Website speed means sales for your WooCommerce site.
Faster load speeds mean a better shopping experience for customers and a higher likelihood they’ll go ahead and make a purchase. If you’ve ever visited a slow-running website, you’ll totally get this! It’s frustrating when a website doesn’t respond as quickly as you’d expect.
With that said, website speed is an important part of optimizing your website and is something you should check up on often. Here’s what you need to know:
Why is website speed important for optimization?
As we already alluded to, website speed plays a critical role in customer experience on your website. Recent data suggests that a two second delay in load speed can lead to abandonment rates of up to 87%. If it reached that point for your ecommerce site, this could be crippling for your bottom line, especially if you’re investing a bit into driving traffic to your site.
It’s probably fair to say that people’s expectations of websites have grown over time. While we may have expected or tolerated slower load speeds a decade ago, these days we know better and “don’t have time” for it. If your website speed isn’t up to, well, speed, it will frustrate customers and could also impact your image. Slow speed might convey an idea that you’re not up with the technology or that perhaps the customer can expect other things to be slow or frustrating, too.
Website speed is also important for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Google confirmed back in 2017 that site speed is a ranking factor. This is because a big part of Google’s mission is to ensure that the results they deliver provide a good experience to their users. Slow speed can knock you down the search results and, to impact those results further, and a high bounce rate can do that too. So in a sense, slow speed impacts your SEO in more ways than one.
If you’re running WooCommerce, you have a lot of control over what you do to optimize your website, especially compared to websites that run on a hosted platform.
A two-second delay can lead to 87% abandonment rates on your WooCommerce site Click To Tweet
What factors affect site speed?
There are a bunch of factors that impact site speed, so we’ve broken down a list of common issues here:
Your web hosting
The hosting you choose really matters in terms of ecommerce speed and performance. Shared hosting is a really common choice for WordPress websites. Often, people are attracted by the low cost of the service, but at some point, they find that the issues are more than they’re worth.
Shared hosting means that your website is hosted on a server with others. Sometimes many others. The way the hosting company keeps the cost to you low is by selling that hosting space to multiple sites. If the server becomes overcrowded, you either experience a slow-down or even a complete shut-down of your website. Consider a big shopping day (such as Black Friday) and you’ll immediately see how impactful this could be.
Shared hosting can mean there are 200 other websites on the same server. This also opens you up to problems with other websites potentially trickling across to yours.
What can you do? There are a few ways to ensure that your hosting choice is good for website speed. One is to use a VPS (virtual private server), especially if you have the technical skills to manage it yourself. This is a DIY approach where you have to have server management knowledge.
Another way is to choose managed WordPress hosting. This is where the hosting company handles all backend server tasks for you on a VPS plan. This is great for WooCommerce businesses that don’t have server management skills, but it is still important to ensure that the company you choose specializes in WordPress hosting.
Some WooCommerce themes look like they’re going to be amazing out of the box, but the reality is they could be slow or buggy. As part of your criteria for choosing a theme, it’s important that you look at load speed.
WP Rocket recently looked at some popular WooCommerce themes and ranked the seven fastest. Their results are shown in the screenshot below.
Your WordPress plugins
Every WordPress site has plugins to add the functionality that you would like for your website. Or, for WooCommerce specifically, you might choose any of the paid or free WooCommerce extensions. As a general rule, it’s usually suggested that you keep the number of plugins or extensions to a minimum, however, quantity isn’t the biggest issue for site speed – quality is.
As an open-source platform, anyone can build plugins or extensions for WordPress and WooCommerce, but that means there are thousands of plugins where the quality isn’t great. Sometimes it’s down to poor coding practices, and sometimes you find a plugin that creates a conflict with another plugin.
A solution is to always ensure that you’re choosing top quality plugins and extensions. They should be rated well among users and clearly show that they’re kept up-to-date. We keep a list of plugins or extensions that work with CheckoutWC here, although please note, just because you don’t see yours on the list doesn’t mean it doesn’t work! We just don’t update this list very frequently.
WordPress memory limit
If your WordPress memory limit is set to default, this means only 32 MB of memory is allocated for PHP. This isn’t enough for a WooCommerce site and you may even see an error on your dashboard telling you that the allowed memory size has been exhausted.
The recommended memory limit for WooCommerce sites is 256 MB. If you are working with managed hosting that specializes in WordPress and WooCommerce, check that they have this set for you already. Otherwise, and notwithstanding any server-level rules in place by your host, the PHP limit can be increased by adding the following line of code to your wp-config.php:
define( ‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘256M’ );
If the coding side is not your thing, just be sure to ask that your PHP memory limit is at 256 MB.
Large image or media files slow down websites. You can have hundreds of extra KB that your site is working to load just through images that are too large. What can you do? Here are a few tips:
- Use the best file type for the image. JPG are smaller files, although aren’t suitable for all images. PNG is your next smallest.
- Compress all images as much as you can while maintaining screen quality.
- Lazy-load any images that are off-screen or hidden.
- Use a fast CDN (content delivery network) to load images instead.
Cache WooCommerce requests
Caching means that the resources from one request are temporarily stored so that subsequent requests are executed more quickly. The cache will be stored either on your server or on the user’s device.
In basic terms, caching reduces the amount of work required to generate a pageview. It can make a WordPress site almost as fast as a static site. Caching can either be taken care of by your server (server-side caching) or by using a third-party caching plugin (such as WP Rocket).
Everything you use to operate your website – your version of WP, plugins, extensions and theme – should be updated frequently. The WordPress environment evolves all the time; new versions or new security threats require all of these things to be updated to stay relevant.
Sometimes when a website slows down or “breaks,” it’s due to needed updates not being made. If the developer of your chosen theme, plugins or extensions stops providing supports and updates, then it’s a good time to look for alternatives. You’ll run into issues sooner or later when those things aren’t updated.
How do you find speed issues with your website?
How will you know if your website speed is good enough? You can run testing to check. There are several different tools around for website speed testing, so take your pick. Here are some examples:
Finally, above everything else, keep in mind that the core purpose of website speed and any strategy that you might use to improve it is to provide an excellent user experience. This should be at the center of everything you do because as an ecommerce site, that’s how you get sales!
Website speed is important and there are many things you can do to make improvements. If you feel overwhelmed, we’d start with the basics we outlined here. These are the things that are more likely to make the most impact.