Note: If you’re reading this, then you most likely run your own church website. This post will help all church communicators and webmasters, but it leans heavy towards WordPress optimization. Although the WordPress users will grab the most detail from this speed optimization post, I’ve tried to highlight areas that
all most church website owners can use to increase their website speed.
When churches ask me what I would do to optimize their site, I address their website’s speed first.
There are a few reasons to why I tackle church website speed first:
- If the site is slow to load, chances are that users will go back to the search engines and find an alternative. 40% of users will abandon a page that takes 3+ seconds to load.
- Beautiful web design only matters if people can see your site. If it doesn’t load quickly, most people lose interest and leave.
- Load time is a ranking factor, and Google loves fast websites.
- Inviting people to a slow website is like inviting people to your house with no lights on… People won’t think anyone is home and leave.
- Most churches (and websites in general) should see at least 50% of their website traffic coming from a mobile device.
If you’re running the Internet marketing for your church, you’re going to want to keep reading.
Easy Fixes to Help Improve Church Website Speed
I’ve put together a list of easy ways to improve your church website speed. The list purposefully leaves off advanced techniques, but I’ve linked out to a few resources that might be able to help if you have the know-how.
First, let’s benchmark your website speeds. Here are two tools that will help you with realistic load times and offer solutions on how to improve your site speeds:
- Pingdom – Switch the “test from” location to match closest to your location. Pingdom is known as one of the most accurate ways to measure load times (the #1 data point to examine using this report).
- GTmetrix – This load speed scan will give you the most recommendations on what you should fix.
Tip: Open both of these scanners in your browser. Screen shot the initial scan, and then get to work on the items below.
You might be asking yourself, “Why did he forget about Google Speed Insights?”
That’s because GSI doesn’t always give you a very full picture of your actual load times. However, it is great at telling you whether your server is to blame for slow speeds. If you see that your report shows a slow server response time, go to bytecheck.com too. Check your TTFB score. If it’s 500ms or greater, it might be worth shopping for a new host or an upgraded plan.
Compress and Resize Your Website Images
Images can be one of the largest contributing factors to a slow site. There are a few ways to get around this issue, even if you have an image heavy design.
- Resize your images: Most sites won’t utilize an image over 2,000 pixels wide (most modern sites are around 1250 pixels), so you can shrink down that massive original file to something smaller. This should cut down on your image load size significantly. Resize your images BEFORE you upload them to your server.
- Compress your images: If you’re using an image editor like Photoshop or Canva, you’re typically saving the image at a high quality level. This is really only necessary if you’re going to use the image in print. Use an image compressor to decrease the file size. Most compression will lower the image quality slightly, and you won’t even notice visual changes. You will definitely notice the speed gains.
Image Compression Tools
- Imagify (WordPress and Standalone): We love using Imagify for Church.org. It can be used independently or you can utilize their WordPress plugin to bulk optimize your images. Compression settings are easy to understand as well. They have free and paid versions. Most smaller sites can get away with the free compressor.
- Photoshop: If you use photoshop at your church, then you can easily compress your images within the software. Once you have resized the height and the width of the image, go to File and Save for the Web. Here, you will be able to adjust the quality of the image compression and upload a web friendly photo or graphic.
- Compressor.io: This is an online image compressor, so you can use it with any website, regardless of whether it’s on WordPress, Ministry Designs, or something else.
- WP Smush It (WordPress): WP Smush It is an easy to use bulk optimizer for WordPress. The free account is sufficient for most church websites, but the extent of the compression is limited more than Imagify’s free account.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A content delivery network (CDN) uses servers that are spread out over a geographic area (usually throughout the world) to store and serve webpages and content that lives on them (images, font files, etc). CDNs help deliver your website faster and can also help prevent website crashes.
Think of it as a ton of servers that are spread out across the world. If your website is originally hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, but your church is in Denver, a CDN can help deliver content to your audience in Denver faster by bridging the gap with their servers that are closer.
Most church websites can benefit from implementing a CDN, but not all need one to improve their site speed. However, additional security benefits of using a CDN make using one far more attractive.
Here Are a Few Recommended CDN Solutions
- WP Engine (WordPress host): Do you run your church website on WordPress? WP Engine is known as one of the best managed WordPress hosts in the world, and their solution comes with a CDN. Their CDN uses MaxCDN (listed next) with a one click solution. It’s super easy for newer church webmasters to use.
- MaxCDN (paid): A trusted option for small websites is MaxCDN. They provide their CDN services with a few more technical options than the free Cloudflare account. Similar to Cloudflare’s free account, SSL certificates are provided at $0 and up.
- Amazon CloudFront: Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a free tier for 12 months of service, and most churches would fall into that tier. For small churches, hosting your website on AWS can be very affordable. The AWS suite also includes Amazon CloudFront, their CDN that pairs with their hosting services, and you can also use it for free for the first 12 months. AWS is slightly more complicated than other hosting solutions, so ask for help or tread carefully if you go this route.
Use Browser Caching
Sorry non-WordPress users. This is way more technical for you, so I won’t dive in too deep. If browser caching is an issue that is popping up in your website speed tests, ask your host or developer for help. You can also check out Cloudflare (listed above) or Sucuri’s WAF (recommended and used by Yoast SEO).
TL;DR Browser Caching Recommendations for Church WordPress Sites
- WP Rocket: Pair this browser caching and overall speed optimization tool with Imagify (keep an eye out for promo codes for Imagify when you sign up). WP Rocket is easy to use and integrates with many of the tools mentioned above. It’s 100% worth the cost ($39).Additionally, WP Rocket’s extra speed settings will allow you to skip over many of the other speed steps below.
- WP Super Cache: This is one of the more widely used caching plugins for WordPress and it will work fine for most church sites on WordPress. It does require a little more know-how than WP Rocket, but it’s free. WP Beginner has a decent tutorial which also includes info on W3 Total Cache (another great alternative).
Before you get started, make a backup of your website. This can either be really easy, or really difficult, depending on which route you take. I’m going to take you through the easiest possible way to do this to minimize issues and keep you rolling onto other important church marketing tasks.
What the heck does it mean to minify code? When a developer creates code for a website, it’s designed to help them stay organized. That’s why code can look a little different from developer to developer. It’s like someone’s handwriting, but in code. Minifying the website code takes the extra spaces, whitespace, hidden comments, and other areas of the code just for the developer and condenses it. This smaller file helps the site load faster.
Whether you’re using WordPress, Ministry Designs, or any other website solution, all of these minify tools should work for you.
Do you have your own website speed improvement tips to share for churches?
Leave a comment and share your pearls of wisdom!