How to Use Google Webmaster Tools to Diagnose and Improve WordPress Page Speed

How fast is your site? Your page load speed could be affecting your site rankings on Google, and may be coming soon to other major search engines near you. Beginning in April of this year, Google started factoring page load time into your organic rankings. Google officially summed up the reasoning behind the decision:

“Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”

If you want to improve in this area, Google Webmaster Tools are an absolute must. The first step is to make sure that you have your site set up with Google tools. Check out our Quick Start Guide to Using Google Webmaster Tools With WordPress. It will take you a couple minutes to get hooked up, but once you are, you’ll have access to the tools you need to start diagnosing any issues you have with page speed.

Investigate Your Sites’s Performance

You can start by going to Google Webmaster Tools >> Dashboard >> Labs >> Site Performance. The Site Performance feature will show you your average page load time, the trend over the last few months and suggestions on how to make the page load faster. Google’s definition of page load time is the total time from the moment the user clicks on a link to your page until the time the entire page is loaded and displayed in a browser.

Below the graph you will see some example pages from your site. You can expand the details section to view Page Speed suggestions:

Another excellent tool is Firefox’s Page Speed Add-On, which will help to give you an in-depth evaluation of the performance of your pages. You’ll get even more specific suggestions on files to combine and optimizations that you can make to speed up your site:

Now, based on the recommendations from both tools, you can apply support to your site as needed through specialized WordPress plugins, designed to help with these specific issues.

Take Advantage of WordPress Extensions to Improve Page Speed

Because you’re using the WordPress platform, you have a number of advantages over other site owners. You have access to thousands of open source tools and an active community that has probably already created a solution for any page loading speed issue you might have. If you’re getting suggestions such as these…

  • Leverage browser caching
  • Enable compression
  • Minify JavaScript

…then you may want to look into a caching plugin, such as W3 Total Cache, which will knock out a good chunk of your page load issues in one sweep. W3 Total Cache also integrates your blog with a Content Delivery Network. However, if you want CDN without all the extras, have a look at CDN Tools, which allows you to load all of your attachments and JS in one click. If you’ve got an image-heavy site, you may want to look into a plugin such as WP Smush.it, which will automatically optimize your images without losing quality. These are just a few tools to get you started. Depending on the results the diagnosis gives you, you’ll need to search out a solution specific to your site’s unique needs.

One thing to note is that page speed tools are not always accurate in their suggestions. If your site utilizes social plugins, advertising, or anything that calls external resources, you may be given a lower score. This is where you weigh your page speed score against your site’s needs and make realistic decisions based on what you feel is necessary to include.

Site speed has always been important to good web development and a positive user experience. Google’s ranking attention to the matter gives you even more reason to improve your page speed. Take some time to improve you user’s experience and you’ll find that the major search engines will be more likely to send you traffic.

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