How to Speed-up your Website and Improve Page Load Speed

Page load speed is essential for ranking a website. While Google uses many factors to display search engine results, it is considered among the most important one. In fact, after a million keywords data research, here’s how website speed impacts rankings:

page load time as a ranking factor

Although this data represent median time for all keywords and not just particularly one keyword, it still shows how connected page-load speed and rankings are. It makes sense, though. Slow website will also correspond with poor user experience and higher bounce rate.

What You Will Learn

How to Improve Page Load Speed.
What are Cloudflare and W3 Total Cache.
How to Setup Cloudflare properly (and go with the HTTPS).
How to Setup W3 Total Cache properly.
Configuring Cloudflare with W3 Total Cache.

Although I always recommend WordPress for a business website or blog, it might not always be the best move. Thing is, you’re way top depended from a particular theme. Its design and functionalities can be sometimes bad-coded and slow your website a lot.

Besides, you have the plugins. Each addon additionally overload the processing time, adding more JavaScript and CSS for the server to process.

When I launched my website, I have installed few plugins that were supposed to make my website look better and help me gather subscribers. When I first tested the page-load speed for my primary URL, what a sight that was.

It turned out that one of the plugins was causing the problem, but still it was a bad sign. I have immediately contacted my hosting provider to transfer me to to different server (and they did). So things started to look a little bit differently.

Still not the performances I needed. A blog like mine (the niche, I mean) should have a maximum page load speed of three seconds. Below two if I was willing to rank anything. Otherwise, this blog – it’s just a typing exercise.

How to Reduce Page Load Time

I have pointed the fact that you need a good hosting to start optimizing for the perfect load time. But when it comes to WordPress, that won’t be enough. What you need is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that caches content, all over its edge locations.

Cloudflare is a such CDN that also provides Internet Security and DDoS reduction. It has the highest exchange points of all other networks worldwide. But let’s not get technical here. The important thing is that it can really fasten your website.

Here’s how Cloudflare improved my website speed after I added it to their CDN:

My website after I added it to Cloudflare.

Once we setup Cloudflare, we have to increase website performance. And we can do that by caching it. Personally I prefer a WordPress plugin called W3 Total Cache, which integrates perfectly with Cloudflare.

How to Setup Cloudflare with HTTPS

First thing’s first. Register on their website, insert your root domain name and go for the free plan. When it successfully scans your DNS records, you should change the existing nameservers with the ones given from Cloudflare’s.

The process is really straight-forward. Besides, you have the procedure explained along the way. Just to let you know, it might take 24 hours for the changes to take effect.

Next step is to switch our website from http to https. Why? Because it’s safer, more secured, Google loves it and they consider it a ranking signal.

Adopting HTTPS requires an “Active certificate” from Cloudflare that will be available from 24 to 48 hours after you set up your website on Cloudflare.

You will need two plugins installed and activated on your website. First is “Cloudflare”, which grants you access to most of the Cloudflare settings. The second is “Cloudflare Flexible SSL”, which stops the redirect loops that might occur during the process.

Once you have activated the Cloudflare plugin with your API key, click on the “Automatic HTTPS Rewrites” button.

On your WordPress website, navigate to Setting -> General. Change your WordPress URL Address by replacing http with https.

In addition, navigate to Cloudflare settings. Under the “Page Rules” tab, click on the “Create Page Rule” button. Add “Always Use HTTPS” for “http://(www.)yourdomain.com/*” and click on the “Save and Deploy” button. The * is a regular expression character that creates dynamic patterns, matching all URLs that fall under your domain.

Pro tip: Make sure everything will redirect properly to HTTPS. On your Cloudflare account, go over to the Crypto tab. Switch “Always use HTTPS” and “Automatic HTTPS Rewrites” to ON.

Install and Configure W3 Total Cache WordPress Plugin

This is the most important step in optimizing page load speed. What this plugin does is, it reduces download time by minifying file size and caching website content. So, install it, activate it and let’s start configuring it.

I will cover only the most important settings, the essentials that will significantly improve the speed of your website. All the settings I won’t cover are probably better by default and is OK to leave it as it is. You might want to dig deeper and put a cherry on top, but it will only be a minor change with a little (or no) effect.

We will begin with the General Settings. These are the settings you need to modify:

  • Page cache: Click to Enable.
  • Page cache method: Choose “Disk: Enhanced”.
  • Database Cache: Tick to Enable.
  • Database Cache Method: Choose “Disk”.
  • Object Cache: Tick to Enable.
  • Object Cache Method: Select “Disk”.
  • Browser Cache: Tick the box to Enable.

Everything else leave as it is.

W3 Total Cache Advanced Settings

After we’ve selected what we want to optimize, it’s time to setup one by one.

Page Cache

Under General settings in “Page Cache” tab, make these changes:

  • Cache Posts Page: Click to Enable.
  • Don’t cache front page: Tick to Disable.
  • Cache SSL (HTTPS) requests — Enable (I suppose you followed the tutorial and you use SSL).

Everything else leave as it is. Under Cache Preload, choose:

  • Update interval: 900 seconds.
  • Pages per interval: 15 seconds.

Under Purge Policy: Page Cache, select Front Page, Posts Page and Blog feed. Everything else is good. With that, we are finished with “Page Cache”.

Browser Cache

I have jumped immediately to “Browser Cache” because there are no changes required in between. So just leave them as they are. In Browser Cache tab, under General setup:

  • Set Last-Modified header: Click to Enable.
  • Set expires header: Click to Enable.
  • Set cache control header: Click to Enable.
  • Set entity tag (eTag): Click to Enable.
  • Set W3 Total Cache header: Click to Enable.

Same goes under CSS & JS, HTML and Media & Other Files:

  • Set Last-Modified header: Click to Enable.
  • Set expires header: Click to Enable.
  • Expires header lifetime (Only for the HTML section): Change it to 6000 seconds.
  • Set cache control header: Click to Enable.
  • Set entity tag (eTag): Click to Enable.
  • Set W3 Total Cache header: Click to Enable.

And we’re good for now. Save the settings and if you want to see the difference, go and test your website. Believe me, you’ll be amazed from the speed difference before and after we’ve setup the plugin.

Configure W3 Total Cache with Cloudflare

At this point, I assume your website is successfully added on Cloudflare and W3 Total Cache is well set-up. To configure Cloudflare with W3 Total Cache, active it under the Extensions tab.

Once you activate it, click on the Settings option. Authorize your website with your Cloudflare API. After successful authorization, under Content Processing modify these settings:

  • Rocked Loader: Change to “On (automatically run on the JavaScript resources on your site)”.
  • Minify JS: Tick to Enable.
  • Minify CSS: Tick to Enable.
  • Minify HTML: Tick to Enable.

Under Cloudflare: Protection, change:

  • Security level: Low

Save CloudFlare settings and with that, you’re all done. You can probably go around each setting and try to modify it in way it best fits your website needs. Probably you will reduce page load time even more. Sometimes your site will crush. It’s up to you to take the chances.

Let’s Wrap It Up!

Page-load speed in an important ranking factor. Besides, Google emphasizes websites that have a short page load time. Especially if loading time is below 3 seconds. Cloudflare and properly configured W3 Total Cache can significantly reduce website loading time. Moreover, we have learn to:

  • Setup Cloudflare properly.
  • Make your website HTTPS – People trust it, it is more secure and Google sees it as a positive ranking factor
  • Setup W3 Total Cache in a best and easy way possible.

What is your page-load time? Are you eager to reduce it? Would be happy to hear your opinions.

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