After searching endlessly and with much work, I won! Google Page Speed of 96% using a combination of (WordPress) theme and plugin and a bit of tweaking to Apache.
I started with a dreadful Google Page Speed Score of 64%. I figure that if I judge others by their website, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
With my original theme, the Mobile Test was clocking in the Red, around 16 seconds. I finally got into the Green with a 4 second load time.
I’m blogging about it because you would think its easy to get there, but its not. Here’s how I did it.
When you search: you will search for “fast wordpress themes” or AMP (accelerated mobile page) themes. You will find that the SERPs are full of promos that make false claims – they are most often not fast at all. These promotional blogs are annoying and have converted me into a devout hater of what I call “theme factories” (re. Top 10 Fastest WordPress Themes). Thanks for wasting my time!
I tried the Page Speed and SEO theme and while not bad, was not what I wanted. I found that Simple-Days Plus was 2nd best but I found GeneratePress to be the fastest. I like Simple-Days features, so these two are still themes you should take a serious look at.
I have no affiliation with GeneratePress and they are unaware of this post. I’m hoping this helps someone who is seeking the same unbiased information I did. If this saves you time, please contribute what you have learned about themes and plugins regarding page speed in the comments.
I’m not a developer. I can code if I have to – and I do. But I could not use the AMP theme. It is either a work in progress or something for the real developers who have no time constraints. Add to that, out-of-the-box with no modifications, it was slower than GeneratePress.
GeneratePress is fine for my purposes design-wise, but by itself, it still didn’t get me into the Green. It’s the functionality that we need or just love that slow things down, and my mission was to make this website fast rather than dazzling. Analyzing what was slowing things down – the plugins. Many had no effect on Page Speed, but then there are the devious ones.
The tweaks to Apache were pedestrian. I just looked for issues in GTMetrix, Pingdom and Google Page Speed Test and made adjustments accordingly. Nothing magical. I can say that one advantage of running your own serve, is that it makes this part easy. If I did need hosting, I would use page speed as a benchmark. The host should not require any server tweaks to clear GTMetrix, Pingdom and Google tests.
BTW – I found that GTMetrix does not properly detect KeepAlive. I mention this because I quadruple-checked my server, and I’m 100% sure its their test that fails. So don’t waste your time checking. Just use the Apache ab command to check (linux) ab -n 100 -c 5 -k https://www.yoursite.com/ and look for the Keep-Alive requests. If its 0 then you do have a problem.
I don’t have the time to try every WordPress theme that claims to be fast. As mentioned, its really a time-suck to read all those paid-for comparisons by the theme factory bloggers in my pursuit to find the gem amongst all that sand. You can help-out by leave a comment about any themes you may be aware of that should be considered. I’d love to try them out and append to or even rewrite this post.
Update – 1 day later I get a completely unheard of Google Alert for this website. There was no change in indexed pages in Google Search Console. Somehow attaining “Green” gets you into Google’s index in mysterious and powerful ways.