How To Speed Up A WordPress Website?
Why does my WordPress website open up so slow? This is a question we hear quite often. It has to do with WordPress Speed Optimization. As you read through this guide, you will find the answers to many other questions and how to speed up your website. This post will give you all the information you need to increase the speed at which your site loads and provide you with several free and paid options so you can choose which option works best for you. So let’s get to it.
The primary areas that slow down a WordPress website are:
Hosting – If you web server is old, slow or not configured correctly, your site will be slower and there’s nothing you can do about that.
Themes – The theme you use affects your load time. Some themes are heavily coded and some people like all the fancy effects which add to the weight of the theme and slowness of response.
Plugins – With over 50 thousand plugins, there are bound to be some bad ones. Knowing which ones to use and why can slow down or speed up your site. Some plugins can even get your site hacked. YIKES!
Image size – All photos must be optimized, or it slows down your site significantly. This can be done manually or through a plugin.
Scripting – Google analytics, fonts, plugins, etc. all affect the performance of the site. Combining them or even getting rid of some can help your site become faster. We explain this in the caching plugins section.
One of the most important factors in determining the speed of your website is your web host. The speed of their servers, their configuration, the number of sites they host, location, and other factors play a role in how fast they serve your site up around the world. When you’re first starting out you may want to stay within a tight budget and not spend a lot of money on the best possible hosting. However, we would recommend that is one of the best places to spend your money, because no one likes a slow site.
- Shared Hosting – Shared hosting is exactly what it says. You are sharing a server with sometimes hundreds or thousands of other websites. Think of a storage facility. You have a large plot of land (the server) and then you have many different sizes of storage spaces (websites). The biggest advantage of this setup is the cost. It is cheap and readily available.
- Cloud Based Hosting – The easiest way to understand this is that there are multiple connected servers that make up the “cloud” instead of one server. The advantage of this type of hosting is scalability and speed.
- VPS Hosting – (Virtual Private Servers) With this hosting type, you still share a physical server, but you have your own dedicated resources which are for your site only. It’s like a stepping stone between shared hosting and a dedicated server.
- Dedicated Web Server – This means you are renting your own server and your website(s) are the only ones on the server. You have complete control over the server. It requires much more knowledge and to be honest most businesses do not need their own server.
There are many other technical factors that could be addressed when it comes to web hosts and the equipment they use, but that is beyond the scope of this article. We want you to have a basic understanding of your options so you can determine what works best for you. We are always happy to consult with you if you think that would be beneficial.
How Do I Pick A Good (Fast) Webhost?
There are thousands of web hosts to choose from. Generally, in the beginning, you could choose one of the larger hosting companies like SiteGround, HostGator, GoDaddy, BlueHost, and be safe (not necessarily fast) until your business grows. At that point, you can make more informed decisions on what you want or need for processing power and speed. Another option is to look at WebHostingTalk. They have a great forum with MANY providers, offers, and deals and objective and unbiased reviews of hosting companies.
If you want to start off right and spend only a little more on your hosting in order to get truly fast server speed with loads of additional benefits, we recommend WPX Hosting. Not only are they fast, they offer (as standard features) things that other hosts charge for. Check out the video below and see how they compare to some of the “big” guys when it comes to speed, then compare the prices.
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How To Speed Up Your WordPress Website
Now that we’ve explained the importance of your web host, let’s move on to what WordPress speed optimization can do for your site to make it faster. The first thing that needs to be done is to determine how fast or slow your site is right now. We need to set a benchmark so you know where you’re starting at and how well you are doing.
There are many sites that offer speed test services. The 3 that we use the most are GTMetrix, Pingdom, and WebPageTest. None of them are going to show the same load time as they all function differently and take readings from different locations. No matter what other tell you the “speed” numbers are not the end all when it comes to making your website faster.
The speed performance of your website is relative:
- One site might be faster for one user over another because they are on a faster network and/or more powerful system, while the other person might on a slower network and/or low-end system.
- In reality you can have two sites that load in the exact same time, but one seems faster because it renders its content progressively, meaning that what you actually see on the screen is being delivered but the whole site has not yet loaded.
As long as your site is rendering the content which is above the fold quickly your visitors will be happy. The entire site (which is what speed sites measure) does NOT have to be completely loaded in order to provide a good experience for your customers. A good customer experience what Google is seeking when looking at your website. That being said, if your above the fold content takes more that a second or two then you have some issues.
One last thing before we dive into a couple of the more popular performance testing sites. NONE of them will give you the same results. You can run your tests at different times of the day and get different results. One site will say your site is slow, another will say fast. Your results are not totally dependent upon the tactics we are discussing in this article. Our advice is to pick the one(s) you like the best, work with them and do not obsess over trying to get a perfect score. The chances of you doing that are slim and none! The real goal is to optimize for your customer.
