Running Faster With WordPress

Author Benjamin Denis
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Running Faster With WordPress

Imagine that you run the (fictive) furtherfasterlonger.com website on WordPress and already have SEOPress Free and SEOPress Insights. Your site offers online training programs and dedicated coaching for people that are already running seriously and want to improve or continue running at a good level. The name of your site comes from the promise of helping clients, “Run further, run faster and run longer.”

Why your site should run faster

Your clients often ask you how to run faster. Reducing overall time for a fixed-distance run is a popular goal for runners – it helps maintain their motivation. For competitive runners, running faster and being able to pull off a sprint at the right moment are major factors in winning a race.

Although it may be less important in ranking than it is in running, speed is also a factor taken into consideration by search engines. Having a fast site helps win the race to the first place on Google!

You may have read, in our article Page Speed, Google, Ranking and WordPress, that Google has recently clarified how it has included page speed metrics into ranking through a new page experience signal.  This was implemented on June 15, 2021, and the importance of the signal was gradually increased until the end of August.

Imagine that you noticed gradual drops in ranking for keywords thanks to SEOPress Insights from June to August 2021, and you are concerned that this has been caused by this new ranking factor. It is time to measure your site’s speed to see if there is a problem. Ready? Steady. Go.

How fast is your site?

Google provides a tool called PageSpeed Insights to report on the performance of your website. You can use this to analyze any page on the web. You should use this tool to check your results for a few different types of pages from your website.

Imagine that you run this tool on a blog post from the furtherfasterlonger.com site and you see this result:

Screen shot from PageSpeed Insights
Screen shot from PageSpeed Insights

This is not good news. The overall score of 37 from a possible 100 means that the page’s performance is considered “Poor”. However, this score does not directly influence ranking. The scores used for ranking are in the Field Data section and are marked with a blue flag. They are the Core Web Vitals. You will see the mention at the top of this section that “this page does not pass the core web vitals”. This means that your page will not gain an advantage from a good page experience and other pages, that do pass the test, may have overtaken it.

The score that is causing problem for the page analyzed is Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). It is the only Core Web Vital score that the page is failing on. LCP measures the time it takes for a page that is loading in a browser to be sufficiently visible. Only 59 % of your visitors experienced an acceptable delay waiting for the page to be sufficiently visible. According to the rules of LCP, this delay should be no more than 2.5 seconds. To pass the test, 75 % of your visitors should experience a LCP of at least 2.5 seconds.

The page you analyzed is a popular article on your site “How to run a 5K faster.” It is a simple post with a small banner image at the top and around 2000 words with no other illustrations. It ranked 1st in Google at the beginning of June and now is on the second page of results in Google. If you can make your page run faster, it may well improve ranking and help gain back lost traffic.

How to improve page speed

There is no simple answer to clients who want to run faster. There are a lot of small changes a runner can make, like not carrying a water bottle around with them or breathing better. The biggest improvements are gained through specific training routines, including sprints and hill runs. But one of the things that you do always ask clients to do is fix a target, something to work towards even if it takes 12 or 18 months. Any progression towards that target is always an extra motivation to keep going.

You are going to apply that strategy to improving your page speed. But you don’t want to wait 18 months. You fix a target of 2.5 seconds for your LCP and you intend to implement changes on your website to improve this score little by little. Rather than using the Field Data that is calculated by your real users and updated over time, you should use the scores in the Lab Data section of the report. These are measured in real time by Google every time you run the report. This means that you can apply changes on your website and immediately see if it improves your score. The LCP score for this page in Lab Data is currently 6.2 seconds. You have to get that down by 3.7 to get down to 2.5!

Getting hints for improving page speed

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool completes scores with suggestions to help your page load faster. You notice on opening the suggestions that they feature the WordPress logo and give advice adapted to your CMS.

2 opportunities speed

The first suggestion is to use a plugin to eliminate render-blocking resources. This recommends using a WordPress plugin to help improve this but warns, “these plugins may break features of your themes or plugins.” If you have read our article 10 Tips to Boost Your Site Speed, you will see that SEOPress has recommended WP-Rocket for years. With this recommendation, you are happy to try it (after backing up your site of course). You work through the tutorial Find the Best Settings for your Site and discover that setting “Optimize CSS delivery” and “Load JavaScript deferred” has a massive effect on your page speed, reducing LCP by 3 seconds! Even though you have no idea what it all means.

3 reduce unused javascript

4 reduce unused css

The next two suggestions indicate that your site has unused CSS and unused Javascript. Google suggests “reducing, or switching the number of WordPress plugins loaded” and gives a tip for finding the themes and plugins that are causing problems. It adds a list of scripts to each suggestion, and this helps you recognize plugins that you don’t use, Facebook and WooCommerce. You take them off and gain 0.5 seconds. You are down to an LCP of 2.7 seconds in PageSpeed Insights.

5 reduce initial server response time

Reading the suggestion Reduce initial server response time, you immediately react to tip from Google that you should consider, “upgrading your server.” This is something a friend who works for a web agency has been telling you to do for a while. You are currently on a cheap shared hosting solution that costs $12/year and he says that is not adapted to your 50,000 monthly visits. You always balked at the idea because he claimed that hosting solution adapted to your needs would cost $300/year which is an enormous increase compared to $12.

Moving to a new hosting solution is not something that you feel capable of doing yourself. After a few weeks, you decide to pay your friend’s company to perform the migration for you.

The site is faster and rankings improve

Changing server not only got you over the line. It massively improved your PageSpeed performance and you pass Core Web Vitals with flying colors.

6 pagespeed insights good

Because this is a fictitious case study, we will also imagine that this story has a happy end and that there is an immediate impact on your rankings. You are once again #1 for key search terms such as “How to run a 5K faster” or “Personal running coach online”. You feel it was well worth the time and hundreds of dollars invested and you can also see the difference on your website. It is faster, easier to use and conversion rates are up!

By Benjamin Denis

CEO of SEOPress. 12 years of experience with WordPress. Founder of WP Admin UI & WP Cloudy plugins. Co-organizer of WP BootCamp.

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