In today's article, we'll take a look at a crucial topic that all WordPress website owners should keep in mind - how to improve the speed of their site
Site speed certainly isn't a new issue, and the majority of the webmasters and business owners already know something on the matter.
Indeed, if you search a little bit about site speed statistics, you may find some very interesting data, such as:
- 46% of internet users indicate slow speed as the major pain point when it comes to browsing (data provided by Unbounce)
- 57% of visitors will abandon your site if it doesn't load up within 3 seconds
- On average, users will visit 8.9 pages of your site if your loading time is under 2 seconds - that number drops drastically to 3.3 when loading time is upped to 8 seconds
If you want to be presented with even more convincing evidence of the website speed importance, let's see what difference would make just 1 second:
- 1 second delay will reduce your page views by 11%.
- 1 second delay will decrease customer satisfaction by 16%.
- 1 second delay eats away 7% of the coveted conversion rate.
People are rarely impressed by numbers and statistics, so here is the bottom line:
Fast website speed isn't an advantage in 2020, it's a basic requirement for successful online business.
Of course, everyone has been talking about the importance of fast websites, yet as we saw from the numbers above, a mere second can cost you a significant chunk of your business. Would you have imagine that?
Site speed optimization can be effectively considered a business optimization, as it will allow you to get more value from the same amount of traffic. By not losing those 57% to slow speed you are effectively doubling your visitors, and all of that is usually achieved at minimal costs.
All you need to do is invest some time and implement the tips you'll find for improving your time.
A list of things you can do to speed up your WordPress
Typically, due to the lack of proper optimization WordPress ranks at the bottom of the CMS list when it comes to speed - 14th, to be precise. This is data provided by an amazing case study on site speed provided by Backlinko) and I have absolutely no reason to doubt it.
WordPress is an amazing CMS, but as you may have noticed yourself, it tends to get slower once it has been turned into something more that a simple blog. Every plugin, every missed update, every product in the WP database eventually can contribute to a slower speed.
According to WPBegginer, there are 5 primary causes why your WP gets slower:
- Web hosting
- WordPress configuration
- Page size
- Poorly written plugins
- External scripts
So one of your prerogatives will be to counteract this process, and do whatever you can to optimize your loading speed.
We'll go into details later in the article, but firstly, let's quickly summarize what you can do in order to make your WordPress really fly.
- Choose a good web hosting provider
- Update regularly your WordPress installation
- Update regularly your WordPress plugins
- Update/use the latest version of PHP
- Monitor plugins and remove the unnecessary ones
- Optimize the images you upload
- Choose the right theme
- Optimize your design
- Install and configure a caching plugin
- Do some work on your database
- Optimize your WordPress security
- Install a Lazy load plugin
- Move scripts to the footer
- Use the regenerate thumbnails option
- Go for a content delivery network (CDN)
- Gzip compression
- Disable hotlinking
- Lose the unnecessary sliders
- Disable pingbacks
- Use CSS sprites
- Remove post revisions
- Disable Gravatar images
- Delete spam comments
Ready to speed up your WordPress site? Let's go
1. Choose a good web hosting provider
While it may sound a bit on the marketing side (since I work for a hosting company after all) you need to remember that your web hosting is basically the foundation of your site. A poor performance from your hosting provider can single-handedly ruin your site speed, and lessen the impact of all the other optimizations you will perform.
If you're interested in the technical side of this matter, you can check our other article, where we discuss how SSD hosting impacts site speed, or the one where we explain what NVMe technology is and how it makes your site faster.
Overall, what you need to keep in mind is that web hosting is provided through servers, and servers - like computers - can have different parameters which affect their performance.
These parameters will determine how quickly your site will load (aside from other factors), so choosing a high-performance WordPress hosting is imperative.
Luckily, when it comes to WordPress hosting, because it's so popular you will find several options, like our own service. HostPulse does provide a fast and secure hosting, but you can go for many other companies as well, as long as they have a good reputation online.
I would recommend that you do a quick search and see if there are any negative reviews and why (not every bad experience means necessarily it's a bad product).
