Download speed

Site speed can increase your search engine rankings as Google began using it to rank sites in April of 2010.

Speed matters. Even in the day of the high speed internet, people get turned off if a site takes its time to load. Whatever the reasons might be for a slow download speed, you have to ensure that your blog is optimized to its fullest potential.

If you’re starting out blogging and still haven’t found a hosting service, make sure you find a reliable and fast service. Check out review sites of hosting service providers to see what other customers are saying. Try asking Twitter community to get some real-time feedback from the customers.

Here I would like to offer you 5 easy tips to boost your blog’s speed. Some of them you might have heard elsewhere, some of them might be new to you. These are very easy to implement tips and shouldn’t take a lot of time, but it will help you increase your blog’s speed.

1. Image optimization

Image optimization is about finding the right balance between image quality and image file size. The file size is what makes your blog slower as the size increases; it’s an inverse relationship. As image file size goes up, blog speed goes down. You shouldn’t always decrease the amount of images used on your blog, sometimes you just can’t do that. Before we get to the optimization, figure out this: Do you really need an image larger than 300px either way?

I see blogs plaster their posts with huge images for no specific reason. If you are putting a huge image in your post, bigger than 300px, you better have a good reason for that.

Optimizing your images with Photoshop’s “Save for web” is a great idea, but it doesn’t reduce the size completely. Plus, not everyone has Photoshop. I recommend WP Smush.it plugin.

WP Smush.it

You can try Re-smushing it to see if it will reduce the file size even more.

WP Smush.it uses an API of Smush.it hosted by Yahoo Developer Network that reduces the file size by optimizing JPEG compression, stripping unused colors from indexed images, and much more. I’m using it on this blog and after running the plugin, I have not seeing any loss in image quality whatsoever.

On average, I would say it reduced my image sizes by around 25-30%. Some only 10% and some as much as 60%. The plugin page says you don’t have to do anything, but I found that you actually have to go into your Media Library and click “Smush.It” for each image, and it also shows how much it was reduced by.

2. Use sprites

Sprite example

One of the two sprites used on this blog. Background is transparent.

Using sprites in your blog’s theme will reduce number of calls browser has to make to download content, in this case images. Sprites are images made up of images, basically. When you use a sprite image you tell a browser which part of that image to display in a specific part of your theme. This blog uses 2 sprites for various navigational images, which eliminated a bunch of calls.

Sprites, sometimes, do reduce file size as well. But that really depends on the way it is made and compressed.

I want to make your life easy, and I did promise easy tips. Say hello to my little friend called SpriteMe. This is an amazing, free tool. It does wonders. It sprites your images for you! Not much technical knowledge required.  Check out the tutorial on their page, but here’s a quick overview to get you excited.

You add a bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmarks bar. You visit your blog and then press the bookmarklet. The window pops up with various images, some are already grouped in sprites and some are marked as cannot be sprited. When you hover over the image link you get a preview of that image, so you know what’s what. Then you hit the make sprites button and let it do its magic. Once done, you can preview sprites by hovering over the links. The awesome part about SpriteMe is that it gives you CSS to use. When you export CSS it tells you which line to replace with what code. You just have to make sure to download sprites and use proper source URL in CSS. Easy!

One word of caution: Backup your CSS file before editing it. Just in case you mess it up or something is not right.

3. Cache your blog

You’ve probably heard this one before. Just in case you haven’t. Caching a page on your blog creates a static version of that page, which is served to the visitors. It reduces the time it takes for your page to be dynamically generated as it serves already generated page. You have to clear your cache to regenerate pages.

One popular plugin is WP Super Cache, but the interface is long and complex. I really don’t like it. It’s not newbie friendly. However, I highly recommend a plugin called Quick Cache, which is the alternative to WP Super Cache. They do the same job but user-interface and ease of use are two things that make me a loyal Quick Cache user. One feature I really like about Quick Cache is “Clear Cache” button it places in the top right corner of your admin area.

It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose to use, but make sure you have something in place to cache your blog.

4. GZIP compression

This is not a tool to use, but rather a check you need to perform to ensure your blog uses GZIP compression. In a nutshell, GZIP uses algorithms to compress everything on the server and then send it out to a browser to uncompress and use it. Just follow the GZIP link to learn more about it.

This really comes down to your hosting provider. Most hosting providers enable GZIP compression by default. You need to check with your hosting provider. But, if you’re too lazy to contact customer support of your hosting company, you can check out this free tool that will check if your site uses GZIP compression in a heartbeat. Just enter your blog’s URL and it will let you know if GZIP is enabled. If it is disabled then you do need to contact your hosting provider to figure out how you can enable it.

5. Flash mayhem

The dreaded Flash. You really shouldn’t have any on your blog. The only Flash content that should be present on your blog are videos (Youtube, Vimeo, etc.) and Flash ads (I would just use image ads).

I really hate trying to read a blog and have the Flash plugin crash in my browser for one reason or another. It’s annoying as hell. If you can help it, minimize Flash use on your blog. It’s not worth it.

Youtube videos are a big part of blogging. Why not make them HTML5 compatible instead of Flash? WP Youtube Lyte plugin gives you an option of embedding Youtube video that is played in HTML5 player. No Flash! It’s easy to use and doesn’t require much work. There is a small caveat though. HTML5 video capability is in beta right now on Youtube. You actually have to visit Youtube HTML5 page and opt-in to HTML5 testing – no forms to fill out, just hit a button on the page and you’re done.

The beauty of WP Youtube Lyte is the fall-back feature, which enables Flash video if your visitor didn’t opt-in to HTML5 program on Youtube. I would recommend adding a quick note and link for people to visit and opt-in. It is so much better than Flash. It doesn’t crash like Flash does.

Lastly, if you use other services or host your own videos, opt-in for HTML5 version if you can. Most services do offer some sort of HTML5 capability.

I hope these tips will help you make your blog lightning fast. Do you have any tips that helped you boost your blog’s speed?