Images and photos, we all love them. Especially if you are a blogger and want your posts to be noticed on social media.
Whether it’s funny #FAIL photos, pictures of our family, or maybe photos of our favorite recipe or vacation spot, we love to share them with others. And recent trends in social media are showing that sharing photos and images is a great way to make sure that your blog posts are getting traffic.
However, the more images you include in your blog post, the slower your page load times can be, and the longer your visitors will have to wait to enjoy the content. Additionally, Google penalizes slow-loading websites and blogs by not ranking them as high as those that load quickly.
Sure, there are definitely housekeeping activities, you can do to tighten up your content, but that will only get you so far. So, this leaves bloggers with a challenge.
How do you continue to include great images while ensuring that your posts load as quickly has possible?
Three simple words (OK…one of them is a acronym but you know what I mean):
If you aren’t crunching and caching your images and storing them on a Content Delivery Networks (CDN), you aren’t getting the absolute fastest speed out of your site.
These three technologies, working in combination with each can ensure that you are reducing image size, minimizing the server resources required to display the images, and rendering them from the fastest servers possible.
So how do you take advantage of these 3 options? Through WordPress plugins, of course!
NOTE: As always, before you make any major changes to your WordPress site, you should take a full backup of all your files and databases. In this case, you’ll be making changes to both so you want to make sure you have a full backup of your site just in case something doesn’t go as expected. Also, be sure you completely understand what it means to restore from a backup in case you need to.
The term “crunch” refers to optimizing your images so they are as small as possible and sized for the appropriate screen, while maintaining the best resolution for the Web. You want people to enjoy your photos, but you don’t want their file size to slow down your page load times.
PRO TIP: If you are uploading your files at their native resolution and file size, you are potentially taking up a lot of unnecessary space on your server that you might be paying for. If you have unlimited file storage with your hosting plan, that might be okay, but if you have storage limitations on your account, you need to not only optimize your files using the method below, but remove the original high-resolution file.
To crunch your photos simply download and install the EWWW Image Optimizer plugin and let it strip out all the useless metadata that is stored in each image file that bloats the file size and slows down your pages.
The plugin also offers a bulk image optimizer option that allows you to optimize the images that you have already uploaded into your media gallery. After installing the plugin, just choose Media > Bulk Optimize from your WordPress menu and it should kick off the process.It's possible that your images are the single biggest reason that your blog is slow and not getting rewarded by Google. Do you know how to fix that? Click To Tweet
If you run into any issues with the Bulk Optimize process, you can optimize from your Media Library, 20 images at a time. Just click Media on your WordPress menu and then check the box to select all items and then choose “Bulk Optimize” from the Bulk Actions drop down menu.
Depending on the file type that you use and the size of the images that you upload, you may see a significant reduction in file size, saving you space on your server and reducing the load times for your pages.
In some cases, I saw a 20% reduction in the file size for each image.
The second step to speeding up your blog is to make sure that your pages (and the images in them) are being cached and the plugin I like the most for this is WP-Super Cache. The way caching works is the pretty cool.
The first time someone visits your page (and periodically thereafter), the plugin creates a very lightweight HTML version of your page and stores it in the cache. The visitors that come along after the HTML version is created are shown that version.
That means your server doesn’t have to make database calls to get the content, which not only renders the pages faster, but also reduces the load on your server. With fewer database calls, the result is significantly faster page load times, which your users will like and the Google algorithm will reward.
What I really like about WP-Super Cache is that you can truly install it, turn caching on, and forget it. It does all the work for you.If you are caching your WordPress blog, then you aren't taking advantage of speed enhancements that will help you in your Google rankings. Click To Tweet
For those that like to have full control over their cache tuning, there are a lot of settings to customize if you want to tweak and tune your page load times, but going with the initial recommend settings will immediately get you better speeds.
If WP-Super Cache isn’t your cup of tea, you can also check out W3 Total Cache, another highly-rated plugin that I have also used with great success.
3. Content Delivery Network (CDN)
So, what is a Content Delivery Network or CDN? Think of it as a network of servers all over the world that make sure that the server closest to the visitor is serving up the files they request. That way, a visitor from San Francisco isn’t waiting on a server located in New Jersey (or Paris for that matter).
The closer the server, the faster the load times. The faster the load times, the happier your visitor and Google is. Additionally, CDN servers are optimized to serve images more quickly that traditional web servers. The special tuning of these media servers ensures that they images, video, or audio are loaded to your users as quickly as possible.
To minimize wait times for a piece if content like a photo or video, a Content Delivery Network also replicates your files across multiple servers so that the visitor from San Francisco can receive files from a server in San Jose. This means that it will take significantly less time for the files to load, speeding up your blog or website.
Until now, the challenge with CDNs is that they were expensive. Maintaining multiple server farms is not a cheap undertaking, so using a CDN for your blog could have cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each month, depending on your traffic.
But as server and infrastructure costs have dropped, so has the cost of hosting on a CDN. In fact, some companies like CloudFlare have even started offering a free package.
On top of the fact that CloudFlare has both free and paid options, they also offer a CloudFlare WordPress plugin to help you configure CloudFlare and they have an active presence on WordPress support, helping those that have questions about configuring the plugin.
So how well does it work? Here’s how my blog performed with WP-Super Cache turned on without CloudFlare enabled:
and here’s how it performed after CloudFlare free was enabled.
Let’s see…with just WP-Super Cache turned on, my home page was loading in around 2.05 seconds. I’m actually pretty happy with that number and it’s one of the reasons that I like my host, which is SiteGround.
Additionally, my theme, which is built on the Genesis framework keeps my load times low by ensuring that the theme code is streamlined. Finally, as I mentioned, WP-Super Cache caches my files and speeds up the native WordPress load times significantly.
But just by enabling CloudFlare, however, my page load time went from 2.05 seconds to 1.38 seconds. For those (like me) who aren’t math majors, that’s a 32% decrease in load time.
I’d say that’s a pretty significant increase in performance just by taking one extra configuration step.Just this one step enabled me to reduce the home page load time for my blog by 32% - No Joke! Click To Tweet
Bonus “C” – Consider
While the 3 C’s above can help any blog decrease load time and increase speed, there are a couple other elements that you might want to consider when working toward speeding up your blog: Your theme and your plugins.
If you are running an old, out-of-date theme you might consider updating your site to a new lightweight theme. Personally, I use the Genesis framework on my blog and it’s outstanding as a mobile responsive theme and is lightweight enough that it loads quickly both on the desktop and on mobile devices.
The other thing to consider is the number of plugins you use to run your blog. More plugins means more code to load, which means slower load times. Do an analysis of all of the plugins that you are running and categorize them into critical, necessary, and useful categories.
If a plugin doesn’t fall in the critical or necessary categories, find a way to ditch it. Even if it falls in the necessary category, consider whether you really need that plugin. The more plugins you can deactivate and delete, the faster your blog will load.
So there you have it! 3 Cs and one bonus that will help you get the most out of your content.
I’d love to hear additional Cs (or any other letters) that you think might help, as well. Also, feel free to share any experiences that you have with any of these plugins/services.