TL;DR: In this article, we cover the upsides and downsides of the Google PageSpeed Module, the W3 Total Cache Pro plugin (for WordPress-based websites), along with a brief explanation of some basic performance tests conducted via the WebPagetest.org website.


In the article entitled “ On Page SEO Checklist 2018 : A Comprehensive Guide on ‘How To Make Your Website SEO Friendly’” two of the nine numbered items pertain to website page load performance. Put in simple terms: people and search engine crawlers prefer to not wait around for your server to respond to a request for content. People won’t wait and the website will end up with a high bounce rate and that means no visitors for you; search engines may assume the website is experiencing heavy traffic and back off. A slow website will frustrate visitors and they’ll eventually spend their valuable time elsewhere.

There are a multitude of content management systems (CMS) available however the focus for this series of articles is on WordPress, which powers around ~ 27% of the Internet.

Factors that can impact website page load times

Several factors can slow down a website and, as a precondition, we’ll assume that the connection between the server and the Internet is fast enough and that the server itself doesn’t have any issues. We are then left to focus on WordPress and either the NGINX or Apache web servers (others won’t be covered). In WordPress the plugins, JavaScript, CSS, and images will all impact the load time for a page; embedded videos can impact the load time for a page as well.

There isn’t much that can be done with the plugins aside from using only the minimum set of high-quality, required plugins. If a plugin results in a slow website, so much so that this appears on the performance radar, then it likely needs to be removed or the performance issue(s) need(s) to be resolved by modifying the code directly and that may not be possible if the plugin is proprietary, nor is this a good engineering practice.

The following two tools used in tandem should improve WordPress performance considerably in most cases: Google PageSpeed Module (GPSM) and the W3 Total Cache Pro plugin (W3TC) — we will take a look at several benefits and drawbacks in the following sections.

Google PageSpeed Module for Apache & NGINX: Upsides

  • GPSM can optimize images on-the-fly and supports the webp image format — this is a significant benefit for websites that have many existing images.
  • GPSM is open-source software and can be found on GitHub.
  • GPSM is developed and maintained by Google for the purposes of improving website performance.
  • GPSM works with both the Apache and NGINX web servers.
  • GPSM can optimize CSS, JavaScript, etc.

Google PageSpeed Module for Apache & NGINX: Downsides

  • GPSM requires direct access to the server or VM.
  • GPSM is not easy or straightforward to set up.
  • GPSM requires repeat testing (see WebPagetest.org, for example) to ensure that changes to settings are having the desired effect.

W3 Total Cache Pro plugin for WordPress: Upsides

W3 Total Cache Pro plugin for WordPress: Downsides

  • W3TC Pro requires a license.
  • W3TC is not exactly easy or straightforward to set up.
  • W3TC requires repeat testing (see WebPagetest.org, for example) to ensure that changes are having the desired effect.

Test page load times with WebPagetest.org

In this section, we demonstrate how to use the WebPagetest.org website to test changes made to a WordPress website that is using both W3 Total Cache and Google PageSpeed.

The image below (SEO_CS_2_WPT_1.png) includes pointers to two concerns: the grade at the top right, in green, indicates some important performance considerations which are enabled and work well. The blue arrow points to the page load time, which should be lower once performance improvements have been implemented.

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In the image below (SEO_CS_2_WPT_2) we observe that images are returned in webp format and that these images are also served via the CDN.

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See also: Assess Your Website Performance in under Ten Minutes

Conclusion

A multitude of methods exist to help improve website performance so if you know of alternative solutions and feel like sharing them, please add your thoughts to the comments section below and we can discuss them — include your performance before and after too if you have them.

Finally, Amazon Web Services has a number of options for deploying a WordPress website which I’d like to try eventually — if you’ve been down this path already, add a comment explaining what you used and what the performance metrics look like.


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See Also

1.) Google explains what “crawl budget” means for webmasters
2.) Website Performance and the Crawl Budget
3.) Learn How To Speed Up WordPress Site Like A Pro [COMPLETE GUIDE][2019 Edition]
4.) Crawl budget explained
5.) SEMRush Audit your site!
6.) WPMU DEV WP-Checkup
7.) Average Page Load Times for 2018 — How does yours compare?
8.) Image SEO — Search Engine Optimization Tool for and through images

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