Google PageSpeed Insights score for this article

Squeezing More Performance From My Site

One of the things that I handle for clients at FixUpFox is site speed optimization. I also help with performance optimization, which I almost lumped into this post, but I think that it deserves its own overview at a later date.

I also began blogging more regularly on this personal site, thanks to the support from the Blogging Accountability Group that I formed with a few members of the WordPress Orlando Meetup. One of the things that I want to do is to improve the theme that I use on the site, and one of the ways that I want to do that is to improve site speed.

There are quite a few reasons to want to improve the speed of a site. Most concerning to me are based around resource usage and visitor experience. Loading a smaller page does a lot of good, including:

  • Less bandwidth and resource usage for visitors, improving loading speed and battery life
  • Lighter energy usage footprint, reducing ecological impact slightly

Here’s a quick overview of what I did for my personal site, which can be what I do for a client site, depending on their needs. I have to note that I don’t do much in terms of tracking on my site, and I don’t run ads. Those are often the two biggest blockers that I have to increase page performance for clients.

A baseline of performance

The first thing that I do is establish a baseline of the site. That lets me get an idea of what improvement that I end up with, but also places to start looking at making changes.

The following data was from my WordCamp Atlanta Review post tested with tools.pingdom.com. I also use Google PageSpeed Insights, Lighthouse, and GTMetrix depending on what I’m looking for.

Performance grade: C β€” 77
Page size: 1.1 MB
Load time: 1.37 s
Requests: 56

The above indicates that I loaded 1.1MB worth of data on this page, taking an average of 1.37 seconds over their tests, and that 56 separate files were requested to load this page.

This isn’t terrible, but I had a feeling that I could do better with a few simple changes.

Removing Unused Scripts, Styles, and Fonts

First, I started by reviewing external requests. That includes any JavaScript files, CSS stylesheets, and fonts that load along with the rest of the page. I had 56 requests being made to load that page, which is far from unusual, but a bit high for a personal post about a trip on my non-monetized site.

Boilerplate Scripts

A plugin that I use to manage things like my Speaking custom post type was made with the WordPress Plugin Boilerplate. That helped save time in setting the plugin up, but it also added a bit of code that I didn’t need, including display script and style files which I wasn’t making use of. Eliminating the code that called those files eliminated two requests that did literally nothing at all.

jQuery Migrate

Next, I looked at jQuery Migrate. This is a script that WordPress loads to help manage old code. It acts as a bridge between the latest versions of jQuery and code that is written for very old versions of jQuery. Since my site is running up to date code in the theme and plugins, I could remove this script. I can’t always say that it is possible to remove it, but you can try and see if anything breaks on your site. Most current themes and plugins have no need for it, so I removed it with the following code taken from this Dotlayer article.

//Remove JQuery migrate
function remove_jquery_migrate($scripts)
{
    if (!is_admin() && isset($scripts->registered['jquery'])) {
        $script = $scripts->registered['jquery'];
        
        if ($script->deps) { // Check whether the script has any dependencies
            $script->deps = array_diff($script->deps, array(
                'jquery-migrate'
            ));
        }
    }
}

add_action('wp_default_scripts', 'remove_jquery_migrate');


FontAwesome

Next, I looked at FontAwesome. loading the script to enable that on my site was the largest file, accounting for around 25% of the page load size.

I really like FontAwesome. It’s made it a great way to get social icons and other useful site iconography without having to find and load new pictures for each. Plus, it flows smoothly between code, the content editor, and stylesheets.

It turns out that I was only using three icons from FontAwesome across the entirety of my site: the hamburger mobile menu icon, the X close icon when the mobile menu was open, and the moon icon for the basic night-mode that I have a feeling no one even realizes is for that purpose (more on that in the future).

Since I didn’t have a lot of icons to replace, I decided to rebuild those in CSS only. There are a variety of places to find tutorials on drawing in CSS, something that I hope to do in the future as well. For now, I redid those icons in CSS and removed reference to FontAwesome from the theme, saving a lot of the page size in the process.

WP Emoji

WordPress has its own emoji loading, which is useful for the amount of times that I like inserting a 🐺or a 🐾 or a 😝into what I’m writing. But you can see from the previous sentence and my bio at the end of posts that I still have them displaying with system defaults of pretty much every device that would view my site without having to load them.

I’ve used the following code to blanket remove the WordPress emoji from my site load, though you might have reasons for keeping some of these on.

/**
 * Disable the emoji
 */
function disable_emoji() {
	remove_action( 'wp_head', 'print_emoji_detection_script', 7 );
	remove_action( 'admin_print_scripts', 'print_emoji_detection_script' );
	remove_action( 'wp_print_styles', 'print_emoji_styles' );
	remove_action( 'admin_print_styles', 'print_emoji_styles' );
	remove_filter( 'the_content_feed', 'wp_staticize_emoji' );
	remove_filter( 'comment_text_rss', 'wp_staticize_emoji' );
	remove_filter( 'wp_mail', 'wp_staticize_emoji_for_email' );

	// Remove from TinyMCE
	add_filter( 'tiny_mce_plugins', 'disable_emoji_tinymce' );
}
add_action( 'init', 'disable_emoji' );

/**
 * Filter out the tinymce emoji plugin.
 */
function disable_emoji_tinymce( $plugins ) {
	if ( is_array( $plugins ) ) {
		return array_diff( $plugins, array( 'wpemoji' ) );
	} else {
		return array();
	}
}


Handling Images

I realized that a lot of images were returning too large on my site. This means that I had a space where an image would load, say an 80px square for a profile icon, yet a larger 512px square was loading for it.

