Yep, you read that right: I got a 1311% speed boost when I set up Cloudways managed cloud hosting on my server combined with our Hummingbird and Smush Pro plugins.
And I got that result with very little effort.
You’ve no doubt had it drummed into you that optimizing your websites for speed is important. After all, 40% of people won’t wait three seconds for your front page to load, while Google recommends that your site loads within 2 seconds but that you should really aim for 500 ms for an optimal SERP ranking.
But actually achieving fast page speeds? Well, that can be incredibly tricky and time consuming. I mean, what the heck is a render blocking resource? (Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question, but do you remember the first time you came across it on Google PageSpeed Insights?)
So when I was asked to review Cloudways’ managed hosting service, I was skeptical. The truth is, I hate writing reviews about products I don’t like, I just can’t do it, so I made it clear to Cloudways that if I came across anything I didn’t like I would call them out. But they gave me a test account anyway… and I was pleasantly surprised… and, truth be told, ridiculously excited when I saw how fast my test website started flying once I added our Hummingbird and Smush Pro plugins to the mix.
So let’s get on with it. Here’s how I made my website 1311% faster using cloud hosting with Cloudways as well as our Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro plugins, – and how I got my web pages to load in less than a blink of an eye (that’s 300 to 400 milliseconds, just so you know).
Cloud hosting is one of the best ways to speed up your website since you’re able to draw on a cluster of servers rather than just one. This means that if you suddenly need more resources to keep your site running as fast as The Flash, you can draw on other servers in the cloud.
The alternative is rather bleak since your site and server would shut down completely when your resources are exhausted. With cloud hosting, this isn’t an issue.
The biggest difference between Cloudways and the major cloud hosting platforms out there, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Compute Engine (GCE), is that Cloudways is the bridge between the major hosts.
Normally, if you wanted to set up your site on AWS or GCE, it would take a lot of time and technical know-how, and not just the amount of effort it takes to set up a WordPress site on a traditional server. No, I’m talking about the kind of effort that makes even pro developers squeamish and anxious at the thought of having to set up a cluster in the cloud.
Cloudways takes care of all of this for you. All you need to do is select a WordPress single or Multisite install from the list of available applications, enter a name for your server, then choose between Digital Ocean, Vultr, AWS and GCE.
Once you’ve made your choice, your new cloud server is set up for you in about 15 minutes, sometimes less. Awesome!
Since we’re talking cloud hosting, besides blazingly fast server speeds there are a ton of features you can get with Cloudways that you won’t see with other hosting services. Here are just some that set Cloudways apart from its competition.
You get the flexibility of fast and reliable managed cloud hosting and you can automatically upgrade your server almost instantly. On top of that, you can get a cloud server up and running in just a few clicks, and you don’t have to worry about securing your service because it’s taken care of for you. Oh, and you’re protected with a firewall, too.
Even though it’s managed, you still get full control of your site, its settings and what plugins you want to install on your WordPress site.
Free SSL certificates are available and you can install them on your site in one click. Let’s Encrypt, which provides the certificates, is a renowned and trusted open source certificate authority.
Cloudways lets you install a free SSL certificate to secure and encrypt the connection between your site and your visitors’ browsers. With a certificate installed, hackers won’t be able to get their fingers in there and muck about your site or steal your visitors’ personal information.
While WordPress itself is secure, it’s still essential for all WordPress sites to have an SSL certificate since there are forms in even a default install that can potentially be exploited such as the login form. It’s not mandatory to have one, but since you can now safely get one for free, why wouldn’t you jump on that kind of opportunity to help secure your site?
Even if you don’t install an SSL certificate, you still have access to file transfer protocol secure (SFTP) and SSH file transfer protocol (SFTP). This means your connection while transferring files to and from your site is encrypted for optimal security.
I can’t speak for all hosting companies, but this typically isn’t an option unless you decide to install an SSL certificate on your own.
Normally with cloud hosting you get a dynamic IP address, which means your site’s IP can change every now and again if you upgrade or you need more resources to keep your site running. This means that many options for running your site can quickly go out the window, such as domain mapping or installing cPanel.
Cloudways automatically assigns each server an IP address so you can still enjoy the benefits of having a static IP while still hosting your site on the cloud.
If you need a dedicated IP address, you can quickly add a new server for a measly $5 and host your site there. There are also larger server sizes available if you think you need more wiggle room.
While you can’t install cPanel with Cloudways, its interface (called Platform) replaces cPanel so you’re not losing out when you choose to send your site to the cloud.
