Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

My Unconventional Website Speed Experiment Following Steve Teare’s Methods at PagePipe.com (Results)


Scorched Earth Website Design
Scorched Earth approach to website speed.

Recently I fell head-first down the rabbit hole pursuing faster website load times.

I’m not a techie. I still have to ask Kinsta for help when launching a new site with questions like “where do I point the DNS to?”

You’d think after launching dozens (or hundreds) of WordPress sites I’d have this figured out by now, but I don’t.

The worst days of my life are when I have to access files via SFTP via Cyberduck.

How did I end up in this rabbit hole?

I was investigating infinite scroll (something I’ve never deployed but am tempted to try).  I discovered Bimber theme (looks good) and ended up on Steve Teare’s site called PagePipe.com.

I immediately liked what Steve was talking about.

He’s a no BS guy.  He’s unconventional but everything he does is based on testing; not regurgitation of what 50 other bloggers blather on about.

Anyway, Steve for some reason wrote a review on Bimber theme.  He doesn’t write many theme reviews so it was destiny I ended up on his site which I ended up reading in its entirety.  Yup, I read every article.  I then bought every ebook he sells (in the bundle).

In the Bimber review he had made a few references to site speed stuff, which I wasn’t even thinking about at the time.  He made some off-the-cuff remark about how Yoast SEO plugin is horrible for site speed.

He took it further, which is almost heretical in the blogging world that we don’t need SEO plugins.  WTF?

How dare he?  SEO plugins are sacrosanct, aren’t they? I was led to believe they are.  So much so I hand over a lot of money to Yoast every year.

Steve told me I was throwing my money away while hurting my site speed.

He makes many other bold, against-the-grain statements such as:

  • CDNs are useless if you set up your site right.  In fact, they hurt site speed;
  • Cheap shared hosting is more than adequate… if you set your site up right;
  • Pagespeed scores are meaningless; what matters is how long an entire web page loads (makes sense to me);
  • Pop up forms, especially OptinMonster are particular resource hogs on every page of a site (I guess I’ll have to rethink the popups around here);
  • Contact Form 7 is not good for your site; and
  • The right free WP themes are far superior to any paid theme.

On and on he goes.

Read every article on his site here.

His theory is the more popular a plugin is, the worse it is bloat-wise.

He got my attention with his comments about SEO plugins.

It never occurred to me that they may be unnecessary and in fact hurt a site.

Steve’s aim is to get sites to load in under 2 seconds on mobile.  When he really goes nuts, he gets them sub 1 second.

He uses only free themes and plugins with low cost shared hosting.

What a novel approach.

Me being me, I just had to test his theory.

Fortunately, I have a handful of smaller sites that if the fit hits the shan, it won’t affect me.

I cleared my schedule one day recently and methodically implemented as many of Steve’s recommendations as I could.

Before doing so, I did a site speed test on the site.

The URL I ran site speed on took 10.6 seconds to load.  It’s a long post with 40 images.  I intentionally chose a post with many images.  Yes, this site is monetized with a ton of ads via Ezoic.

Here’s what I did which more or less followed Steve’s advice.  I did not follow it precisely. I set out what I did and where I veered from his suggestions.  I wrap this up with my load time after the changes.

1. Changed theme to the free GeneratePress (I’ve been meaning to try this theme just because I’ve heard awesome things and they’re from Vancouver).  Steve prefers Twenty Seventeen, but has high praise for GeneratePress (the free version only).

2. Deleted almost every plugin including Yoast SEO.  And no, I did not replace Yoast.  This site is running naked SEO-wise.  It feels naked.  I’ve never done this.  The site gets over 100 visitors per day.  If traffic plummets, we know SEO plugins matter.  If traffic stays the same (or grows), we know SEO plugins may not be worth it.

3. Added most plugins used by Steve.  I added about 75% of the plugins Steve uses.  I didn’t need all the functionality he uses plus a couple are banned by Kinsta so I passed on those.  Read his site. He reveals the plugins he uses.  His ebooks expand on everything.

Where I didn’t follow Steve:

  • CDN: The site is still running via Cloudflare so I can run Ezoic ads.
  • Ads: The site is monetized with ads. Ads will always slow down a site, but if there are no ads, there’s no revenue.  I think Steve understands.

How long did it take?  About 4 hours.  I didn’t even bother with staging.

That’s it.

