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Understanding how your host affects your site speed

Slow websites get penalised by Google, so it’s important yours loads fast.

To illustrate the effect that different hosting companies have on the load speed of a site I did a quick case study of three sites that I run. Two are hosted by Blue Host and one is hosted by WPengine. All three sites run on WordPress and I installed Performance Profiler (P3) by GoDaddy to analyse each site. Now to be fair the three sites are NOT identical. Each site has different plugins installed and plugins play a big part in a site’s performance. Before running this test I would have expected my architectural photography site to be the slowest. It has the largest number of plugins installed and also has lots of large images to load (which makes it’s functionality similar to an architects). My guess was that my blog and whould be a fair comparison because both are primarily text based sites with very few plugins.

This is how they performed:

To my surprise, my heavy photo site got a better average load time score than my blog. No idea what’s going on there, but it’s interesting that both the text blog and the photo site on Bluehost got very similar load times. Both were atrocious and I expected as such because I know from experience that those two sites have in the past taken four or more seconds to load. It’s one of the main reasons why I started searching for an alternative. Now four seconds doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re waiting for a site to load and counting one, and two, and three, and four, you’ll start wondering if this site is ever going to load. And that’s part of the problem. People think the site is broken and click the big BACK button. Which means I just lost a potential visitor (and maybe even a client) to my site. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Google has now just penalized me for being slow and for having a higher bounce-back rate. So not only have I just lost that potential viewer, I’ve lost many, many more because of a poor ranking in search results.

What I am pleased about, however, is the speed at which WPengine is performing. It is seriously fast at 0.052 seconds. So like many of you reading this i’m going to have to make a decision whether or not to pay the extra money for the better performance. For me it’s not a question about “pimping” my site and making it fast, its really a question of how many customers I am loosing vs how many I might save. When I do the sums it’s going to cost an extra $40 to change both sites over to WPengine. This is because I’ll have to get their $100 dollar plan that allows me to host up to 10 sites. For most people with one site however the price difference is really only $9. That’s because you have to account for a backup service. I’m currently using Vaultpress which costs $15/site/month. So backups aren’t cheap, but interestingly, when I dug into the speed report from performance profiler it told me that Vaultpress was actually the slowest running plugin on the site. Not sure if that’s accurate because I thought that backup was only done once per day and not on every page load. Another interesting thing from the report was that on the WPengine site it only listed Performance Profiler as a running plugin. My guess here is that the speed of WPengine has something to do with how it organizes the WordPress install or because the performance test turned off caching on the two Bluehost sites because this is done via plugins, while the WPengine hosting has a dedicated caching system which is always engaged. This is all sounding very technical I know, I’m just trying to paint as fair a comparison as possible. Despite any of these variables, what’s clear is that WPengine is running very, very fast. And that’s what we all want from a site we use for business.