WordPress is a great platform. Having said that without proper care and attention it can become quite slow.
If you don’t take the right precautions, you could end up with a site that’s not only a hassle for visitors but will cause you to lose subscribers and customers.
In this post, I’ll cover some of the best ways that I’ve found to consistently speed up WordPress.
Why Site Speed Is Important
Patience may be a virtue but it’s not one that your site’s visitors possess. When it comes to your site’s loading time, every nanosecond counts. And a slow loading time may cause significant damage to your bottom line, seeing as one of the leading causes of page abandonment is slow page response.
According to this KISSmetrics study 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
Not only that, but Google now includes site speed in it’s ranking algorithm. This means that your site’s speed effects SEO, so if your site is slow, you’re now losing visitors from impatience and reduced rankings in search engines.
The good news is there are some simple ways to help improve your WordPress websites performance.
How To Speed Up WordPress
The following list provides a good base for improving the performance of your WordPress website. If however terms like .htaccess and Dynamic Cache or PHP7 fill you with dread, then never fear we have a solution that provides everything I’m going to cover without you ever having to think about it. (Warning: small but the only plug coming) VA Website are fully managed WordPress websites that give you peace of mind at an affordable price.
1. Choose a good host
When starting out, low cost hosting might seem like a bargain but ultimately it will end up costing you: incredibly slow site speed and frequent down time during high traffic periods.
I’m not going to say you need to go out and spend £500 per month on a dedicated server…no. But when it comes to hosting, the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ has never been more true. There is a staggering difference in the quality of hosting between the £1 per month and just £10 per month price points.
The stress of your site going down after getting a big feature is enough to create a few early grey hairs: don’t be a victim, invest in proper hosting.
I only have two WordPress hosts I continually recommend…
✓ SiteGround – Web hosting crafted with care
✓ WP Engine – WordPress hosting perfected
Both hosts offer incredible reliability, support, features and best of all they are both very active within the WordPress community, so they are out and about and listening to what their customers need.
I recommend SiteGround to clients who are starting out on their journey. If you are looking for a solid shared hosting plan that offers advanced features such as PHP7, wildcard SSL and one click staging then the GoGeek plan is for you. As your site grows so too do the options for your hosing. Their Cloud Hosting and Dedicated servers have you covered and upgrading really couldn’t be easier.
For those that are more established and may have a dedicated budget for improving your hosting then head on over to the WP Engine site and check out their offerings, you’ll be happy you did. Their Professional and Business plans will see you hosting up to 25 sites with an incredibly stable and advanced infrastructure behind them.
2. Start with a solid framework/theme
You might be surprised to hear this, but the Twenty Sixteen theme (aka the default WP theme) is lightweight and quite speedy.
That’s because they keep the “guts” simple; compare that to bloated frameworks/themes which have tons of features that you will never use, slowing your site to a crawl.
From my experience, the fastest loading premium framework/theme is the Genesis Framework. It surpasses the basic WordPress themes in many ways but one of it’s greatest advantage is how lightweight it is. The Genesis Sample theme coming at a tiny 256KB compared to some themes I’ve seen in excess of 60MB!
It’s an incredibly solid framework that won’t slow you down with excess plugins or custom edits. Make the changes right from the theme and avoid bloat!
3. Use an effective caching plugin
WordPress plugins are obviously quite useful, but some of the best fall under the caching category, as they drastically improve page load times, and best of all, all of them on WordPress.org are free and easy to use.
- SG CachePress – For those who made the great decision to go with SiteGround as your host, you now also have the perfect caching plugin.
- WP Super Cache – The most downloaded caching plugin on the market. With over 1 million active installs; it’s free, easy to use and requires little to no configuration.
- W3 Total Cache – Also with over 1 million active installs under it’s belt. If you’re looking for a free caching plugin that offers a boatload of customisation options, you’ve found it.
Simply install and activate, and watch your page load faster as elements are cached.
4. Use a content delivery network (CDN)
All of your favourite big blogs are making use of this, and if you are into online marketing using WordPress (as I’m sure many of our readers are) you won’t be surprised to hear that some of your favourite blogs like Copyblogger are making use of CDN’s.
