Some WordPress themes users find themselves worried, because after testing their new site with tools such as Google PageSpeed, GTmetrix, and Pingdom, they don’t receive the scores they expected. Alternatively, they may not be well enough informed. For example, they could have heard rumors regarding the top-selling theme they’ve bought being poor-quality. The time has come to clarify these concerns!

First of all, it’s important to note that these tools don’t analyze your theme’s quality, but measure other best practices for optimizing a site. If you’re thinking that the problem is the quality of your theme, you’d be mistaken. These performance tools use other optimization factors to determine their scores, such as server upgrades, Content Delivery Network (CDN) usage, caching plugins, plugin weight, and file minification options.

PageSpeed Insights, while potentially confusing, offers a strong indicator of whether you are on the right track when attempting to speed up your site. Similarly, Pingdom and GTmetrix both offer helpful insights and more detailed information about how you can improve your site’s performance. If you want to score highly, it’s best to experiment with a range of methods and see what works best for your site and server setup. After all, every situation is different.

Does Speed Impact Search Engine Rankings?

Google uses many factors to determine how to rank search engine results. Typically, these factors are either related to the content of a web page itself (for example, the text, URL, and titles and headers), or are measurements of the website’s authenticity (such as the age of the domain name, and the number and quality of inbound links, among others).

However, in 2010 Google announced website speed would begin to have an impact on search rankings. Google added site speed to over 200 other signals that they use in determining search results. In fact, if you read the official blog post, you’ll notice that fewer than 1% of search queries will likely change as a result of incorporating site speed into the ranking algorithms.

Clearly, Google is acting upon what is intuitively obvious: a poor performing website results in a worse user experience, and sites with subpar user experiences deserve less promotion in search results.

While Google has been intentionally unclear about which particular aspect of page speed impacts search rankings, they have stated directly that content relevancy remains king. Taking into consideration the famous research carried out by Matt Peters (lead data scientist at Moz), it’s evident that there is no correlation between ‘page load time’ (either document-complete or fully-rendered) and that page’s ranking in Google’s search results.

However, the data shows that there is a correlation between lower Time-To-First-Byte (TTFB) metrics and higher search engine rankings. Websites with servers and back-end infrastructure that can deliver web content quickly had a higher search ranking than slower sites. This means that, despite conventional wisdom, it is back end rather than front end performance that directly impacts a website’s placement on search engine results pages.

Example Speed Reports and Scores

Many users run rigorous tests and think they’ll be able to achieve 100% scores. Let’s try to better understand what is reasonable to expect. Below, you’ll find a few comparative tables for top-selling themes on the market – award-winning websites created by large agencies, some other popular sites, and a few sites developed using Uncode.

Popular WordPress Themes

The following table looks at some of the most popular themes on the market. As you can see, the results are quite varied – and no one reaches 100%. From this data, can we deduce that BeTheme is the best theme available, or that Enfold is the worst?

Absolutely not. These scores are the result of optimization by various teams, and are affected by their unique servers and setup. In any case, it is interesting to see that our own Uncode theme is ranked third:

Theme PageSpeed GTmetrix Pingdom Score
BeTheme (It) 74 – 85 A 90% – C 79% A 98 426
Newspaper (Gadgets) 64 – 77 A 96% – B 88% A 96 421
Uncode (Classic Business) 61 – 86 A 93% – B 88% A 90 418
Impreza (Corporate) 78 – 82 A 95% – C 72% B 86 413
Flatsome (Corporate) 67 – 64 C 75% – A 91% A 98 395
Avada (Science) 55 – 56 B 89% – A 94% A 92 386
Bridge (Craftman) 71 – 79 B 82% – C 69% B 85 386
Divi (Agency) 65 – 82 B 84% – C 71% B 81 383
Jupiter (Pandia) 55 – 64 B 85% – B 80% B 83 367
Salient (Corporate) 61 – 74 C 76% – B 80% C 71 362
The 7 (Corporate) 64 – 73 D 75% – C 68% D 63 343
X (Integrity) 60 – 70 E 53% – E 54% C 72 309
Enfold (2017) 37 – 34 F 37% – C 73% A 93 274

Tests performed on July 12th, 2017.

Award-Winning Websites

This next table looks at some sites created by famous communication and development agencies. We are talking about the Site of the Year, the Site of the Month for April, and the Developer Awards site on Awwwards.

These examples represent the elite of what can be found in design and performance on the web, and are projects with impressive budgets. However, it turns out that their performance is inferior to many commercial tools that cost only $59! These agencies and their successful clients understand how much value they should assign to these tools, and don’t need to worry much about them.

