I’ve mentioned on this blog many times before that fast load times are critical for a WordPress website. It’s a bad user experience to have a slow website, it reflects poorly on your brand, bounce rate goes up, engagement, conversion and sales go down. Plus Google is obsessed with speed, so the faster the site the better the Google rankings.
Speeding up a WordPress site is a complex topic, but there are some things that will have a huge impact. The 80:20 if you like. Here are the 7 big things.
Your web host is probably the number 1 thing you can improve if you have a slow website. If you are on a cheap shared hosting plan, or a server that’s miles away from your target audience, or a server not configured for WordPress, or a plan that doesn’t have the necessary bandwidth or space, it’s going to slow your site down dramatically.
On top of that, if you go for a managed WordPress host, it will probably solve some other issues in this list automatically (like caching).
Many WordPress websites, especially if they’ve been around for a long time will have unnecessarily large files. Often files that aren’t even used on the site. These can be cleaned up fairly easily and will often result in a speed bump on the site. I wrote about that in detail in this post: Things to look for in removing excess bloat on your WordPress site.
All plugins take up extra disk space and extra database space on the server. Only install plugins that are absolutely necessary. Don’t install plugins that give you features you can manage in with another solution (like staff intranets, or email marketing etc). Just include what is absolutely necessary and completely remove them as opposed to de-activating them, if you are certain you never need them again.
The theme can have a big impact on performance. This is always a big of a compromise because I really like the features of image and feature rich themes like X Theme and I would often use that knowing that the site might be a bit quicker. But if your absolute priority is speed, a bare bones theme, potentially one you build from scratch could be the best option – or a theme that is super lightweight and built specifically for speed. There are some good articles out there comparing the exact speed of certain themes, here is one you can check out.
Most websites these days are image heavy and since images are huge compared to HTML text, they form the majority of what gets downloaded on a website. To the naked eye a 200 kb image may look exactly the same as one that’s come straight off a high resolution camera at 20 meg – literally 100 times the size. Speed test tools like Pingdom or Google Page Speed Insights will help you find images that are excessively large, or you can manually look through the front end of the website or the website folders.
WordPress caching refers to the process of temporarily storing static HTML versions of your web pages to improve website performance and reduce server load. When a visitor requests a page on a WordPress website, instead of dynamically generating the page from scratch, the cached version is served, resulting in faster load times. The results can be dramatic, which is why I always recommend having a WordPress caching plugin installed in most WordPres installs.
There are different forms of caching and different plugins available. If you have nothing I would install something like Breeze, or better still move to a managed WordPress host that has caching built into the offering.
Improve high traffic pages
One thing that often gets neglected when you are making any improvements to a website, is to simply focus on the high traffic pages. Think about it. If 80% of your traffic goes to 3 or 4 pages (which can sometimes be the case), then you can improve the speed of 80% of your users by improving only those few pages.
Use Google Analytics to work out your most popular pages (homepage will be number), and focus specifically on those pages, reducing scripts, optimising or reducing images, having less content etc and it will be a huge win.
There are many things to consider when it comes to WordPress speed, this is only really scratching the surface but as a starting point this will give you the 80:20.