Do you know one of the most frustrating things about the internet – slow websites. No one and I mean NO ONE likes a slow website and as such the speed of your WordPress website isn’t something to take lightly. In fact learning the most effective techniques for WordPress speed optimization should be a top priority for you if you own a WordPress website.
FACT – Our attention span as humans is getting shorter and shorter, especially when using the internet. We click on a website link and expect the page to load in 2 seconds and if it takes longer than 4 seconds we start getting fidgety.
There’s so much information on the internet that the average person isn’t willing to spend more than 7 to 12 seconds waiting for a page to load. If one of your pages takes any longer than that to load, your visitor will likely leave the page to find the information he/she needs elsewhere.
When that happens, the conversion rate of your pages will drop while its bounce rate soars. You don’t want either happening. If the website can’t capitalize on initial unique visits, it won’t generate revenue or be profitable.
Since more than 35.2 percent of websites are WordPress websites, chances are yours is too (I mean you are also reading this article about WordPress speed optimization) this brings us to an important question: how do you speed up a WordPress website?
Before we delve into that, let’s first take a look at the typical culprits that make a website sluggish.
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What causes low WordPress website loading speeds?
A good page load time is under 2 seconds, especially if your website is for e-commerce or some other professional purpose.
To improve WordPress speed, you need to first identify the things that could be slowing it down. Some of the biggest culprits include:
- Web Hosting: A web host is what powers your website and provides it with the resources it needs to be live on the internet. If a web host’s server can’t provide a website with sufficient or steady access to resources such as bandwidth, memory space, and so on, the website is bound to load slowly or experience downtime.
- WordPress Configuration: The configuration of your website will determine how quickly or slowly your pages load. For instance, if the cache settings of your pages aren’t properly set, it can lead to not only a slow website but also one that crashes.
- Page Size: The size of the content on a page will determine how fast that page loads, especially if the visitor accessing that page has a slow internet connection. For example, a page that weighs 2mb (megabytes) is bound to load faster than a page that weighs 10mb. The texts on your pages don’t weigh that much, but multimedia content, like images, videos, and audio are a different matter. If your pages have a lot of media content, you need to optimize them to prevent slow loading speeds.
- Bad Plugins: A plugin with bad coding (or a plugin that’s expired) can cause slow page loading. It’s one of the reasons why updating plugins (and only using plugins from reliable sources) is recommended.
- External Scripts: Like multimedia content, external scripts can be large and can slow down a page’s loading speed, especially external scripts like font loaders and ads.
By identifying the specific elements that are slowing down your website, you’ll have an easier time making the necessary changes to speed things up. But since any of the above (or other) factors could be bogging your website down, how can you tell which is the real culprit?
Actually, there are several tools that can test the speed of your website. The best of these tools will give you a diagnosis that isolates the cause(s) of any sluggishness.
How to test the speed of your WordPress website?
If you feel your website is fast enough simply because it loads quickly on your computer, that’s not good enough. Your browser probably has your website pages in its cache and loads it instantly from there, creating the illusion that your website is speedy.
For a more accurate idea of your website’s speed, you need the right tools for the job. You can use a tool like GTmetrix to verify the loading speed of your site.
Other great tools include:
All of these tools are free. Aside from telling you how fast your website is, they are also valuable because they point out exactly what’s slowing things down and recommend how to speed things up.
WordPress Speed Optimization Techniques
In most cases, making your website faster isn’t about fixing one thing. Fixing one thing will probably improve loading speeds by a few milliseconds, which regular users won’t notice.
On the other hand, if you optimize multiple aspects of your website, the few milliseconds from each improvement will amount to a significant increase in speed, perhaps by a whole second or two.
So, if you are looking for how to speed up a WordPress website, here are the most effective changes you can make to increase its speed and overall performance long-term.
Ready? Let’s do this …
Reduce latency and Time-to-first-byte (TTFB)
Network latency is how long it takes to transmit data over a network. In the best scenario, the time it takes to deliver a packet of data from one point to another is mere milliseconds, much less than a second. If it’s one second or above, then there’s a network latency issue.
On the other hand, TTFB is how long your browser waits to receive its first byte of data from the server. The higher the TTFB is above zero seconds, the longer it’ll take for a page to display.
So, how do you fix latency and TTFB issues? The most effective solution is switching to a web host with a server that’s closest to where most of your visitors come from. For example, if most of your visitors are within the US, a host with servers in Russia or Australia will have serious TTFB and latency issues. But if the servers are in the US, latency will be far less of an issue.
Aside from choosing a host with close-by servers, other ways to reduce latency include:
- Using caching. This can reduce TTFB on your WordPress site by up to 90 percent.
- If you have visitors from all over the world, Content delivery network (CDN) can reduce network latency for visitors that are far from your host server.
