How to build your WordPress site to load in under one second

Laptop computer displaying logo of WordPress, a free and open-source content management system (CMS)
(Image credit: Shutterstock/monticello)

When it comes to first impressions, one may think that their business's website's top priority must lie within its initial design. And while there's no doubt aesthetics are of the utmost significance, many business owners must prioritize page load time within their user's journey. 

According to a study by Amazon Web Services, ecommerce businesses leave 35% of sales on the table due to bad user experience. Staggeringly, that translates to roughly $1.4 trillion worth of sales annually.

So just what do you need to know to ensure an exceptional load time for your clients visiting your website? Let's begin by discussing three reasons why page load speeds are of vital importance.

Google Search results will be majorly impacted 

How much money have you budgeted for sound SEO optimization? Imagine if all that went to waste because of your website's load time. 

To Google, user experience (UX) is paramount to their business model. Serving the best UX is one of the many reasons it has kept its success as the number one search engine over the years, blowing any competitors coming into the scene out of the water. 

If Google sees that one-page loads faster than the other, it will prioritize that result in the user's search over the competing page that shows a slower load time. For Google’s users to continue having a good experience, it needs websites to load fast and not leave them waiting and frustrated.

Lose customers to competitors 

A negative user experience from the get-go can quickly push customers away and back to their initial search results—leaving you vulnerable and open to prospects visiting competition websites from their previous results. 

A modern-day business is expected to cater to the fast-paced world with live in, where technological expectations are set very high. Nearly 60% of customers said they would abandon a site whose page load time took more than three seconds and not return.

If businesses don’t consider this, they should expect to lose prospects to competitors who show they prioritize their UX journey. 

Costs you more money in the long-run 

The main goal to keep in mind when creating your initial WordPress site is to prioritize creating a website that speaks to your customers and ensures good user interface (UI)/UX practices regarding layout and usability. 

Incorrect framework building of your website can lead to page re-works. The average cost for a UX designer in the United States hovers around the $48 an-hour mark.

And with the average time to build a website using WordPress around five weeks, or 200 hours, with a custom website taking a whopping 240 hours at the very least, doing this the second time around may cause your business major financial losses.

Therefore, it is paramount that you prioritize the correct building of your site from the get-go to avoid a costly revamp. So if you’re wondering how to set your WordPress up right the first time? Let’s find out. 

What to keep in mind during the initial building process 

When building your site, the first and most important page is always your landing page. This is the page your customers will first get to know you; thus, the page that is the most important to prioritize. And due to its importance, it will naturally feature the most content.

However, these additional elements make up the page's size, with all of those elements adding to, or subtracting from, the overall size of the request your user must send to have the page load correctly and timely. 

Serving your photos or videos, in an optimal format, with adequate size and dimensions, will make all the difference to your page's load time. 

Therefore, when it comes to any media you choose to display, you must ensure you compress it in a format that only takes up a little head space before adding it to your site.

You can use eww image optimizer to tackle this process. This site allows you to compress media but serve in a modern format without losing quality and become a file optimized to allow adequate page loading.

Another component to keep in mind is custom fonts. While custom fonts may have a nice aesthetic, they can significantly increase the weight of a page. Try to use the least amount of custom fonts possible; if not, any.

Lastly, your site's WordPress hosting provider plays a significant role in the responsiveness process. I recommend using WP Engine. Not only does it help the load time of your site, but it also adds an extra layer of security. 

Once everything is up and running, it's time to test its speed capabilities.

How to monitor sites performance 

After you've injected finances and energy into creating your site, running a performance test is essential to ensure nothing has slipped through the nooks and crannies to cause any issues.

Pingdom by SolarWinds can give you valuable information about your website's functionality and the problems causing it to load pages slowly. Data on web performance and speed analysis include:

Pingdom monitors uptime and speeds from servers worldwide every 30 minutes. From there, you can keep an eye on the page's speed and overall responsiveness to get a clearer picture of how your website and its pages perform.

View in-depth metrics showing server response times, render start times, interaction times, and more. 

Track the performance of all the components that make up your page, including HTML, JavaScript, CSS, pictures, and more. You can view file sizes and individual element load times to help you determine what factors are causing page bloat and how your pages can be best optimized.

By accessing the data that can show you your overall site performance, you'll better understand what factors may be affecting your site response times and overall speed. 

Finally, seal it up with a Content Delivery Network 

Suppose I accessed your business's website from within the USA, but its host server is situated in China. In that case, the chance of me, the customer, receiving a slow response time is relatively high due to the distance it must travel.

The benefit of a CDN (content delivery network) is that we have a network of endpoints that users' requests can leverage from anywhere in the world. 

So if I am in the USA, the response time will be fast for my request due to it requesting locally to the CDN network in the USA due to me requesting from the CDN host, and not from the host of where the site is physically located. 

In short—it expands your request network and allows your user to fetch the data closer to the originating endpoint. Therefore, as you probably guessed, a strong DNS manager is the last key component to ensure your site's response time is exceptional. 

I recommend Cloudflare, which acts as a layer between the domain and host and a content delivery network, with the bonus of a web application firewall.

The WordPress plugin from Cloudflare enables you to use HTTP/2 Server Push to push essential assets to your users, significantly lowering the number of roundtrips needed to load CSS and JavaScript.

The final step would be to ensure that your Cloudflare setup is running in line with best practices and ensure you have a regular schedule for testing and updates. 

With today's competitive business market across many industries, it is paramount that you leave no room for your customers to stumble upon your competitors where possible. 

By ensuring an optimal user experience when prospects visit your website, you don't leave valuable time for potential customers to click 'back' to their search results.

Following these easy steps means you will find yourself proudly displaying a WordPress business site that shows the user you value their time.

Matt Franklin is the Digital Production Manager at Bonsai Media Group. With a background in marketing, design and development, he coordinates project requirements, collaborates with internal teams, oversees code sprints, and helps lead QA and user experience efforts.