My other recommendation is to stay away from cheap options, especially if you're planning a project that may attract a lot of visitors at some point, as you will likely suffer from the respective restrictions - may it be bandwidth, server time etc.
RELATED ARTICLE: 41 Reasons to Avoid Free hosting
2. Update regularly your WordPress installation
I feel this is something everyone is aware of, yet it's a procedure that keeps getting disregarded, and the Internet is full of outdated WordPress installations
WordPress updates have a very essential role in your overall website optimization. Not only do they provide you with the latest features developed, they are very important from a security standpoint. Hackers take down outdated WP sites way more easily due to known exploits in the system. This is why WordPress updates often contain security patches - to prevent hacker attacks and malware infection.
The updates impact positively speed as well, although in particular cases the contrary may happen. The core developers, however, are aware of the fact that speed is a crucial matter and they do work to improve things for the CMS.
Usually, bigger updates will come once or twice per year (these are more risky as they can break your site), while smaller ones are released 5-10 times a year.
There is a very thorough article from WordPress.Org on how to update your WordPress, but the easiest way is to visit your dashboard and go to the Updates item on the menu.
Remember to always take a backup of your WordPress site before major updates! If you don't want to do this manually, make sure your hosting provider keeps regular backups of your site. The big updates sometimes create issues like broken themes, fatal errors etc so you need to be prepared for such possibility.
If you are interested in learning what each WordPress update brings to the table, you can visit the official WordPress update logs
3. Update regularly your WordPress plugins
Similarly, plugins have updates too, designed to improve their work. Old plugin versions can often affect speed, not to mention the increased risk of security penetration and/or incompatibility if you update the WordPress installation, but not the plugins.
Plugins are also very easily updated - simply go to the Plugin item in the menu and if you see any numbers surrounded in orange, you have an update.
You can update them one by one from the same menu item (by clicking on it) or go to the Update menu item and update them at once.
Remember, both WordPress core updates and plugin updates make changes to the database, so you need a backup of your database, not just your files!
4. Update/use the latest version of PHP
This sounds a bit technical, but it's a really easy step to perform. Basically, what you need to know about PHP and its relevance to WordPress is that the CMS is written mainly in PHP. This is a server side language, and as such it does run on the servers of the web hosting company where your site is hosted.
As with most things, the updated version is (almost) always the best choice. Usually, reputable hosting providers will rung the latest stable version of PHP, and if that's the case, you're already set.
What is the version you should be looking for? Most technicians will indicate PHP 7 as the minimum, since 7.0 and up are way faster. PHP 7 launched in 2015 and according to several sources, it can improve your loading time up to 50%!
A very easy way to check up what PHP version is running on the servers you're using is to install Display PHP version and simply check the section At a glance in your WordPress dashboard
If you are running anything below PHP 7, you may contact the support of your hosting company and ask them to update your PHP. Keep in mind that this can create an issue with your WordPress, so as always, make sure you have a backup.
5. Monitor plugins and remove the unnecessary ones
I should start by saying that I love plugins. They can transform your WordPress installation into virtually any kind of website - from cooking blogs, to hotel reservation platforms, magazine sites, promotional landing pages etc.
Where the problem begins is the unwise usage of said plugins. People usually become so excited with their almost unlimited capabilities, that they keep pilling them up and not monitor their impact. Plugins can essentially slow down your WordPress for two reasons:
- They are poorly coded
- There are too many of them
The first problem is usually addressed by monitoring your site's performance. Obviously, it's hard to tell whether a plugin is well-written or not, if you aren't a developer yourself, so you can use third-party solution for this. Ironically enough, some of these solutions are also plugins, like the UsageDD and WP Health or Query Monitor, but you can also use a SaaS options such as New Relic. - the latter one is better suitable for larger e-commerce project, to be honest.
Once you've identified your culprit, if it's a plugin that you absolutely need, and you don't want to remove it, there is an easy solution - substitute it. Just go to Google and search with "THE PLUGIN'S NAME WordPress alternatives" - usually, unless it's something extremely specific, you will find more than enough suitable options.
