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.
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 runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.