- Using a server with HTTP/2 protocol is also useful
- Switch to a premium DNS that delivers faster lookup times and reduces external HTTP requests from your website.
- Use prefetch and prerender for behind the scenes tasks while your pages load.
We’ll eventually delve deeper into some of these tactics later in this article. For now, just know that applying them to reduce latency will speed up your website’s loading speed and WordPress admin dashboard.
Upgrade to premium DNS
Most recommendations for how to speed up a WordPress website neglect to mention DNS, and that’s because most people don’t understand the role it plays in a website’s performance.
DNS (Domain Name System) connects domain names with web servers, directing the traffic of online visitors to where they want to go. It does this by translating a domain name like thewebmonkeyonline.com into a server IP address – like 188.8.131.52 that a computer can understand.
DNS is available for free, or you can pay for it. While the free version works, it doesn’t deliver the same level of reliability and speed as the premium version. That’s why top-notch web hosts offer the paid version of DNS as part of their hosting package.
The free DNS takes longer to direct traffic because it spends more time looking up DNS records. You can shave off milliseconds by switching to premium DNS, which fulfills these tasks faster. For reference, free DNS can be up to 30 percent slower than premium DNS.
Use a lighter WordPress Theme
WordPress themes are a great way to give your website an aesthetic that catches the attention of your visitors and effectively conveys what your website is about. With the right theme, you can also give your site a layout that enhances navigation and the overall user experience.
There are hundreds of new WordPress theme releases every day. While a lot of them look great, only a few of them positively contribute to the speed of your website. In fact, if you pick the wrong WordPress theme, you’ll end up with a slower—and less secure—website.
Themes that look good, but do more harm than good, are usually freeware. That said, a premium theme can also cause problems for your site’s speed, especially if its file size is massive.
The size of a theme after installation is the first thing that determines how it will affect your WordPress site. To keep page loading as fast as possible, only go for lightweight themes.
The more elements and features a theme has, the longer it will take to load, slowing down your site’s overall speed. As such, it’s best to only go for a theme that keeps things as simple as possible by offering only necessary features.
Alternatively, you could go for a feature-rich WordPress theme that gives you the option to disable features you don’t need. For example, the theme could give you the option to disable video and parallax scripts, Font Awesome icons, sliders, galleries, and so on.
If you aren’t technically-savvy, or simply want to avoid any theme-related hassle that may reduce your site’s loading speed, you are better off going with a lightweight theme from the start.
Focus on the quality and not the quantity of plugins
There are various WordPress plugins for various purposes. The array of options, and the results they promise, can lead you to keep installing and uninstalling various versions. But this approach will eventually slow down your website.
The alternative to using plugins is to code your WordPress website yourself. Since not everyone has the patience or the skill for coding, plugins are a more practical option. So, how do you find good plugins, and how can you use them without wrecking the performance of your site?
You can use tools like Query Monitor to identify which plugins are slowing down your website with database queries.
How (and to what degree) a plugin negatively impacts your WordPress website will depend on the function of the plugin. Some affect specific pages, like the checkout page, while others can slow down every page on your website.
The plugin may have this effect because it’s poorly coded, or there may be another aspect of your website that’s interacting with the plugin and causing the slowness.
Another way that plugins slow down your website is their uninstallation. After uninstalling a WordPress plugin, it leaves behind data in your database. Some also leave behind additional folders and files.
Over time, uninstalling several of such plugins will leave behind data that’ll compile in your database and take up valuable memory space, slowing down your website. You can use tools like WP Optimize to clean up the data left behind by such uninstalled plugins.
At the end of the day, the best way to keep plugins from slowing down your website is to avoid installing them randomly. Rather, only install the plugins you actually need, and only install high-quality plugins. You can get an idea about the quality of a plugin by reading reviews about it before installing it.
Also, it’s best to uninstall a plugin if you no longer need it. If you’re keeping it, be sure to always update it to the latest version. Otherwise, its reduced performance may affect the performance of the rest of your site.
Optimize WordPress settings
There are some changes that you can make to your WordPress site to improve its performance. Examples of such changes include:
- Changing the WordPress login URL: You can use a free plugin like WPS Hide Login to change the site’s URL from its default. The default URL is standard for all sites, meaning hackers, bots, and scripts can figure it out. Since such actors know your login URL, they’ll target your site with brute force attacks and other activities that can lead to slow performance.
- Disable self-pingbacks and pingbacks from other sites: When another site links to yours, a pingback or automated comment generates. Disabling this feature will prevent your site from generating useless spam and queries that clog up your site and slow it down.
- Reduce your blog feed posts: Keep the thumbnails on your blog feed to 12 or less. More than that will lead to too many thumbnails loading at once, generating unnecessary requests and media that ultimately slow down the page’s loading speed.
Changing these settings will all contribute to shaving some more milliseconds or maybe even a whole second off your pages’ loading time.
