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Your WordPress site speed can affect your site success in a number of ways. A slow WordPress website ranks poorly in search engines like Google.
A slow WordPress website can also cause you to lose traffic, as no one likes to wait for a slow site to load. Below, I’m going to share 15 ways to speed up WordPress performance.
But first, let’s talk about how to test your site speed. There are a number of free tools you can use and I’ll discuss my favorites.
How to Test Your WordPress Site Speed
How fast should your WordPress website load?
This is really the most important question. Studies have shown that a site that takes longer than 2 seconds to load results in a 47% higher bounce rate. This means almost half of your visitors leaving your site precipitously.
So, a good entry level goal is to get your site down to 2 seconds. Keep in mind, you should test as many of your pages as possible. Different pages will have different load speeds and times. Overall site changes will improve all pages, but a post or page particularly heavy in images might need to be trimmed or reduced for improvement.
I personally like a site that loads within 1 second or less. That should be your ultimate goal.
So, first you need to test your site to find out how fast it actually loads. There are a number of free tools online to test your site speed. The usefulness of each tool depends on your experience with websites.
1. Google Pagespeed Insights
First, you can start with Google Pagespeed Insights. This official Google tools helps identify issues identified by Google. Rather than an actual load time, you get a ranking for your mobile and desktop site and suggestions to improve your Google Pagespeed performance.
Some issues make sense like “Defer offscreen images”, i.e. use lazy load. Easy to do. Other issues like “Serve images in next-gen formats” are harder to fix because some web browsers aren’t even compatible with next-gen formats yet.
This is frankly a tool I’d reserve for developers only. For the “regular” website owner, I’d investigate my other suggestions.
2. Pingdom Website Speed Test
The Pingdom Website Speed Test tool is by far my favorite. It allows you to test your site on various servers located around the globe. This is good for testing how well your web host server node distribution is.
Most web hosts have servers spread out across the globe. These servers are used to serve your site to visitors in those geographic locations. You con’t want to serve a site to someone in Southeast Asia from a server in New York, USA. Distance matters when it comes to speed.
The web host I use (wpcloud.ca – love them!) has 33 data centers on 5 continents and in 24 different countries. My main data center is in central Canada, but my overseas visitors get quick site load times because of these distributed data centers.
Pingdom’s tool also has a series of reports that are fairly easy to understand. Your site is given a performance percentage and grade (A, B, C, etc.). It also tells you the page load time and size in MB as well as a lot more detailed information down below plus explanations of each issue and suggestions for fixing it.
Plus, the user interface for this site is awesome. A nice UI wins me over every time. Favorite. Tool.
WebPageTest.org is another great free tool for testing your site speed. This site is not quite as pretty or user friendly as Pingdom’s tool but it has the added option of testing your site with various browsers.
The reports are not nearly as nice to look at as on Pingdom either, but it tests different things and can give some useful feedback on your WordPress site performance.
Once you have your speed test results, now it’s time to speed up your WordPress site.
15 Ways to Speed Up WordPress Performance
OK, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of real ways you can improve your WordPress site speed.
1. Choose a better web hosting provider
9 times out of 10, this is the main culprit behind a slow WordPress website. When it comes to website hosting, you get what you pay for. Cheap, shared hosting is going to be slower, period.
There are some stop gap measures you can take to improve your site speed even on a slow host (see tips below) but if you truly want to improve your WordPress site speed, using a good web host is your most impactful step.
An example (or two) of the power of good website hosting
Let me give you a pretty powerful example. I used to host this site with a really “good” cheap hosting company. In fact, I still recommend this company to bloggers who are just getting started. It’s a good starter package for simple sites. But when you have a site that gets bigger and is heavily image based, like this site is, you need hosting that’s more powerful.
So, when I switched from my old host to WPCloud.ca, my site page load time dropped from 12+ second to less than 2 seconds. A 600% decrease just by changing hosts! I made zero actual changes to my site, just migrated it to a new host.
THAT is the power of good web hosting.
Another example: I moved a client from another cheap shared host to WPCloud. Her load time dropped from 10+ seconds to about 1.5 seconds without any other changes.
