One day, we received an email from an Australian reader. She wanted to let us know that she really appreciated the recipes but she had to wait for up to half a minute for the site to load.
Half a minute.
When have you last counted to 30 while waiting for a food blog to load?
We had never really thought about how fast the site loaded in various parts of the world. It looked good and loaded quickly on my computer. And Sarah’s computer. And nobody around us complained.
Then I entered “mynewroots.org” in two website speed tests, Pingdom and WebPageTest, and set the country to Australia. Horror. It actually took up to one full minute to load the site! To give you a comparison, most people don’t want to wait more than 2 seconds.
This is an issue that most bloggers don’t address in the beginning, because it seems very technical but it is hugely important if you write in English, and want to build your readership because your visitors are literally as far apart as geographically possible. If you are located in the US, it’s possible that your readers in Australia and New Zealand have to wait a long time to load the content on your site.
Why? Because a website is hosted on a server, and a server is just a powerful computer, that is located wherever your hosting provider happens to have a server facility. And it makes a difference if the little bytes that make up your site have to travel 500 km to your reader or 16,000 km (distance from NYC to Sydney).
Why is a fast website important?
Long story short: a slow loading page can mean that you are missing out on thousands of page visits.. because
- almost half of your visitors will leave if your pages take more than 4 seconds to load, anywhere in the world!
- many readers are on mobile devices with slower connection, on mynewroots.org more than 50% of the readers are visiting from a mobile phone or tablet.
- Google favors fast websites in search results
- a fast website leaves a good impression
We overlooked this with the My New Roots site because our hosting was located in the US and Europe and the main page seemed to load just fine. However, once we started testing, we found out that in some areas like Australia, New Zealand and many Asian and Latin American countries the site was very slow.
What can slow a website down? Typical examples are:
- A poorly made WordPress template
- Too many WordPress plugins installed (or poorly made plugins)
- Big image files
- An inadequate hosting setup
- No CDN (Content Distribution Network)
What can you do?
Most WordPress templates are really well made and do not slow your site down especially if you buy one that is supported and frequently updated. Also, if you use the most common and most popular WordPress plugins they shouldn’t cause you problems. The big changes for the My New Roots site were:
- Image compression: A food blog obviously needs high quality photos but make sure you save your photos as JPGs in good quality but at the lowest possible file size. Sarah had uploaded some 10 MB photos back in the day and that’s a big no-no since that photo will be almost impossible to load on a phone with a slow connection. Generally, we try to keep each photo below 500 kb.
- Hosting: We upgraded our site to a better server setup, which in our case is a Virtual Private Server (VPS) at Digitalfyre. This is necessary once you get a lot of traffic and your hosting provider will be able to guide you to a setup that suits your needs. If your blog is hosted the place you happened to buy your domain, ask the nice people a Bluehost to give you some advice – they know about WordPress hosting.
- We started using a Content Distribution Network (CDN). This is essential for having a fast site all over the world. The CDN is a service that saves a copy of your site on servers on multiple locations all over the world (and frequently updates the copy). So if you’re in Sydney, you’ll actually load the site from a server in Sydney, not the US. And this makes a huge difference. You can get your site set up at MaxCDN, and if you are in the US, your Australian readers will thank you!
That’s all about website speed for now- feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Mikkel / My New Roots