How to Improve Page Speed Using W3 Total Cache Smush.it and Autoptimize

In this short entry I’m going to show you how you can quickly improve your sites page speed score using the following WordPress plugins

  • W3 Total Cache
  • Smush.it, and
  • Autoptimize

I’m going to keep this short for the following reasons –

  1. This topic is about as exciting as watching a snail crawl over a peanut butter sandwich
  2. I don’t want to muck around and waste your time
  3. No one seems to care too much about page speed until they realise it can affect their rankings in Google

Which brings me to my next point.

Why does page speed matter?

Whenever I sit with clients and start talking about page speed they tend to get this completely disinterested look on their faces like I’m trying to sell them life insurance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I always talk about, (because let’s face it, it’s not a sexy topic) …but I do make a point of mentioning it – especially with clients that ask about hosting. Hosting matters because cheap and crummy hosting often results in less than desirable server response times – or in lamens terms – slow loading pages.

So here it is in simple terms – page speed matters big time because Google has admitted as using it as a ranking signal as part of their algorithm. You can read about it here.

Now I don’t know about you – but if something as simple as how fast your site loads can help bring about better rankings, then I’m going to be all over it. Because unlike other metrics, which can be a bit like SEO witchcraft, page speed is easy to measure. Your site either loads quickly or it doesn’t. Pretty straight forward really.

How do I know how fast my site is now?

Great question. There’s a few ways…

  1. You can type in your websites URL in the address bar, press enter and boil the jug. If the jug boils and you have time to make a cup of tea before you page loads, you’re in trouble.
  2. You can use a tool that Google provides that allows you to get an idea of your website’s performance. It’s called Page Speed Insights, and you can try right now on your own site. For free!

Just go here, type in your website’s URL and press go.

If your site gives you results like this…

page-speed1

…then you’d better have a good think about doing something about it, because well, quite simply, that sucks.

Okay then, what’s a good score?

Well, in a perfect world, 100/100 for both would be nice, but unless you’re prepared to do a fair bit of mucking around, and spend some money – I think anywhere above 80 is acceptable. Infact, anything above 90 for both is pretty awesome, but at least aim for numbers 80 or above.

How can I improve my page speed?

Funny you ask.

Okay, there’s a few WordPress plugins that I use and recommend. Of course if you’re not using WordPress, then you’ll need to look elsewhere or talk to your web guy.

Here are each of them with a little blurb about what they do and why you need them.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache is without a doubt, one of the leaders in this space for improving site speed. Caching in simple terms prevents the request from having to go back and forth continually to the web server in order to retrieve every bit of information. This means quicker load times because the information is “cached” or “stored” locally. Here’s what the guys over at W3 Total Cache say about their plugin and what it does.

W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.

Smush.it

Smush.it is a funny name, (for some reason it makes me think of mashed potatoes), but in any case, Smush.it is another WordPress plugin that helps improve site speed by way of optimising (or compressing) your images. In simple terms, Smush.it compresses the hell out of your photos and images so that they’re much smaller and as a result – they load quicker. It’s a pretty cool tool to have, and what’s best is that once you install it, you don’t need to do anything – all your images are optimized as you upload them to your site.

I should note here that if your site already has a lot of images (and you’re not already using Smush.it), that you’ll need to install this plugin, then run it – and depending upon how many images your site has, this could take some time. (For instance, optimising 400 images might take approximately 10 minutes). Once it’s run, any further images you upload will be done automatically. Here’s what the guys over at Smush.it say about this plugin.

Smush.it uses optimization techniques specific to image format to remove unnecessary bytes from image files. It is a “lossless” tool, which means it optimizes the images without changing their look or visual quality.

Autoptimize

Okay lastly, Autoptimize. This is a handy little plugin to have because it consolidates all of your JS and CSS files. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry too much. It just means instead of your site having to call dozens of different CSS and Javascript files upon page load, it may only have to call one or two. As a result, your pages load quicker. Here’s what the Autoptimize guys have to say …

Autoptimize makes optimizing your site really easy. It concatenates all scripts and styles, minifies and compresses them, adds expires headers, caches them, and moves styles to the page head, and scripts to the footer. It also minifies the HTML code itself, making your page really lightweight. There are advanced options available to enable you to tailor Autoptimize to each and every site’s specific need.

How do I set them up?

With most plugins, there’s usually a whole bunch of settings and checkboxes that need to be set in order for them to work properly. Rather than get bogged down into making this a fully blown tutorial, I’ve referenced 3 of the best that I found on the web for each one. See below.

My results

Here’s how this website performed once I installed and configured the plugins. I should note that I started around 50(ish) for both scores before starting.

A few quick tips

  1. Some tools will say your site speed sucks, and others will say its great. To be honest, I really only care what Google’s tools says because that’s where it matters most.
  2. Be sure to check over your website when implementing these plugins because they can play havoc with other plugins (such as Digg Digg)
  3. Both W3 Total Cache and Autoptimize have a “restore default settings” option, so if you screw something up, you can always roll back
  4. Implement each plugin one at a time, make the changes, then test your site speed. Make sure you’re heading in the right direction!
  5. Don’t go crazy clicking checkboxes all over the place
  6. If you’ve implemented these plugins and your site speed is still very low, consider changing over to a faster host

Conclusion

A slow site is a shitty site.

Think about it, whats the first thing you do when a site takes ages to load?

You bail.

Nobody’s got time for that.

Makesure your site speed is good, because it will affect your conversions (sales and customer enquiries) as well as your rankings.

That’s it for now. If you have a question or comment, please post it below, and I will answer you personally.

Cheers.

3 comments on “How to Improve Page Speed Using W3 Total Cache Smush.it and Autoptimize

  1. Jonas on

    As I understand it from this article, it is possible to use all three of these plugins at the same time. Is that correct? If so, are there special considerations to make (for example, certain boxes not to check) when using both Autoptimize and W3 Total Cache?

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      Hey Jonas, As I said, set each one up individually, then test. Ive often found that Autoptimize conflicts with other plugins, so I leave that one disabled.

      The two most important are Smush.it and W3 Total Cache.

      Work towards getting those two in place and you’ll be good to go.

      Reply

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