We’ve always advocated making your website as fast as possible to improve conversion rates, reduce bounce rates, provide a better visitor experience, and encourage better SEO performance.
It’s a proven fact: faster websites = better business.
But this year Google took it to the extreme, by admitting that page load speed now plays a much more profound role in where your website ranks in the search results. Suddenly, business owners everywhere were scrambling to improve their performance and Core Web Vitals score on Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
And so we launched Project Lightspeed, a complete optimization of the Thrive toolset with the goal of making your website load as fast as possible.
And sure, in a controlled environment with premium caching on a top host, we can produce some mightily impressive results (especially using our new Kwik Theme)!
But what if you don’t have access to a premium cache plugin?
Or an expensive dedicated host?
Can all these new speed features make a difference to a real business like yours?
Let’s find out...
DecPlay - Easy Piano Method for Senior Citizens and Beginners
Founder of the DecPlay piano method, which aims to bring more smiles to the world through music, by helping as many people as possible to experience the joys of playing piano.
Not content with being a talented musician who has featured on BBC TV and radio, Declan created a new method of writing down and teaching music to beginners, in a language they can understand within minutes. The DecPlay method worked so well, it was awarded a patent and was featured on the BBC - with beginners able to play a recognisable song on piano using both hands, within one hour.
In order to help as many people as possible, Declan launched a website and online course at DecPlay.com – and has so far helped over 3,000 people in 72 countries.
DecPlay.com is helpful to beginners of all ages, but it has found great success helping older customers in the 70-90 age range. As well as enabling people to learn at their own pace, from home, the website also provides an online community where students can make friends and share their piano videos, which helps keep them motivated and makes it fun.
Let’s look at the DecPlay tech-stack
The DecPlay online course is currently externally hosted on Teachable, using an integrated ThriveCart payment system.
DecPlay is hosted with Siteground, a very typical solution for most WordPress-based online businesses. Siteground offers their own cache solution for all customers called SG Optimizer - it’s a fairly solid choice with many caching optimization options, and it’s configured via a WordPress plugin frontend.
This combination of tools can be found on many WordPress businesses – while it’s not rocking an expensive enterprise-level tech-stack, it’s certainly above average and offers a useful benchmark of what’s possible when applying Project Lightspeed to a real website.
OK enough backstory... it’s time to optimize DecPlay.com with Thrive’s latest speed-focused features!
The Starting Score
Shapeshift and Thrive Theme Builder are already pretty optimized for speed out of the box, but that was before Google’s latest speed crusade made a direct link between search result rankings and page load performance.
Add to that the heavy customization beyond the vanilla Shapeshift elements, lots of YouTube and Vimeo video scripts, custom fonts, and default caching rules, and this is how DecPlay scored in Google PageSpeed Insights before we started optimization...
This is an acceptable desktop score, but certainly a cause for attention on mobile devices.
Mobile page load speed is more heavily judged by Google than Desktop, as factors such as Cumulative Layout Shift, First Input Delay and Large Contentful Paint (Google’s names, not ours!) greatly affect the user experience on smaller devices where people have much less tolerance for slower websites.
As a result, it’s much more common for websites to have a much higher Desktop score than Mobile score.
While it would be nice to improve the Desktop score, it’s unlikely to offer a tangible difference to Declan’s online business. In our opinion, green is ‘good enough’ and let’s you focus on more important ways to grow your business.
Like with many similar websites, improving the Mobile score is the bigger priority.
Activating Project Lightspeed
OK, time to activate Project Lightspeed!
Within the WordPress dashboard, I headed over to the Thrive Dashboard to find the Project Lightspeed settings...
Whenever I work directly on a website with real customers and revenue – especially someone else’s business! – I’m always aware of the potential consequences of something going wrong, so I very carefully re-read all the Project Lightspeed tutorials again and made backups with BackupBuddy (saved locally and sent to Dropbox).
Most of the time Project Lightspeed activates without a hitch, but it always pays to be cautious when it comes to making big changes to a working sales funnel.
Next I temporarily disabled the site caching before fully activating Project Lightspeed. See why here.
And now it’s time to press the button: ‘Analyse this site’.
The 1-2 minutes estimate in the message above was perhaps a little ambitious for DecPlay.com (it took 4 minutes 55 seconds in total) but a cup of tea and a cookie later, things were going smoothly.
You can see below how Project Lightspeed is systematically optimizing every part of the Thrive Theme Builder codebase.
Finally, after another cookie, all the site assets have been optimized successfully...
Now the next step is important – after clicking ‘Go to control panel’, notice the toggle is set to the ‘off’ position. This is a safety measure that lets you easily switch back and forth between the optimized and unoptimized version of your website.
But since it’s literally crunch time, let’s go ahead and enable the new optimizations on the live website...
... and everything is still working on the front end. Yay!
Now it’s time to re-enable to basic cache and check the new PageSpeed Insight scores:
So we’ve improved the Mobile score by a whopping 75% (or 21 points) just by clicking a few buttons!
Maybe it’s just me, but the new website feels snappier. Pages seem to load in a flash.
While this is a great result for a cup of tea and two cookies worth of work, it’s still in the red.