It was a pretty simple operation.  Tedious, but simple.

I kept a few plugins that he doesn’t suggest. I’m sure Steve would be appalled, but there are some I absolutely must have.  They include:

  • Remove Featured Image (otherwise two images show up at the top);
  • Ad Inserter plugin:  I have to use something to display ads.
  • Attachment images redirect plugin:  I want to make sure images redirect to their intended post.
  • Insert Amazon Images: The site has quite a few Amazon images embedded with this plugin – I’m not about to remove them.
  • Mammoth .docx converter plugin:  This makes it so easy for my VAs to import .docx files (articles).
  • Q2W3 fixed widget plugin:  I need the sidebar bottom ad to be sticky.
  • Table of Contents Plus: I removed it but I love providing readers a table of contents.
  • Thirsty Affiliates:  I have a aff links in posts with this plugin and I don’t feel like removing them.
  • Images: Steve suggests limiting the number of images.  That’s not my style. I like images so I load ’em up.

One other bit of advice I didn’t follow was removing an SSL certificate.  According to Steve, SSL certs slow sites down as well.  He makes a good point that SSL is really only needed for ecommerce transactions and while I agree, the warning that displays in Chrome for sites without an SSL can’t be good for traffic.  I’m keeping the SSL certificates.

Results:  That test post with 40 images scored a load time of 2.72 seconds.  And that’s with quite a few ads. Talk about serious improvement.  Another post (that I failed to test before), scored a 1.51 second load time.  I used Pingdom.

I gotta hand it to Steve.  His recommendations not only improved the site, but once I deploy his methods across all sites, I’ll save quite a few bucks on paid plugins and themes.

The bad news is my larger sites will require a lot more work to whittle them down like this.  I have all kinds of crap on them for bells and whistles I thought cool but are costing me speed.  Removing all that junk requires a lot of removing shortcodes in posts and making content changes.

I’m also a realist in that running as many ads as I do, I will not likely get below a 2 second load time with every URL.  That’s the price I have to pay to make money.

As for not using Yoast SEO on my higher traffic sites, I’ll wait and see what happens with my guinea pig site before pulling the plug on Yoast on all sites.

What I appreciate about Steve’s methods above all else…

What he suggests is something I can actually do. It’s really about a lean theme and lean plugins.  That’s it.

Ironically, a lot of speed improvement tools are loaded with so many features and settings that they are probably bloated themselves and so complicated I have no clue what to do for fear of white-screening my site.

Not so with Steve’s methods.  Ditch the bloat.  Use lean, single-purpose plugins.  Go with a no bells and whistles theme proven to load fast (Twenty Seventeen and the free Generate Press are two he mentions).  That’s it.

It does, however, require a leap of faith.

Should you apply Steve’s methods?

Give it a shot. You can do it in baby steps.  Get rid of the most egregious speed offenders first and go from there.

Should you dump the SEO plugin?  I did, but then it’s a small site with little to lose.  It gets enough traffic that I’ll notice if rankings tank but not so much that I’ll go hungery if rankings tank.  Your call.

I do admire Steve’s SEO advice which is publish content people want to read.  Write good titles to attract clicks in SERPs.  That’s about it.  Let Google do the rest.

Interestingly, he admits site speed influences search rankings about 1% (pretty much no impact). He argues site speed is about kindness – pleasing visitors.

And no, I’ve not yet applied Steve’s methods to Fat Stacks but one day I will.

Godspeed (Steve’s usual sign-off).

Jon

My Unconventional Website Speed Experiment Following Steve Teare’s Methods at PagePipe.com (Results)

 

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13 thoughts on “My Unconventional Website Speed Experiment Following Steve Teare’s Methods at PagePipe.com (Results)”

  1. Hi,
    Great post. I highly recommend checking out SEOPress plugin from seopress.org
    I stopped using Yoast due to speed & even more importantly they ruined the accessibility of quite a few controls in the plugin and then blamed WP core for the issue – an issue no other plugin was having.
    SEOPress is much lighter, better features and has an unlimited site license which I use.
    It also has an import from Yoast feature so you can switch over in a few seconds if like the plugin.
    Dale.

    Reply
  2. For an accurate test, you need to test speed with adblocker on… Ad creatives are of different size and format which may affect results

    Reply
  3. Interesting, post. Many thanks for sharing, Jon
    Their own site loads fast, but what concerns me a is that pagepipe seems not to be using an SSL certificate.
    When I try to make a secure connection I get a security warning. Are they doing that also for speed?
    Their ebooks-site has a certificate, but it doesn’t load nearly as fast.

