WordPress Speed Experiment: Making this WordPress site faster as I build it

This was an experiment for me to see if I could get this site a 90% or better score on GT Metrics. Ideally, I want to get the page load speed below 3 seconds, but I’ll take somewhere close to that.

I have never optimised a site for speed before, but I always wanted to see what differences various changes would make to a sites performance. So I decided to optimise this site AS I was building it, that way I would see exactly where a blank site started and how it would slow down adding just basic content.

Step 1: Get started (the hardest part).

An old version of WordPress sat on this domain for the last 5 years, so rather than trying to update everything I deleted everything from my server and started with a fresh install.

Then I install the Neve theme from Theme Isle. I knew this was a fast theme which would give me a good base to start with. I didn’t bother creating a child theme becuase I’m not going to be doing a lot of customisation (I’m too lazy for that πŸ˜‚)

I did a speed test to get an idea of what a bare insall looks like with a solid theme choice:

Not too shabby, Neve! πŸ‘

Step 2: Time for a homepage and some content.

Next, I wanted a really clean home page. I had an idea of what I wanted this to look like in my head and the only way I knew how to create it was to install Elementor. I installed the page builder and luckily found a template layout that was close to what I wanted. I even dig the background. Score!

I knew this would probably hurt my site performance and page speed since I had technically uploaded AN IMAGE, and some text. I ran the test again and that gave me…

Eek, that added a full second to my page speed and slaughtered my performance scores.

Step 3: Optimising for speed

I was about to reach the end of my speed optimisation knowledge, as all I knew from this point was I had to enable gzip compression and I had to reduce image file sizes.

Pretty good! I should have tested these one at a time but they are both so easy to do and if you are looking to speed up your site you are going to do both, not one. Also, remember what I said about being lazy?

I used the Enable GZip Compression plugin for this, I head read some good reviews and I wanted to test it out (it’s literally one button, couldn’t be easier!). For the images, I used WP Smush. These are both free so perfect for this little experiment.

So far, so good! 😎

Next, I needed to figure out that 72% in YSlow and I wanted to get that 3.8 second page speed down by another .8 of a second. The reports told me I needed to do some caching, minifiy/combine CSS and Javascript and… then they lost me.

SO, I searched for a free, simple to use caching plugin. As usual with WordPress, there was loads of options but WP Fastest Cache seemed to tick all my boxes. I ticked some basic options, hoped for the best and ran another test.

Closer, performance is looking much better but the speed has now jumped up by another second. WHAT IS HAPPENING. Bare in mind at this point I haven’t changed the content at all.

I decided to go back to Smush run the scan on the images again just to give it one more go. Then I looked at the reports again and noticed YSlow was telling me somehting about expriing headers. Who knows what that means, but I Googled again and read someone on the WordPress forums recommending the Far Future Expiry Header plugin.

My rough understanding of this is that the plugin lets you pick a time in the future so that browsers don’t try to re-fetch images, CSS and javascript. I set this date at 365 days on recommendation from the forum post I read. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

I ran the test again expecting nothing to have changed…

BOOM 😁, I would call that a successful experiment. 90% plus performance score and ALMOST a sub 3 second page load time. Like I said at the start, I have no idea what I am doing.

I can’t write code and I can only barely figure out what the reports are telling me, but with a little help from Google it all worked out. As the site develops I will update this post with how I kept on top of performance and if I can ever figure out how to get the site to load faster than 3 seconds!


Update 1: After publishing this post

After I published this post, I added to the content of the site with a blog post and a bunch of images. Basic stuff really. Before doing anything, I ran a speed test to see what difference this made. It was only slight.

At this point I was curious what difference the theme was making… so I installed Astra.

1 step forward, 2 steps back. Lets try a WordPress theme I really like, Twenty Fifteen.

SO CLOSE! Page speed is looking good but now my blog post styling is broken. Let’s come back to this when I’ve drank more coffee