An Exhaustive Journey to Website Performance and Speed

So you should know that these days, website performance and website speed (time to load) is important and helps with search engine placement, not to mention user satisfaction. Honestly, you really only have a few seconds of someone’s attention before they get frustrated and click the back button.

I’ve been obsessed with website speed lately, trying to get the highest possible rating from sites like Google Pagespeed and GTMetrix. So decided to do a little test to see what exactly causes website performance degradation.

I have a test server, hosted with Media Temple, using the domain I started with a simple HTML5 document with one H1 tag with a link to my site Testing that with GTMetrix gets a score of A (100%). Of course; no surprises there since there’s nothing there.

So then I grabbed a fresh clean installation of WordPress and loaded that up with nothing enabled (i.e. didn’t touch any of the settings once it was installed — no extra plugins, nothing). The only thing I did was import the set of duty data from WPTEST.IO so that there’d be something in the database and pages for GTMetrix to actually analyze.

I was curious about what a fresh vanilla install of WordPress running the default TwentySeventeen theme gets from GTMetrix. There were two tests done. The first is with WordPress configured out of the box having the home page be the blog. The second is the home page configured to be a Page with the blog being a sub-page.

The results were surprising. See the second and third screenshots. Of course, if you did this on a different server than Media Temple your mileage may vary

Keep in mind there is no CDN (content delivery network) set up, nor is there any caching plugin installed.

The third test — the one with the blog as a sub-page — loads slightly faster of course since there’s less content on the home page to load. But the poor performance grades and related “to-do items” to fix are essentially the same.

So these tests are with the default WordPress theme — TwentySeventeen. It’s a nice theme, but what if I stripped out all the styles and javascript and simply loaded the site with raw unsettled text and images? It turns out the TwentySeventeen theme is loaded with styles and javascript and if you’re not using a CDN or caching plugin will result in a slow site. Removing all those items resulted in the score jumping back to an A (92%) and B (87%).

That curiosity satisfied me, I switched all the styles and javascript back on and installed the WP Rocket caching plugin. They tell me that this plugin is the best caching plugin available for WordPress. Once configured, and the cache cleared then reloaded, I tested the site again using GTMetrix. Check out the full screenshot now.

Keep in mind that I installed the base theme and only imported the test content from WPTEST.IO so no images were optimized. Still, WP Rocket took the site from C (79%) and D (64%) to A (93%) and A (93%).

So this is all well and good, but what if I want to use my theme? For my clients, I typically create a custom site for their brand using the WPBeaver Page Builder plugin and corresponding theme. So I installed both of those, configured them, and retested them using GTMetrix.

I did not configure anything specific from out-of-the-box functionality for either the plugin or theme. Wow, the score actually went up one percentage point in YSlow. So the score is now A (93%) and A (94%). Great! But… there are no plugins activated other than the WP Beaver Builder page builder.

Okay, let’s go down THAT road…

Typical plugins installed on a typical WordPress-based site include JetPack and Akismet. Let’s start with those two. I installed and activated the recommended settings for JetPack, not touching anything else.

Install tests? Not bad at all. Still respectable at A (99%) and B (86%). The B is a result of no CDN activated. I can only assume this wasn’t an issue before JetPack being installed was the fact that JetPack adds so many javascript functions that a CDN would benefit the site.

Going down the plugin route and testing each one I use for client projects would be too long of a post, but suffice it to say that WP Rocket does an excellent job of optimizing WordPress-powered websites.

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