Speaking of the interface, who says you can’t have cloud hosting without spending all your time with your nose in SSH? Cloudways provides a fantastic interface for managing your account, from where you can do pretty much anything you need, such as creating, deleting or cloning a server and installing a new WordPress site all the way to increasing your upload and PHP memory limit.
Currently, you can transfer files with SFTP and SSH, but imminent upgrades to the UI are also set to include a file manager so you can finally ditch cPanel for good. Not to mention the fact that cloud hosting doesn’t normally include a file manager so this is pretty special.
If you’re curious about how your server is doing and how much of your resources your site is using, you can monitor your server in real-time. It’s also included so you don’t have to open your wallet again.
You can check how much CPU and storage space you’re using as well as your traffic stats, bandwidth, and requests in reads and writes.
Cloudways also provides a suggestion for the point at which you should consider upgrading so it’s even easier to know when you’re reaching your server size’s limits.
When you set up your server and WordPress site, a Cloudways sub-domain is instantly included so the new site you created can act as a staging environment until you decide to push your changes live or transfer your site to your production server.
Since servers are billed hourly, you can quickly create a server to test on, then migrate it to your live server within the same day without having to worry about paying for a whole month. You can also set up a test environment with our Cloner plugin if you prefer to stay within your Multisite install.
If you work with a team or you have clients, you can add them separately with certain permissions so you don’t have to worry about someone mucking up your server or settings.
If you’re a WordPress developer or designer, it’s a great way to give your clients their own fast, reliable server for the optimal performance of their site while not giving them access to all your clients’ servers. Instead, you can give them support access only so they can open tickets on your behalf.
Plus, it’s just easier to bill clients based on their server and usage of resources when it’s all calculated for you in your Cloudways dashboard.
The quick answer is that I was able to increase the speed of my Cloudways-hosted test site by 1311% by also installing Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro when compared to my regular ol’ test site on my VPS server. This setup was also 492% faster than my managed VPS when I installed these plugins.
Mind you, my test sites had a super clunky theme and plugin installed with bandwidth and storage-sucking unoptimized images and content. If you actually made an effort to keep your site clean and lightweight, you could very well achieve even better results.
Speaking of clunky themes and plugins as well as unoptimized images and content, Cloudways can’t exactly protect you or me from our choices. While they do provide automatic server optimization, there’s only so much they can do if you decide you absolutely need themes, plugins or images that take up a lot of resources.
In case you’re wondering, Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro made the test site on my VPS server load 375% faster than without them installed.
Even with the massive earns in speed with just these two plugins installed, adding Cloudways into the mix provided a massive return in decreased loading speed of my site.
Cloudways is already so fast, but I was able to achieve and exceed Google’s more ambitious recommended goal of a 500 ms page loading speed when I installed and set up both Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro.
And the best part? It was super easy to achieve.
For a while, I refused to believe that the practically zero effort I put in paired with the automatic image optimizing of Smush Pro could actually make my site buzz like it had way too much coffee. Yet, I guess the results speak for themselves. It makes me wonder how fast I could get my site running if I actually tried to put in an effort.
Even with my non-effort, I was able to achieve Google PageSpeed Insight scores of 91/100 for the desktop and 75/100 for the mobile versions of my test sites across the four available server types in Cloudways.
My clunky theme didn’t help the mobile user experience, though, since Google deemed it to not be mobile-friendly. Even still, speed wasn’t nearly as much of an issue.
With a tiny bit more tweaking, I was able to pull up a score of 91/100 for mobile and 97/100 for desktop versions of my site.
If you think it’s easy to achieve this kind of score without really trying, you might want to check out our post Why Trying to Get 95+ on Google PageSpeed Insights for Your WordPress Site Will Drive You Mad!
Mind you, Raelene Morey originally wrote that post in 2014 – before Hummingbird and Smush Pro were around. She tried installing clean, lightweight plugins and themes while optimizing her site like crazy, but still ended up falling short of her goal. She only achieved 79/100 for mobile devices and 91/100 for her desktop site after wiping her brow from sweat.
If you want to give this setup a try for your site, it all starts with setting up a Cloudways server with a free 14-day trial. Coincidentally, you can also get Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro for free, also for 14 days.
Once you sign up for both, you can give this setup a go without worrying about it costing you anything.
Once you have signed up with Cloudways, you can create your first server by selecting WordPress (or Multisite!) from the first drop-down box, then entering a name for your application – in this case, WordPress – along with naming your server and project. You can also choose from other applications such as WooCommerce.
Next, you can choose the type of cloud infrastructure you want to use, and the size and location of the server.
