When checking out new websites, nothing makes me spring for the “back” button like a slow webpage. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here — site performance impacts user experience across all sites, and largely shapes how visitors judge the quality of an online business.There’s little room for error when it comes to page speed and patience. According to Google, your website should load in two seconds or less. Any longer and visitors start to lose interest. Furthermore, page performance is an official ranking factor used by search engines including Google. The faster your site, the more likely you’ll land a coveted spot on the first results page.
It’s clear that performance can help — or harm — a website in more ways than one. And if your online business is built on WordPress, you might be trying to figure this all out.
WordPress doesn’t exactly specialize in speed. Themes, plugins, and core PHP files all consume valuable server resources to build and deliver pages to visitors. Too many things running at once will deplete these resources, slow down your pages, and thwart off conversions.
Here’s the good news: There are many ways to boost the performance of your WordPress website, and you can implement some right away. In this post, we’ll discuss 11 things you can do to optimize your load speed and get visitors hooked within those two crucial seconds.
How to Speed Up Your WordPress Site
- Run some performance tests.
- Choose a reliable hosting provider.
- Update everything.
- Delete unused plugins.
- Use a clean, lightweight theme.
- Optimize images.
- Install a WordPress caching plugin.
- Tidy up your WordPress database.
- Use a CDN.
- Split up long posts.
1. Run some performance tests.
First, let’s understand where your site stands performance-wise. There’s no all-encompassing metric that sums this up, since performance varies by every visitor’s geographic region, internet connection strength, and whether your site is cached by their browser.
Page speed will also vary across your site’s pages, depending on the amount and type of content on each one. Website homepages are typically the go-to for estimating load speed, although you should also be testing any other particularly high-traffic pages as well.
To get the best tangible estimate, test your site with a free performance measuring tool like Website Grader. Just paste in your home page URL and see how your site performs. This tool and many others even provide speed suggestions which you can apply, then try again.
Be sure to test performance regularly, especially after adding new functionality. This will confirm your site continues to deliver pages at competitive speeds.
2. Choose a reliable hosting provider.
Quality web hosting is the foundation of a fast WordPress site. It’s essential that you choose both a hosting provider and a plan that meet your bandwidth and performance requirements. Most WordPress hosts offer several types of hosting: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, virtual private server (VPS) hosting, and managed WordPress hosting plans.
When choosing a WordPress hosting plan, you generally get what you pay for. On one end of the spectrum, there’s shared hosting. This plan lets you host your website on the same server as a number of other websites. You can’t beat shared hosting prices, so newer WordPress users might pick this option to gain momentum online before upgrading. However, your performance will suffer if another site on your server gets a lot of hits, since you’re both running on the same resources.
Established websites with more content and higher levels of regular traffic should instead find a dedicated, VPS, or managed hosting plan from a reputable provider. These plans will allocate enough server resources to handle increased traffic without affecting load time.
If you’re in the process of choosing a hosting company or switching to a new one, have a look at our list of recommended hosting providers.
3. Update everything.
Updates are a part of life if you’re a WordPress administrator. WordPress core, themes, plugins, and even the PHP code all need to update in order to help your site run as efficiently as possible, among other things. Always be running the latest versions to optimize performance, keep your site secure, patch bugs, and ensure every feature and tool functions as it should.
4. Delete unused plugins.
Since each plugin is like a piece of mini-software on your website, too many running at once can negatively impact your site’s load times. Even if you’re not using a certain plugin, there’s a chance it’s doing unnecessary work in the background. It might be time to cut back.
Start by deactivating any plugins you’re certain you’ll never use again. Test your site after each deactivation, then delete these plugins after verifying that everything still works. Then, deactivate the plugins one-by-one to see which ones make a difference in speed. Consider finding lightweight alternatives to these plugins.
5. Use a clean, lightweight theme.
Like plugins, your active WordPress theme might be placing an unnecessary burden on your web server. Themes that are packed with high-quality images and effects might look cool, but they come at a cost. Fancy effects can require a lot of code, and many themes are programmed inefficiently, both of which inflate file sizes and slow your page performance.
Instead, pick a simple theme with only the necessary features for your pages. You can always add more effects later through plugins or custom CSS if you’d like. Our list of recommended WordPress themes and templates is a great place to start your search.
6. Optimize images.
Large images are another common culprit of slow WordPress websites. To further raise your site performance, reduce your image file sizes as much as possible without sacrificing quality. The goal is to save space but avoid making users squint to see your visuals.
You can compress image files with Photoshop or any other image editing software. You can also try a WordPress image optimization plugin like Smush or EWWW Image Optimizer for this task.
If you manage an image-heavy site, you might also consider implementing the lazy loading method, which generates full-resolution images only when they appear in the user’s browser window.
8. Install a WordPress caching plugin.
Often, WordPress performance issues can be chalked up to the way WordPress assembles web pages on the server side.
Every time a visitor requests a web page from a non-cached site, the PHP on your WordPress server has to retrieve all the relevant content from your WordPress database, assemble it into an HTML file, and send that file to the client. This method has its advantages, including saving server space and allowing for dynamic website content. But, it also takes more time and energy than sending a pre-written web page.
A caching plugin simplifies this entire process. It builds every HTML page on your site with PHP, then saves these full HTML pages which are sent to future visitors when requested. By skipping over the building process, your content reaches visitors more quickly.
9. Tidy up your WordPress database.
If you’ve had your WordPress site for a while, chances are you’ve accumulated some old, unused files in your database. These files might be spam, data from unused themes and plugins, unpublished content, and old media, all of which take up valuable storage space and put unnecessary load on your server.
Plugins like WP Optimize and Advanced Database Cleaner will conduct an audit of your files and scrap any non-essentials. This is a much faster and safer alternative to deleting files yourself. It’s also safe to manually delete unused media files directly in your WordPress media library.
10. Use a CDN.
Another common cause of poor performance is real-world distance. Your pages will tend to on devices that are farther away from your web server’s physical location. This specifically impacts international users and users in remote areas. Fortunately, you can lessen this effect with a Content Delivery Network, or CDN for short.
CDNs are easy to set up and manage on any WordPress site. Your hosting provider will likely offer a CDN service as part of your plan or as a paid integration, and your CDN takes care of all content delivery for you. Popular CDNs include Cloudflare and StackPath (formerly MaxCDN).
11. Split up long posts.
If you’ve implemented the steps above and are still dissatisfied with load time on some pages, the issue might be that they might simply contain too much content. Lengthier posts with high volumes of images and dynamic information will always take longer to process — consider breaking them up into multiple pages instead. Usually, this can be done without much interruption to the user experience.
No Time to Waste!
Like many aspects of running a WordPress website, speed optimization is your responsibility. Thankfully, there are several strategies you can implement to optimize your load time and provide the most satisfying, speediest user experience. It's worth spending a bit of your time to save your visitors a lot of time.
Originally published Jan 1, 2020 4:02:00 PM, updated August 14 2020