Performancing Metrics

Blogging Pitfalls: How to Make Your Blog Load Fast

Bloggers often times refer to their blogs as if they were human beings with their own personalities. But while bloggers usually want their blogs to be intellectuals filled with interesting and useful knowledge or entertainers that can keep passer-bys engaged, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to our site’s physical health, let alone its athletic performance.

The truth is that blogs are a lot like people in another way, they tend to become bloated and out of shape over time. This can happen quickly, often times with just the installation of one plugin, or gradually over time as feature creep begins to drag a site down.

But also as with humans, this extra weight can have serious health consequences. If a blog isn’t up to speed, it can have dire consequences for the site that can result in a drastic loss of traffic, reduction in search engine presence and even instability and an inability to function.

Simply put, every blogger needs to be aware of the dangers of letting their site get out of shape and be able to make the necessary adjustments to bring it back into line. Failure to do so can be very disastrous for a blog indeed.

The Pitfall

Most bloggers actually start out with a reasonably optimized blog. Most theme designers do a decent job optimizing their work and they aren’t overloaded with too many features, trackers and plugins that may risk slowing a site down. Though new sites aren’t perfect they are probably better than they will be after two months with their owner.

The problem is that bloggers don’t tend to remove things from their site but, instead, only add them. In fact, the very nature of site customization is about adding the features you want or need to make the site yours and make it able to fit your needs.

Some of them are features for end-users, such as outsourced blog comments, social networking integration or relevant post location services. Others are designed to be hidden from users such as analytics applications, including Google Analytics, and tools to help bloggers manage and maintain their blogs.

The problem isn’t the new features but that, over time and when combined with poor site/server management, one’s site can begin to slow down. At first the slow down is barely noticeable but, if left unchecked, a site’s loading time can easily be double or triple what it initially was.

This has a series of negative effects on the site. First, visitors are often turned away by the long loading times and may not stick around to read the content or browse. They will, instead, favor other sites on the search results and this, in turn, catches the attention of the search engines as they place less emphasis on your site, putting it in front of fewer and fewer potential visitors.

But even if visitors aren’t turning away in droves, Google may still slight your site in the rankings. As anyone who uses Google Webmaster Tools can tell you, Google tracks site loading time independently and though it may not be a huge factor as long as visitors are happy, a slow loading site can hurt your performance, especially on competitive keywords.

Clearly, your site’s loading time is crucial for both getting and keeping visitors to your blog, but achieving a quick-loading site is no small feat and not something that can be done overnight.

How to Avoid It

The first step to avoiding this pitfall is being aware of it. Simply by understanding the importance of site loading time and not adding new features without first weighing them properly, you’ll be in a better position to not go overboard and drown your site in unnecessary features.

But once you are aware of the danger, you need to test for it. Using a service such as WebPageTest.org or Pingdom’s Site Test Tool to take a look at how long your site takes to load for a third party and what specific areas are holding it up. Both services use a “waterfall” diagram that shows the components of your site, the order they load and how long they take so you can easily see what elements are holding up your site’s loading time.

You may find out, as I did, that your site’s loading time can be greatly improved by disabling a single plugin or removing a widget that isn’t performing very well. Generally, anything that inserts a good deal of JavaScript into your site or uses large images will increase your site’s loading time and should be nixed if at all possible. These above sites will highlight what, if anything, is doing that to your site.

Once you have eliminated obvious sources of slowdown, you may want to explore ways to fine-tune your site and further improve your site’s loading time. Those include:

  1. Eliminate Unneeded Features: If you have tracking code that you aren’t using any more or site features that aren’t necessary, remove them. They might not be impacting your site much individually but if you remove three or four things loading in the background you can greatly improve your performance.
  2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN): Using a CDN, which locates static files such as images and JavaScripts at servers all over the world and serves them from whichever destination is closest to the visitor, can speed up the download time of your site and reduce load on your server. This is very easy to implement on WordPress using W3 Total Cache.
  3. Optimize, Optimize, Optimize: Using YSlow or WebPageTest.org as a guide, optimize your site by combining JavaScript and CSS files as well as reducing image size and taking other steps to speed things along.
  4. Consider a New Theme: Though most themes are fairly well optimized, some are clearly better than others. If you are using a theme that has a lot of images or JavaScript, you may need to switch to really improve your site.
  5. Consider a New Host: If you’ve done everything you can on your end or you’re noticing the slowdown is on the server’s side, meaning response time or download speed from the server is slow, regardless of amount being downloaded, then you may want to consider moving your site to a new host.

If you’ve done all of this and your site still seems to be abnormally slow, it may be time to bring in outside help to evaluate your site. Though there are many companies that specialize in this, it will likely be cheaper and faster just to find an experienced friend or reader to offer a second set of eyes on the problem.

Sometimes we all get so set in our ways that we miss obvious solutions and it just takes an outsider to point them out.

Bottom Line

The good news is that, for most sites, there’s nothing terribly complicated about optimizing a site and making it run faster. Some of the most important steps you can take are as simple as removing code from your theme or even just disabling a few plugins.

Though you can easily get more technical if you want to do more advanced things such as compressing code, reformatting images or adding a CDN, even most of those steps are basic and can be mastered easily by anyone willing to learn.

It is only when you start looking at server optimizations that you start getting into topics that are above the heads of most bloggers and, at that point, you’re likely better off just finding a new host that has a better setup for you.

All in all, the main thing you need to make your site run faster is an awareness of the problem and a willingness to spend the time and energy to work on it, the rest should fall into place.

Categories: Blogging Tips
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This post was written by . You can visit the for a short bio, more posts, and other information about the author.


Comment with Your Facebook Account

Comments

  1. Tomasz Stasiuk ) says: 9/8/2010

    Hey Johnathan, great tips and tools for checking site loading speeds!

    Reply

    • Jonathan Baiely ) says: 9/8/2010

      Thanks! Glad it was of some use!

      Reply

  2. Nicolargo ) says: 9/8/2010

    I just write a post on my french blog (hope Google will transfert it…): 12 steps to optimize my WordPress blog, from operating system to WP cache plugins:

    http://blog.nicolargo.com/2010/09/12-etapes-pour-optimiser-les-performances-de-son-blog-wordpress.html

    Please send me your feedback !

    Reply

  3. Roy Scribner ) says: 9/9/2010

    Hey Johnathan – great overview of the things we need to look out for, when it comes to the performance of our sites. I particularly like the info that webpagetest.org provides – I have used a “YSlow-like” analyzer like that before, but it appears to have gone away – so this one will be useful.

    I would just add that regular database optimization is a must, when dealing with WordPress. Particularly if you get a lot of comments, or if you have been playing around with plugins, the database tables can turn into a mess pretty quickly and that really affects the performance.

    Reply

  4. lesley ) says: 9/9/2010

    Thank you so much for this post. I have fllen into exactly the trap you described, I’ve been playing with lots of lovely plugins and they have made my site just a bit slow. Hopefully I’ll now be able to fix it!

    Reply

  5. Jmaster says: 12/26/2010

    There’s a nice tool to check your site for problems with performance
    http://siteloadtest.com

    Reply