Do you have a need for speed? No, I’m not talking about auditioning for a role in the next Fast & Furious movie – I’m talking about always being on the lookout for ways to speed up your website.
If you have a website, no matter what it’s about, how quickly it loads is going to play a big role in how successful it is. A slow-loading website will lead to unhappy visitors, reduce your conversion rates, and put you in the dog house with Google.
Perhaps those facts are what led you to our NitroPack review – NitroPack is an all-in-one website performance tool that, in the words of its landing page, is “the only service you need for a fast website”.
If you want a simple way to speed up your website, I’m not sure you’ll find a more convenient way to make a huge improvement to your load times.
Sure, as is often the case, you’re going to pay for that convenience. But depending on your situation, the money might be worth it.
In this review, I’m going to put NitroPack to the test by…
- Running some before/after performance tests to see how much NitroPack can speed up my site.
- Digging into the various features that NitroPack offers.
- Showing you how to set up and configure NitroPack with a WordPress website (though NitroPack works with non-WordPress sites, too).
By the end, you should know whether or not it’s the right tool for your needs.
NitroPack performance test data
Obviously, the biggest factor in determining whether or not to use NitroPack is if it can make a noticeable difference in your site’s performance. For that reason, I think it’s best to kick off our NitroPack review with some real performance tests, even before talking about any of its features.
Basically, features sound nice in the marketing copy, but page load times are what matter.
To test NitroPack’s performance, I took my trusty WordPress demo site and used it to run some before/after tests from different locations.
My test site is hosted on the cheapest DigitalOcean droplet and uses the Astra theme (our review). To add some “weight” and make the test more realistic, I also imported the full Elementor version of the Organic Store template which includes the WooCommerce plugin (along with demo content built with Elementor, a popular WordPress page builder plugin).
To collect the test data, I used WebPageTest, which is the best performance testing tool in my opinion. In addition to giving different metrics for “load time”, it also includes data for Google’s new Core Web Vitals initiative, which will become a ranking factor in 2021.
The Core Web Vitals metrics measure load times as they apply to user experience, not just a single “load time” metric. Because a lot of NitroPack’s optimizations focus on improving these metrics (e.g. by inlining critical CSS), I think they’re another important piece to pay attention to.
For my test configuration, I used the following:
- Test Location. Chicago, Illinois AND Mumbai, India (to see how the CDN performs)
- Browser: Chrome.
- Connection: FIOS (20/5 Mbps). This will get a slower result than a tool like Pingdom, but it’s more accurate to how actual human visitors will experience your site because it’s close to the average Internet speed for the USA as a whole.
- Number of tests to run: “9”. WebPageTest will run nine separate tests and take the median value, which eliminates single-test variability.
I’ll also run my test site through PageSpeed Insights because I know that a lot of people care about PageSpeed Insights scores. Don’t obsess about scores by themselves, though. What really matters is how your human visitors experience your site.
Here’s how it performed – I’ll start with the raw data and then summarize everything at the end of this section:
No performance optimization (control)
No performance optimization (control)
Ok, I know that I spat a lot of technical information and tables at you in the previous sections. If you’re not a website performance junkie, that might’ve felt a little overwhelming. So here’s the human-friendly conclusions from all that test data:
NitroPack made a huge improvement to my site’s page load times in all areas:
- The overall page load times decreased, which is what most people care about.
- The Core Web Vitals Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) improved, which means your visitors will be able to see your site’s most important content faster (which should lead to a better experience).
- The time to first byte (TTFB) decreased, which means the server responded faster.
- The PageSpeed Insights scores greatly improved.
To help you visualize the comparison, here’s how things stack up for the Chicago, Illinois test:
Load Time (Document Complete)
Largest Contentful Paint
Here’s the Mumbai test:
Load Time (Document Complete)
Largest Contentful Paint
Notice the massive improvement here. The test site is almost 3x faster with NitroPack.
Finally, here are the PageSpeed Insights scores:
All in all, NitroPack passed the speed tests with flying colors.
How does NitroPack speed up your website?
Ok, so now you know that NitroPack can make a huge improvement in your site’s page load times. So…how does it do that?
Again, the most unique thing about NitroPack is that it offers an all-in-one approach to speeding up your website. Instead of hacking together a collection of various WordPress performance plugins, you can just set up NitroPack and call it a day.
Here are some of the biggest techniques it implements to speed up your site.
NitroPack has a variety of caching systems to improve performance and lessen the load on your server. The two biggest are page caching and browser caching:
- Page caching – saves the static HTML version of a page so that your server doesn’t need to execute PHP for every visit.
- Browser caching – saves certain static resources on a visitor’s local computer so that they don’t need to download those resources on every page load.
NitroPack also includes smart features like cache invalidation and preloading, which helps you make sure that as many visitors as possible are being served cached versions of your content.
If needed, you can also exclude certain content/resources from being cached. For example, if you’re running an eCommerce store, you’ll need to exclude your cart and checkout pages.
Content delivery network (CDN)
A CDN speeds up your site’s global load times by caching static resources on a network of servers around the world (called edge locations). Then, when someone visits your site, they can download those resources from the nearest edge location, rather than needing to go all the way to your site’s physical server.
This CDN is a big part of what explains how my test site was over 3X faster with NitroPack in the Mumbai, India test.
NitroPack’s CDN is powered by Amazon CloudFront and automatically built into the service.