I personally use the AWS CloudFront on my WordPress sites, but this can get quite technical as with a lot of the Amazon Web Services, it’s focus is on developers/sys admins. A good alternative is MaxCDN as I’ve found that they have reasonable prices and their dashboard is very simple to use (and comes with video tutorials for setting it up, takes only a few minutes).
Jetpack, a plugin built by Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com) also has some built in CDN features allowing you to leverage their huge infrastructure.
5. Optimise images (automatically)
This is a big one! Images can very quickly turn your page into a monster bandwidth muncher. It’s very rare that you’ll need a huge 4MB image on your site. There are so many tools to reduce both the pixels and file size of your images without loosing quality that there really is no excuse for images slowing your site.
As a rule of thumb, I try to ensure all images are below 100KB. I’m in Photoshop daily so this is my first port of call for reducing my images, but if you don’t have access to this software then what do you do?
Well the default answer used to be Smush.it until Yahoo! killed it off, so I found this great little app for my mac (they also have a web services and api) called ImageOptim. It allows you to drop multiple images in at once which hugely reduces time!
There is also a free plugin called WP-Smush which will automatically reduce the size of your images as you upload them. My only reason for not installing this; I have the tools ‘offline’ that let me reduce our images so installing this would actually add unnecessary load to my sites.
6. Optimise your WordPress database
You have two options here; the very tedious, extremely boring, manual way, or…
You can simply use the WP-Optimize plugin, which I run on lots of my sites.
This plugin lets you do just one simple task: optimise your database (spam, post revisions, drafts, tables, etc.) to reduce their overhead.
I would also recommend the WP-DB Manager plugin, which can schedule dates for database optimisation.
7. Add LazyLoad to your images
LazyLoad is the process of having only the images above the fold load (i.e. only the images visible in the visitor’s browser window), then, when reader scrolls down, the other images begin to load, just before they come into view.
This will not only speed your page loads, it can also save bandwidth by loading less data for users who don’t scroll all the way down on your pages.
To do this automatically, install the Lazy Load plugin.
8. Control the amount of post revisions stored
This post has been saved as a draft dozens of times. WordPress, left to its own devices, will store every single one of these drafts, indefinitely.
Now this post is done and published, why do I need all of those drafts stored? Simple answer is…I don’t.
The database optimisation plugins mentioned above offer the option to remove revisions, however this only happens when you run them. That’s where the Revision Control plugin comes into it’s own, to automate the process. Set it to 2 or 3 revisions so you have something to fall back on in case you make a mistake, but not so high that you clutter your database with unnecessary amounts of drafted posts.
9. Turn off Pingbacks and Trackbacks
WordPress will interact with other blogs and sites that are equipped with pingbacks and trackbacks by default.
Every time another post mentions your site, it notifies you, which in turn updates data on the post. Turning this off will not destroy the backlinks to your site, just the setting that generates a lot of work for your site.
For more detail, read this explanation of WordPress Pingbacks & Trackbacks.
10. Disable hotlinking and leeching of your content
Hotlinking is a form of bandwidth ’theft’. It occurs when other sites direct link to the images on your site from their articles making your server load increasingly high.
This stolen bandwidth can quickly add up as more and more people looking for content turn to ‘scraping’ your posts, pages and images.
Place this code in your root .htaccess file:
You’ll need to replace example.com in the third line of the rule with your live domain.
11. Add an expires header to static resources
This can significantly reduce your load times for regular users.
You need to copy and paste the following code in your root .htaccess file:
The above numbers are set for a month, you can change them as you wish.
12. Replace PHP with static HTML, when necessary
This one is a little bit advanced, but can drastically cut down your load time if you are desperate to reduce page load speeds, so I included it.
I’d be doing this great post injustice if I didn’t link to it for this topic, as it taught me how to easily do this myself, in a few minutes.
13. Use CloudFlare
This is similar to the section above on using CDN’s, but CloudFlare offers more than just page load speed improvements.
There services will certainly improve your page loads, as well as make your site more secure, help protect during those inevitable DDoS attacks, as well as keep your site live even if your server has unexpected downtime.
A free plan is available but I’d strongly recommend a paid for plan. The CloudFlare team have partnered with SiteGround to provide a reduced rate package when bought through your SiteGround dashboard.
Thanks for reading! Are you aware of other improvements to your WordPress site that will keep it running at top speed? If so I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Please share this article if you enjoyed it.