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Finally, The Definitive Guide.
Learning how to speed up WordPress is crucial to your success as a website owner. According to several studies detailed at Moz.com, despite the somewhat limited effect website speed may have on your website’s search engine results, your site visitors continue to demand fast page loading. Who wants to wait around for pages to load while surfing the Internet? I know I don’t.
And with over 409 million people viewing more than 22.6 billion web pages a month, this is not something to take lightly.
In order to get people to want to click on your website, you must focus on page loading speed to deliver the best user experience possible.
Today we will take a look at why website speed is crucial and ways you can speed up WordPress so that you can confidently say you hold your own amongst the billions of web pages – all competing for your audience’s attention.
The speed of your WordPress website impacts site visitors within seconds of them clicking on it. People want their search results delivered quickly and they want your content, text, and images to display instantly.
Here are some of the most important reasons a faster website is necessary for making it in the online world:
Better User Experience
According to Kissmetrics, 47% of people expect your website to load within two seconds or less. If you care about your audience and want to increase your website’s traffic while attracting, converting, and retaining customers, you should care about the speed of your website.
By boosting website speed, even by a second or two, you can avoid poor user experiences such as slow page loading, freezing web pages, or mobile websites that won’t display correctly. Of course, the list of user experience tips doesn’t stop here, but we’ve only mentioned the ones we feel are relevant to the purpose of this article. If you’re looking for more user experience tips, we’ve got you covered. Check it out.
Improved Search Engine Rankings
In fact, to encourage optimization when it comes to site speed, Google has gone so far as to provide website owners free tools and information to help build high performing websites. According to Google, making a conscious effort to increase your website’s speed is sure to pay off when it comes to SERPs, regardless of how controversial this topic may be.
Get more information from Neil Patel, an expert marketing guru who offers an excellent infographic outlining how he believes load time affects Google rankings and what you can do to make your site fast.
Increased Website Traffic and Revenue
Studies show that the longer your site visitor waits for a slow loading page, the less inclined they are to continue viewing. Sometimes, users become so frustrated they might even stop surfing the Internet altogether.
By increasing your website speed even slightly, studies have shown upwards of a 25% increase in page views.
To add to that, Amazon conducted one of the first studies ever linking website speed to an increase in sales revenue. To summarize, Amazon concluded that for every 100-millisecond delay in page rendering time, they experienced a 1% loss in sales.
How to Measure Website Speed
Before we get into how to speed up WordPress, I think it is important to look at how to measure your website’s initial speed performance in order to get a good starting point. A baseline that will be used for reference along the road.
There are many online tools available that can help you determine where your website may be lacking in the speed department:
- Google PageSpeed Insights. Simply enter your website’s URL and receive both a mobile and desktop speed grade, along with some suggestions for fixing problem areas. If you’re looking for more tips on this, you should read Kinsta’s excellent article on How to Score 100/100 in Google PageSpeed Insights with WordPress
- Pingdom Website Speed Test. With a more detailed look at your website’s performance, Pingdom analyzes all of your web page parts and provides a performance overview complete with a grade and recommendations. This is what we use & recommend.
- GTmetrix. A popular online speed test, GTMetrix will grade your website giving you both a PageSpeed and YSlow score, inform you of page loading time, page size, and a number of requests made, as well as solutions for making your site better.
- FirstSiteGuide Lookup Tool. This is a neat tool that will help you analyze any website performance and also let you discover technologies they use.
As you can see, according to GTMetrix this very blog achieves an impressive ‘A’ grade on both the PageSpeed and YSlow analysis. However, there are a few suggestions to consider for increasing the respectable page loading speed of 2.3 seconds. And that’s probably a better & faster server.
Ways to Speed up WordPress
Use a Quality Hosting Provider
Your website uses resources such as memory and CPU to handle all of the incoming traffic your website experiences daily.
If your traffic load is too much for your basic shared hosting plan, you will come up short on resources. This performance strain is a result of many websites pulling from the same resource pool.
If you are serious about website performance and are looking to expand your business, consider investing in a quality managed hosting provider.
Some of the leaders include WP Engine, GoDaddy, Bluehost, InMotion, Pagely, FlyWheel and Kinsta although there are many options out there that you can choose from to best suit your individual needs. Check out our guide: Top 5 Cheap WordPress Hosting Fast Secure and Trusted.
When you’re just starting up, shared hosting can seem like your best bet since it’s cheap and, depending on the provider, reliable. As your website grows, however, you might want to look into other hosting possibilities – like a VPS or dedicated server. For unmanaged hosting, DigitalOcean and Vultr are both worth looking into. I know for a fact that many people have achieved stellar results with these two when it comes to speeding up their WordPress installs. If you’re looking for cheaper hosting alternatives, we’d recommend picking a reputable hosting.
