I’ve reduced the page load times on this blog via a few tactics that anyone using WordPress should implement and because I’m not a technical guy I’ve put together a guide for implementing these tactics that non technical people such as myself would better understand. (I’m shaking my fist at the geeks out there that have written guides too difficult for me to comprehend, but deep down I’m more saddened by my lack of tech savvy skills)

Why Page Load Times Matter:

First I’d like to get into why page load times matter. This should be obvious and you can skip on to the guide below, but I’ll share why I started to care more about this topic first. Back in November I read an article from Web Pro News where Matt Cutts indicated that page load speed would become a ranking factor for websites starting in 2010 and recently this was officially announced although it currently affects only 1% of the search terms.

It’s obvious that web visitors don’t like slow loading pages (who does?) and slow page load can lead to higher bounce rate and lower page views on your site because people leave sooner. Combine these two factors along with the new ranking changes and there are plenty of reasons to consider reducing the page load time for your blog.

I’ve included my results from implementing some tactics on this blog later in this post, but please click to continue reading this guide I put together that gives some easy advice to speed up your blog.

How to reduce your blog’s load time:

The obvious stuff is the server you’re running on. I’m on a dedicated server from Softlayer and have used shared hosting in the past. It’s ok, but a dedicated server will give a big performance boost. These other suggestions aren’t dependent on your hosting situation so I’d like to spend more time covering them.

1. Install a Caching Plugin

I spent a lot of time researching page load time and found a wide variety of articles from people with advice that wasn’t the greatest, but I ultimately found the W3 Total Cache Plugin for WordPress. I tried other caching plugins like Super Cache, but after comparing page load using this nifty Page Speed Firefox plugin in conjunction with Google Webmaster Tools I found W3 Total Cache performed the best of all.

What I recommend you do is to install the plugin and then use the Page Speed Firefox plugin to look at your blog and find areas that cause your page to load slowly. There are a wide variety of factors that may influence page load such as ReTweet button, Twitter Counter, Feedburner counter, etc. but there are other factors that affect page load on every single blog that can be easily addressed by a non technical person with a free caching plugin. These include: Page Caching, Minification, Database Caching and CDN implementation (we’ll get to that later)

Because this is a non technical guide there really isn’t any reason for me to tell you what these things mean. It’s also a convenient way of saving me from potential embarrassment, but all you need to know is that the caching plugin can implement these abilities on your blog so that your blog will run faster.

In your W3 Total Cache settings you can simply enable these options via check boxes and then just pick the best option listed in the drop down menu and it’s easy to do this on each sub link:

One thing you need to remember that I failed to realize is that you need to manually enter the Javascript files and CSS files that you want to Minify so that the files can be served as a single package instead of separately. So you’ll need to manually input the files like this:

You can find this file list by running the Page Speed plugin (it will give you the suggestion to serve these all as a single resource. Simply copy paste those into your settings and you’re good to go).

Note: You also should check the boxes as well like Comment Removal and Link break removal (these reduce the total size of the file by removing the comments or line breaks).

2. Implement a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is basically a highly-optimized network of servers all around the world working together to distribute content (CSS and Javascript files, downloadable objects, etc) through hundreds of servers instead of a single host. This ensures visitors get their data from the city closest to them. (I took this description from my new CDN provider MaxCDN)

What’s great is that caching plugin also has support for CDN and when asked about which provider I should use Frederick Townes (the author of the W3 Total Cache plugin) recommended MaxCDN. I checked them out via this CDN test and found MaxCDN to be among the fastest. Armed with the recommendations I signed up for the account for 1 Terabyte of data and I got to setting up an origin pull based solution (the best).

How to set up an Origin Pull Zone:

Log into your Max CDN account and navigate to > Manage Zones > Create Pull Zone > enter information like this (except replacing my URL for your own):

I suggest you chose a label like “Chris Guthrie is Awesome” or something to that effect as it’s important to enter a statement of fact in this field.

Now simply take the Temporary URL that is generated and input that in your CDN settings tab in the host name field within the W3 Total Cache plugin settings and Bam! You’re done.

Optional: You can use the custom URL i.e. netdna.yourdomain.com instead of the Temporary URL but you need to go into your hosting account and change some DNS settings – specifically the CNAME settings to do this and it can take a few days to propagate. In the interest of this being a non technical guide and it not mattering one way or the other I opted not to do this step.

My Results:

Update 2: Current average speed is just 2.5 seconds now according to Google Webmaster Tools

From the first time I installed WordPress and set up all the plugins etc. the load time was very high as you can see above. In fact, I have to assume that one of my WordPress plugin’s was causing some issues in my page load which resulted in some of the spikes. But after implementing the changes with the caching plugin and my CDN the page load has flat lined and stayed constant.

Note: There are still numerous additional strategies I can still implement, but due to my general satisfaction with half assed projects I prefer to focus on the areas that provide the most bang for the buck and require the least amount of brain power to figure out. Besides, anything else is just bragging.

Wrap Up

If you are looking to reduce the page load times on your blog I suggest you install the W3 Total Cache Plugin and check for any issues suggested by the Page Speed Firefox add-on. If you want to really improve your speed I suggest you make use of a content delivery network to serve your static files as well. I suggest you check out MaxCDN as a provider. I spent a lot of time looking for a good option and have been very pleased with MaxCDN thus far and have added them to my resources page. I’ve also heard that WooThemes tend to be pretty light weight / fast WordPress themes – I’m using them on a couple other new sites now so I can report back later.

Related Reading:

WordPress Optimization by Kdavy
38 ways to optimize WordPress (pretty old)
Improving Page Load Time

What have you tried to reduce page load speed times?