Website optimization builds the best websites
We’ve always known the benefits of website optimization for SEO by tagging images, headlines, and pages correctly. But through the years it’s become more apparent than ever that the best performing websites are the ones that run the fastest and score the best for performance, vitals and cumulative layout shift.
So how do you unlock this next level of performance? And why is it so important? Let’s dive into the website optimization process we use at Soulheart. We’ll share our exact server setups and why we believe this is some of the most crucial work you can do for your site.
Have the Right Hosting Solution for Website Optimization
The majority of sites built in the world are created on WordPress. This is a highly versatile ecosystem (and the only one we build sites on) with amazing integrations, plugins, and extended functionality that simply isn’t possible on other platforms. And that is why we’ve chosen Cloudways as our hosting partner.
We’ve tried all the hosting solutions – dedicated servers with WPEngine, SiteGround, Synthesis, Flywheel and Kinsta. And every single one came up short in our tests compared to Cloudways. We needed a managed solution that could provide amazing support, blazing speeds, and the ability to create production and staging environments of our sites. Plus all the standard features from SSL to backups, to ease of use configuring DNS records.
Here’s our setup:
- When we have a new client or app (what Cloudways calls a website instance) needing to be configured we start with creating a new server
- Next we choose the latest version of WordPress optimized for Cloudways or an e-commerce version with WooCommerce pre-installed if the client requests
- We name our new app and server and choose either Google Cloud Platform or AWS because they are the top of the line servers in the Cloudways ecosystem (in our experience GCP has often been cheaper than AWS, but performance is nearly equal).
- Next we’ll estimate our bandwidth, choose a storage amount, and choose the server location closest to our client’s location.
- Cloudways gives us their estimated pricing (based on hourly usage and bandwidth estimation) and now we’re ready to roll.
This configuration above has been a major key to unlocking optimal web performance for our websites across the board. Once this is set up, we shift our attention to server and page performance optimization to continue the process.
Server and Page Performance are Top Priorities for Optimization
Servers are scary because one slight misconfiguration can take a site down. Lack of tracking can butcher analytics and conversion events and mess up advertising channels. Page performance is also daunting because most of us know how to do some level of on-page SEO, but measuring and adjusting performance itself is largely unknown. But so much of this is fear-mongering because the right setup will lead to the best success. We’re an open book here at Soulheart, so keep reading for our exact configurations that allow us to achieve high performing results.
The top featured tools we currently use in our playbook:
GTMetrix is Step One on the optimization journey
To provide a real-life case study, here are the actual results from our Follow Your Soulheart sub-brand. Our founder, Joshua Brown, is creating a brand new masterclass on how to stop chasing your dreams and start building them. With more than 100 people signed up, we wanted to test our website optimization skills to improve them from already great results. So we started by measuring on GTMetrix and then optimizing our site for a higher score.
The original score is here:
But the optimized score looks like this:
So what did we do? For starters, we read, analyzed, tested and configured. And this part is not an exact science. Installing plugins like WP Rocket are super helpful but the key is testing to find the right configuration. Don’t be alarmed though – for most of you, straight up out-of-the-box results will be better than what you currently have and will make a noticeable difference in your rankings. We hold ourselves to a much higher standard and it’s one that our clients get to benefit from. 😉
Lastly, we spent time analyzing data inside of SEMRush to find the largest images on our site and pages that can be optimized with traditional SEO methods. We also score pages with Yoast SEO (premium) installed to make sure every aspect of meta data, keywords, and social sharing images set up correctly. Traditional SEO tactics like these will always help improve and will often need to be checked over time to make sure Yoast and SEMRush are still giving green lights to your pages.
Optimize with Cloudflare for lightning-fast loading speeds
When we continued to scale our web services and went from managing a handful of sites to well over 100, we needed a consistent solution that allowed us to repeat our success. That’s where Cloudflare came in, which we recommend for every single site whether or not you use WordPress. Cloudflare is simply the best for website optimization with the click of a button. It allows for proxying all traffic to cut down on bandwidth costs (especially if you use GCP) and for an extra $20/month you can unlock a few more compression features to load your site even faster. Most of our sites are on the free version alone, but the #1 factor beyond pages is the ability to quickly manage DNS configurations and troubleshoot issues. If you aren’t using Cloudflare then drop what you’re doing and add it to your site today. For more information on Cloudflare’s site speed techniques, check out their own article on the topic: Why does site speed matter?
Utilize the Pingdom kingdom for the best speed results
Once your site is fully optimized and added to Cloudflare, it’s time to test it out. We utilize Pingdom for speed results because it’s fast and easy to test. Enter your URL on their site and choose a server location closest to you. Typically we’ll use GTMetrix or even Google Page Speed Insights for performance grades over Pingdom and the speed scores from Pingdom which are more accurate to the eye than the others.
As you can tell, 448ms is pretty incredible. That’s less than half a second to load a 2.7MB website! If you are really curious you can also test on Google Page Speed as mentioned above and see an overall score to double-check your performance and total loading speed.
When the results are this good, it’s time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Google will be more than happy to deem you a relevant site worth ranking high in search compared to those low-value, poor-performing competitors in your industry. A your job well done will make happy customers who are finding you in their searches and have a great experience when navigating your website.
Website optimization is crucial even if you're already getting business
Neil Patel has done research to understand how loading time of a website affects the bottom line of your digital revenue generation. Wordstream has given us the 5 steps you need to take for core web vitals (thanks Google) since as of May 2021 it is a major factor in search rankings. And from our general observations at Soulheart, the clients with the highest performing websites are the ones that get the most out of their organic traffic and paid ad campaigns.
We equate it all to routine oil changes in a vehicle — without them your engine will begin to burn up faster, but with them your vehicle just continues to perform as it’s expected and lasts much longer. Neglecting your website and its performance means even if you are getting customers, you’re likely leaving money on the table. And this process is ever-changing which requires monthly upkeep.
Google has now placed such a priority on various aspects of optimization like core web vitals that we follow blogs and feeds to see what search changes are coming down the pipe that might affect traffic flows and thus impact revenue. In the middle of 2021 Google had this major update that sent us deeper down this optimization train:
We're announcing an updated timeframe for introducing the page experience ranking signal for Google Search. A gradual rollout will begin in mid-June.— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) April 19, 2021
Learn more about the timeframe, new tools, and details about the page experience update https://t.co/kDwhhOYklK pic.twitter.com/K3WHrJcfpS
This data and its corresponding links are what led us to figure out the processes we outlined above. Hopefully you’ve learned something today and can apply these tips to your website and start getting better results immediately.
Website optimization turns your site into a high-performing growth generator
As we once wrote, it’s 2021 and marketing still matters, as does a website that is fully optimized. What do you have to lose by optimizing your site? Well, quite a bit if you value revenue / donations / traffic / membership / etc. Don’t site on the sidelines of something that can truly help your organization fuel its digital growth. Use the ideas, concepts, and tools listed above or hire an agency like Soulheart to do a SEO & Web Audit and provide the recommendations and solutions you need to experience the next level of growth.