Images comprise around half of the file size of the average webpage, so finding ways to shrink them is a great way to speed things up. NitroPack automatically optimizes your images, including converting them to the speedy WebP format and lazy loading them.
NitroPack includes lots of different features to optimize your site’s code. This includes not only the size of your site’s code via minification, but also how your code loads.
First off, NitroPack can automatically generate critical CSS for each unique layout and then defer loading non-critical CSS, which will speed up how quickly content becomes visible (and also boost your PageSpeed Insights scores).
Finally, there are some other miscellaneous improvements like DNS prefetch and font rendering optimization.
Now, for the next important question – how much are all of those features going to cost you?
NitroPack has a limited free plan that will work for small sites, though it includes a NitroPack badge in your site’s footer.
After that, paid plans start at $19 per month with annual billing or $29 per month with month-to-month billing.
These prices are per-site, but you can also contact the sales team for multisite or agency plans.
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How to configure NitroPack on WordPress
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, one of the advantages of NitroPack is how easy it is to get started with. In fact, for all the features that it implements, it’s probably the simplest optimization tool that I’ve ever used.
I’m going to focus on WordPress for this tutorial. However, remember that NitroPack isn’t limited to WordPress sites. If you are using WordPress, though, the dedicated WordPress plugin will have you up and running in just a few minutes.
To get started, you’ll need to:
Then, go to Settings → NitroPack in your WordPress dashboard and click the Connect to NitroPack button:
If you’re already logged in to your NitroPack account, NitroPack will detect that. Otherwise, you’ll see a prompt to log in.
Then, you need to choose which website you want to optimize, which you should have entered when creating your NitroPack account:
And that’s it! You’re connected – I told you it was easy.
While NitroPack does give you a basic dashboard inside your WordPress site along with a couple of settings, you’ll manage most things from NitroPack’s cloud dashboard, not your WordPress site. Let’s go there next.
How to configure NitroPack
The cool thing about NitroPack is that you really don’t even need to “configure it”. It pretty much works out of the box. In fact, when I ran the tests above, I was using the default configuration – I literally didn’t make a single change.
If you do want to dig in, you’ll go to the Settings tab in your NitroPack dashboard. Then, you can choose your desired level of optimization from the Configuration slider. Based on the level of optimization that you choose, NitroPack will automatically configure some/all of the features that I mentioned above.
For example, if you choose Strong (the default), it will include features like lazy loading and font optimization. For reference, the tests that I ran above were using the Strong level, as well.
If you’re a casual user, you’re done! Just stop – you don’t really need to go any further than choosing the level of optimization you want.
If you do scroll down, you get some additional options, most of which deal with including/excluding specific content from being optimized.
For example, you can exclude certain images or resources, cookies, URLs, etc. This might be useful if you’re, say, a photographer and you want to exclude your high-res portfolio images from being compressed or if you have a membership site and you don’t want logged-in members to be served cached content:
The Integrations tab also helps you integrate with some other tools:
- Reverse proxy – many managed WordPress hosts use Varnish or Nginx as a reverse proxy for server-level caching, so this feature lets you continue to benefit from those optimizations.
NitroPack gives you a few other dashboard areas to monitor usage and see which pages have been optimized, but that’s pretty much it for configuration.
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Final thoughts: Should you use NitroPack?
At this point in our NitroPack review, I feel fairly confident in saying that NitroPack can indeed speed up your site – the numbers speak for themselves.
Additionally, it’s super easy to use – the WordPress setup process is dead simple and it’s entirely hands-off once you get over that initial hump.
The only confounding factor is the price.
See, the question isn’t just “Does NitroPack speed up your site?”. That answer is a resounding yes.
Instead, the question is “Does NitroPack speed up your site enough to justify paying at least $X every single month?”
Here, the answer is yes…sometimes and no…sometimes.
When you shouldn’t use NitroPack
If you’re using WordPress and on a budget, you can find other tools that can make a big improvement on your site’s load times for a lot less money. The best option here is probably WP Rocket which, in our hands-on WP Rocket review, decreased my test site’s load times by 41%.
Now, this test site was in a different hosting environment, so it’s not fair to compare that number to NitroPack (my NitroPack test site is starting from much faster baseline hosting). However, the point is that, for a one-time $49 fee, WP Rocket can dramatically improve your site’s load times.
For a lot of sites, this is “good enough” and will save you a lot of money.
When you should use NitroPack
If you’re willing to pay for top-notch performance, NitroPack has a lot going for it:
First off, the performance improvements in my tests were…well, pretty dang impressive. It actually performed a lot better than I expected. My test site is already pretty speedy with its DigitalOcean droplet, but NitroPack still cut my site’s page load times by well over 50% for both the Chicago and Mumbai tests.
Second, in addition to improving the top-line page load time number, NitroPack also made massive improvements to the more “user experience” performance metrics in Google’s Core Web Vitals. For example, in the Chicago test, it dropped my Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) time from 2.319 s to 0.958 s.
Because Google will start using Core Web Vitals as an SEO ranking factor in 2021, this is another way that NitroPack earns its keep.
Remember, there’s lots of data tying load times to important metrics like conversion rate and bounce rate. So if you have a “serious” website, like a membership site or eCommerce store, NitroPack might well pay for itself by helping you sell more products and create happier customers.
Final verdict? If you’re willing to invest in your site’s performance, you should definitely consider NitroPack. If you’re using WordPress and on a tight budget, a one-time fee plugin like WP Rocket might give you better value.
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