spedOn April 9 Google has officially announced that site speed is now part of the web search ranking algorithm. This wasn’t really a big surprise for anyone who was paying attention to what was happening. First Matt Cutts announced that Google is “considering” to start using Page Load Speed as one of the ranking factors during his November presentation at PubCon, then in December Google has added a nifty little tool to the Labs Section of Webmaster Tools – Site Performance.

I don’t know about you but when Google ads a tool that allows you to see how your blog is seen by others, better yet – how it performs compared to others – I pay close attention, as they don’t just do it out of whim. And it actually makes sense as faster sites (blogs) provide a better visitor experience and I have covered the topic in several of my older posts:

And a few more posts you can find by searching for “page load speed” but I leave that option to you! Instead I want to concentrate on what is happening now and how your WordPress blog Page Rank is impacted by site speed.

But before we move into discussion of our options – we need to understand what exactly is measured and how it is ranked in overall picture, basically – should you even worry about it?

Speed Matters!

I think it goes without a saying that people browsing the web have a short attention span and I personally don’t wait too long for a page to load, so optimizing your pages to improve retention is an obvious reason. But lo and behold! Google actually conducted studies and provided results of their experiments to see just HOW EXACTLY page load speed impacts web-based business. Read it in their Speed Matters blog post.

According to information I dug up on the subject Google uses 2 different ways to measure page load speed (quote below):

  1. How a page responds to Googlebot
  2. Load time as measured by the Google Toolbar

And if you paid attention – your Google webmaster tools have provided you with measures on how your blog performs since last December, here are my blog stats:

google-site-performance-toolNot too good, as far as I’m concerned and I already have some ideas on how to greatly improve it but first – we need to talk in a bit more details on…

Tools To Measure Your WordPress Blog Page Load Speed

Before any optimization takes place you need to know what you are dealing with, establish baseline and understand WHAT on your blog creates problems. There are a few tools I use and like to share with you.

1. Google Site Performance Tool

While it doesn’t give you too many options – it can be of GREAT help for getting started and basic performance issues optimizations. In fact – problems identified by this tool will be very closely aligned to a more advanced and complete tools I will share later.

page-load-examples

Above you can see an examples of the few pages and Load Time as Google sees it. But it gets even better as Google will actually shows you some of the most critical things you can do to OPTIMIZE Page Load Speed for same pages, shown below:

optimize-page-load speed

Some of the things are under your control and some – kind off, as doing optimization will actually impact functionality and you just have to decide if you can deal with it or optimize it. Let’s just go over things shown below and what can be done to address them:

  1. Enable gzip compression – this is actually done on server-side and nothing you can do about it if your host doesn’t support it, sometimes they can enable it per cPanel account, so might be worth to ask. In my case – I’ll be recompiling my VPS Apache to enable this support this weekend.
  2. Combine external JavaScript – unfortunately those scripts are used by different plugins / widgets and the only way you can do optimization is to remove some of the functions. In my case I have chosen to remove Facebook widget to remove the script but second one comes from Lijit plugin and I’ll be keeping it.
  3. Minimize DNS lookups – once again, the only way to minimize those is cut functionality, although as shown above I was able to reduce it by moving banner for EWP and making it local and removing Facebook widget. That saved me 2 DNS queries out of 4.
  4. Serve resources from a consistent URL – the only way I found to optimize this one is by removing functionality through uninstalling plugins and it is not something most of bloggers would do, unless plugin is really useless – but then why do you have it in first place?

Those are just a few of the samples for very basic and there are a LOT better tools to use and see what exactly creates a speed bottleneck on your blog.

2. Page Speed

This is an Add On for Firefox / Firebug and absolutely FREE. Link I provided contains tutorials on How to install and use it on right hand side – be sure to read it! Great explanations that I have no intent to re-write!

page-speed-firebug-addon

Expanding options shown by this add-on will show you what could be done to optimize the page. Once again you will discover that some of the things can be done by you but most involve choosing speed over functionality!

Decision only you can make!

And if the above wasn’t enough – I want to share a third tool, extremely useful to measure you site performance and probably one that provides more info than anything else and also web-based, so you don’t have to install anything!

3. Web Page Test

This one gives you multitude of information and might be slightly overwhelming but since it has a graphical presentation of results – fairly easy to comprehend. Here is an example of my score:

web-test-speed

Sad results and I’m still in disbelief about the times shown, so I would appreciate your input if you actually get as slow performance as they display!

Using anyone of the 3 tools provided above all together or individually should help you understand what is the biggest offender on your blog that slows it down and perhaps take steps to optimize the performance or even remove the offending plugin!

Optimize WordPress Site Speed

As I was working through multiple options for WordPress page load speed optimization I realized that there is only so much YOU, as an end-user can do. Bulk of the work will have to be shouldered by developers to help US rank better.

As I have shown above majority of optimization is done by basically removing the plugin or widget that creates all the extra DNS queries, loading external javascript, uses unoptimized images, utilizes not fully optimized code and css.

As an end users we just have to figure out which developers are actually paying attention to importance of optimization and encourage them by using their themes and plugins. Yes, theme optimization now becomes critical as a lot of code loaded through the theme that generates the look and feel of your blog, so be careful what you choose!

But not all is lost! I’m already seeing how some developers dive right in and looks like we will have some help very soon!

Donncha O Caoimh already announced beta version of the WP-Super-Cache plugin that will actually pre-fetch and create a cached version of your blog posts so when Googlebot visits it – it gets better speed and as result, help you ranking!

And if you are using a very popular Tweetmeme plugin on your WordPress blog you can optimize its functionality to make sure it doesn’t impact your page load speed following great tutorial by SEO mofo.

And if you are not comfortable with digging into code – perhaps you should just wait!

WordPress developers and supporters is one of the most resilient communities and I’m sure we will see response to the Google change soon in form of optimization. And if not – I want to mention one last thing you have to absolutely know about before taking any major steps such as removing plugins or changing theme

Page Load Speed is just ONE of the 200+ factors Google uses to rank your site and according to official announcement – it counts for less than 1% to make sure that PAGE RELEVANCY still takes priority!

So perhaps you should work on optimizing your WordPress – just don’t take any drastic measures! No need to panic my friend!