The next problem is when plugins are too many and they add more code for your browser to load, therefore impacting the speed. Honestly, if the plugins are well coded, their number can be overlooked, but still, it's always a good idea to check them up.
Sometimes people try on plugins and then forget them, leaving them on the site. Sometimes there are plugins used once or twice per month and yet they are active 24/7, consuming unnecessarily resources. More often than not I've seen a WordPress site having several different plugins doing the same thing (why would one need 4 different image optimizers?)
Luckily, this matter has a really easy fix - just go over them and remove or deactivate anything you're not using actively. Do that on a regular basis - at least a couple of times per year.
6. Optimize the images you upload
One of the resources that usually have limitations on your hosting is bandwidth. In simple terms, bandwidth is consumed by transferring data like text and images, and unfortunately, images can be a big offender here.
A single (unoptimized) image can go from a couple of megabytes to 20-25MB; you can only image the resources that an average e-commerce site would consume if filled with uncompressed images.
In our article about the 2020 web design trends we've discussed how many sites are now moving to graphics and illustrations not just for the specific aesthetics, but also because they are way smaller in terms of size.
If you have photos though and you need to keep them (for example, product photography) there is an easy way to fix that - you can simply optimize the images and make them lighter in order to improve speed.
We've written an entire guide on image optimization plugins, so I would advise you taking a look at the options listed there.
RELATED ARTICLE: Image optimization plugins and their advantages
7. Choose the right theme
Like plugins, themes aren't created equal. Some are lighter and some are heavier, and the latter are likely to significantly impact your speed. Page builders, while very useful, can worsen the situation and slow down the loading time even more.
Of course, if you have a site with a large traffic already, a re-design can be quite the headache (although still worth it, in my opinion, if your theme is really bad)
If you are just starting though, make sure to do your due dilligance and research the theme, before you purchase it.
For starters, you can take the demo site and run it through some speed tool, like Pingdom. Make sure to select the region your potential audience actually resides in order to get somewhat realistic results.
While most developers make their demo sites lighter exactly for this reason, you will still get a pretty good idea of how this theme runs. If it takes several seconds to load or makes way too many requests - run. There are plenty of alternatives to work with and a poorly written theme is almost unfixable.
Another useful tip is to check the review section - if the WordPress theme has constant speed issues, you will certainly find several comments on this there. Usually, this is a good place to check the general impression of already existing users overall.
8. Optimize your design
Having a fun website with a lot of features on it may look a lot of fun, but it usually comes at a cost - a slower speed. Not ALL elements will affect your speed, but most of them probably will.
One thing you can do is act as you did with the plugins; sit down, page by page, and check for design elements you don't need.
Perhaps you have subscription pop-ups on pages where they aren't very effective, or maybe there are a bit too much of ad positions.Usually, the purely decorative elements are totally useless, and unless you have reason to believe they'll make a huge difference in your design, it would be better to remove them.
9. Use a caching plugin
Caching is a complicated and quite boring concept. But in a nutshell, it speeds up your site by storing the last known version of the site, and then delivering it to the visitors, instead of forcing WordPress to generate a new one on the fly … more or less.
Basically, the only thing that any one of us needs to know about caching is that it works and that it's an impressive improvement.
For instance, in a case study at yuiblog.com, we can see that introducing browser-side caching can reduce load times from 2.4 seconds to even 0.9 seconds.
Want results like that? One of these plugins (but never more than one at the same time):
W3 Total Cache WP Super Cache WPRocket
10. Optimize your database
Don't be afraid, this involves no coding work at all. Optimizing your database is a fairly simple thing, and it can have a big impact on your site speed.
Quite simply, over time, the database that WordPress uses to run your website will get crowded and messy. So every once in a while, you should use a plugin like WP-Optimize to clean it up automatically, but WPRocket does this also.
11. Monitor your site security
Wordfence is a nice plugin that helps you put basic security in place, and overall keep your site healthy. It performs a range of scans and monitors what's going on on your site, notifying you in case there's something fishy.
Sometimes, your site slows down because of malware or other nasty things. Wordfence saves you from those.
