Keeping your WordPress web pages loading at blazing fast speeds takes effort and diligence, but can easily bring strong returns. Faster page speeds lead to more successful marketing campaigns and overall increases to your conversion rates. Best of all, WordPress has pre-built plugins and service providers to help you achieve your loading speed optimization goals.
It’s no secret that the speed of your WordPress site directly impacts website conversion rates. Google, one of the greatest aggregators of analytics data, has consistently tied page speed with conversion rates.
“As page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123%.”
“53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.”
Google also concluded that as webpage loading speeds slow down from a blazing fast one second to a much slower five seconds, conversion metrics fall and bounce rates increase by 90%.
A 2019 study by Unbounce clearly validated what previous research has shown — consumers are both aware of and reactive to webpage loading speeds… perhaps even more so than they realize.
“When it comes to waiting for pages to load, most consumers think they’re more patient than they actually are.”
“Nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.”
If you’re leveraging WordPress as your CMS, your conversion metrics such as number of forms filled out, list of sign-ups, and incoming phone calls are generated through page forms and your sales metrics are once removed from direct web visits.
However, if your store’s front end is WordPress and it’s using the BigCommerce for WordPress plugin to enable the headless commerce configuration, you’re bound to see a direct correlation between site speed and ecommerce conversions:
As mentioned above, a speedy site invites a higher conversion rate. In other words, by not impeding your shoppers and removing a little friction, you can expect a higher percentage of website visitors to make a purchase. And of those who make a purchase once, you are earning loyal repeat customers who will come back and make recommendations to their network.
Search engines like Google use a wide range of ranking factors when determining where to display your website in organic search rankings. Mobile loading speed is one of the most important of these factors. Google provides a sophisticated tool to help website owners determine their mobile speeds. This is not by accident.
Aside from any direct impact, you can also be hurt by indirect factors, such as a slow loading speed leading to a higher bounce rate. If search engines see that users are leaving your site without interacting with it, it can hurt your rankings.
Landing Page Scores are taken into account when Google compares your ad campaign with other campaigns vying to display their ads. If your landing page loading times are slow, it can lead to your ads not being shown as often (or at all), and clicks costing more than they should.
There are several speed tests available to help you gauge current standings and understand areas ripe for improvement. It’s important to test page loading speeds monthly or quarterly, and see where you stand to head off any business impacting deviations.
Google’s team has published several tools for helping you to check loading speeds, alongside related checks for adherence to mobile-friendly design standards and other important factors. These include Web.dev Website Performance Measurements, ThinkWithGoogle Test My Site, and Google PageSpeed Insights.
When in doubt, use all three to scan your website in order to review the different issues that Google suggests you should be aware of.
JetRails has one of the fastest and simplest audits, looking at a crucial statistic — your Time To First Byte (TTFB). TTFB is a measurement of milliseconds that it takes for a web browser to receive the first byte of data from your web hosting server when a visitor navigates to your website.
This is often the “Achilles heel” of page speed, as it’s something that relates more to your hosting environment than to your WordPress instance, and often goes unoptimized. A well-optimized TTFB is typically under one second. Find out what yours is with the JetRails TTFB Speed Test.
The GTMetrix Website Speed Test is known for providing a free cursory overview of factors that relate to the development of your site, as well as factors that relate to the hosting of your website, such as whether or not you’re using a well-configured CDN. It also gives you a Waterfall view of how each file that’s being loaded with your site is impacting your overall loading speed.
The Pingdom Tools Website Speed Test allows you to analyze your site speed from a handful of global servers, allowing you to learn how quickly or slowly your site loads from different parts of the world. It also provides reporting on how types of elements, like fonts and redirects, fit into the overall makeup of your particular website.
Webpagetest.org may not look quite as modern as some sites, but it does a great job of identifying granular details, such as which elements of your website aren’t being cached. The Webpagetest Website Performance Testing remains a popular speed testing tool.
KeyCDN provides scans that deliver a thorough breakdown of every file loading on a web page. You can run the KeyCDN Full Page Speed Test to see the time spent load each element of a web page and get an understanding of where the time to load each element of a web page was spent, such as on DNS, TLS, Sending, Waiting, and Receiving data.
The Dareboost Web Quality & Performance Report provides information that will help you to focus your efforts on the loading speed factors that you can leverage to improve the page speeds of your specific website. Reporting from this tool helps you to see remaining issues as well as successes.
Keep in mind that there can be false positives in test results and that when running a dynamic website with rich media, such as images, it’s difficult to find a site with “perfect” scores. It’s also worth noting that not all “speed” is created equal. Some issues will have a greater impact on your loading speeds than others.
Best practice is to test your loading speeds at regular intervals and especially after pushing changes to pages on your website. Your page speeds can be impacted by a wide variety of factors and will change over time, so it’s important to monitor for any anomalies.
Here are some of the most common issues that are causing your site to load slowly compared to other ecommerce websites. While it’s best to look at the full details provided by a few major speed tests, it’ll come down to a mix of these factors:
If your WordPress hosting servers are not relaying information as quickly as possible, your site speed may be held hostage by a slow server. BigCommerce makes sure their servers perform optimally; with a 99.9% uptime, they weather the storm through high-traffic events like Black Friday. A BigCommerce hosting partner, like JetRails, can provide complementary services for your WordPress instance.
If you are uploading images without properly optimizing them, your site will quickly become a giant bandwidth hog. Always optimize your images with software like Adobe Photoshop, FastStone Photo Resizer, or Squoosh.app before uploading them to your WordPress site, or leverage a WordPress plugin that will optimize them for you.
The best hosting and the most optimized images and content won’t be able to make up for a third-party theme that’s poorly coded. When possible, allow your web developers to create a theme for you using only what you need.
