How to Improve Conversions by Increasing Page Speed [Tips & Tools]

By , March 11th, 2012 in Conversion | 73 comments

It only takes a few seconds for your site to make an impression on a visitor. If it hasn’t loaded in that time, then they might be gone, baby, gone. Since you already know that a fast website increases conversions, then it’s obvious that a slow site does just the opposite. The question is, how do you fix a slow site?

Page Speed - We Waited, No Service

Find the problem

Page Speed Test Google Developers
Google Page Speed

Do you really have a problem with website speed? Two good ways to find out are with the Google Page Speed extension or the Yslow extension (you can also use them together online via GTMetrix). Input the URL, run the report and get a snapshot of the speed bumps in your Web infrastructure. When you do, you might have to address some of the areas below.

WordPress user, beware

P3 WordPress Page Speed Test
P3 in action

I love WordPress for its almost infinite extensibility but that same attribute can slow your site to a crawl – something I learned the hard way. Take a poll of non-techie WordPress users – that’s the ones who don’t do their own coding – and you will probably find that they have 20 or more plugins to provide different bells and whistles. When you see a feature you like on someone’s site, it takes just a minute or two to add it to yours, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Do a plugin audit and see what’s hogging the bandwidth. A good tool for doing that is P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). Use it to root out the culprits (and don’t forget to disable it when you’re finished).

Don’t add – subtract

Web Performance Best Practices for Page Speed
Guidelines from Yahoo for boosting web performance

Take the same pared down approach when it comes to the look and feel of your site. Everything you add to your site makes it even slower. Everything. Use your speed tester of choice and you will find that all those lovely add-ons–drop down bars like the Hello Bar, analytics code from different providers, comment plugins, gravatars, sign up forms and affiliate code–keep your site crawling. Google fonts, Google translate, the Facebook button, Dropbox downloads – all of those can be bandwidth thieves. Keep server calls light by eliminating whatever you don’t need.

Under the hood

Some themes and site designs are built with SEO features, social media buttons and pretty much everything you will ever need. Get one of those, and you can immediately replace even more bloatware. The less stuff you have making calls on your SQL database, the faster your page will be – and that might just raise your speed grade from an embarrassing F to a passable C or higher. Of course, not all themes are alike – some of them might actually contribute to the page load problem. Don’t believe me? I ran a Yslow test on my writing blog and half of the culprits identified were images in the Thesis theme for WordPress folder which surprised me as it’s considered to be one of the best themes available. Luckily, the theme was recently upgraded to address some of the speed issues.

Content delivery

One way to solve site speed problems is to use a content delivery network (CDN). There are a lot to choose from but what they all do is cache and serve up your content, keeping it in multiple locations so that pages can be served quickly. And some of them will also apply other fixes that boost your speed. Cloudflare, for example, has built in tools to minimize and optimize HTML, Javascript, CSS and images – all of which help to increase page speed. You can also specify how long visitors will see the cached version of the page and you can use Cloudflare to block spammers and bots, which was its original purpose. All of these will boost your page speed beyond recognition, making it more likely that visitors will stick around.

Lastly – your host

Finally, if you fix everything you can and your site is still slow – maybe it’s your host – especially if your hosting is shared. Some of them throttle your site till it can hardly breathe and that won’t do any good for your conversion rate.

Now, take action!

Page Speed Performance GTmetrix
a GTMetrix analysis of Mozilla’s site

So here’s a recap of the steps to take to identify and eliminate page speed problems:

  1. Analyze your site with a page speed tester like YSlow.
  2. Profile WordPress plugins with P3 and remove the memory hogs
  3. Delete unnecessary plugins and code snippets from your site.
  4. Streamline your site design or blog theme.
  5. Consider a CDN.

– Sharon Hurley Hall

This is a guest post, all opinions are those of the author.

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional web copywriter and blogger. Her career has also included stints as a journalist, academic writer and ghost writer.

Comments

  1. […] Some of them throttle your site till it can hardly breathe and that won’t do any good for your conversion rate. How to Improve Conversions by Increasing Page Speed [Tips & Tools] | Unbounce […]

  2. Chris Stott says:

    This is a great list of tips, speed of your site makes a big difference not just for SEO but also for user experience and keeping them from bouncing away.

    But what makes a performant website? What metrics is someone to use?

    I guess this comes down to the user – if people are mainly accessing via 3G networks your site needs to be faster than a corporate site only accessed over super-fast corporate networks.

    This goes for any elements in web page design, development or maintenance of course.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      That’s a good point, Chris. Some of these tools will also help you identify bottlenecks for those accessing from mobile devices.

  3. Hi Sharon,
    How timely! I’ve just been seeing what Yoast (Joost de Valk) has to say about website speed too. Knew it was an issue but never realized what effect it could have on a website. Will get on with fixing mine up. Great info – thanks for all that!

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Yes, I’ve read some of the stuff on page speed on Yoast and his SEO plugin is pretty amazing too.

  4. This is a great reference for every WP user, Sharon! I, too, have a plugin problem…and just like the shoes in my closet, I’m not allowed to add a new plugin without taking one away first. As you say, you need to draw the line and hold to it.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I know what you mean, Tea. I’ve cut the number of plugins I use in half and there are a few others I keep disabled unless I’m actually going to use them.

  5. Juha Liikala says:

    Hey Sharon!

    Great information. Cutting the number of plugins have definitely helped. Even more help has been the W3 Total Cache plugin which I’ve found to do just amazing things to page load times. Still got quite a bit optimization to do though!

