Our Site Speed Optimization Process
We have been providing site speed optimization for several years here at iMark Interactive. It was one of our most popular services and even pushed us to develop a DIY site speed course which has become quite popular.
We did so many site speed projects that at one point I forgot about how to do anything else, but back in February of 2021, we had to put a pause on most services due to overwhelming demand. You can read more about that decision here.
Update! We are offering site speed optimization again for those who are willing to follow the process outlined here. We get the best results when all elements are working together for you, not against you.
Our Old Process
Before Google announced core web vitals back in May of 2020, most people were focused purely on getting better scores in Google’s page speed insights tool (PSI). This free tool gave an overall “score” that helped you understand how your site might be doing in a simulated environment based on best practices. This score didn’t actually mean your site was fast or slow and it often caused people to chase the wrong metrics. We tried to teach when we did the work, but found out that most still wanted that score to be high.
So our work consisted of trying to get that score as high as we could without causing the site owner to have to make a lot of changes. We started out in our site speed quest in 2018 when we opened up the speed option of our service. Then we focused on trying to provide best practices with audits and teaching people about plugins, themes, etc. While this was a good idea, it was met with much resistance. The reason is many don’t like change, let alone big ones.
Getting your site speed better often required a site owner to make drastic changes with regards to plugins, themes, fonts, services, hosting, etc. It was a lot to take in.
We did this for some time, even into 2020 after core web vitals were announced, but once we learned more about those metrics, we realized it was time to change how we did our work.
Our New Process
Since the time we paused services, we were able to focus mainly on a new process for site speed. One that takes the data we have gathered over thousands of optimizations and the techniques we created and used since. So, here is how we focus on site speed now and if you aren’t willing to make these changes, we aren’t a good fit for your site speed project when we open up fully again.
Step 1 – Plugin audit
This is an important step and one we did before, but now we make more recommendations on what you can do away with and what you can replace. We also tell you which ones are impacting you the most. While you don’t have to get rid of ones you don’t want to, at least you will know the impact of them.
One of the biggest impacts of speed is the use of page builders like Elementor, Divi (which is also a theme), and others. Page builders add a lot of extra code and unnecessary scripts causing delays. While you can optimize these, we have found it’s better to get rid of them and use the default Gutenberg editor from WordPress.
We will no longer optimize sites using page builders. We’d recommend taking the time to get rid of these and move to Gutenberg. The speed impact is often immediate.
If you are working on your site speed and just want a plugin audit, you can order that service right here.
Step 2 – Theme Impact
This is a big one and one that should be taken very seriously. Most themes are just not coded well. It’s true. You might love the look of your theme, but that doesn’t mean it’s optimized for speed and coding quality. Most fancy looking themes are terrible and don’t help you.
If you don’t have a good theme, we are going to suggest moving to one that is. This often has the greatest impact in overall speed than anything else. The reason is you now have a good and fast foundation to build off of.
You often see the greatest ROI in doing a theme change coupled with speed optimization (what we provide when we do our theme change service) because you can get off the ground with a well coded theme which can be optimized really well.
If you have a slow/poorly coded theme and don’t want to change, you will have to settle for poor speed. The only way to get around it is by hacking code to make things run better (in testing at least) but this is not sustainable and requires a lot of constant maintenance.
Themes we suggest to people are only a few and the reason is we find they provide the best of quality, speed, and customizations. They are:
- GeneratePress (free but with a paid upgrade)
- Kadence (free but with a paid upgrade) – our site runs on this theme
- Blocksy (free but with paid upgrade)
- Feast Design Plugin (you get access to all of their Genesis child theme options)
Yep, that’s it. These four setups. While we used to use Astra, we found they ended up just copying features from Kadence and others and were behind on a of things. They often push out updates before they are tested well enough as well. It is fast though, but I try to steer clear of it now.
If you want our help with a theme change, please contact us for a quote.
Step 3 – Optimization
Here we start to do the work on optimizing assets after a theme change if you need it. If you have a great theme already, we skip step 2 and move here.
We use WPRocket for almost all sites we work on. The reason is it’s so easy to use and they do a good job with features. Is it perfect? No. It just doesn’t need a rocket scientist to set it up and that’s why we like to provide it for our customers so they have better controls over things.
This step can often take the most work as you have to make changes, test, tweak, test, tweak, test, and on and on. It’s a constant game of little changes to optimize the theme more if needed, plugins, etc.
We also focus on image optimization since it’s a big one for people. So many upload huge images to their WordPress site and it’s a problem if they want to have good speed. The goal is to get the image file size down to 150kb or less while keeping the images in good condition. We often use and suggest the ShortPixel plugin for images that need to be optimized after already being uploaded.
If you don’t want to pay for this plugin (it’s worth it), you can also just use their free online compression tool to run your images through before uploading into WordPress. Either way, we want to get those image files sizes down to 150kb or less.
Step 4 – Education
Here is the big one and what we hope works best for most. While we are doing the speed work, we try to educate our customers on why we are doing this and that. We also try to make sure they understand about how site speed testing works, what’s the goal, etc.
We also try to make sure people are aware that using things like Google fonts and custom fonts do have an impact on speed and core web vitals. We do not recommend these and fully recommend using system fonts. The reason is people are used to them and they load instantly (as they are already installed on the reader’s browser). It’s the best of both worlds.
The misconception that site owners have to get over is that your readers care about your font selection. News flash…they do not. Readers want to be able to read your content so all you need is a legible and large enough font. System fonts do that for you. Only site owners care about their font selection, but readers just do not care. You have to get over this concept to move forward with speed and usability.
Speed End Goals
This process doesn’t have a lot of steps, but what’s in each takes some time. The end goal of site speed optimization is to have a site that is fast to load for the readers and gets the content to them as easily as possible. While Google does use site speed as a ranking factor, it’s small and only a tie breaker. Don’t let others tell you that site speed is extremely important. It is not. It’s great for user experience, but not a big factor in Google. Speed will never outweigh great content. Sorry…
We don’t focus on site speed scores either. They mean nothing. You getting a 90+ in page speed insights means nothing. We want to focus on a well optimized site that is getting close or passing core web vitals. That’s the goal. If you focus on the overall score, you will go down a rabbit hole that is hard to get out of.
You need to break the mindset that this score matters. It never has and never will. It’s not used by anything. It takes lab data in Google’s PSI test, which is simulated, and creates a score based on best practices. You use this tool to see where your opportunities are, not what your score is.
Score chasing never has a good return on investment (ROI).
This is our basic site speed optimization service. The reason why we went this route was because we found that focusing on better themes, better plugins, and education resulted in customer’s knowing more about the process, seeing consistent results, and then being able to focus on content creation inside of optimization.
And we teach all of this, plus more in our site speed course if you are interested in learning how to DIY speed. It is possible and we have many student who have done it.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready to get your site running faster with cleaner code and less plugins, please contact us below and we can get you in the queue. Since each site is different, we will check over your site and give you a quote.