When it comes to SEO, things can get daunting pretty quickly. I mean, there is so much to it. Technical setup, on page SEO, links, anchor text, relevance, intent, LSI keywords – and that’s just the beginning.
So, if I were to appear as a guest on this blog, and try to give you one thing you can implement right now on your site, to get an immediate lasting SEO boost, what would that be?
And who am I, anyway?
My name is Alejandro Meyerhans and I manage over 20 money sites built mostly on organic traffic. I work for HumanProofDesigns.com, a digital marketing agency specialized in affiliate marketing, that provides SEO services as well as building affiliate sites for other people.
And there is one first thing we do for any new SEO client or when we buy a website or partner with someone. It’s not analyzing the content to see if there’s cannibalization. It’s not building links or publishing more content. It’s much simpler than that and it matters a lot more. After this step we do everything else.
We make their sites fast.
I bet you know where I’m going right now. The number one thing you can do to improve your performance on Google today is making your site fast.
And as you continue to read, I’m going to explain the easiest, most effective way to do this. I want to give you something that hopefully takes less than an hour of work, even if you barely understand WordPress. You can implement this as soon as you finish reading this material. Let’s start with this 3-step process:
1. Audit your plugins
I’m always surprised when I log in for the first time on a new site, be it a partner’s, a client’s or an acquired website, and see it has dozens and dozens of plugins installed. Half of them inactive, the other half redundant.
Plugins are nice, they give your site fancy functions. Social media sharing buttons, exit intent popups, heatmaps – whatever it is you want to do, there is a plugin you can use for it.
But do you need all those features? Do you need two different plugins for analytics, two to insert custom header codes (when you can do that in many other ways), three plugins to “Optimize speed” that aren’t properly configured, one plugin for YouTube? – seriously, it’s not 2011, just embed the thing.
Now, don’t fret if that’s you. There is a way you can sort through all of these.
Make a list of every single plugin in your site (active or not) and write by its side what you do with it. Then do a bad cop exercise and ask each plugin the following questions:
1. What do I use you for?
2. Is there a lighter plugin I can use for the same purpose?
3. Is there a more up-to-date plugin I can use for the same purpose?
4. Do I need your function for my site or am I using you because “it looks nice”?
5. Do you come with countless bells and whistles I’m not actually using?
Typical examples that will fail the above interrogation are Jetpack (has a million functions, most of them useless, it’s super heavy, can be replaced in a million better ways), W3TC (it’s super-outdated, hard to configure, and doesn’t work nearly as good as other cache solutions. See step #3 to find out what I recommend instead) and most social share plugins (like Sumo.me, which comes with a bajillion things people don’t use).
I only recommend three plugins for that:
– Social warfare
– Sassy social share
– Monarch (paid)
Now you can start cleaning up!
2. Optimize your images
Once we’ve gotten rid of all those extra plugins that slow us down and potentially crash each other, it’s time to tackle the second heaviest contender of the day – images.
And again, another field where I’m surprised all the time. I see people uploading 2000x1400px PNG images for a two-column layout on WordPress and that stuff renders like a website from 2001.
In 2018, nobody likes a site where images load slowly. Let’s bear in mind most web traffic is mobile, and not everyone is using blazing fast connections with unlimited data on their phones.
After testing every single image compression plugin out here, here at HPD, we’ve chosen ShortPixel for all our websites and the sites of our clients.
I personally recommend optimizing everything with Lossy with a max. width or height of 1024px, unless you are in a niche where the high quality of images is mandatory (for example, a photography website) – then you need fine-tuning (and here is where Glossy comes into play – a compression method calibrated for the photographer’s needs).
With ShortPixel, we’ve massively reduced the number of requests and seconds to load on numerous sites.
3. Cache for caching
You want to make money with your site, right? Have you ever wondered how much an extra second of load time is costing you when it comes to sales? (or display ads revenue or affiliate commissions, I don’t care how you make money, reality is you’ll make less of it on a slow site, period)
Here’s how much money you’re leaving on the table:
On the above infographic (courtesy of Skilled) we see the massive difference in conversions a single second makes (up to 7%).
Also, did you see that “smartphone users expect pages to load in 4 seconds or less” line? That’s from early 2017. We are talking 2 to 3 seconds now.
So, what’s the next big thing you can do on your site to improve speed and increase the revenue?
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a cached page is just the “pre-loaded” copy of the page the server will serve to the visitor when he/she tries to access your site. Otherwise, the server needs to put all the pieces together, send them to the browser, the browser will make sense of it all and serve a page. This is still a fast process, but without cache there are no magical under one second load speeds (unless your site is just plain text on HTML but then you wouldn’t be reading this).
So, how do we implement cache on our WordPress sites in an efficient, easy and fast way?
I could go on forever on why I believe this is the best cache plugin, much better than W3TC, WP Cache, Super Cache, or any other solution out there. But for the sake of toning down the nerding, I won’t.
In fact, it’s not my favorite because of pure cache. To be honest, WP Super Cache might be a tiny bit faster just on cache. But we are talking about getting CSS, JS and HTML minification capabilities with one click with WP Rocket and this is what matters to me (and, also, many other options).
Do test that thoroughly though. I suggest you tick one box at a time in the File Optimization section, and then clear the cache, open in incognito and ensure everything works. If the site looks broken at any time, simply uncheck the last box and flush cache again.
This is another reason we clean the plugin section first. The fewer plugins that can potentially mess with the CSS or HTML files, the better.
4. Extra mile
So, technically speaking, if you’ve completed all the three steps above, your site will look sexy when you run it through https://tools.pingdom.com/ or https://gtmetrix.com/, especially compared to how it was before.
Now, you could go the extra mile and get a better, faster hosting.
Or add the WP Disable (from optimisation.io) plugin and disable pretty much everything on WordPress besides the things you know you are using.
You could add Cloudflare’s free CDN (super-easy integration with ShortPixel and WP Rocket too), disable Google fonts, move to a lighter theme (though that could open a whole ‘nother can of worms) and start going through all of your links to ensure there are no links pointing to dead or redirected pages.
And all that will help. Especially choosing a better hosting, if you can afford it. But let’s say you don’t do any of those. You only do the three things we talked about in this post. Then you have effectively mastered the art of speeding sites in a Pareto way (where 20% of the work will yield 80% of the improvements).
Site speed is capital. It doesn’t only affect your SEO but also your UX and overall branding. It was one of the most in vogue topics in one of the hottest SEO conferences on Earth this year.
And it will just become increasingly important. You can quote me on that one.
Hence, I hope I left you faster than I met you and that you continue to improve your sites using ShortPixel and the other resources mentioned above.