    Reply
    • Hey David,
      Yeah, I should mention that as well. Steve says SSL cert slows down a site and they are only necessary for ecommerce transactions. Extreme, yes. I did not remove the SSL cert off my site and doubt I would just because that warning doesn’t exactly attract visitors, but if speed is your objective over all else, the SSL apparently has to go.

      Reply
  4. Great post, and I’m happy to see someone discovering the value of Steve Teare’s recommendations.

    I’ve known Steve for a few years now, and I can attest to the fact that he is a no-baloney guy…tells it like it is…and (one of the best things) is that everything he says is based on his own real experience, not stuff he’s read on other blogs.

    Steve is a one-of-a-kind guy…and even though I don’t agree with a lot of what he says when it comes to the actual look of a website (he prefers barebones), I always carefully consider his speed advice.

    I’ll be interested to see what happens if you apply Steve’s speed techniques to your other websites. Also to see if your Google rankings suffer at all from the lack of an SEO plugin.

    I hope a lot of people will follow the links to Steve’s website, read his posts, and read his e-books…there is *so* much great information. A great way to learn a new way of thinking about WordPress.

    Reply
    • Hey Christian,

      Thanks for commenting. I sure wish I had read Steve years ago. It’s the most sensible info on site speed I’ve ever read. I’m in the process of cleaning up my biggest site to truly whittle that sucker down. It’s going to take a couple of months because I use some bloated plugins for galleries, etc. I have switch out all gallery content into regular posts.

      Reply
  5. Jon- You said:
    “Removing all that junk requires a lot of removing shortcodes in posts and making content changes.”

    Some more speed-salvage creative ideas from PagePipe/Steve Teare:

    Shortcode Lister plugin:
    https://wordpress.org/plugins/shortcode-lister/

    Unused Shortcodes plugin:
    https://wordpress.org/plugins/unused-shortcodes/

    Remove Orphan Shortcodes plugin:
    https://wordpress.org/plugins/remove-orphan-shortcodes/

    All these links above are for freebies from the 55,000 plugin directory. There are probably more plugin helpers for removing and tracking down stray shortcodes. But these will get you started.

    Also Better Search and Replace plugin is useful.
    https://wordpress.org/plugins/better-search-replace/

    Have I used these?
    Absolutely. They work for changing and eradicating obsolete shortcodes. Tested and approved for speed repairs.

    Godspeed-

    Steve Teare
    http://PagePipe.com

    Reply
  6. Hey Jon,
    great article as usual. This time with a lot of actionalble pointers in there.
    I read almost all posts on Steve’s site and then startet to measure and tune mine. Even though I was addicted to speed before and have a few speedy sites, I learned so much.
    Just implementing a few of the ideas mentioned, I shaved 50% off the load time (I am now at 2 seconds when testing from the London GTMetrix server – down to 1 second when using in-country testserver @webpagestest.org). TTFB improved from 1.2 seconds to 0.161 seconds. I will try out a few other of his tuning tips before I finally remove Yoast.
    Let’s hope that UX increases b/c of faster, more responsive site and conversions go up.
    Have a nice day, and thanks again for sharing.
    Tom

    PS: looking forward to a follow up post of yours

    Reply
  7. Hey Jon,
    You should also check out Focus+Thesis . Excellent theme with a focus on speed and simplicity. Their website is one of the best resources for learning the finer points on blogging and wordpress.

    Reply
  8. Hi Jon,

    Nice article.

    Your experiment pretty much mirrors my own – I had read many (not all, like you!) of the articles at PagePipe and also an article by WPJohnny about ditching page-builders and slow themes. With all this extra time on our hands at the moment, I decided to dive in and give it a go! It made quite the difference in speed terms. I will admit that it was relatively straightforward for me, though, as my blog is fairly new so there wasn’t much content to ‘fix’. 🙂

    A couple of points, if I may:
    1. You use a plugin to fix your sidebar ad in place. Couldn’t this be done with some CSS? The guys at GeneratePress helped me to do that for my newsletter sign-up widget.
    2. For your TOC you could also do this yourself using HTML.
    Let me know if you’d like to see the code that I use.

    Reply

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