Building a Website Speed Optimization Agency With Brendan Tully
We’ve interviewed one of our long time users, Brendan Tully from WP Speed Fix who’s on a mission to fix slow WordPress & WooCommerce websites. Read on to find out how he decided to focus on this niche, and how he’s expanding his business.
Alex: Hey guys. Alex here from SPP. Today I’m joined by my colleague, Deian…
Deian: Hi everyone.
Alex: …As well as Brendan Tully from WPSpeedfix.com to tell us more about his business and how SPP has benefited him so far.
Brendan: Hey guys. Good to be here.
Alex: Thank you so much for joining us.
Deian: Nice having you.
Brendan: My pleasure.
Deian: So Brendan, you formed a really successful website optimization business. Could you tell us a little bit about how you found your way into this business, how you managed to find this issue in the first place regarding WordPress. In this instance I guess you didn’t find them fast enough, so you decided to fix it.
Brendan: Yes. We have a SEO agency we’ve had since… a search agency, more accurately since 2008. I guess we’ve been doing speed stuff since… We used to do web design stuff. We don’t do web design stuff anymore in the agency, and the first few websites that we designed, they didn’t have hosting so we put them on a Bluehost account and stacked a whole lot of sites in there, and charged them for hosting.
That was when Bluehost was a good host, 2010 or something like that. After a while some of them started complaining that their sites were offline a lot, and then we realized Bluehost wasn’t very good. That was probably 2011, something like that. So we fell into doing speed optimization or making the sites faster and more stable – not only speed optimization. That was around the time WP Engine was a brand new business and there was no managed Word Press host. I think they were probably the first one.
So we stuck them all on WP Engine. That was 2011 / 2012 and that was probably 20 or 30 sites by that stage, and some of them we were doing active SEO for them, managing them on an ongoing basis. We saw the ranking move up. All of them started ranking better, and there was a pretty clear correlation between speed and rankings. So we made this rule on SEO agency that if we were doing SEO for you, you’d be on our hosting. Part of that was because a lot of those were local businesses, so if something went wrong on the website they would call us anyway even if it was a hosting problem. So if we were going to be responsible for the hosting we might as well charge for it.
We started doing hosting stuff and speed optimization as part of that just to make the sites fast, and then we started doing just speed optimization just as a standalone service, wrote some content on it and just started getting inquiries for it – 2015 / 2016. We ended up splitting that out into its own brand, WPSpeedfix, at some point in 2016 and it’s just grown from there bit by bit.
Slow websites are a huge problem. People on bettered hosts are just not well configured or not well put together and now we have basically told everybody that they need to have a fast website and they throw a bunch and warnings in their face if they fail the Google Core Web Vital Test. So it’s great for us. Google basically said, “If you didn’t have a fast website….” I think we rank the position 1 or 2 for WordPress speed optimization and a bunch of search terms like that. The day of the month Google sends all the Google search console warnings is when we get a whole bunch of leads because people get all these warnings about sites being stuffed.
So that’s how it started. It was like a sideline, a blog post that turned into this fully fledged business.
Deian: Sounds great. Thank you so much. It’s interesting that you were there at the right time, but you also really noticed that people are having actual issues. The slow website doesn’t just annoy users. It actually can impact the conversion rate and everything because there are so many studies – how much time do you think is enough to spend on a website? If you’re sitting there and it doesn’t load in ten seconds, you’re like, “Okay, maybe something’s wrong. I’ll just leave.”
Brendan: Yeah, exactly. We’ve been lucky and it’s grown by itself. It’s such a problem people have. There’s millions of websites out there. There’s a lot of bad hosts as well, so it works well for us.
Alex: Awesome. Thanks so much for such a detailed answer. Really appreciate it. To follow, I wanted to ask from your experience, how important is it really to optimize your website and do you think that people put enough effort into optimization, considering how valuable and important it is?