When you’re done, click Launch Server at the bottom of the page to create your first server and WordPress site with Cloudways.
The server sizes may seem a bit small to you, but a little bit goes a long way. A server with one gigabyte of RAM and one core processor should comfortably provide you with about 50,000 to 60,000 visitors per month.
Once you have launched your server, you should be redirected to the Applications page where you can view your new server on the list. Once it has finished being created, you can click on it to view more options.
You can also toggle between servers and applications toward the top of the page. In the navigation menu, you have the options to view your Servers, Applications, Team and Projects.
Your applications (or in this case, WordPress sites) can be organized into projects so they’re easier to find and manage.
When you click on your site on the list, you are brought to a page where you can manage your site from getting your login and SSH credentials to viewing stats and creating cron jobs or installing an SSL certificate.
On the main Access Details tab, you should see your login details for your new WordPress site under Admin Panel. You can click the icon beside your URL to launch the admin dashboard.
You can also click on your password to automatically copy it or you can click the eye icon to view your password in plain text.
In the screenshot above, I have already added my own domain name by clicking the Domain Management tab and filling out the simple form. Fortunately, I didn’t forget to change my DNS records so the new URL works.
Now you’re ready to add content to your new site or migrate your old one. You can also give Cloudways a try for yourself with an even better freebie than a 14-day trial.
Here at WPMU DEV, we worked hard to secure a sweet deal for you. In case you’re wondering, it’s absolutely not an affiliate link since We Don’t Do Affiliates So Please Stop Asking!
Your $50 credit will be automatically added to your account when you upgrade from your free 14-day trial. It’s good through to the end of October 2016 and for server sizes of 1 gigabyte and up.
Before you go ahead and start adding images and content to your site, install WP Smush Pro since it can automatically optimize all the images you upload to your media library.
To download the plugin and for details on how to install it, check out the WP Smush Pro page and Usage tab.
Once you have installed and activated it, you can double-check the settings under admin dashboard > Media > WP Smush and save any changes you have made.
There are several settings you can enable including:
Once that’s all set, you can start uploading your images and creating your site content.
If at any point you want to Smush your images after you see a message letting you know there’s an opportunity to optimize your images further, you can click the Bulk Smush button to make it happen.
Once you’ve set up your site and you’re happy with it, you can start making it seriously fast. For details on how to download, install and activate Hummingbird, check out the product usage guide.
Go to your super admin dashboard > Hummingbird > Dashboard and click on the Start Caching My Website button to, well, cache your site. You should be redirected to the settings page for caching where you should see a message that it’s enabled and the recommended settings are set up already.
Go back to the Hummingbird Dashboard page and click the Compress My Website button. You should be redirected to the GZIP compression setting page where it’s enabled for you.
Once again, go back to the Hummingbird Dashboard and click Test My Website to start scanning your site.
When it’s complete, you should see your first performance report. At the top of the page is your overall score and some information on your last scan and previous scores.
You can click the View Test button for more detailed information on your scores. You can also click any items listed in the performance report on this page that don’t have a perfect score. This redirects you to the Hummingbird > Performance Report page.
Here, you can click the Improve Score buttons to view detailed information about the issue that was detected as well as details on the fix. In most cases, you can fix the problem in one click.
One of the recommendations listed that you’re likely to see is Remove render-blocking resources. When you select it, you should see a list of files that need to be adjusted along with a button you can click to redirect you to the minifying settings.
Here, you can adjust where your enqueued files should load on your page to improve your page speed. Click the Check Files button to get started. Once your site has been scanned, you can view a list of all the files that can be combined and minified.
You can bulk update all the files toward the top of the page or you can select which files should be individually included, minified and combined as well as the position on the page where they should load.
Once you’re done, click Save Changes, then go to Hummingbird > Dashboard or Performance Report to start a new performance scan by clicking the Run Test button.
Once you view your new score and report, you can change your settings and files further to get as high a score as you can.
If you mess up and want to start all over again, click the Clear button at the top of the Hummingbird > Dashboard page to reset everything.
If you’ve followed along with my setup in this post, you’re ready to start checking Google PageSpeed Insights or other free speed testing tools and see how fast your site has become.
Sure, you could try other methods to get your website loading in under 2 seconds, to achieve a Google PageSpeed score of 95+/100. It would probably take a lot of effort, but you could probably do it. Or, in far less time and with very little effort you could set up a new Cloudways server and install Hummingbird and Smush Pro and easily get your site literally loading in the blink of an eye.
Obviously, you know which way I would go since I wrote up this review after all…