Website PageSpeed GTmetrix Pingdom Score
Protest (Site of the Year) 43 – 51 B 80% – E 58% D 68 300
Essential (Developer Award) 49 – 74 A 90% – D 66% A 95 374
Mendo (Site of the Month) 45- 59 C 78% – D 64% C 79 325

Tests performed on July 12th, 2017.

Other Popular Websites

Now, let’s analyze some famous websites. Some of these sites were developed for businesses that make millions of dollars a day, and they still seem unoptimized!

Website PageSpeed GTmetrix Pingdom Score
Netflix 83 – 81 C 74% – B 89% B 85 412
Zara 70 – 81 B 89% – B 87% B 85 412
Apple 53 – 74 B 80% – C 74% C 77 358
National Geographic 60 – 76 C 75% – E 56% D 69 336
Fubiz 50 – 48 F 38% – F 34% C 72 242

Tests performed on July 12th, 2017.

3 Websites Powered by Uncode

In this last table, we’ll be considering three sites made with Uncode. It may seem strange that you can use the same theme and get three completely different results – and these results may even be much higher than your own Uncode site. This again suggests that the problem (and the main factor these tools prioritize) is not theme quality but other optimization efforts.

Website PageSpeed GTmetrix Pingdom Score
Undsgn 64 – 87 A 97% – B 89% A 91 428
Tom Robak 52- 79 A 94% – A 90% A 96 411
Dav Port 46 – 45 D 61% – B 81% A 91 324

Tests performed on July 12th, 2017.

Why Is My Uncode-Based Website Slow?

You found your way to the Uncode theme demo site, and you were immediately dazzled by how cool the page was. It’s very impressive: parallax header images, plenty of effects, cutting-edge layouts, different menus, various blog and portfolio layouts, and bragging rights based on top sales at ThemeForest.

However, when you run your new Uncode-driven site, the performance is lacking. Why is your Uncode theme slow, when the demo loads so well – are you missing a key piece of information?

The answer is that all of the sites reviewed above implement extra optimization practices. Only through these methods can you achieve excellent results. It’s a complex job that often needs to be conducted by professionals, and goes beyond the scope of using a specific theme.

For example, Uncode and all of the other themes we tested use WP Rocket or similar caching plugins, and take advantage of Cloudflare to significantly reduce page load times and boost the site’s performance scores. This mean that to achieve similar results, you’ll need to use an external service on a daily basis, have certain technical skills, spend a significant amount of time working on optimizations, and invest part of your budget to getting it right.

How Can I Improve My Website’s Loading Times?

To perform well on speed tests like the ones above, your site will require some optimization in addition to a solid theme. Here are some simple tips you can put into practice to get started:

  1. Make sure to keep your image file sizes as small as possible, and optimize them for the web. Use a good image-compression plugin, like JPEGMini or Optimizilla. Once your images are uploaded to the WordPress Media Library, you can also use a plugin like WP Smush to optimize them.
  2. Don’t think that you can place a 70 MB video into a 10-slide carousel, insert it onto a page, and expect it to load fast enough for anyone to hang around and watch. It won’t! Embed them using a platform such as  YouTube instead.
  3. Try to avoid large plugins like Slider Revolution and Layer Slider as much as possible. Even if these are great tools for create amazing headers, they also add dozens of extra files to your site.
  4. When your $3.00 per month hosting package lets you down, don’t be surprised. You should evaluate a host based on its quality and reliability. Get a solid hosting package from the beginning – it will save you a lot of grief over the long run.
  5. Use a proven CDN service such as MaxCDNCloudflare, or any other option you are comfortable with. These services will dramatically improve page loading speeds, especially for media-heavy sites.
  6. Use WP Rocket or another caching plugin. These plugins require a bit of knowledge to use properly, but can really boost your site’s performance. If you don’t have the time, or don’t want to deal with this step, hire a competent professional to help you optimize your site.
  7. Reduce redirects by creating a responsive website layout that can be viewed on both mobile and desktop browsers. If you want to redirect your users to a mobile version of your page, use a HTTP redirect, and include markup on your page so the Google bots can identify the mobile-equivalent URL.
  8. Decrease your page size, and compress your pages with tools like Gzip at the server-side level.
  9. Purchase a dedicated server. This is the best way to ensure faster bandwidth, more storage space, and faster server response times.

You can find more insights about how to speed up your site on the Optimize for speed & performance article.

So, Should You Avoid Speed Tests Entirely?

Not really. Instead, use these services as tools that can tell you specific things about your website. It’s a good idea to regularly test your site and establish benchmarks so you can make improvements over time. However, the results should not be used to evaluate the quality of the theme you have bought (as the above tests have shown) or to predict what position your site will achieve on Google results pages.