Make WordPress Sites Load Faster Than Ever With New Hummingbird Critical CSS

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With Hummingbird’s much anticipated Critical CSS feature, you can expect faster-loading pages and better performing WordPress sites. Here’s why render-blocking resources are now a thing of the past…

Ace Google’s PageSpeed performance scores with Hummingbird’s Critical CSS feature.

If you care about page loading speed (and you should if you want visitors to stay on your website for longer than two seconds), then it’s vitally important to understand how CSS affects site performance and how to speed up your page loading time using an optimization task known as Critical CSS.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:

Let’s dive in…

What is Critical CSS and How Does it Improve Performance?

When users arrive on a website, all they can see initially is the content displayed on their screen before scrolling.

This area is referred to as being “above the fold.”

Image explaining above and below the fold.All site visitors see at first is the content above the fold.

Positive user experience can be measured by how quickly users perceive content to load on a web page. The faster a page loads (or is perceived by the user as loading quickly), the better the user experience. Conversely, the slower the page loads (or is perceived by the user to load slowly), the poorer the experience.

Since all the visitor sees when they land on a page is the content above the fold before they start scrolling down, it makes sense to make the content above the fold load as quickly as possible before loading the rest of the page.

Critical CSS (also known as Critical Path CSS or Critical CSS Rendering Path) is a technique that extracts the bare minimum CSS required to render content above-the-fold as quickly as possible to the user.

While the user viewing the above-the-fold content perceives the page to be loading quickly, the rest of the CSS can load, and user experience is not impacted.

Techniques like image lazy loading, delaying JavaScript execution, and critical CSS are all ways to optimize the sequence of steps the browser goes through to convert the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into pixels on the screen.

This sequence is referred to as the Critical Rendering Path (CRP) and includes the Document Object Model (DOM), CSS Object Model (CSSOM), render tree, and layout.

Optimizing the critical render path improves render performance.

Advantages of Critical CSS

Critical CSS can improve site performance through:

  • Faster initial rendering
  • Improved user experience
  • Better SEO performance
  • Reduced page weight
  • Simplified maintenance
  • Progressive enhancement
  • Positive impact on Core Web Vitals (especially First Contentful Paint and Speed Index)
  • Higher PageSpeed Insights scores

Note: The content displayed above-the-fold on page-load before scrolling will differ depending on the device and screen size being used to view web pages. For this reason, there is no universally defined pixel height of what can be considered above-the-fold content.

Implementing Critical CSS

So you’ve run your site through the PageSpeed Insights tool and the report recommends eliminating render-blocking resources.

Now what? How do you actually implement the recommendations?

Well, you can try to fix things manually (tedious, time-consuming, and not recommended), use web development tools (if you have technical skills), or use a WordPress plugin like Hummingbird to automatically identify, address, and resolve any issues.

We recommend using the plugin method. It’s the quickest and smartest option to get the job done.

While Critical CSS refers mostly to above-the-fold CSS, Hummingbird can extract and inline all used CSS on the page, while delaying/removing the rest.

Hummingbird not only tackles render-blocking and unused CSS for full-page optimization, it also handles above-the-fold optimization by eliminating render-blocking resources using built-in features like Critical CSS (see below), Delay JavaScript Execution for JavaScript assets, and other areas that affect Core Web Vitals results on WordPress sites.

How To Optimize WordPress Using Hummingbird’s Critical CSS feature

Note: Critical CSS is a Pro feature, so make sure you have Hummingbird Pro installed on your site.

Let’s go through the steps on how to get the most benefit from using Hummingbird’s new critical CSS feature.

First, start by running a performance test.

Hummingbird - Start Performance TestStart optimizing your site with Hummingbird by running a performance test.

Make sure to note the initial results so you can compare before and after results.

Hummingbird performance test resultsNote down Hummingbird’s performance test results before enabling critical CSS.

Next, navigate to Hummingbird > Asset Optimization > Extra Optimization and enable Critical CSS.

Hummingbird-Asset Optimization - Extra Optimization - Critical CSSTurn on Critical CSS in the Asset Optimization > Extra Optimization screen.
Critical CSS OptionsHummingbird gives you options to control the implementation of Critical CSS on your site.

After enabling the feature, you’ll see different options for loading Critical CSS and for handling Unused CSS.

Loading Critical CSS

This section gives you the option to select Full-Page CSS Optimization (default) or Above-the-Fold CSS Optimization.

Critical CSSSelect one of the options from the drop-down menu.

We recommend choosing the default Full-Page CSS Optimization with Load on User Interaction option selected for most sites as this will provide the best results and address both issues of eliminating render-blocking resources and reducing unused CSS audits while maintaining the integrity of all the site’s visual elements.

Full-Page CSS Optimization inlines all used CSS and delays/removes loading the rest.

Choosing the Above-the-Fold CSS Optimization method is recommended for larger sites with loads of complex CSS if the default option does not give the desirable results. This method will inline all above-the-fold CSS and load the rest asynchronously.