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Divi Speed Enhancements

What is it about speed that yanks our chain so hard? We are certified speed freaks at Helter Skelter Digital and the words Divi and Speed are rarely found in the same sentence. In fact the phrase Divi Speed Enhancements was only ever heard in the company of the phrase “We wish”. So the announcement on the 18th August from Elegant Themes of Divi Speed Enhancements was both much welcome and the cause of great consternation.

Updates Break Websites!

Whisper it quietly but I’ve known major Divi updates to break websites on occasion and so this quote from Elegant themes on the Divi Upgrade filled me with hope tempered with a slight sense of foreboding –

 We turned Divi into a super light-weight theme by modularizing its PHP framework and assets, loading and processing only what’s needed on-demand based on the modules and features you use. We made Divi super smart, automatically identifying Critical CSS, deferring non-critical styles and reducing the Divi Builder’s CSS output by combining duplicate styles. We also introduced a collection of new options that automatically improve performance by caching and deferring various render-blocking requests and removing unneeded resources.

Elegant Themes – Nick Roach

In fact his is exactly what was required, a re-engineering of the spine of the theme, a shedding of excessive bloat and reduction of dependencies throughout the theme. Let’s face it Divi was one of the worst offenders for code bloat but this is to all intent and purposes a new framework.

Divi WordPress Theme

Testing

So. let’s see what happened when we tested the updated theme. Note that for this test we deactivated all other performance plugins, flushed the cache and started from scratch

The site is chriswright.photography – it is image heavy and was built at the beginning of last year with Divi. It rated an A in GT Metrix using our standard combination of performance enhancing plugins.

Before

This is the “Before” rating, using WP Rocket, Perfmatters and OMGF to boost performance.

The site is hosted on SiteGround, we have a good relationship with Siteground and host a lot of sites there, but we have recognised that TTFB has not been great there for a long time.

Note a couple of things here – the loading of images has been deferred so this measures effectively an empty page. The images slide in 1 second later. Not great for user experience. TTFB is 618ms, served from Siteground, it’s not bad but it is a half second delay before the site even begins to load.

Fully loaded. time is 1.4 seconds. Comfortably within Google’s recommendations but add the delayed images and you’re looking at 2.4 seconds. Not ideal.

After

Divi Speed Enhancements GT Metrix Score

So we used Cloudflare with the APO plugin to serve the site from the Cloudflare cache as static html – this accounts for the improved TTFB score here.

Largest Contentful Paint is up to 1.3 seconds from 943ms and I’m resigned to time well wasted trying to work out why – the image in question is the logo, a tiny file.

TTI is up to 1.1 second from 924ms

FLT is down to 1.3 seconds form 1.4.

There are also differences in CLS, Total Blocking Time and the cumulative effect of the above on Performance.

It’s worth mentioning that these tests can offer different results depending on network conditions, but I’ll take a net gain of 0.1 seconds as a plus, especially when you factor in that this represents a fully loaded site including the deferred images.

Problems? Well our decision to disable the previous performance enhancing plugins was taken because out of the box, the upgrade broke the image loading in Envira Gallery. I tested it thoroughly later and the culprit was WP Rocket. I’ve no doubt that I could reconfigure the plugin but with an improved score in GT Metrix it’s easier to remove it.

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Proceed with Caution

So a word of advice. This is a major overhaul and as such, deserves extra care in upgrading.

  • Back up your website first
  • Test Thoroughly in Staging Environment
  • Disable all existing performance tuning plugins
  • Check that the site is not broken
  • Switch on your performance plugins one at a time, flushing the cache between each one.
  • Switch off any function in the plugin that duplicates improvements to the theme. Then test, switch back on and test again.

Conclusion

Superficially this looks like a very slight win for the upgrade, 0.1 seconds. But this figure ignores some very significant improvements.

There are some niggles and its clear that our performance plugins do a better job in some respects, but deferring images was never the best idea on a photography site and wit this upgrade there is no need.

Credit where credit is due, these speed enhancements are effective and appear to be well engineered so hats off to Elegant Themes.

Helter Skelter Digital have several sites still running on Divi and we were facing up to the irksome task of migrating them gradually across to a faster theme. These days, any improvement to speed is to be welcomed but it’s a long and tiresome process to migrate a site built with any form of builder. Thanks to this upgrade, the migration projects can go on the back burner for a while at least.

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Further Reading

Helter Skelter Digital Post with more detail about testing the Divi Theme Enhancements.

Fast Web Hosting for WordPress – recommended hosts supporting fast technology

Also check out this post – 4 Best Website Platforms for more info about themes and SEO.

And this post about Building a Photography Website.

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