    I was surprised to see your guest post here. I didn’t realize you wrote this until I got to the end of the post. Great work! Hope all is well there at your end! :-)

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Hi Juha, glad you like it. Yes, a caching plugin is a great idea. I’m using Supercache as I had a clash between TotalCache and something else I was using. Every little helps!

  6. […] How to Improve Conversions by Increasing Page Speed [Tips & Tools], unbounce.com […]

  7. Theresa says:

    Thank you for the informative post, Sharon. This was timely for me, because I’ve been researching and bookmarking site speed tools and running a lot of tests on different sites.

    Do you find that you get inconsistent results? Between the sites you mentioned, as well as tools.pingdom.com and webpagetest.org, I get vastly different results. Is it just me, or are the tools meant to be a guide rather than a bible?

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I sometimes find the results inconsistent, Theresa, and use these tools as a guide to some of the issues to be addressed. If I fix them, though, there’s always some improvement, no matter which testing tool I’m using.

  8. Good information. WordPress is one of the best CMS systems ever. All the plugins are great but sadly enough it can make your page quite slow as well. Its very tempting to use all the plugins but how many of the plugins are truly useful?

    right now i use 21 plugins. Its alot and there are still alot more to be used to complete it. But i need to see how i can filter out the plugins i never or hardly use.

    What do you recommend as a minimal loading time? 1 sec? or 1,5?

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I reduced the number of plugins from nearly 30 to 16 and I’m still trying to find a way to lose a few more, Nicky. In terms of loading time, the quicker the better from the point of view of visitors.

  9. Informative post Sharon! I always advocate the use of CDN, but my experience with Cloudflare is not good. At times, I’ve experienced CF presenting captcha challenge to me before opening the web page. This is very much annoying and I simply leave the page.

    Have you ever faced similar situation on CF-powered sites?

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I have had this issue occasionally, Rajeev, but it’s been difficult to know whether it was Cloudflare related or because of an overzealous instance of CommentLuvPremium/GASP. Some people rate Incapsula as an alternative to Cloudflare, though I haven’t tried it yet.

  10. Wonderful source of information Sharon!

    I still have to check out all that you mentioned, as I feel I am using many plugins, though the ones I don’t use are deactivated. But yes, the page speed needs to get better.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I found the P3 Plugin Profiler really useful for that, Harleena. It’s often difficult to balance the desire to spiff up your WordPress blog with performance issues, though.

  11. Nicole Fende says:

    Great practical and easy to use tips. I’ve always been leery of adding new plug-ins but had no way to check what the “damage” was even for the ones I had. Thanks for giving me a checklist and guide Sharon.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      I was ecstatic when I discovered the Performance Profiler plugin for that every reason, Nicole – loved the fact that I could see at a glance where the hold-ups were.

  12. […] How to Improve Conversions by Increasing Page Speed [Tips & Tools] – It only takes a few seconds for your site to make an impression on a visitor. If it hasn’t loaded in that time, then they might be gone, baby, gone. The question is, how do you fix a slow site? […]

  13. […] though, if you’re weary of bogging your site down with plugins which can lower page speed (and hurt conversions) you’ll want to use an external […]

  14. Technopsis says:

    Good stuff! For a wordpress user it can sometimes be hard to keep yourself from installing tons of bandwith hogging plugins.

    But it is also really easy to optimize for speed using plugins. I recently made some major changes to my own website and the speed more than doubled!
    With the proper plugins you can do it within 5 minutes!

    Read what changes I made and how I configured them for optimal results here: http://wp.me/p2jQY1-8j

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Thanks, and I like the Javascript library plugin you mention in your post. The only question – whether adding a single plugin is a good trade-off for reducing JS library calls. I think perhaps it is. :)

  15. […] Thanks to unbounce.com for pointing out these site speed analysis tools (http://unbounce.com/conversion-r…) […]

  16. […] mind though, if you’re weary of bogging your site down with plugins which can lower page speed (and hurt conversions) you’ll want to use an external […]

  17. […] Don’t make me wait. Slow sites lower conversions. Don’t believe me? Read abut how faster sites convert better […]

  18. […] recommend checking out this Unbounce article that has some very practical tips on reducing page loading […]

  19. […] Te recomiendo que visites este artículo de Unbounce sobre cómo mejorar la rapidez de tu web con el fin de mejorar las conversiones. […]

  20. Adriano says:

    Hi,

    It would be nice to see some of this implemented in unbounce landing pages. :-)

    On an unbounce landing page I see a a lot to optimize. ;-)

    Regards,
    Adriano

  21. Dave says:

    Nice tips ^^ . My Yslow is 65 ~~ What a horrible scorce . I try many many way but can’t figure it ~~ . I’ll try your tricks , thx for share

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  23. […] 如果你是一个WordPress网站站主,网速是个现实存在的问题(特别是对插件重度使用用户)。你可以尝试使用Plugin Performance Profiler来查找插件对个人站点网速的影响。它可以生成如下的报告,帮助你诊断每个插件对延迟的影响。 谢谢unbounce.com提供上述网站速度分析工具。(http://unbounce.com/conversion-rate-optimization/how-to-improve-conversions-by-increasing-page-speed…). […]

  24. […] Thanks to unbounce.com for pointing out these site speed analysis tools (http://unbounce.com/conversion-r…). […]

  25. […] loading 速度,你可以參考這篇How to Improve Conversions by Increasing Page Speed [Tips & Tools],或是 PageSpeed Online 這個 Google […]

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