This is a good lesson to set realistic expectations on what Project Lightspeed can achieve on its own... Project Lightspeed is just one tool available to improve page load speed.
Let’s see what else we can do!
Lazy Loading Videos
It’s not enough for Declan to simply explain his revolutionary DecPlay piano method with words.
He needs to demonstrate it with inspiring videos of himself so his happy customers can play real songs using his course material.
The videos across the DecPlay website are a great way to speak to the ideal audience, both on desktop and mobile devices.
The only problem?
Embedded videos from the likes of YouTube and Vimeo load a ton of bloated scripts behind the scenes, even if those videos remain unplayed.
... and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Garfield and Homer Simpson, it’s that laziness can be a virtue!
I set about activating the new lazy loading feature on all Declan’s videos, in order to prevent kilobytes worth of unnecessary scripts from automatically loading until the visitor clicked the play button.
This handy little feature saves a ton of loading resources without negatively impacting the visitor’s experience. In fact, lazy loading is such an easy win for video-heavy websites, that we’ve enabled it by default on all future videos you add through the Thrive Visual Editor.
Cashing In On Caching Up
Instead of fully loading every resource and asset for every visitor and search engine, well optimized WordPress websites utilize what’s known as a caching solution (or plugin) to serve a recent ‘snapshot’.
Many of the more advanced caching solutions offer even more ways to speed up your website, such as serving the resources in a specific order to prevent larger elements from creating a download bottleneck.
While it’s well beyond the scope of this post to deep dive into all the bells and whistles offered by the best caching plugins, it’s enough to know they’re pretty impressive tools that can make a huge impact on page load speed and Google’s Core Web Vitals.
I mentioned earlier that DecPlay.com used a caching solution called SG Optimizer – built specifically for SiteGround hosted WordPress websites.
But was there a better tool available that could shave off a few more milliseconds?
I reached out to our technical team here at Thrive Themes to see which other free options they recommended. In the end, I tested both W3 Total Cache and WP Fastest Cache and, while both were impressive and easy to use, neither quite managed the page load scores of SG Optimizer (which is obviously fine-tuned to work with SiteGround’s server configuration).
Despite coming around full circle to the original caching solution, this was a valuable exercise and time well spent. Without testing, there was a chance I was leaving some speed gains on the table.
Goodbye Google Fonts
While fonts can be a beautiful expression of your brand, personality and visual design, you need to remember that no part of your online success hinges on whether you choose Roboto, Open Sans or Lato.
As long as you avoid fonts that actively repel readers (e.g. Comic Sans) or make reading difficult (any handwriting typeface), then you’ll find your chosen font makes no tangible difference to your conversion rate, revenue or visitor engagement.
How is this relevant to improving page speed?
Because choosing custom fonts from libraries such as Google Fonts requires yet more resources and scripts that can increase load times for normal web pages.
Google Fonts is a great, free-to-use resource, especially when you need to add some stylish headings to a landing page where speed or SEO performance isn’t a priority – but just be aware it does add to the loading speed when used across your entire WordPress theme.
At this point in the optimization process, I noticed that DecPlay.com used a font called Oxygen, available from Google Fonts. It’s a pleasant font with good readability, but does it really offer any tangible business benefit over a universally supported font like Arial?
Absolutely not. So let’s reclaim even more speed by disabling Google Fonts in the Project Lightspeed Font Settings.
Now without the additional Google Font resources loading on every page, it was time to flush the cache (to force the changes to go live) and see how it affected the PageSpeed Insights score...
The Final Score
So what was the payoff after applying Project Lightspeed, activating video lazy loading, juggling caching plugins, and disabling Google Fonts?
Did we transform Declan’s piano business website from a sleepy adagio to a prestissimo overture?
Let’s find out...
That’s a 200% increase in Mobile Score (or 56 score points) and 10% increase in Desktop Score (or 9 score points)!
As a reminder, DecPlay.com is built with Thrive Theme Builder and Shapeshift on a good but standard WordPress hosting solution, with a free caching plugin. There is no secret sauce or artificially controlled environment... it’s a REAL website just like yours.
It’s also worth pointing out that this optimization didn’t require any high-level technical skills or arcane geeky knowledge – I followed a simple step-by-step process to identify opportunities, and let Thrive’s tools lead me through making the changes.
If I optimize an online business like DecPlay.com to deliver a 200% increase in Mobile page speed, then so can you!
Are YOU Ready to Speed Up YOUR Website?
There’s no doubt that DecPlay’s speed could improve even more using a combination of premium (paid) caching solutions and better hosting, but we think these new scores are a great foundation to allow Declan to focus on growing other parts of his business and helping more people learn to play piano!
But now it’s over to you...
I hope you’ve found this speed optimization case study useful, but more importantly, I hope you TAKE ACTION and apply some of the techniques to your own website to boost your loading speed, and potentially improve your SEO performance.
If you’re already a Thrive Suite member, you have everything you need to build a blazingly fast website for your online business.
If you’re not using the tools in Thrive Suite yet, isn’t it time you took your website to the next level and joined the thousands of conversion focused online entrepreneurs who are?