Factors to Consider Before Making a Choice
Whichever way you go, there are certain factors you must consider before making your pick:
- Price – choosing the cheapest option isn’t always a good idea. You know how the saying goes: you get what you pay for. If you want your site to grow and generate income, investing to guarantee fast loading pages and 100% uptime is a must;
- Limitations/tech specs – when you’re running an e-commerce site or a site rich in content and videos you must sign up for a hosting plan with the RAM, disk space, and processing power to meet your needs;
- Support – providers offering 24/7 support win bonus point; if your site unexpectedly goes down, you want to be able to talk to someone to sort out the issue, regardless of the hour;
- Interface – if you’re not particularly tech-savvy, make sure the hosting provider uses cPanel or Plesk to make admin tasks user-friendly. That way, you will be able to install WordPress or set up emails without the help of the support team;
- Reviews – keeping an eye out for what others are saying about the provider isn’t only smart, it’s crucial. Testimonials help you figure out if a hosting service really is as reliable as the company advertises. When you have a provider in mind, head over to ReviewSignal to read about how other users perceive the service.
Invest in a Good Theme
As much as we would like to think that all themes are created equal, the truth is they are not. Many themes come packed with bloated code that gives your theme excess functionality you will never even use.
In short, many WordPress themes are just overkill. Your goal should be to choose a lean and lightweight theme that provides the design required for your website and very little else.
Before installing a new theme on your WordPress website, test the theme’s demo using one of the above-mentioned speed tests. The results will provide insight into how well-coded the theme is.
Notice how Jupiter’s multipurpose theme demo has poor speed results across the board. With a 9 second load time, this theme is sure to turn site visitors away. Although having lots of functionality may sound cool initially, this theme may do more harm than good for your business.
In this example, using the popular Genesis Framework theme, you can see a significant improvement when it comes to speed. Despite having a lot of server requests, the loading speed barely hovers over the ideal 2-second range.
And above’s a speed test from our own Pixova PRO theme, running on this server. While we’re not (yet) running the fastest server, you can see we’re still rocking a 1.8s load speed. Which is great, considering Pixova PRO is a one-page theme that is loading a Google Maps & YouTube video on the front page.
Check Your Plugins
Having too many plugins is not always a bad thing so long as you focus on quality rather than quantity. That being said, having too many unnecessary plugins can wreak havoc on your website’s page loading time.
For example, too many HTTP requests may be sent out and additional database queries may be required for proper plugin functioning. Both of these scenarios create a significant delay in load time.
Here are some useful tips for managing the plugins on your WordPress website:
- Test your website. Before installing a new plugin, test it using a speed analysis tool. After installation test it again. If your website experiences a slow down, find a more lightweight plugin.
- Use an online tool such as WPSpeedster. Evaluate potential plugins before you install them on your website. This free tool analyzes the effects of hundreds of plugins on site performance and can help you decide which ones are a no-go.
- Use a plugin performance profiler. This is what we’ve been using and would actually recommend. The plugin was built by the team at GoDaddy and it’s name is P3 Profiler. Go check it out.
- Filter your plugins. Every time a plugin is added to your website more server requests are required to allow them to function properly on the front end of your website. Try to use one plugin that performs multiple functions (such as JetPack by WordPress.com) rather than using two separate plugins. Make sure you do not use plugins that are outdated either, as they pose security risks and can cause slowdown problems on your website.
Get A Good Caching Plugin
The WordPress Codex firmly states that caching your website is the fastest way to improve site performance. A good caching plugin could significantly improve the loading speed of your website, even when running on a shared hosting account.
I’d actually recommend using a good one if you’re running on a shared hosting account. Albeit, performance is not as good as running a server caching system (varnish) + plugin combination, but it should still be better than nothing.
A caching plugin will display a static copy (similar to a snapshot) of your website to site visitors rather than executing PHP and making database calls every time. This will save your website countless server calls meaning you will have faster performance instantly.
The end result? Smaller file sizes.
One great plugin that accomplishes both caching and minifying is the WP Super Cache plugin built by Automattic. It is simple, free, and gets the job done. One of the new kids on the block, that has a no-frills-no-thrills setup, is the Cache Enabler plugin. It’s built by the guys behind KeyCDN, the CDN of our choice and it’s a nice & simple little plugin that we’re actually using on this blog.
Looking for more features? Check out the premium plugin WP Rocket. With a whole host of included features, you can be sure that your website will be cached like a pro.
If you choose not to use a multi-tasking plugin (although you should!) you can use a plugin called Better WordPress Minify to minify your files and achieve a faster website alongside your caching plugin.
Optimize Your Images
Another great way to reduce the weight of your website is to optimize your images. There are certain steps you should follow each time you upload a new image to your WordPress website that can really help reduce file size and increase loading speed when a site visitor clicks on a web page with images.