Use the Perfmatters Plugin
If you are looking for a great plugin to help you disable unnecessary functions and scripts running in the background, I highly recommend you check out Perfmatters
This is a plugin I use on all my websites and it makes it so easy for you to increase your website speed performance by simply turning off any scripts that are not needed.
You also have the ability to turn off unnecessary scripts and functions running on each individual page.
The plugin isn’t free but it’s worth every penny.
Disable or change theme or plugin updates
Changing your host and PHP versions can all improve your site speed, but one commonly ignored strategy to speed up a WordPress website is stopping unnecessary background applications.
Whenever your site’s update checker runs in the background, it uses resources. If you have lots of plugins and themes to install, the process will take longer and consume even more resources, further slowing down your site.
You can fix the issue by disabling automatic updates that run regularly. But only do this if you are ready to check for updates manually, or you could be exposing your site to security risks.
Offload media and email
Your website operates with a finite amount of resources. If you have unnecessary elements consuming these resources, it will slow your site down.
That means if your site has hundreds of files and other large media that aren’t serving any apparent purpose, it’s best to get them off your site. Offloading is a great way to accomplish this.
Offloading your files or media means moving such documents from your host server to somewhere else. Because it’s not the same as deleting the file, the said files will still be accessible via your website. They’ll just not be on your host server, consuming valuable resources.
You can perform offloading by using Amazon S3, a storage solution that’s useful for serving up large files or creating additional backups. It’s bulk storage at an affordable cost (free for the first year). Even Netflix uses the service.
Another option is offloading to Google Cloud Storage. The result is the same, it just depends on which company you are more comfortable working with. If you use this solution, media requests from your site will go directly to Amazon or Google and won’t put any load on your site or host server, leading to faster load times.
The same thing goes for email files, which can easily pile up quickly, especially if you are a frequent target of spam or if you send lots of bulk emails. You can avoid clogging your website by using a non-WordPress third-party professional email marketing software, instead of your hosting provider for emails.
Optimize your site for mobile
Since more and more people are using their mobile devices instead of computers to access the internet, Google now prioritizes the mobile versions of websites over desktop versions. While optimizing your WordPress site and content for mobile has several advantages, especially SEO, speed is one unsung advantage that you can look forward to.
To optimize your website for mobile, you need to first make it responsive. A responsive site is one that can automatically adjust itself to fit the size of the screen it’s being viewed on. That means, whether viewing your website on a large screen computer, a mid-sized tablet, or a small screen phone, a visitor will always be able to view and navigate the site without issues.
If the site isn’t responsive, how it appears on certain screens may not only be jumbled but also slow to load. Since the images on your pages are what require the most adjustment for a responsive website, you can get the best performance by using tools like WordPress srcset. It enables browsers to choose the best image size to display.
You can use tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendy tool to test how mobile-friendly your website is.
Also, be sure to take advantage of Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). It uses AMP HTML to make website pages lighter. It works by trimming the excess fat off pages, delivering a lightweight page that loads faster on mobile devices.
While using Google AMP may cause your web pages to lose certain features, it will increase its loading speed, which is what this article is all about.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
It sounds like a web host, but it’s not. Rather, it’s an additional feature that increases your website’s loading speed, especially if the person accessing it is in a location that’s far from the host’s servers. We discussed some of this earlier when talking about reducing latency and TTFB.
With CDN, when a visitor comes to your site, they’ll receive content from a server that’s closest to them, rather than from the host server that may be on the other side of the world. The closer a person is to a server, the faster the page loading speeds they’ll get.
Also, since the CDN is doing some of the work of the host server, it frees up some of the web host server’s resources. That increases the overall performance and speed of the server, and subsequently that of your website.
CDN can be a Traditional Pull CDN or a Reverse Proxy CDN. Both reduce latency and add an extra layer of security by blocking bad online traffic from reaching your site or host. While having CDN may cost a little extra, its benefits are well worth the investment.
If your current web host doesn’t offer CDN, you may want to consider switching to one that does.
Don’t ignore caching
Wherever you check, you’ll always find caching as one of the most effective solutions regarding how to speed up a WordPress website. Not only is it effective, but it’s also relatively easy to apply.
A WordPress caching plugin speeds up the loading speed of your website by minimizing the steps a server follows to deliver a page. It does this by making the server store some files from your website for quick retrieval from the server’s memory.
Instead of delivering a page from scratch, it will simply deliver it from the files it has stored from delivering pages to previous visitors. By reducing the amount of work a server has to do to deliver a page to a visitor, you get faster page load outs from the cache.
Caching can reduce Time-to-first-byte by up to 90 percent. It also places less strain on the server, requiring the use of fewer resources to deliver a page, which ultimately boosts the overall speed of a WordPress site.