Alternatively, if you feel compelled to use an off-the-shelf WordPress ecommerce theme, be sure to purchase it from a reputable, highly-trusted theme store, and avoid themes with lots of features that you don’t intend to use.
It takes time to render a page on your website when visitors access the page. Caching your site primes pages, allowing them to be rendered before a visitor access them. It’s analogous to having fast food pre-cooked, ready and waiting for customers.
A CDN can help to speed up your site in more than one way. For instance, it puts copies of key website files onto an Edge server network, allowing website visitors to more rapidly load your website files from the closest available server location. An advanced host, like JetRails, will include such technology for you as part of their hosting stack.
WordPress Speed Optimization is not limited to these factors alone, but these are undoubtedly some of the most important issues that website owners and developers face when they’re trying to speed up a WordPress site.
One of the biggest benefits of the WordPress Content Management System (CMS), is the existence of thousands of pre-built plugins, many of which are used on a mass-adoption scale in websites across the globe.
Normally, when a visitor arrives at your website, various files need to be accessed and rendered together in order to display a page from your site in a web browser. Caching technology can help to speed up that process, by storing already rendered copies of pages instead of re-rendering them on every request.
There are popular WordPress caching plugins, such as WP Fastest Cache and W3 Total Cache. Each of these is used in more than 1,000,000 active WordPress installations and has over 2,000 five-star reviews.
New images should be properly compressed and optimized every time they’re added to your site. That leaves a lot of room for error as various members of your team, and vendors like marketing agencies, add to and edit your site content.
Image optimization plugins can help to automate that process so you’re not impacted by human error. These include commonly used WordPress plugins like Smush Image Compression & Optimization and EWWW Image Optimizer, both of which include a wide variety of image optimization features like automatically compressing and resizing images.
These tools are built to help optimize your WordPress web page elements through automated processes and easy-to-enable features. It’s likely that such plugins will save you lots of time and effort. For instance, it can be time-consuming to manually minify your website coding without such plugins.***
*** If your web host leverages Cloudflare, many of these speed optimizations can be achieved without installing and maintaining additional WordPress Plugins
These are examples of popular and updated WordPress plugins built to help you improve your WordPress loading speeds, but there are dozens more plugins to speed up WordPress sites.
Not all WordPress plugins are equal. If you’re on the hunt for the best plugins for your particular needs, consider the following:
When choosing WordPress plugins, consider both the star rating and the number of reviews. A five-star rating may not mean nearly as much if there are only one or two reviewers of a plugin.
Just because a WordPress page speed optimization plugin looks good, doesn’t mean that it’s being maintained and kept up-to-date, or that it’s compatible with your version of WordPress. Keep an eye on how recently the plugin has been updated and what versions of WordPress it’s listed as being compatible with.
If millions of WordPress websites are using a plugin, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s the best thing since sliced bread — but it does increase the likelihood that it’s been tried and tested in a variety of real-world use cases.
Keep in mind that less is more. So, if you already have external systems helping you optimize images, cache files, or minify files, an extra plugin in your WordPress account that requires maintenance can be more of a hindrance than a help.
BigCommerce provides an industry-leading ecommerce solution for businesses of all sizes, while also providing a WordPress plugin, allowing you to enjoy the front-end capabilities of WordPress married with the best-in-class ecommerce capabilities of BigCommerce.
BigCommerce is a well-maintained and supported ecommerce SaaS solution, allowing you to focus on your customers while BigCommerce addresses important facets like PCI Compliance.
If you want to be on an ecommerce platform that can elegantly address traffic spikes and enterprise levels of sales and orders, look no further. BigCommerce is architected to be fast, scalable, and reliable, with none of the heavy lifting placed on you.
With BigCommerce for WordPress, you can leverage all of the benefits of the WordPress CMS. That means that you can quickly and easily launch content and landing pages, and manage the look and feel of your website from the world’s most popular CMS platform.
Enjoy the benefits of single-tenant, dedicated hosting environments that are monitored and maintained, PCI compliant, and optimized for your WordPress instance to load fast. Best of all, JetRails accounts include white-glove hosting support! Your WordPress ecommerce site is mission-critical, so JetRails believes that your hosting provider should be as well.
Whether you have predictable traffic or unpredictable traffic spikes, JetRails offers scalable solutions that will meet your needs without slowing down your site.
All JetRails accounts come standard with a CDN. While JetRails can tailor your account to use a unique CDN of your choosing by default, JetRails deploys the Cloudflare CDN and WAF for both speed and security.
JetRails can help deploy caching systems like Varnish and Redis, depending on your web developers’ needs and capabilities.
WordPress loading speeds can have tremendous impacts on your business. Whether you’re looking at your overall conversion rates or the success of individual marketing campaigns aimed at earning rankings in search engines, your page speeds can either hold your business back or accelerate it forward.
You can and should be scanning your WordPress website on an ongoing basis to track your loading speeds and identify bottlenecks that are slowing down your site. Just as importantly, you should be communicating with your content team, WordPress web developers, and web host to optimize your WordPress site for faster load times. They should be working as a team to prioritize solutions based upon the results of your speed tests. Luckily, there are lots of great WordPress plugins, hosting solutions, and best practices that will empower your team to make your WordPress site faster than ever!
Robert is the head of partnerships at JetRails, a mission-critical ecommerce hosting service that provides Headless Commerce website hosting for BigCommerce users. Robert has over a decade of experience in helping merchants benefit from sound ecommerce and Digital Marketing strategies, assisting organizations of all types and sizes to grow and succeed via digital commerce. Robert is a frequent author and thought contributor in the ecommerce industry, and is the host of The JetRails Podcast.