If you’re going to spend money to invest in the success of your website or blog, your number 1 choice should be spending your money on good web hosting. You’re site can be as pretty as a picture but if it takes 10 seconds to load, it’s a waste.
Web Hosting Companies I Recommend
If you must go with “cheap” shared web hosting, do yourself a favor and use SiteGround. Not only do they have great customer service, their system is consistently ranked among the best of “cheap” hosts.
My personal and favorite web host. They’re not cheap. They’re not the most expensive either. But for what they offer in the way of Managed WordPress hosting AND their AMAZING customer support, it’s worth every penny. WPCloud is my top web host recommend every time.
My final recommend is FlyWheel. The entry level plan for FlyWheel is about the same as for WPCloud (although with WPCloud, you get hosting for 2 sites, not one and a ton of extra features).
FlyWheel has a slick User Interface, which I’m a total sucker for. They also have great customer service and decent plans. I use FlyWheel for my personal blog.
I have personally used all 3 of these recommended hosts for years for various sites. I’ve had experience with numerous other hosts with my own sites and with clients. These are the 3 I unreservedly recommend every time.
Hosting recommends aside, I cannot emphasize how important your choice of host is. Don’t pick a host because they’re the cheapest or they have the highest paying affiliate program so everyone recommends them even though they’re horrible (BlueHost, cough, cough – don’t do it!)
2. Use a WordPress theme that’s optimized for speed.
As a non-developer, this is a hard one. It’s hard to know which themes are best.
Though they’re not the prettiest, the WordPress default themes are built for speed. You can also test potential theme choices on a tool like Pingdom to find out how good they are. Plug in the demo site link and see how they rank. Our WordPress theme demos receive an A – B grade and load in less than 2 seconds.
WPBuffs wrote a great article about The 52 Fastest WordPress Themes of 2019.
Of course, we use some tools to speed up these demos and I’m going to tell you all about them below.
3. Reduce Image Size
When I do speed optimization on WordPress sites for clients, 100% of the time, image size is an issue. Image files, when not optimized, can be huge. This means longer load times, especially if your site is image rich.
There are two parts to optimizing your images for site speed.
Use Appropriately Sized Images
The first is to use appropriately sized images. WordPress usually takes care of this for you. Your theme should use various thumbnail sizes that are appropriate to the use. For example, a theme shouldn’t use the “Large” thumbnail for a tiny image in the Recent Posts widget. A more appropriate sized image should be used.
You should also make sure that when you insert images into your content that you’re choosing the appropriate size image. Become familiar with image size options on your theme and the best for each use.
Compress Those Image
The second optimization step is to compress your images. Compression removes some unnecessary coding in the images and makes the file size smaller.
There are some great compression plugins for WordPress that will compress your images in bulk and as you upload them. My favorite is Smush Image Compression and Optimization which offers a free version. There is also a paid Pro version if you need more features or to compress in bulk in larger numbers.
Since I’m super sensitive to keeping my image size as small as possible, I double compress. First, I compress online with a free bulk tool like Compress JPEG or Compress PNG (sister sites). Then, my images are compressed on site by Smush.
4. Use a Cache Plugin to Speed Up WordPress
A cache, when speaking of a website, refers to a stored, static version of the website. A cache allows your site to be served to visitors quickly, rather than having to call all the various resources every time.
Third only to hosting and image issues, not using a cache plugin is the biggest issue with slow sites.
Some hosts (like WPCloud!) offer use “server side” caching. Server side caching is generally better and faster. There are various cache types available depending on your host. WPCloud uses Lightspeed which allows me a lot of control over my cache settings, which I like.
If your host doesn’t offer server side caching, you can install a cache plugin. Many are free and great. I particularly like W3 Total Cache. But whatever plugin you pick, just make sure your site is using caching.
Now we’re getting to the more technical stuff. When you minify a code file, you basically remove all the excess space between the code characters. Minified files are smaller and load faster.
WordPress Minify Plugins that Speed Up WordPress
Luckily, regardless of what theme you use, there are plugins that can help you minify your files. My personal favorite is Faster Velocity Minify. It’s dead simple to set up and I’ve found it to be compatible with most themes.