Caching can occur at the Server-Level, which is the most convenient option since a web host handles it automatically on your behalf.
Alternatively, it can occur with the help of a plugin, which is only necessary if you are on a host that doesn’t provide caching. There are several paid and free WordPress caching plugins that you can use for this, such as WP Rocket or W3 Total Cache.
Optimize images and other media
Here’s another surefire solution for speeding up a WordPress website.
Since image files and other media are some of the biggest files you can find on a webpage, the size of the media files will impact page loading speeds.
You could solve the problem by keeping the images and other media on your pages to a minimum, but this might make your pages unattractive and less engaging. A better solution is keeping the size of your images as small as possible.
Optimizing the images on your page involves reducing their file size without ruining the clarity and overall quality of the image. You can reduce the file of an image with a compressor tool before uploading it on a webpage. Alternatively, you could use a plugin or script on the WordPress site to reduce the image’s size.
You can use lossy or lossless compression to reduce an image’s size and, in turn, increase the page’s loading speed. In lossy compression, some of the data in the image are lost, which means the image’s quality may suffer due to the compression. On the upside, it can significantly cut the weight of an image.
As for lossless compression, it may not be able to cut as much excess as lossy, but it won’t affect the image’s quality after compression.
Currently, images make up more than 30 percent of a webpage’s total weight. You cut some of that weight and you have leaner, lighter, and faster-loading pages. To cut as much weight as possible from an image, you are better off using lossy compression.
Nonetheless, lossy compression can negatively impact an image’s quality. Such problems are avoidable by finding a balance between size and quality. That is, in the compression settings, don’t go too low on file size, and you’ll still get an image of acceptable quality.
For your convenience, there are various WordPress plugins that you can install to automatically convert and compress an image when you upload it.
Some of these plugins include:
But what about audio and video files?
If your website uses a lot of audio and/or video, that’s a lot more weight than images. And no matter how much you compress such files, they are still going to be heavy. The best solution for this is avoiding uploading your audio and video files to your WordPress site.
Instead, embed audio and video links from hosting services like Vimeo, DailyMotion, YouTube, or SoundCloud. You can accomplish this by taking advantage of WordPress’ built-in video embed feature to copy and paste an audio or video’s URL into your post.
After embedding the URL, the site will play the video or audio from the source site. That keeps the resources of your website free and prevents slow page speeds from having to load the media from the host server.
Delete and limit page and post revisions
After you draft a post or page and save it, WordPress will create a document called revision. It’s a useful document that you can use for reverting to earlier drafts in case there is an error or accidental delete.
The more content there is in a revision document, the larger its file size will be, and the more space it will consume on your website’s server disk space. WordPress stores such revisions in multiple places, and each revision takes up space.
If you create lots of content on a regular basis, these revisions can quickly pile up. Believe it or not, the number and weight of these files can become so large as to effectively slow down your dashboard and overall website performance.
Fortunately, you can easily fix the issue by:
- Deleting old revisions – If your WordPress website has been around for a while, chances are you have a lot of revisions piled up. You can clean up these useless and space-consuming files by deleting them with MySQL. Better yet, use WP-Sweep or WP Rocket. Not only will they delete the revisions, but also any snippets of code relating to them.
- Keeping your revisions to a minimum – You can change the settings of your WordPress to limit the number of revisions that you can store per post. You can pick the number of revisions and prevent the system from auto-creating more pointless revisions than necessary. You can easily limit the number of revisions by using a plugin like Perfmatters.
- Disabling revisions – If you believe that you’ll never have to revert to your revisions, then you might as well completely disable the revision feature. By applying this tactic, your WordPress site won’t generate any revisions for future posts.
But be sure to also delete all of your old revisions. That way, there are no worries about old or new revisions eating up precious disk space and slowing down the performance of your site.
Use excerpts on homepage and archives
The default setting of WordPress is to show each page in your archives and your homepage in full. Considering how busy and full your homepage can be, its loading speed can be slow.
Aside from slow speeds, another problem is being able to see articles in full on the homepage removes most of a visitor’s reason to explore your website. That leads to lower page views and visitor time spent on your site.
You can achieve a win-win – faster loading speeds and more page views – by setting your WordPress site to show excerpts instead of an article’s full content. Excerpts are smaller than full content, taking up less space and keeping loading time to a minimum. Also, having to click on an excerpt to visit the actual page containing an article increases user engagement and page views.
That’s everything you need to know about how to speed up a WordPress website. Currently, Google and other popular search engines penalize slower websites by placing them at the bottom of search results. That’s not where you want your website to rank after working so hard to create it and put content on it.
Apply the above tactics and not only will you enjoy better loading speeds and ranking in search engine results, but also higher traffic, better engagement, and more conversion. All of this will translate into a better experience for the user and more revenue from your website.
Who doesn’t want that?