  • email forms
  • podcasts
  • video
  • Yoast SEO

Our plugin surgery service is an audit, or value analysis, of plugin load times. Then we calculate performance overhead. This includes:

  • Cumulative plugin time
  • Theme load time
  • SSL handshaking
  • TTFB (time to first byte)

Plugin value analysis includes:

  • Combination
  • Simplification
  • Elimination
  • Standardization
  • Substitution

Tools to achieve these results include:

  • Selective plugin activation
  • Conditional content
  • Rotating visual assets
  • Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule

Using plugin surgery, we replace multi-function popular paid plugins with faster, free, discreet  alternative plugins. This not only speeds up a site but reduces recurring annual premium plugin costs.

Doubling active discrete plugins will eliminate multi-function plugins and halve the load time. The exact opposite of assumed Herd Truth (popular thinking). Active installs aren’t an accurate sign of plugin value. Retention rate is more indicative.

Retention is the percent of active installs divided by the number of all-time downloads.

Technological embellishments often don’t lead to increased speed. Why? What’s an embellishment? Those are things not pertaining to relevant content. For example, Facebook is an extraneous technological embellishment – or sliders –  or popups. Especially when the extra feature doesn’t enhance website goals – such as profitability. Facebook often helps only celebrities. Are you or your company a celebrity?

Speed is a competitive market advantage.

You can “cut corners.” Web transparency is then the result – meaning “invisible benefits.” For example, a faster-loading optimized site means you don’t pay for a CDN – or use cheaper hosting. Don’t pay for unneeded “performance enhancers” like annual WP Rocket plugin rent. Viewers don’t notice fast pages – but they hate slow pages.

We wrote an article, “Susty review: The lightest speed theme ever.” We imply Susty theme won’t load faster than GeneratePress theme on a desktop. But might load faster than GeneratePress on mobile. It depends where on the planet you’re standing. And even the time of day and day of the week.

Factors affecting mobile data transfer (speed through the pipe) include:

  • The Internet speed provided by your ISP.
  • The router’s ability to serve speed.
  • Carrier network performance and signal strength (location and time).
  • ISP’s serviceability and network strength in your demographic area (Is it 2G, 3G or 4G or wifi?)
  • Congestion in your area (user peak traffic times).
  • How many apps are running in the background on your device?
  • The signal strength of your device is receiving (antenna, etc).
  • Device quality.
  • What speed test you’re using to measure performance.

Speed Disclaimer: Mobile speed is conjecture and theoretical. There are no benchmarks on how themes with fewer HTTP requests affect mobile speed.

GeneratePress alone creates around 9 requests while barebone Susty theme has only 2 requests. But can you keep from junking up either of those fast themes? That’s the real question.

GENERATEPRESS TYPICAL REQUESTS

  1. HTML
  2. css/unsemantic-grid.min.css
  3. style.min.css
  4. css/mobile.min.css
  5. gp-premium/blog/functions/css/style-min.css
  6. js/menu.min.js
  7. js/a11y.min.js
  8. js/back-to-top.min.js
  9. fonts/generatepress.woff2

SUSTY MINIMUM REQUESTS

  1. HTML
  2. susty-master/style.css

Is 8-versus-2 calls significant? Only for the most hardcore speed fanatics.

So why choose building with Susty theme? Why not use the feature-rich GeneratePress theme?

First of all, one theme doesn’t fit all site-owner needs. Speed is only one aspect of a good site. When a site is slow, impatient visitors won’t wait to see your precious content. They’re history – gone.

There is no perfect theme for speed. The best and fastest themes will be created tomorrow.

If web pages are ugly and illegible, the repulsion of poor aesthetics causes people to leave, too. Speed supersedes aesthetics in the user-experience hierarchy. Speed is the first critical hurdle. But speed alone won’t save a site with cruddy or boring content.

Balance speed with other user experience considerations such as:

  • functional aesthetics
  • typography
  • readability
  • visual cues for hierarchy or emphasis
  • eye appeal

Isn’t a theme being feature rich better? No. Those cluttered and complicated themes tempt site owners to overbuild. Poor performance results. The same effect occurs with excessive page builder plugins. The heady glee of no design limits is a reverie for untrained and amateur site owners. Too much chrome retards speed performance.