When activating a minifying plugin on your WordPress site, make sure you check out your site as soon as you activate to see if the minify plugin causes an issue.
If it does, try a different plugin. There are a variety available and different themes will work best with various plugins. Another popular plugin is Autoptimize. It does more than minify to improve your site speed but I’ve had some theme conflicts with this plugin.
6. Leverage Browser Caching
So, we talked a bit about site/server based caching above. But there are multiple layers of caching on the internet. Browser caching is another level of caching that is actually on the other end of the web, on your visitors web browser.
You website can tell a visitors browser to cache your site for a specific time period. The default cache period on most browsers is fairly short at a day or two. But you can tell the browser to cache your site for 14 days or more.
WordPress core and theme settings don’t address browser caching. But there’s an easy-to-use plugin called, ironically, Leverage Browser Caching that can help you optimize your WordPress website performance. This plugin is so easy to use. Install and go. No settings to mess around with.
7. Add an Expires Header to Static Resources
Come again, what now? It may sound like mumbo jumbo but if you run a speed test on your site, you probably got this error.
There’s an easy fix for this, thanfully. Install the plugin Far Future Expiry Plugin. Visit the Settings page for the plugin and enable all file types for 14 to 28 days or more. You can also enable GZIP compression using this simple plugin.
8. Enable GZIP Compression
As I mentioned above, the Far Future Expiry plugin can help you enable GZIP and kill two birds with one plugin. But lots of other optimizing plugins also offer this option. Check your cache plugin for this option as well.
One thing I do recommend is to double-check that this method is actually working. Run your site through Pingdom or Google Pagespeed. I’ve found the plugins don’t always work. You may need to add some manual code to your .htaccess file to make it work in some cases. A good Google search will help you find how to do this manually as that’s a bit deep for this post.
9. Deactivate or Uninstall Plugins
Chances are good that you have a few plugins on your site that you don’t actually use. But even though you’re not actively using the features of the plugin, extra scripts and CSS files may be getting loaded on your website every time you have a visitor.
It’s important to only use the plugins you absolutely need on your site and to deactivate and even delete those you don’t really use or need.
10. Activate HTTP/2
There’s an easy to install (and FREE) plugin for WordPress called HTTP/2 Server Push that I use on all my sites.
Your web host’s servers do need to support HTTP/2 for this to work.
11. Use a CDN
A CDN is a “Content Delivery Network”. These networks can store your site content in various data centers around the world. This allows visitors from various locations to enjoy quick load times. Cloudflare and MaxCDN are two examples of popular CDNs.
12. Optimize Your WordPress Databases
Over time, your site databases can get cluttered and messy. A plugin like WP-Optimize can help you clean up those databases.
13. Add Lazy Load to Your Images
To achieve a faster page load time, you can enable lazy loading for your images. This means images that are on screen are given priority for loading while other images are loaded as your visitor scrolls.
A good WordPress lazy load plugin is JQuery Image Lazy Load.
14. Turn Off Pingbacks and Trackbacks
By default, your WordPress site interacts with other blogs that are equipped with pingbacks and trackbacks.
Every time another blog “mentions” a link from your site, it notifies your site. This, 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 and Linkbacks.
15. Optimize Your Home Page to Load Quickly
This isn’t one thing but really a few easy things that you can do to ensure that your homepage loads quickly. Since this is probablythe most important part of your site because people will be landing there the most often.
Things that you can do include:
- Show excerpts instead of full posts
- Reduce the number of posts on the page (I like showing between 5-7)
- Remove unnecessary sharing widgets from the home page (include them only in posts)
- Remove inactive plugins and widgets that you don’t need
- Keep in minimal! Readers are here for content, not 8,000 widgets on the homepage
Overall, a clean and focused homepage design will help your page not only look good, but load quicker as well.
So, there are 15 totally actionable ways you can speed up your website. If your site is really slow, I definitely recommend a new host but don’t skip items 2 through 15 either to help speed up WordPress performance.