The 3 most important factors (other than speed) for a good visitor experience are:
- The speed with which your above-the-fold content begins to render for your website’s real human users.
- The time it takes for above-the-fold content to be visually complete and interactive for your website’s real, human users.
- The average time at which visible parts of your page are displayed relative to the average time at which visible parts of your competitor’s page are displayed for actual human beings.
WordPress Speed Tests
GTmetrix, Pingdom and WebPageTest are the three sites we use the most to test and speed optimize our clients’ websites.
GTmetrix For Website Optimization
GTmetrix is a very popular page speed and performance analysis tool you can use to test the speed of your website and see where the bottlenecks are. It is free to use although you can opt for a paid version which will give you more options. The free version is perfectly fine for what needs to be done.
Click on Analyze Options to begin setting up the parameters.
Click on the location that is physically closest to your business.
Click on the browser you want to use for testing.
Click the speed setting you want to test your site on. (we leave it on unthrottled)
There are a few additional options available to you under the Analyze Options screen:
- Create video – This generates a short video that shows you how your page is loading and gives you the opportunity to identify any bottlenecks. We don’t use it but it’s there if you want to take a look.
- Adblock Plus – If you toggle this on you can disable ads to assess how they impact your overall site speed
- Stop test Onload – The default for GTmetrix tests is to wait for 2 seconds of network inactivity before generating the grade for your site. Using this option could skew the results. We recommend leaving it disabled.
How to Read Your Speed Performance Results
The first thing you will see after running your site through the GTmetix speed test is:
GTmetrix grades your page just like you’re used to A – F. Of course you want to see “A’s”.
- PageSpeed Score – This is the grade you receive based on Google’s metrics.
- YSlow Score – This is the grade you receive based on Yahoo’s metrics.
- Fully Loaded Time – This is the time it takes to load the entire page with all content and graphics. It is not necessarily the time it takes for your visitors to see anything on your page. That would depend on whether your site loads content progressively or waits until the page is fully loaded. Naturally, you want it to be loading progressively.
- Total Page Size – This is the “weight” of the page, with all content and graphics included. The smaller the better.
- Requests – This is the number of requests that your site sends out to fill your page with content, graphics, fonts, etc.
You want to see your PageSpeed and YSlow scores as high as possible. We like to see Fully Loaded time under 2 seconds. However, as long as it is not excessively high (over 3 or 4 seconds) and your website is showing content progressively you are probably OK. Depending upon other factors within the report the Fully Loaded time can be reduced.
What you see next is the rules. The PageSpeed and YSlow screens are sorted in order of the impact upon the overall score. Not every recommendation on these screens are going to be fixable on your site. The recommendations listed are generic and some of them, like external resources, are out of your control.
PageSpeed and YSlow
Next screen to see is the Waterfall screen. This screen will show you in milliseconds how long each piece of your page takes to load. This page is extremely helpful in determining where the bottlenecks are and the specifics you can address and fix so that your page loads faster. If you want to know more about how to read and understand this screen (you should) you can see the link below in the graphic.
This screen shows you the time of specific events in the loading process. We take a close look at the Contentful paint time. This tells you when any content on the page is beginning to show. You can click on any box in this screen and it will display the definition and what it does. We use this screen to ensure our clients’ websites are showing content in under 2 seconds. In the example below you can see the “painting” begins at 1.4 seconds.
In these screens there is a lot of information and by following the recommedations provided you can definitely improve the loading speed of your website. Just remember that not every recommendation will apply to your site.
We went into detail for GTmetrix to help you see what speed testing sites do and what information they provide. We will go over the Pingdom and WebPageTest sites but will not provide all the screen shots. They are going to have similar types of screens with similar information.
Remember – These sites only test the page you are putting in the form, not the entire site
Pingdom is another great site for speed performance and testing. You can choose where you want to test your site from and as with GTmetrix you want to choose the closest physical location to your business.
Like all the other speed test sites, you will have the opportunity to choose where you want to run your test from. Pingdom currently allows you to choose from 7 different locations (5 continents). On occasion all of the locations are not available but check back and eventually you will see them.
Asia – Tokyo – Japan
Europe – Frankfurt – Germany
Europe – London – United Kingdom
North America – Washington D.C. – USA
North America – San Francisco – USA
Pacific – Sydney – Australia
South America – São Paulo – Brazil
Pingdom generates a performance grade when you use their tool. This information provides you with a grade from 0 to 100, the total load time, page size, and the number of requests from your website.
You will also have a Waterfall showing times to load each request as well as other information to research and determine what can be fixed on your site to bring it’s performance and speed up to par.
