A Web Dev’s Checklist for Maintaining Page Speed

Andy Schaff Sep 21 2017

A guide for web developers to maintain a faster site with better performance

It’s obvious to say that all websites need upkeep, but often times they are left as “good enough.” Collecting dust, attracting hackers, slipping in the rankings. We’ve already gone into painstaking detail about why page speed matters and various levels of guidance for site speed optimization overhaul from novice to advanced. This article assumes you’ve implemented most of those major improvements, at least somewhat recently. If you haven’t, then definitely do start here.

In this post, we’ll look at the most likely culprits causing page speed to creep back up, and basic fixes to help keep the base layer of the marketing stack (infrastructure, page/site speed) healthy.


Image compression

Over time, lots of content gets added, edited, and generally messed with on your site. Content producers upload images, page templates get a facelift, and so on. In the hustle to keep our content fresh, compelling, and published on-time, marketers can easily forget to follow the image compression procedures that we carefully laid out the last time we did a site speed push.

Whatever the reason for the average image size creeping up, if images are not optimized before they go live, or auto-optimized on upload, it won’t take long for your newest content to under-perform.

Maintenance Tip #1: Test a handful of your main pages quarterly like the homepage, blog hub, services page, products hub, etc., on webpagetest.org. Analyze the results and make sure you address image compression issues.

Identify where and how over-sized images are popping up most frequently, and proactively address it with the folks who can improve their process. Teach your content team how they can optimize imagery for your site. Better still, implement a plugin that will auto-optimize your imagery on upload.

HTACCESS rules overwritten

This may sound like a strange culprit, but it definitely happens. A CMS and/or plugin modifies the local Apache config file (.htaccess) and in the process, wipes out a bunch of browser caching or compression directives.

Maintenance Tip #2: Be sure that you’re still defining max-age (or far off) expiration times for your static files like images, CSS, JavaScript, fonts, etc.

JavaScript and CSS bloat

Have you added any plugins to extend functionality lately? More often than not, plugins inject their own javascript and CSS on every page, even if they’re only truly being utilized on a few.

Maintenance Tip #3: Customize your theme (or app) to remove these unnecessary resources where they are not needed. This can be tedious, but taking the time to limit all plug-ins to only the uses and pages where they’re needed will add up to improve your performance metrics, and enhance your customers’ experience on your site.

3rd party scripts

Marketers love their tools. They provide great insights into all kinds of metrics to help make informed decisions. From page views and click-throughs to heat maps and scroll tracking. But sometimes they love their tools too much — and subsequently have their dev team install a bunch of 3rd party scripts into the code.

With the advent of Google Tag Manager, marketers can even insert some of these scripts themselves, which opens its own can of worms that we won’t get into. We’re big fans of GTM in general for the agility and visibility it brings to marketing teams, but as a developer that knows the value of site speed, you still need to understand all the code that’s going into your site.

Maintenance Tip #4: Coordinate with your analytics and/or marketing teams who utilize these tools and analyze them carefully. Be picky about what you are running on your site. Purge scripts that are no longer needed (or no longer work).

CMS and Updates to Plugins, Extensions, Modules

Regardless of your CMS, you should be keeping up with core updates for security patching and enhanced functionality. Sometimes, the updates are improvements to code efficiency. Plus, you don’t want to fall so far behind that when you finally address updates, they are of the large, complicated, headache variety. Iterative updates for the win!

The same goes for any plugins or extensions.

Maintenance Tip #5: Be vigilant about CMS updates. Keep ‘em small and painless. If a faster site wasn’t enough incentive, you don’t want to be unknowingly advertising for hackers, right?

That’s all for now!

This should be a fairly simple, manageable list to get your site’s performance back on the right track — and, most importantly, convert more leads. I would suggest reviewing once a month, and if you haven’t made any investment in site speed before this definitely check out Portent’s Massive Guide To Site Speed as a starting place If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

7 Comments

  1. Quick checkpoint not just for web devs but also SEO specialists – we do this every day, too :)

  2. A good list! What are your recommendations for caching plugins? Optimising image plugins?

    • Andy Schaff

      Andy Schaff

      Thanks Tarnya! I’d recommend W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache for a caching plugin. And for image optimization, I’d recommend EWWW Image Optimizer. Check out our guide on site speed, including other tools for image optimization found here. I also did an article on WordPress utilizing W3 Total Cache.

  3. I recently made improvements to my WordPress website to increase the page speeds, and I installed a few plugins to do so. I have grade A scores on PageSpeed and Pingdom, but my Yslow score is a C+ on gtmetrix, should I make any more changes? I don’t want to over optimize.

    • Andy Schaff

      Andy Schaff

      I would take a look at webpagetest.org and see how you’re scoring — If you’re showing any issues with Time To First Byte, Expires Headers (of assets you control), or Compression, I would definitely take a look. If it’s for your Shimmer Technologies site, I just ran a test and things are looking solid! https://www.webpagetest.org/result/171009_WF_be96065bef25462e85368ff697c6c8d2/

  4. Great article Andy!

    Which tool would you recommend for checking website load speed?

    Kind regards,
    Filip

    • Andy Schaff

      Andy Schaff

      Thanks Filip! I would suggest using webpagetest.org and/or pingdom.com for testing load speed. You can also use Chrome console for a geekier waterfall look.

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