Brendan: That’s an interesting question. To answer the second bit first, some people put too much emphasis on site speed optimization. So certainly it is a part of online marketing and a fast loading website is important, but there is a point at which there are other things that are more important. I wouldn’t say I’m the guy who’s selling site speed stuff, and I wouldn’t say it is the most important thing and you must… Over everything it’s the most important. I’d probably say from an SEO perspective maybe it’s one of the top 10 or top 20 things you should pay attention to, but certainly there’s other things that would be equally important.
What a lot of people don’t understand about site speed is there’s a few different ways that site speed affects SEO and rankings in general. Most people listening to this are going to be tech savvy, in the web space in some way or form, and they’ll be familiar or they’ve heard of Google’s Core Web Vitals Update. But even prior to that, speed affected SEO in a few different ways. Probably the number 1 most important way or probably the biggest impact or the factor that has the biggest impact is website reliability. So no one really ever thinks about this, but if the website has downtime or it’s offline, that’s zero speed.
So Core Web Vital stuff aside and everything else, having a reliable website doesn’t go offline or doesn’t go offline when it has a bunch of users on there at once, or start throwing errors, is not even a site speed issue really but a slow website is a symptom of unreliable hosting. So it’s not really speed directly, but it is related to it. Probably from a SEO perspective, online marketing perspective, reliability is probably top 3 or top 5 ranking factor or most important factor because if it’s offline, you’re screwed. Google can’t see it, can’t index it. Users are getting errors. Having a website that’s more stable but slower is better than a fast website that’s offline some of the time.
A lot of people don’t really understand the full holistic picture when it comes to site speed. Probably a simple actionable takeaway or action they could take is to get uptime monitoring in place. We recommend uptimerobot.com. It has a free plan so there’s no excuse not to do it. The free plan monitors the website in five minute intervals, and that will pick up short outages.
I would say for anyone listening to this, if you’re interested in the site speed component of this discussion, get uptime monitoring in place. They have a paid plan as well that is super cheap anyway, and it monitors on one minute intervals so that will pick up reliability issues and if the site’s throwing up errors under load or when Google’s indexing it.
I think that answers your question. That’s my long rambling answer. I think site speed is important. Some people put way too much emphasis on it. Some people don’t really understand how it works in a holistic way.
Probably one other comment I’d make is that a long people when they’re testing site speed, they test the home page only. In reality, all pages matter, so people are going to inner pages, Google’s looking at all the pages on the website. In our speed optimization work, when we first started we’d only look at the home page or a couple of pages, but now we look at all pages and particularly in Google’s Core Web Vitals, it looks at all pages as well. That’s my long answer and a couple of takeaways there as well.
Alex: Having a long answer is pretty good because you give people who are watching actionable information they can benefit out of, so thanks so much for that answer. It’s pretty good.
Brendan: It frustrates me because this is so obvious. We see people who are bad hosts. You understand that it’s not the speed that’s your number 1 issue here. Reliability is going to be a bigger problem. So the uptime monitoring is free at the base level so there’s really no excuse not to have it.
Deian: I have one more question. Do you have different customers where you give them different advice depending on their business nature? Let’s say somebody who’s an SEO agency might have a different need for speed optimisation than an online shop, for example.
Brendan: Sure. Yeah, it depends. Some people just have a slow website and they want it not to be slow. Small business owners are like, “It’s slow. It’s noticeable. It takes five or ten seconds to load a page. I just want it to be faster than it is now.” SEO agencies typically want core web vitals now. They want to pass the Core Web Vitals test because their issue is their customer sees all these errors in Google Search console, which is not good for them.
Something like a WooCommerce site, some of the issues there on bigger WooCommerce sites are more like slow checkout pages, slow adding to cart. They’re a bit more technical. They’re a bit more underneath the bonnet. They’re things like looking at the hosting, looking at how the database is set up and things like that.