12. Lazy load images
Sticking with the topic of images for a minute; another thing you can do is “lazy load” them. The idea behind this is to show images only once the visitor scrolls down the page to actually see them. With a lazy loading solution, the images aren't getting loaded until that very moment.
The best plugin to make this happen is again WPRocket, but another called BJ Lazy Load. can also do the job.
13. Move scripts to the footer
14. Regenerate thumbnails
This is something worth doing whenever you change your theme to a new one. Most themes use different thumbnail sizes. If your previous thumbnails – for the images uploaded in the past – aren't optimized, they will take up more bandwidth.
You can fix that with a plugin called Regenerate Thumbnails.
Your WordPress website is a fairly complex creature. It consists of a range of files and data rows. One way to make it work faster is to minimize the number of those files, thus minimizing the number of requests that your visitors' browsers need to make to fetch the site.
The method is called minifying. You can integrate it either by (a) following the guidelines by Google by hand (a lot of work), or by (b) using a plugin like Autoptimize or WPRocket (easy).
16. Use a content delivery network (CDN)
A CDN is meant to take all the static media files that you have on your site (usually images and other uploads) and distribute them across a network of servers for faster delivery to your audience.
Hooking up your site to a CDN can result in your site loading much, much faster and also result in reduced bandwidth consumption.
Use Key CDN for maximum results (they are great alternative for Max CDN or StackpathCDN), or use a free cloudflare CDN with WPRocket
17. Enable gzip compression
Another thing you can do to speed up your site is set up what's called gzip compression. It is a fairly technical process, but it's been well-documented across the web, so you should be able to get through it by following the steps.
In short, gzip compression is about making the size of the files that comprise your website smaller – so they can be delivered to your visitors faster.
18. Disable hotlinking
Hotlinking is what we call a situation when another webmaster attempts to display an image on their website by linking it directly from your website. This puts additional load on your server.
You can disable hotlinking altogether by following this guide.
19. Remove sliders from your design
Sliders may look cool, but they aren't a valuable addition to your site on so many levels.
First of all, they don't work as a conversion/design/business tool.
Also, they tend to take a lot of time to load.
The easiest fix is to remove all sliders you have on your site, and replace them with either static images or something entirely else, like an opt-in form.
20. Disable pingbacks and trackbacks
Pingbacks and trackbacks are a fairly confusing feature in WordPress. You can read about them on the official pages, but basically, it's WordPress' way of communicating between other WordPress websites. The downside though is that these days, pingbacks and trackbacks are mostly used for spam.
Disabling them all together is a quick fix that can speed up your site, as the WordPress software doesn't have to deal with them any longer.
Do this by going to your wp-admin: Settings / Discussion, and deselect the option labeled “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new articles.”
21. Use CSS sprites
Normally, your CSS is arranged in a manner that fetches a number of individual images and then serves them in various parts of your site design.
A more optimized solution, however, is to have one large image, in which all the previous images are arranged next to each other. This is a CSS sprite. Here's some more info on this method.
22. Disable post revisions
Post revisions are a great functionality in WordPress … for some people. For others, it's a totally useless thing.
In themselves, revisions allow you to go back to any previous version of a given post. This gives you a possibility to restore it in case you've mistakenly erased something you didn't intend to erase.
However, if you always stay with the latest version of your content and don't revert back to anything, revisions won't be of much use to you.
If that's the case, consider disabling them altogether. This can be done by editing the main wp-config.php file of your WordPress installation. Add this line somewhere at the bottom:
define( ‘WPPOSTREVISIONS', false );
23. Remove Gravatar images
Gravatar is the default way of handling comment avatars in WordPress. A very cool feature in itself, but it can have an impact on your site speed if your posts receive a lot of comments.
This is simply a result of your site having to display tens of avatar images. You can reduce this load by disabling those Gravatar images completely.
Handle this is your wp-admin: Go to Settings / Discussion, and deselect the “Show Avatars” box.
24. Delete spam comments
Sites that get tons of traffic tend to get tons of spam comments. Spam comments are all taking irrelevant space. I'm trying to block them with the plugin named CleanTalk, but some of the spam comment slip through.