Webpagetest.org is a site we like a lot. It’s been around for a long time and many SEO’s and web designers still use it religiously. Known for its flexibility and custom settings, it allows us (or you) to achieve more accurate results. However, if you use just the default settings, you will be fine.
Their grading system is A-F and unlike the other two sites they give a score for security. We like this option because it shows us things that might be vulnerable within the coding of the site that should be addressed.
They also run each test three times. With GTmetrix and Pingdom you have to do this yourself, and you should, so they get a cached version of the site. Once the three tests have been run the results summary will provide an average of those 3 tests. In theory of course, the third test will be the fastest. If it is not, there may be other issues that need to be addressed.
As with the other sites, they will have a Waterfall, and metrics of all the different factors you need to see in order to enhance the speed of your website.
10 WordPress Speed Optimization Sites You Can Try Out
Some of these sites test strictly speed and some give you information as shown above. Either way, it’s kind of fun to see how each site scores or grades you. Again, don’t get frustrated because they are all showing different results. Choose the one(s) you like and do the work from there.
- Google Pagespeed Insights
- Geek Flare
How You Can Optimize Your Theme For Speed
Many modern day themes use “page builders” which means that you can drag and drop different modules on your page to make your site look just like you want. There is a fairly steep learning curve to customize some of these themes, however, you can purchase designs for your website that have already been set up. This makes it easy to put up a website in just a few minutes, then all you have to do is switch out the content and images and viola!
Some of the more popular theme builders are:
- Divi – We use Divi on this site
- Elementor – Popular with many modules to choose from
- Beaver Builder – Easier to use than the others
- Themify Builder – The learning curve is a bit steep on this one
- Visual Composer – Pretty easy to get started with this plugin
Most people and small businesses will not have a custom-coded website specifically for their use. This would of course be the best option. Then it could be coded in such a way as to use only what you need, like loading specific information first, no non-essential scripts, only specific fonts and font sizes, etc.
When it comes to WordPress speed optimization and your theme, you are going to have to decide how much work you want to do yourself. Themes are great for a ready made site. If you are the designer type and don’t mind learning, then using WordPress’s Gutenberg blocks may make your site faster, but the learning curve will be greater.
So with that being said, what can we do to optimize our existing WordPress theme?
- Disable any animations, spinners, fade-ins, etc.
- Combine CSS files
The disabling of animations can usually be done via the theme itself while the rest of the items can be done manually or through a plugin, which is much easier.
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What To Do With Your Plugins
At the time of this writing WordPress has over 50,000 plugins. That’s a lot to choose from. Some do very specific things and some are like a catchall, doing many things. Choosing the plugins you need is paramount to your site speed and security.
Bloated plugins do a lot of unnecessary processing which slows down your site. They are known to make slow queries and even load CSS and JS on pages that are not using them. Some plugins are not updated regularly, which leaves your site open to hacking. Our recommendation is to choose ONLY the plugins you need and ensure they are consumer/developer grade.
What Plugins Do You Need?
Since this article is only concerned with WordPress speed optimization, we will only discuss plugins that will help to achieve a faster loading website.
Many plugins are free, or at least have a free version. A lot of plugin developers create a free version to get you to try their plugin. The free versions are usually limited in some way. Many times you only need the free version. You will have to test it and see. One thing to consider as well is that if the developer is offering a paid version, then plugin updates are more likely to be regular. What you don’t want is to get a plugin that in a year or two is no longer being updated and now becomes a security risk.
Best Caching Plugin Options
There are several Caching Plugins available. The plugins below are multi functional and allow you to do more than just caching. We believe these are better options so we don’t have to have specific plugins to do specific things. That being said, here are the 3 we believe are worth considering.
WP Rocket – In our opinion there is no other option. This is hands down the fastest and easiest speed caching plugin to work with. We use it on our site and if customers allow we install it on their sites as well. It is a premium plugin, meaning it is not free. It costs (at this time) $49 /yr and is renewable each year.
WP Fastest Cache – Our second choice. This one offers a free and a premium version so if you are on a budget you can get by with the free version although the premium version has features that will increase your webpage load times even more.
W3 Total Cache – Last but not least is W3 Total Cache. This plugin has been around for a very long time and used by millions of sites. It has an enormous amount of available options. When fully and correctly configured it will definitely enhance the speed of your website. With so many options, it is not for the faint of heart.
What Functions Are Included With Caching Plugins?
Most all-in-one type of caching plugins will include the following:
- Generate static html files
- Minify HTML – This removes unnecessary spaces, formatting and comments from the files
- Minify CSS – Same thing as above, removes unnecessary spaces, formatting and comments from the files
- Enable Gzip Compression – This reduces the size of files sent from your server
- Leverage browser caching – Caching saves a copy of each page so it does not have to be loaded each time
- Combine CSS – Combine multiple CSS files into one
- Disable Emoji – You can remove the emoji inline CSS and wp-emoji-release.min.js
To show you just how easy it is to set up WP Rocket we have provided their setup video below. Straight out of the box with their default settings you are going to see great improvement in the loading speed of your website. With a little more tweaking (one item at a time, then test) you can achieve even faster results.