In this case the issue was Webmentions, which I was handling via an IndieWeb plugin. I was showcasing people who liked or retweeted my post on Twitter, as well as those who commented on it.

A whole discussion should be had about the display of metrics, the privacy of individual interaction, and a need to prove popularity through that interaction. For now, my focus was on speed, and I’ve turned off profile image loading. I’m going to be reviewing my usage of this type of interaction demonstration, while still showcasing some cool features that IndieWeb proponents have given us.

Resizing default media sizes

The large image size on my site was set to the default of constraining to a box of 1024px by 1024px. This is a good default for some sites, but for me I had nowhere that images were displaying that large generally, even on wide screens. There were images loading that had to be resized by the browser and ended up loading larger files than needed.

If you are on your site dashboard, you can go to the Settings panel on the left sidebar and select the Media page. There you can change the default media settings to sizes that make sense for you. In my case, I made thumbnails a different size to fit my design. They ended up being larger than the default, but allowed me to avoid having to crop to fit featured images manually, and are smaller than the medium size that I would have otherwise loaded. I also made large images constrained to an 800px by 800px box, which is around 61% of the size of the original image size. This is still large enough for my theme, but saved some space in what is often the largest portion of page load.

If you change your image size on an existing website, you’ll also want to regenerate the cropped and resized image files that WordPress makes. The plugin Regenerate Thumbnails is my go-to for this task. You can even set it to only resize featured images, if those are the only ones that need to change.

Performance improvement after making changes

Now that I’ve made a handful of changes, it’s time to test the site again to see how we’ve done. I’ve gone back to tools.pingdom.com and ran the test again, being sure to select the same server location to get comparable results.

Performance grade: C β€” 80
Page size: 563.2 KB
Load time: 442 ms
Requests: 36

The performance grade has barely gone up, but that’s more of an overall estimation based on what they think is important, which doesn’t always apply to your site. What has improved is the page size, which is about half of what it was before optimization. That’s already a huge savings! It’s also loading in about a third the time, and I was able to remove 20 requests from the page load.

At this point we could probably be done and move on, but I figured I’d try a few other small things to improve page speed. I wasn’t doing any concatenation of files, and that seemed like the next best place to reduce the number of requests, increasing load speed.

What about performance optimization plugins?

I have used a few plugins for minification and concatenation in WordPress. Minification means stripping out unnecessary spaces and comments in files that make them much easier to read for humans, but aren’t needed by the computer. Concatenation is taking files and combining them together into one larger file. While it takes up more space it is one fewer request to make, which again can be a big driver in performance and speed.

Fast Velocity Minify and Autoptimize are two free plugins with a variety of free and paid extensions that you can take advantage of. I’ve never used the paid extensions to offer any insights, but the free versions work very well.

In this case I chose Fast Velocity Minify, which I installed on my site and activated with default settings only, no modification. Running the speed test again gave me the following results:

Performance grade: A β€” 91
Page size: 607.3 KB
Load time: 443 ms
Requests: 19

There’s a few things to note here. The performance grade greatly improved, and the number of requests was cut nearly in half, which is a big contributor to that score.

But we also see that load time is basically unchanged, and the page size actually increased, despite the fact that we tried shrinking the number of files that loaded.

These optimization plugins can do great things for your site, though they can also add headaches with another layer of caching and the possibility that concatenation breaks the order that scripts need to load to function. I still use them on a lot of sites, but I think it’s important to note that they aren’t a magic fix and are a bit more complex in how they handle your site content.

tl;dr β€” A recap of what I did to improve performance

I’m going to let the following screenshot (that I optimized, of course) from Google PageSpeed Insights speak for itself in terms of what a few minor changes that took me about an hour worth of work did for my site.

And here are the results that I got for the site at various testing times:

Before OptimizationAfter OptimizationAfter Optimization Plugin
Performance gradeC β€” 77C β€” 80A β€” 91
Page Size1.1 MB563.2 KB607.3 KB
Load Speed1.37 s442 ms443 ms
Requests563619

I’ll encourage you to consider deeply what optimization steps apply to your website and which don’t, but here’s a short list of things that I did that you could try.

As a reminder, I am basing this case study on a personal site that does not run ads (though it has a Patreon to support my writing and tutorials!), and uses a single Google Analytics tracking script. When it comes to sites that do extensive tracking or use advertising networks, there are a host of other things to consider.

I hope that the above gives you a place to start when you begin looking at increasing performance and speed on your site. Now go make the web faster and better!

David

David

WordPress Maintenance @fixupfox. On the Internet, everyone knows I'm a dog. He/Him/Woof πŸ’¬ β˜• πŸ• ⌨ πŸŽ™πŸ’»πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆ πŸ΄β€β˜ οΈ 🐾

10 thoughts on “Squeezing More Performance From My Site

Reposts

  • HeartWired Digital Solutions

Mentions

  • DΞ›VID v3.1.4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.