For example, Divi theme is feature rich. This heavy theme alone often loads in 1 second. Is that bad? Yes. Why? Because the performance budget is 2 seconds for good-enough results. 1-second optimal results. And subsecond ideal results (euphoria from transparency).

Technical progress improves speed efficiency but increases performance abuse and wasteful feature expansion. A rebound effect. We never get ahead in the speed game.

Everyone hates a slow loading page. Fast speed is a transparent feature. Divi theme consumes half the performance budget. When you add TTFB, SSL, a signup API, SEO, and who knows what else, you blow your budget. That’s before you even place a single photo, graphic, or line of text. That’s bad.

Will a stripped theme guarantee speed success?

Absolutely not. They force creativity and even innovation. That’s speed strategy. But a designing fool destroys the benefits of a naked theme.

Most tests online cater toward idyllic desktop performance. We get excellent load time measurements with all above-mentioned speed themes.

The problem with most themes is you can’t strip them. You’re locked in. Font Awesome as a Hamburger menu icon loads the whole icon character set on every stinking page. Absurd!

In the end, theme “drag” is small, the flea on the back of an elephant. One link to a Facebook “like” counter and you torched your site speed big time. Or a molasses Google ad. Those are much worse offenses.

People stress over theme load times. We’ve found most lightweight themes are great – around 50 milliseconds for theme overhead. Twenty-seventeen default theme loads in about 10 milliseconds!

Often the more popular the theme – usually the worse for speed. Too many features and functions included. Who wants a pocket knife with only one blade? A knife with 20 blades and a fork and spoon and saw sounds even better. Right? One new problem: Now the knife won’t fit in your pocket.

Desktop browsers aren’t as sensitive to actual page weight as mobile devices. Stuff below the fold or lazy loading helps perceived load time. Loading scripts in footers and tricks like that help visitor perception of speed. Cheating. Those “creative ” plugin workarounds are great for the desktop. But don’t improve the mobile experience so much. Desktop cheating doesn’t always work very well for mobile cheating.

We like cheating with WordPress whenever possible. Shortcuts!

So, does a theme with an 8.8k footprint like Susty make a difference? It’s relative or conditional.

A small theme footprint still matters. But isn’t always quantifiable because connection conditions vary in the wild. StarBuck’s public router is one condition. It’s definitely worse than your home wireless connection. Connecting on a subway or car in the middle of a tube or remote rural highway is a whole other beast. Bad mobile is often remote wireless (not routers in homes). We mean 3G connections or WalMart roaming. These are slow. How much crud you push through the pipe (page weight) then makes a bigger difference.

A 100 to 300k image on desktop loads fast. Not so on mobile.

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-plate seduction.

You can’t overburden widgets that aren’t there! The unadvertised value of lightweight themes like Susty: Instant self-control.

We’re using Susty theme at http://toxictoastseo.com/

We did some Susty theme customization using CSS. We don’t write about coding much – even when it’s within our skill set. Plugin solutions are what WordPress is all about. It’s a strength, not a weakness. When people spout about knowing PHP or learning JavaScript, we roll our eyes in disdain.

The whole reason we’re interested in WordPress is avoiding learning programming languages. It’s why we love plugins. Matt Mullenweg’s counsel to “Learn JavaScript deeply” is an absurdity to us. We don’t want to go there. It’s one of our self-imposed limitations – no coding unless desperate.

“Additional CSS” customization code often (usually?) disappears when changing themes and sometimes when updating. It depends upon the theme author’s diligence. Preservation isn’t built into core as one might suppose.

Adding a child theme to preserve custom CSS code generates an extra HTTP request. Our workaround (and there are others) is to use Tom Usbourne’s free “Simple CSS” plugin. It appears alongside the normal Additional CSS feature in the WordPress Customizer. This plugin doesn’t create an extra call (like a child theme) but still protects the code.

★★★★★
Simple CSS
Active installs: 70,000+
All-time downloads:  163,000
Zip download: 136k
Retention rate: 43 percent (high)

Godspeed—

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Mobile WordPress Speed – without coding!

What others think of us:


"I am very impressed by your professionalism. I will definitely put forward your services on the "Authority Hacker" Facebook group where I heard from you in the first place." justebien.fr  Angers, France

by - Guillaume Besson

Tiny Hestia free WordPress theme: mobile speed review.
Susty review: The lightest speed theme ever.