The first step in optimizing your images is to resize and crop them before you upload them to your WordPress website. Often your images are far too large for your website. Remember, larger files take up more space, cause additional strain on your server, and take a long time to upload when a viewer clicks on your website. Plus, depending on your website’s theme, larger images may not even upload correctly on the screen.
To add to that, cropping off elements that take away from the focal point of your image does two things. First, it draws your reader’s attention to the image. Second, it naturally decreases your image file size which is great for web page loading time.
Efficiently resize and crop your images using any of these helpful desktop tools:
- PickPic – A free desktop tool for screen capturing specifically sized images with options for cropping your images. This software supports all Windows versions through Windows 10.
- Pixlr – A free online tool for uploading images to resize and crop. The desktop version is compatible with your Mac or PC. The mobile version can be found in the Apple Store or in Google Play.
- Gimp – A free desktop image editor similar to Photoshop that includes resizing and cropping. This free software download is available for GNU/Linux, OS X, and Windows operating systems.
The next, and possibly most important, step in optimizing your website’s images is compression. By removing any unnecessary information embedded in your images, you effectively decrease the image’s file size while keeping the quality of the image intact.
Compress your images either before or after you upload them to your WordPress website using lossy or lossless compression techniques.
For more information about compression techniques check out this extensive article detailing the differences between lossy and lossless compression.
Great WordPress plugins for image compression:
- TinyPNG – A free lossy compression tool to reduce file sizes of PNG and JPEG images before uploading them to your site.
- WP Smush – A WordPress image optimization plugin for compression of JPEG, PNG, and GIFs using lossless compression.
- EWWW Image Optimizer – A WordPress plugin using both lossy and lossless compression techniques for the best quality and optimization possible.
- Optimus Image Optimizer – A great WordPress plugin offered freely by the crew behind KeyCDN. It’s what we’re using on this blog.
- Kraken Image Optimizer – Kraken Image Optimizer – A really nice WordPress plugin that’s being offered for free by the guys behind Kraken.io (the online image optimization service listed below).
Compress images online without installing anything:
- Kraken – a robust, ultra-fast image optimizer and compressor with best-in-class algorithms.
The takeaway here is that you optimize your images by resizing, cropping, and compressing every single time to speed up your website.
Clean Out Your Database
WordPress is a database driven system, so keeping your database in perfect shape will boost your site’s performance. Cleaning the database on a regular basis rids you of drafts, spam comments, orphan tables, and so on. It’s also recommended you delete unused images, themes, or plugins and take a moment to fix broken links. Otherwise, you site can seem sluggish and efficiency will drop.
In other words, clearing your database of useless or redundant information is an excellent way to relieve your heavy website. Check out WordPress Advanced Database Cleaner, a WordPress plugin that cleans up spam, unwanted comments, trash posts and comments, excessive post revisions, and trackbacks and pingbacks automatically. It’s one of the most feature rich database cleaning plugins I’ve seen. They have a comparison table on their landing page that shows how well it compares to the competition.
Another option is WP-DBManager, a WordPress plugin for optimizing, repairing, backing up, and even restoring your database automatically.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A CDN is a network of servers located throughout the world that cache your website’s static content and serve it up to your site visitors when they click on your website.
CDNs effectively decrease the distance your website’s content must travel to reach global visitors. That means your content is delivered much faster than when using a shared or even managed hosting service that utilizes only one server to offer up content to those requesting it.
The best free WordPress CDN providers on the market today so you can start delivering content to your website viewers at blazing speeds. Out of that list, we’d recommend giving CloudFlare a shot. We’ve used it in the past and were pretty happy with it.
If you’re looking for something with more muscle or just can’t be satisfied with what free CDN plans have to offer, you should know we’ve been using KeyCDN on this blog and we’re kind of loving it, so far.
Enable GZip compression
When you want to save disk space on your computer, you compress files. Similarly, when you’re looking to make your website load faster, you can use GZip compression. GZip compresses your style sheets and web pages, making them smaller. Consequently, this reduces transfer time and gives your website a much-needed speed boost. In other words, the process brings down bandwidth usage and keeps your visitors happy.
Also, if you’re more interested in doing it yourself, here’s a code snippet you could paste in your .htaccess file that enables GZip compression:
Limit external scripts
External scripts can add a whole lot of data to your total loading time. In other words, when your website relies on too many external scripts, it can slow things down. To prevent this from happening, only use essentials and say no to the rest – like external font scripts, comment plugins, video embed scripts, and so on. Here are a few ideas on how to get started:
- Optimize fonts – Web font performance may not be a particularly appealing subject, but doing some research on the subject and taking the time to optimize your fonts can really make an impact on your site’s speed. KeyCND.com has a great case study on the subject, the main takeaway being that you should serve only the fonts you need, such as WOFF and WOFF2 formats. Services such as Typekit base64 encode all the font formats, which can slow down your site since it increases download time.
