I just redesigned my WordPress website to be faster and my AdSense earnings increased by 104% overnight. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a way to increase my AdSense revenue — it just happened as a side effect of making my site load faster. Here’s the entire story (including some ideas on how you can increase your WordPress site’s speed).
When you own a WordPress website, making it run as fast as possible should be your top priority. My site — DailyTekk.com — has been around since 2012 and I only just learned this valuable lesson last week. But Google’s been saying this for years (it promotes sites in search results when they load faster over those that load slower). It is said that website visitors expect a site to load within 2 seconds before they consider giving up or moving on.
The Real Reason I Redesigned for Optimized Speed
Just a couple weeks ago DailyTekk suddenly began running very, very slow. Then the site began to crash — it just wouldn’t load. These issues hit our team out of the blue; they were completely unexpected. The problem? We had a bloated site that couldn’t handle the rate of growth we were experiencing.
DailyTekk had grown more than 250% in the previous 12 months which was great news. But that growth led to some serious growing pains (those described just above). The reason our team was so surprised by this turn of events was that we felt we were on a solid hosting plan and that if, as we knew would eventually happen, our traffic grew enormously we’d simply be able to upgrade to the next incremental tier of hosting.
Well that wasn’t the case. We were on a shared hosting plan and our site was using so many resources that our host said we’d have to bump up to a private server (which was several hundreds of dollars a month more expensive) if we didn’t find a way to optimize. The big culprit? Too many external calls. The situation was so dire that my hosting company had to turn off Jetpack (including my precious Site Stats plugin) just to keep the site limping along.
It was a scary moment for us because we couldn’t afford that super expensive hosting quite yet. So we set about redesigning. The developers we’ve worked with for several redesigns — Chop-Chop.org — kicked into emergency coding gear and got our new, slimmed-down, lighter, faster and more-efficient WordPress theme coded in about 5 days.
We’re on the same hosting plan we were on before but our site isn’t having any of the issues we were experiencing because of our previous, bloated theme. Our new design loads MUCH faster. In fact, it’s so fast that we’re killing the competition when it comes to speed in our niche (technology blogs). Our site is faster and more efficient than our biggest peers (we don’t have competitors because they don’t have to fail for us to succeed) including: TechCrunch, The Verge and VentureBeat. See for yourself:
As you can see, DailyTekk has far fewer requests, a smaller page size and better PageSpeed and YSlow grades than TechCrunch, VentureBeat and The Verge.
How I Redesigned for Faster Page Loads
I’m a designer by trade, rather than a programmer, so I did what my skill set allowed: I redesigned the site to be faster (as opposed to getting “under the hood” and optimizing the code myself). What that really meant, in my case, was cutting features. And it was painful — at first.
The previous version of my site had several features I thought were brilliant. I had designed a “smart” sidebar that adapted to each viewer based on several different factors, there was a very robust menu bar with lots of beautiful pictures, there were several recommended articles at the bottom of pages (in two rows/categories: recent and trending) and AdSense placements to the hilt (AdSense limits your placements to 3 or 4 depending on the level of partner your site is). On top of that I had several plugins — each doing a job I thought I couldn’t live without — bloating things up as well.
So I came up with a list of things I could cut from the website. It was hard, but in the back of my mind I had several Steve Jobs quotes bouncing around in my head. Quotes like, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Here’s some of what I decided to get rid of:
- The sidebar: we got rid of it entirely
- The complex menu
- 10 recommended posts at the bottom of articles
- 50% of AdSense ad placements
- Several unnecessary plugins (lazy image loading, etc.)
- Infinite scrolling
- Complex, on-the-fly image resizing
I pared things down the the BARE minimum. Remember, I was driven by not wanting to (or being able to) upgrade to incredibly expensive hosting. I was motivated. It was just about keeping the site alive.
But I also did something else very important: I optimized the images on my site. All of them. I did so using a premium plugin called WP Smush Pro. It took forever, but it worked. Before I realized I needed to optimize my WordPress site, I was just uploading anything and everything without a thought to it’s size. PNG screenshots taken on my Mac were especially large: and I had TONS of them. WP Smush Pro reduced my storage (without much of a noticeable different in image quality) by almost 1 GB or 38.23% (I had nearly 4,000 images in my media library).
It might seem counter-intuitive to cut several interesting or even “necessary” features. It definitely felt counter-intuitive to me. But you know what? It’s SO worth it. We’ve been running a custom theme for quite awhile now, and I always design my themes myself and then ship them off to some talented developers who actually build it and make it work. So I truly had the power to gut the theme and include only what I felt was ACTUALLY necessary. If I could leave you with one piece of advice it would be this: don’t copy the “big” sites thinking you really need the features they have. They’re bloated. Underdo the competition (as Jason Fried would say) and you will actually outdo them (at least in some, quite meaningful, ways). Stick with the essentials and you will thrive. If your content sucks, no amount of flashy plugins will make your site better, anyways.
The cutting out of “features” and the image optimization has DailyTekk running like a stallion. It’s not the fastest site on the Internet (we still make heavy use of images), but as you saw earlier we’re beating out other sites in our niche in almost every important way. But the unexpected side effect was the biggest, best surprise of the entire ordeal…
A Faster WordPress Site Means a BIG Revenue Boost
I had heard that having a faster site would help you earn more money. I always thought it would be incremental, though. But in our case having a faster site meant an increase of 104% OVERNIGHT. With my 20/20 hindsight fully-enables, I’d tell you not to wait to try to optimize your WordPress site for speed. And don’t hire some fancy WordPress speed optimization consult. Just cut your theme down to the barest of bare bones. If you want, I’ll sell you the theme I’m writing about in this article (just get in touch using the contact link at the bottom of the site). Any way you slice it, you ARE leaving SIGNIFICANT revenue on the table — unrealized — by not optimizing your WordPress site for speed.
Let me know what questions you have in the comments — along with any good WordPress speed optimizations you’ve found — and I’ll get you some answers.