The Google Speed Test: How to Reduce WordPress Loading Times

Low website loading times are paramount to an enjoyable browsing experience. If your website takes too long to load, visitors may outright abandon it, and your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will be hurt as well. However, figuring out why your website feels sluggish and how to improve it isn’t always easy.

That’s where Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool – commonly referred to as the “Google Speed Test” – comes in. This service provides you with a performance score for your website (both its mobile and desktop versions) and several recommendations on how to improve it. Furthermore, since this is Google we’re talking about, you can be certain they know their stuff.

In this article, we’re going to check out how the Google Speed Test works, how to run a basic test, and how to improve the score of your WordPress website. Time is money, so let’s jump right in!

How Does the Google Speed Test Work?

Google’s Speed Test works by “fetching” your website with both a desktop and a mobile user agent. Then, PageSpeed Insights analyzes how your site performs on both types of devices based on the reports of its agents and provides you with a score for each. These scores run from 0-100 points – the higher, the better. Generally, anything over 85 indicates that your site is performing nicely (but there’s always room for improvement!).

A look at a Google Speed Test score.

A look at a Google Speed Test score.

To be even more specific, the Google Speed Test measures both your “above-the-fold” and “full page” loading times (for both mobile and desktop). Here’s what each term stands for:

  1. Above-the-fold loading timeThis is the amount of time it takes between the point at which a user makes a request and the moment his browser renders all the above-the-fold content – that is to say, the part of your website they can see before scrolling down.
  2. Full page loading timeThis is the amount of time it takes for the entire page – from top to bottom – to render.

Since connection speeds (which play an important factor in loading times) vary across the board, PageSpeed Insights only measures network-independent variables. These include your general HTML page structure, server configuration, CSS, JavaScript, and images, among others.

Now that we know how the Google Speed Test works, it’s time to learn how to use it.

How Do I Run a Google Speed Test for My Website?

Launching a test using the tool in question couldn’t be easier. Just head to the PageSpeed Insights homepage and enter your site’s URL in the corresponding field, then click on the blue Analyze button to the right:

Analyzing a website using the Google Speed Test.

Once you do so, it’ll only take a few seconds for your results to come in. When they do, click on the Mobile tab to check out your corresponding performance score, then do the same for your desktop results. As we mentioned earlier, scores can range from 0-100. If yours isn’t looking too hot (below 85), don’t panic – we’ll show you how to improve them shortly.

How Do I Use Google’s Speed Test to Increase My PageSpeed Score?

Finding out your PageSpeed Insights score was the easy part; now we have to sit down and work on improving it. The first thing we need to do is head to the Suggestions Summary section shown right beneath your score. Do note that each suggestion comes with a priority indicator that alerts you as to its importance:

Priority indicators show which Google Speed Test recommendations are more important.

Let’s take it from the top and cover some of the factors that can impact your PageSpeed Insight score, what they are, and how to improve (or eliminate) them.

Eliminate Render-Blocking Above-the-Fold

Eliminating render blocking with the Google Speed Test.
When we talk about render-blocking above-the-fold content (which is quite a mouthful!), we’re referring to external scripts that interfere with the initial loading of your website.

To put it simply, whenever someone visits your site, their browser “requests” the information it needs to load all its elements. Each time the browser runs into an external script (be it JavaScript or CSS), it needs to stop proceedings to download it, which slows the flow of information and makes the whole loading process take longer than it should.

Sadly, fixing this issue isn’t as straightforward as the other methods in this guide. It can be done in a matter of minutes, but it’ll require you to tinker with your website’s HTML, which can be a bit intimidating the first time around.

Fortunately, there are easier fixes that can lead to major load time improvements for your site!

Optimize Your Images

Image optimization is one of the most straightforward things you can do to increase your PageSpeed score and improve your loading times. All you have to do is run your images past an optimizer, which will compress them as much as possible without incurring noticeable losses of quality.

If your website isn’t particularly image-heavy, we suggest using the TinyPNG online tool. You’ll need to upload each image manually and then download the optimized version, which can take a while depending on how many images you need to run through.

Compress your images with TinyPNG.

On the other hand, WordPress users can rely on plugins to automate the process for them. As it happens, TinyPNG also offers a plugin version of its tool, which will automatically optimize each image you upload to your site.

Implement a Caching and/or CDN Solution

Google Speed Test recommendations for browser caching.
Sometimes, when you visit a website, your browser will save some of its content locally, which in turn enables it to load faster the next time around. This is called “caching” and it’s an effective technique when it comes to improving your loading times. However, you still have to contend with the hurdle of getting past that first visit, before your website gets cached. Nonetheless, caching is a highly recommended solution that we recommend you check out.

If you’re really looking to boost your website’s load speed, we recommend you consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDNs enable your site to load faster by storing copies of its content around the world, using their own servers. Each time a user visits your website, the service will figure out which of its servers is closest to them and load a cached copy from there. Since their servers are spread all around, they have a higher chance of being closer to end users, which means your site will load faster and your visitors will be none the wiser about what went on behind the scenes.

If that sounds like a good deal to you (and it should!), then take a look at some of our favorite CDN options: Max CDN, Amazon Cloudfront, and CloudFlare.

Consider Switching Themes, Plugins, and Hosting Providers

In some cases, WordPress plugins can require so many resources that they’ll end up slowing down your entire site, and the same can happen when it comes to themes. If yours isn’t properly coded or optimized, it can make your website seem sluggish and unresponsive.

Solving the former issue is relatively straightforward. All you have to do is identify which plugins are misbehaving and, ironically, the best way to do this is by using yet another plugin. The P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) tool enables you to identify those plugins that might be bottlenecking your site, so that you may look for better alternatives.

A look at the P3 WordPress plugin.

Once the P3 plugin has served its purpose, don’t forget to deactivate and uninstall it, and the same goes for any other plugins that you don’t really use!

When it comes to themes, tackling performance issues can be a bit more complicated. Switching themes often requires a lot of work, especially when it comes to getting all your elements looking just right again. Before doing so, it’s critical that you figure out whether your theme is really the cause of your long loading times. To that end, we recommend that you check for recent online reviews and consider how long it’s been since its last update. Regularly updated themes tend to age and play better, so if yours hasn’t been touched up for a while (think six or more months), then it may be time to look for alternatives. Our themes, or Themeshift’s collection of premium themes, for example, would be a great place to start.

An example of two of our themes.

If you’ve already exhausted the options above and you’re still not seeing any noticeable improvements when it comes to page load times, then it’s time to bring out the big guns. In this case, that means considering upgrading to a better hosting plan or switching to an entirely different provider. This 2017 report comparing the performance of most popular web hosts should provide you with enough data to make a decision either way.

Conclusion

Figuring out exactly what’s causing your site to load slowly can be difficult, and figuring out how to solve these issues is even worse. If you’re struggling with this problem, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool can help you identify the problem areas for your website and even provide you with advice on how to improve them.

Fortunately for you, performance issues are usually caused by one (or several) of the factors we covered earlier. With that in mind, here are the steps most websites need to take to improve their loading times:

  1. Eliminate render-blocking in above-the-fold content
  2. Optimize your images
  3. Implement a caching solution
  4. Make appropriate theme, plugin, and hosting changes

Do you have any questions about website speed optimization? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means Nimbus Themes may receive compensation if you make a purchase using these links.

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