- Disable Google Analytics features you don’t need– Google Analytics is an extremely useful tool for anyone running a website, there’s no doubt about it. However, you don’t have to enable all its features. For instance, if you don’t use ads to promote your site, you can turn off both the remarketing and advertising reporting features, which will speed up your page a bit. You can easily do this from your Google Analytics account.
- Lazy load Disqus – A great commenting system, but one that creates 10+ HTTP requests which will considerably slow down your webpage. You can cut all these requests upon initial load using the Disqus Conditional Load plugin. You’re welcome.
- Fix the admin-ajax.php slowness issue – Starting with WordPress 3.6, WordPress introduced Heartbeat API, allowing WordPress to communicate between the web-browser and the server. The problem? WordPress Heartbeat API uses admin-ajax.php to run AJAX calls from the web-browser, which can cause high CPU usage and slow down the site. You can use the Heartbeat Control plugin to fix the problem.
As a general rule, use GTMetrix to figure out which scripts may be slowing your site down and take it from there.
Disable pingbacks and trackbacks
Pingbacks and trackbacks allow you to find out whenever someone links your site on the Internet, so they’re pretty useful.
However, there are plenty of services available to check them, so there’s no need to enable them on your page. As a matter of fact, this could really put a strain on your server resources and cause your site to load slower.
You can easily disable them from your WordPress dashboard. Go to Settings, then Discussion. From there, deselect Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks). You can use Google Webmaster Tools to keep track of all your site’s mentions.
Lazy load images
Lazy loading refers to delaying the loading of an object until that object is actually needed – for instance when the user scrolls down the page to reach it or clicks on it. It makes your site load faster and saves bandwidth.
To do this, you can use the BJ Lazy Load plugin. This plugin replaces all your post images, post thumbnails, Gravatar images and content iframes with a placeholder and loads the content as it gets close to entering the browser window when the visitor scrolls the page.
Since it works with iframes, BJ Lazy Load also covers embedded videos from YouTube or Vimeo. Very intuitive and easy to use.
Hotlinking refers to someone displaying an image on their website by linking it directly from your website. As a consequence, when someone visits their site it loads the image from your server, taking up precious bandwidth in the process. You can prevent hotlinking on your server using .htaccess.
Here’s a guide that will come in handy. Short story: if your articles are getting ‘hotlinked’ all the time, someone might be piggybacking off your hosting. This will take its toll on your site speed. Although not a direct tip on how to speed up WordPress but it could help, depending on the situation, nonetheless.
Use CSS Sprites
CSS Sprites are a means of combining multiple images into a single image file for use on a website, to help with performance. Normally, your CSS is arranged in a manner that fetches a number of individual images.
Compile them in one large image, in which all previous images are arranged next to each other. This will help with site performance. For a quick tutorial on the subject, head over to CSS tricks.
Remove Gravatar images
If speed is really important to you, you can disable Gravatar images to give your site a speed boost. Although a cool WordPress feature, Gravatar can slow down your site if you receive lots of comments, thus displaying tens of avatar images.
To disable Gravatars, go to your dashboard, to Settings / Discussion, and deselect the “Show Avatars” box. Not a tweak with a very high impact but it’ll help to speed up WordPress when combined with other techniques (see above).
Here is a quick sum of all the great ways you can speed up your WordPress website:
- Regularly test your website using any number of online speed test tools to monitor your site’s speed at different times. We recommend: Pingdom
- Invest in a quality hosting provider that can handle your website’s traffic. For smaller budgets we recommend: InMotion Hosting or Page.ly for people with bigger budgets.
- Pick a theme with all the functions you need, and nothing that you don’t. We recommend: Pixova PRO
- Downsize the number of plugins you use to reduce server strain.
- Always cache your website. We recommend: WP Super Cache
- Resize, crop, and compress every image that you upload to your website. We recommend: Kraken
- Clear out your database of unnecessary data dragging your site down. We recommend: Advanced Database Cleaner
- Use a CDN service provider for the ultimate user experience. We recommend: KeyCDN
- Use a GZip compression plugin. We recommend: GZip Ninja Speed Compression
As you can see there are many things that can negatively impact the speed of your WordPress website.
If you are looking to stand out among the millions of websites that are trying to grab the attention of people you would like visiting your WordPress website, implement some of the above-mentioned tips. And what’s even better is that if you don’t have time to speed up your website, you can always get help from the folks over at WP Buffs by ordering their speed optimization service.
Not only will your website speed increase dramatically, but your site visitors will stay, or better yet return, because of the great user experience you provide them.
Have you ever tried any of the above tips to speed up WordPress? Let us know in the comments below. Think we missed one from the list? Let us know in the comments