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Aston Darby: Improving site speed through development optimisations

Speed is critical to the way users interact with websites. Google research shows that bounce rate increases dramatically the longer a site takes to load on mobile. Those that have a 3 second delay risk an increase of 32%, while those that take up to 10 seconds can expect to see it increase by 123%.

When we were hired by investment firm Aston Darby to help with their digital marketing, the slowness of their site was one of the first issues we identified. When we first started with them, the site took around seven seconds to load. By the time we’d implemented our optimisations, that figure dropped to just three seconds.

How did we do it? Find out below.

Heavy HTML

We quickly identified that the Aston Darby site’s biggest problem was the size of the HTML behind it. The site originally clocked in at a sizeable 138.88kb; far greater than the average of 33kb. With so much HTML to load, it was little wonder things were running so slowly.

We managed to get the size down to a much more manageable 17.69kb, and to do this we followed a careful process.

First, we set up a local development environment that reflected the exact system specification of the Aston Darby site. This meant that we could ensure that any changes we made would be compatible.

We then updated the Wordpress core and existing packages to ensure that we were starting on the most up to date code possible. We also reviewed existing plugins, removing any that weren’t being used or that were irrelevant to the site’s core functionality.

With this done we could challenge that HTML problem. We installed the W3 Total Cache plugin and, among other things, configured the settings to cache page HTML and serve a compressed version of the site to users.

This, in turn, allowed us to minify JS, CSS and HTML. For example, we combined multiple JS files into larger compressed files, which meant we were in a position to reduce the number of requests made to the server.

Picture this

There were also savings to be made through the optimisation of images. Many site owners don’t consider images when optimising site speed: they’re just deemed a part of the website and therefore forgotten. This is a serious error as images contribute significantly to a site’s HTML size.

To begin the process, we set up a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to serve all of the Aston Darby site’s images. By separating the images from the site itself, we were able to ensure users physically received the file from a server located as geographically close to them as possible.

To create further savings we also ran all the images through compression tools beforehand, reducing the overall image size by 40%.

On top of these savings, we made a handful of other tweaks aimed at clearing out un-used settings and data and limiting the number of post revisions that are saved in the system. By doing both, we could maintain a smaller database that worked faster.

The end result is a speedy website that gives users the information they need quickly and easily.


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