So yeah, it really depends on what the goals are. Some people just want advice that goes along with the speed stuff. They know the website’s slow, but they want a bit more of a holistic picture of what they need to do to fix it and keep it fixed moving forward. So yeah, it really depends on what the goals are of the customer, and what they come to us for, but those are probably the buckets they’d fall into, I think.
Deian: Perfect. Now let’s move on to SPP, since you’ve been a customer for about two years now. Can you tell me a little bit about how you stumbled over SPP and how it has evolved over the last two years?
Brendan: We started off with, I think, probably half the SPP customers. Probably started with the gravity form checkout or something like that. We initially had gravity forms and then I think we had an onboarding form. I can’t even remember how it was set up, but it would make a ticket in our ZenDesk and our guys would work from there.
The Gravity form, Zapier’s Zap, and all this stuff would break all the time. I think we moved from Gravity forms to ThriveCart, which was a bit better but that still broke. So just googling around, I can’t remember at the time, but just stumbled across SPP. It’s pitched out our type of business, productized service. I’d had a look at some other solutions on the market and ZenDesk could do some of the things we needed to do with someone like the onboarding forms and SPP, but not great. So the combination of the checkout and the onboarding and just the flow made sense and matched what we were looking to do. So that’s how we came across it. It’s been great. Maybe it’s a bit more than two years, I think, but it’s been really good.
Certainly the product has evolved a lot over that time. One thing that we really love is we send feature requests all the time and it’s quite refreshing not to get an email back saying, “Thanks, we’ll put that on the list.” It’s actually you guys roll out changes once a month, I think, and often you’ll see a feature request on the change which is really good. Sometimes they’re little things, but they’re super annoying like, “I wish I could do this.” Send a feature request and you guys do it. So yeah, it’s been really good. We’re really happy with the product.
Deian: Thank you. The feature request thing is really interesting because when we take a look at feature request, we keep in mind that we don’t want to add too many new features that not everyone can benefit from. Sometimes for you, this feature is super important, but you are maybe 1.01 percent of the clients who need it. If it’s a big feature request, we need to take into account all the other accounts. For small things, we might be able to just do it in a few days or weeks and help you out, but usually we try to come up with some kind of workaround so you don’t have to wait around or have any issues with your business. That’s our approach.
Brendan: All of the things, I think, have been views and just some of the ways of showing data and orders and things like that, but it would be great if we could ship the order in this way. So things like that have been really useful. We use the support quite a bit to ask lots of weird and wonderful questions, but it’s been great. You guys have been great.
Alex: Awesome. That’s really great to hear. As a segue into that, I wanted to ask how has SPP actually improved with your business efficiency overall, and what do you think are the best features that we have that have helped you make your flow a bit easier?
Brendan: Definitely Zapier integrations, so that’s made things a lot easier. Some of the people listening might not be that familiar. So order comes in, customer fills out an onboarding form, and then from that we have a bunch of Zaps that do different things and make Google sheets, send out reports, they’ll take screenshots of the customer’s websites, run speed tests automatically. So that’s definitely been probably the feature that makes the most of it, I guess.
There’s been lots of little interface changes that have been really useful as well, but yeah, I would say the Zap integration, just being able to push data backwards and forwards and do things once the customer has filled out stuff, that’s been super useful.
I also really like the checkout. One thing that I do all the time is look at other SPP users. I’m like, “How are they doing that?” Look at the weird ways they’re doing stuff and copy a lot of what some of them are doing. It’s really interesting because in a way it’s a bit of a blank canvass that you’re like, ”This is a great tool. What are the weird ways we can use this?”
There’s a lot of people who offer – they’re not similar services, but they’re productized services that are structured in a similar way. So yeah, it’s been interesting.
There’s a few SPP users I look at regularly to see what new things they’re doing, particularly checkouts and stuff. That’s always interesting. Checkout layouts and onboarding forms and stuff like that. I’ve actually bought services just to see what would happen when I bought it from some of these guys. How do they do it? There’s some simple keyword research thing or something for 50 bucks. Okay, well, let’s just buy it and see what happens.