In contrast if you opt for the completely free version of W3 Total Cache here is a link that will help walk you through the setup since it is quite extensive and can be a bit confusing.
Image Optimization for WordPress
There are various ways to save a graphic file for the web. The most common are:
- JPG – This produces a small file for photographic images and is commonly used
- PNG – This type of file is often used when transparency is needed.
- PNG 24 – A higher quality version of PNG which is a larger file than JPEG, so not recommended unless you need transparency
- WEBP – This file format is the best of both PNG and JPG, allowing for great quality and transparency and file sizes are smaller than JPG’s
- GIF – Usually used in low quality animations. You rarely see them on websites anymore
In order to create the best and smallest size for your pages, you will need to resize each of your photos. If you use Photoshop or a similar program, you can do it there and just upload the photo(s) to your media library. Many sites have enough photos that it makes little sense to resize images one at a time, so we use a plugin to help do the hard work for us.
If you can, you should upload images as close to the size you need as possible. This will make the plugin’s job easier and faster. There are several good photo compression plugins on the market. Most of these plugins are free with a limited number of photos allowed to be resized each month, or you can choose a paid version by the number of photos you expect to convert each month.
When it comes to WordPress Speed Optimization
Fixing images is the easiest thing you can do to make your site faster!
How Do You Optimize Website Images?
With a plugin of course. It’s much faster and easier than using photo manipulation programs. There are 3 plugins we like the best, but there are several others that work well too.
Before you jump in and let the plugin do it’s work, you will need to decide what type of optimization you want to use, Lossy or Lossless.
Lossy – This type of image optimization does not compress the image. Rather, it eliminates some of the data associated with the image. What this means is the photo will degrade as you choose the amount to use. We would not recommend this option.
Lossless – This option actually compresses the data of the photos so you do not reduce the quality of the image. However, the images will need to be uncompressed before they are rendered on your site.
The 3 Best WordPress Image Optimization Plugins
There are several good plugins available for image optimization in WordPress, the 3 that we recommend are:
Imagify – Imagify is the plugin we use on this site to optimize our images. It was created by the same developers that created WP Rocket and if you purchase the WP Rocket plugin you automatically get this plugin as well.
Once enabled every image you upload, including thumbnails will automatically be optimized. You don’t have to do anything. One benefit of this plugin is that it also converts your images to WebP for free.
When used in conjunction with WP Rocket you get up to 25MB of images which is roughly 250 images each month. This is more than enough for the average user. If you do need more, there are options for more.
WP Smush – Probably the most popular image optimization plugin available with good reason. It does a great job and has many features.
As with any other image optimization plugin when you upload an image it will convert them. One benefit is that there is no limit to the number of photos you can optimize. However, if you want the WebP images (and you should) you will need to pay for the PRO plan.
You can’t really go wrong with this option.
TinyPNG – Another great option for optimizing photos. Automatically optimize your images each time you upload them to WordPress and use them from there.
Once your account has been set up, you will be able to optimize about 100 images each month for free. You are able to bulk optimize all of your photos as well if they have not already been optimized. You can do this with most of the plugins available.
Again, you can’t go wrong with this plugin for your images.
Other Image Optimization Plugins
Additional WordPress Speed Optimization Tips
Use a CDN
Content Delivery Networks are a group of servers which are geographically located in different locations around the world and work together to provide fast delivery of content. The way they do that is by keeping a copy of your website in each location so regardless of where a user is located your pages will be delivered from the nearest CDN location possible.
CloudFlare offers a free option, and many web hosts include this as part of their package for your website.
Optimize Your WordPress Database
Optimizing your WordPress database will is a good practice as your database retains everything. When you optimize your database you can reclaim unused space in your tables which can improve the efficiency of your database when accessing tables and serving information.
Deactivate and Uninstall Plugins
Never keep plugins you are not actively using. They take up space and if you do not keep them updated, they can lead to getting hacked. A best practice is to always keep everything in your site to a minimum. Keep nothing you aren’t using.
Hopefully, you have found this information helpful and the tools beneficial. It was our goal to make your WordPress speed optimization tasks a bit easier and your WordPress site faster. Remember, while speed is certainly important this information and these tools will improve the experience of every visitor that comes to your site, and that is priceless. It will also help to improve your search engine rankings.
If you found this all to be a bit daunting or just too much work we can do it for you. Check out our WordPress Speed Optimization service. You won’t be disappointed.