Page load times are an important factor when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). In simple terms, page load time is the amount of time it takes for a webpage to fully display on a user’s browser, including elements such as text, images, videos, and any other multimedia content. If you want to test your own website I recommend Google’s page speed tester, which is very straightforward to use and interpret: https://pagespeed.web.dev
Why does it matter?
A slow page load time tends to negatively impact user experience, leading to higher bounce rates and lower conversions. This can have a negative impact on a website’s SEO, because Google’s ranking algorithm is known to take user experience into account. This means that a website with slow page load times may rank lower in search results compared to a similar website with faster load times – especially if the website loads in more than three seconds, which is surprisingly common.
Use a lightweight and well-coded theme
If your website is built in WordPress, probably the most effective way to speed it up is to use a lightweight and well-coded theme. Many WordPress themes are loaded with unnecessary features and bloated code – by choosing a theme that is optimized for speed, you can reduce the amount of code that needs to be loaded, which can help your site load faster.
A good guideline is to avoid themes that replace the default WordPress page editor (known as Gutenberg). There are lots of drag & drop themes that completely override that functionality with their own, and that extra layer results in significant slowdowns. A few common offenders in this regard are themes such as Divi and Avada, and to a certain degree others like WPBakery and Beaver Builder. In general, the closer you stay to native WordPress, the better – and this also makes your site much less broke to maintenance problems in the future.
Use a caching plugin
Caching is a technique that helps your site load faster by storing static versions of your web pages and posts in the browser’s cache. This means that when a user visits your site, they don’t have to wait for the server to generate a new page each time they navigate to a different page (which is how most content management systems, including WordPress, work). Instead, they can quickly load the cached version of the page, which can significantly reduce your site’s loading time. Do however keep in mind that this won’t work that well if every user needs to see a different version of a page, for example if you have a client portal or an online store.
Optimize your images
Images are typically the largest files on a web page (other than video), and they can take a long time to load if they’re not properly optimized. The easiest way to remedy this is to take advantage of WordPress’ built-in image resizing – when you upload a high-resolution image, WordPress will automatically generate three different smaller sizes of it. Odds are that one of them is pretty close to what you need. It’s OK if it’s still a little bit too big for its container – the main thing you want to avoid is having your website load a bunch of full-resolution images that are the same size they were when they came out of the camera. If any image has a file size above 300 kb or so, you’ll want to fix that.
Minimize the use of plugins
Plugins are a great way to add extra features and functionality to your WordPress site, but they can also slow down your site if they’re not optimized for speed. You should only keep the ones that are essential to your site’s functionality, and regularly update your plugins and delete any that you’re not using to keep your site running smoothly. I wrote a blog post specifically on the topic of using the minimum number of WordPress plugins here.
This one is relatively rare, but sometimes you may need to redirect a page to a different address (usually as part of a website redesign). That’s fine, but you usually don’t need to leave the redirect up permanently – only long enough for Google to reindex the new address.
Get good hosting
Once all the previous points have been taken care of, you may still find that your website is sluggish. This is usually the case with websites that have some kind of added functionality, like real estate listings or e-commerce stores. In those cases the best solution is to upgrade your web hosting, which is essentially moving your website to a more powerful computer that is better able to process your website’s content.
Use a CDN
Those are the best places to start. The Google page tester mentioned above can give you more specific details tailored to your website – try to reach that three-second threshold!