Alex: That’s actually pretty cool to hear. You were talking about Zapier and automating a lot of your process. I actually find that Zapier is a super powerful tool, but people usually struggle with getting it set up. Maybe you have any tips on how to make Zapier a little bit easier for people to set up? It seems to be a nightmare for most people.
Brendan: Oh, it is. I think some of the Zaps are like 15 steps long or 20 steps long, and when they break it takes forever to figure out where they’re broken. I don’t really have a document in how you set up the Zaps. I think when someone orders the speed service, I think the Zap is 16 steps right now because they’re running speed tests. It puts the sale insider our Xero accounting system. It does a whole bunch of stuff like that. So I’d say documenting it, just some rough notes to explain how it works is probably a good idea, otherwise when you need to change it or it breaks for whatever reason, it’s like an hour to figure out how you set it up in the first place.
Yeah, Zapier’s good. I think it actually has some notes features now which it never used to, where you can actually add the notes inside Zapier itself so you understand what it’s done.
Deian: Perfect. Looking at your website, you have services that range between $250 and up to $1000 per month. How have you managed to find a lot of success pricing your service really fairly because there are a lot of productized services now that are trying to go in a different direction, like in a really low priced service? They usually outsource their services trying to fight the existing service providers basically on price instead of quality or something new.
Brendan: Right now those aren’t monthly prices. They’re just one-offs, but actually the prices are going up. We’re moving in an opposite direction, and I think there’s a lot of productized services in general that once they’re established and mature, a lot of them actually move up and they start charging more.
I guess there’s two directions you can go with productized services, cheap and the lower end, or more expensive and more quality. With things for us, like Core Web Vitals Update where when we first started the services was $79 and it was super simple. It would take maybe an hour to do and everybody was happy. People were stoked. Now it can take days’ worth of developer time to do a single job, so it’s changed a lot.
The other thing is people come to us for speed, but what they really want is SEO most of the time. So we’ve actually come full circle now and started offering SEO services that we offer in our agency now to WPSpeedfix customers. Certainly the business has evolved a couple of times. Charging $79 for a speed optimization today would be crazy, and there are some people in our market – there’s one guy who charges 49 bucks for a speed optimization, and I don’t know how he makes any money. And he advertises in Google Ads as well. I guess it just depends on the structure and how you’re structuring the service and the market you’re after, but certainly our market has evolved a lot and people seem happy to pay – or maybe it’s just more people online who have more highly monetized websites that they’re happy to pay for good quality services.
I think the market has shifted a lot in general. Some of these websites, ten years ago they’d be a guy who’s like a digital nomad running a SEO affiliate site or something and now it’s a multi-million dollar brand or something like that running on WooCommerce. So for us, prices are going up. We’re offering a broader range of services, and probably to a bit of a different market than when we first started.
Deian: So one more thing I noticed on your website is that you don’t have a “Buy” button in this pricing table. So it’s a little bit different from other companies because they allow you to buy directly. I think you did a good thing that you actually click on “Learn More” and then lead them to a landing page where there’s a lot of information about the service. So it doesn’t get confusing and there’s no “Okay, you didn’t tell me this before I checked out,” because you have everything on the landing page. Was this different before or has it always been like this?
Brendan: It’s always been like that in a way, where actually I have the designs I was just looking at before. So we’re changing that pricing table a little bit to even be less of a pricing table because the services have changed, and to add the new SEO services. We’ve always done it like that.
When we first started, people would just come to the website and buy it, but now there’s an inquiry box at the top of the page. So I’d say probably 90 percent of people send an email first and ask questions and then they’ll purchase. When it started it was like the dream – you’d make sales in your sleep kind of thing, but now it’s much more consulting heavy and a lot more back and forth than it was. That’s fair enough. Your speed is more complicated than it was when we started, so yeah, more and more we’re moving away from the click and buy button and more to the talk to us first, and we’ll tell you if we can help you and how we can help you.
