With Google’s recent algorithm update, there has been a lot of speculation that site speed impacts your search rankings. The rumor has been that anything that takes more than 2.8 seconds to load is hurting you.
I’m not one to typically jump to react to things, as there have been plenty of things in the past that didn’t turn out to be what the rumors suggested they would. I want to see some data! So I decided to watch my organic traffic month over month.
Between August and September, we noticed a decent size drop in our organic traffic. We couldn’t point to anything in particular so I decided to start working to improve site speed.
This blog post documents my before and after in improving my site speed, including what I did to take us from a page speed insights score of 12 to a score of 98. I won’t be able to give you results of how these improvements have impacted SEO just yet as it’s early, but my goal is to come back and update you on that.
How To Measure Pages Speed Score
There are many places you can test your site speed. The three I look at are:
It’s important to note, you likely won’t get the same answer from the tools. The first time I entered my domain into all 3, they came back with wildly different answers, ranging 1.02s – 10.1s.
Because of this, I suggest picking one for your experiments to start with. I decided personally to go with Google since it’s the platform I am looking to improve my rankings on via having a faster site. Google Pagespeed Insights gives you a score from 0-100, where 100 is perfect. For the rest of this post, I will be referring to my overall score vs. specific speed since that was the tool I used. My initial score with Google was 12. Ouch.
Clean Up Your Website
I use WordPress for both my site and my blog, so I can’t speak to how this process looks in other tools. However, after doing some research it appeared that plugins can weigh your site down. I went through all my active plugins and deactivated anything I no longer needed, or just was not currently using. Then I went through the inactive ones and deleted anything that I no longer needed.
I then reviewed all of the pages on my site and deleted the ones I no longer needed. I decided to keep my website as light as possible, so only blog posts and core pages (such as our about page or legal disclaimers) would live on the site. I moved any remaining sales pages we had to LeadPages or Shopify.
I went through my media library and deleted images that were broken or not in use. As someone who spent years using Elementor, I had uploaded a lot of templates that imported a bunch of media images along with it. I probably could do another sweep as I don’t know I was as thorough as I could have been.
Lastly, I ran a free image optimizing plugin. I believe it was EWWW Image Optimizer. This just compresses your image sizes.
Phew! Thinking that would do the trick, I entered my site back into Google Spadespeed insights and got a score of 17… a marginal improvement from my original 12. Back to the drawing board.
Optimize Your Hosting and Move To A CDN
After some Googling, I decided I needed to add a CDN to the mix. A CDN is a content delivery network that is basically just a bunch of distributed servers that work together to provide fast delivery of your content. The most popular one at the time of this post is Cloudflare.
I am very comfortable updating DNS records myself, which is something you need to do in order to set up your site on a CDN. When I logged into my host Bigscoots (who I highly recommend and that is an affiliate link), I noticed they had a plan specifically for Cloudflare. Score!
Some of the details on the page were confusing to me, so I engaged with their chat support. The representative did an amazing job in asking me to explain WHY I was looking to make the change which lead us down a slightly different path.
She explained that I was on a shared hosting plan. This is very common for people starting out but it can drastically reduce site speed since you are sharing the servers with many others. She suggested I switch to Managed WordPress Optimized Hosting which would provide a significantly faster experience. The upgrade was $34.99 per month (in addition to the 19.99 I currently pay monthly since I kept the shared hosting for my other websites). I added Cloudflare on top of that for $17 per month. Basically, these improvements cost me an additional $52 per month.
Right before I had them perform the upgrade, I quickly installed, ran, and then uninstalled the Imagify Bulk Optimization Plugin to again compress and optimize all images and convert from jpg/PNG to WebP which was something I read improved load time.
The overall migration took about 20 minutes with no site downtime. Once I was notified it was all set, I eagerly went back to Pagespeed Insights. This time, my score was 44. Much better than 17, but still disappointing.
Change Your Theme (No jQuery)
This is where my amazing host came back into play. I messaged their support to explain what I was trying to do, what I had done so far, and that my score was still only 44. I asked if there was anything they could see on their end since I was expecting a much higher score given all the upgrades we just made. Someone replied within a few minutes that it looked like using Elementor on my site, along with the theme I had (also Elementor), was a big culprit. He explained I should look for something that does not use JQuery and recommended Generatepress.
Generatepress uses a block editor which I was not familiar with. I had no plan to learn a new tool, let alone, rebuild an entire website but at this point, I was invested. I spent the next 24 hours learning GeneratePress and rebuilding my website entirely.
Once complete, I deleted the Elementor theme and associated plugins. I also ran Wp Rocket, a paid plugin I have (costs $49/year) to clear any cache.
Improve Google Page Speed Test Score
It was time for the moment of truth. I ran the site through pagespeed insights again, and to my surprise, there was a score of 98! I honestly cannot believe what a big difference removing Elementor made on top of all of the other optimization I had done.
Was it worth the time? 100%. In addition to loving the redesigned website, I feel lighter. I’ve cleared so much clutter from the back end of the site that going in is easier and less overwhelming.
I’m excited to see if/how this improves our organic search rankings and will report back!