Alex: Awesome. I’m looking here at my notes and I see that you’ve mentioned previously that you wanted to move away from MailChimp and Active Campaign. You said you wanted to use a service called Bentonow.com. I’m wondering if you’ve managed to set up the SPP API to use that or have you not got around to that yet?
Brendan: We actually don’t use the API. The guys at Bento they had a managed service. That was a few months ago we asked about that and we did nothing about it. They have a managed service now. I think they were actually talking to Jessie today. They’ve pretty much finished setting us up. They can integrate with our API, so that’s actually been quite good. So yeah, we had Active Campaign and their deliverability was pretty horrible, a lot of the emails were hitting the spam box. We actually use them for email and CRM in the sales. So from the CRM their responses to sales inquiries will almost always get flagged as spam, so that wasn’t good.
We have a few different websites. We had a speed test tool as well and we have our agency website, so customers are coming from a lot of different sources. Bento allows us to track that as well, so we can actually see the customer path. So if they’ve got a test on their website and what piece of content they’ve found us from and all that sort of jazz – so it’s not just email marketing. We get a much better picture of what the customer’s done and how they’ve bounced around, and also we have a new email sequence that’s going out as well. So just doing a few things like that.
Alex: It’s really awesome. Glad to see that you’ve managed to get what you were looking for with them. That’s pretty good.
Brendan: It’s great. It’s a great tool, and it’s really useful to see some of that customer journey stuff because it gives us a much better picture. For some people, spending a thousand bucks on a web service isn’t necessarily cheap so it’s good to understand the path people are taking and the problems they’re trying to solve and understand what they’re doing. Content marketing plays a big part of what we do as well, so we have a lot of content about site speed stuff.
Deian: I think another thing you mentioned in one of your tickets was that the maintenance and monitoring service you have set up is getting more and more popular. So not just the one time service of optimizing websites but also it’s actually keeping track of everything that goes on. How is that working for you? I think you are using our Tasks feature just to keep track of what you have to do.
Brendan: It’s good we’re actually going to change the way we’re selling that. We’re not actually using the Tasks feature. We use Process Street a lot. That’s one of the things that Zapier does is create a whole bunch of process check lists. Certainly the subscription module and the set up is really useful to be able to sell that, but we haven’t really…. Because we have the Process Street stuff already set up and it’s pretty comprehensive, we haven’t really had a need for the task stuff.
Alex: I’m going to chime in then with the next question. What challenges are you experiencing now with your business and the field that you’re in, and what are you trying to overcome? How are you approaching them?
Brendan: We’ve kind of solved the problem, but if they’re expanding the business, offering the SEO services was something we spent a year hesitating on, but it’s pretty clear that people want that. They want speed because the want SEO, so it makes sense that we give them that option.
There are two services we’re going to add. One is an SEO audit where we do an audit and analysis and give them detailed recommendations. The next step would be the implementation bit. So we can implement it or their existing team can implement it. That’s a challenge we’ve had expanding the business beyond speed. You do speed and certainly there’s some maintenance stuff to keep the website fast or check it every month, but once the work’s done it’s like a small project. So that’s one.
Compared to other productized services that are on SPP where they have an easy monthly recurring set up, that’s been one challenge for us. So offering some of those SEO services seems to be a natural way to solve that.
SEOs become somewhat of an art form these days, so to be able to offer the technical part of SEO without so much of the thinking work or the art form bit of it that’s different for every customer – and also some of that link building work – that’s been a challenge to work that out. But I think we have a solution for that.
It’s definitely a problem for us, but I think we have the solution. We just need to finish implementing it.
Alex: I guess that’s pretty much it then. Thank you for your time, Brendan. We really appreciate it.
Alex: Thank you for joining us.
Brendan: Thanks guys. It’s been great. Good chatting.
Deian: Thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye-bye.