Customers often ask: “How can I make my WordPress site faster?” Anyone who runs a website (WordPress or not) should be concerned about how fast their pages load. Studies have shown that page load times can dramatically influence conversion rates (source). Most visitors will consider a load time of three seconds or less acceptable. Anything more than three seconds, and visitors will begin to get impatient.
So how fast should my WordPress website be?
That being said, your goal should be to ensure your site loads at around three seconds or less if at all possible. This is not always feasible due to the size and content of a site, but for the vast majority of websites, this is a reasonable goal to shoot for. For smaller sites that are not full of images, it’s likely possible to get load times of two seconds or less for site traffic in your region (i.e. USA, EU, etc). However, website performance doesn’t really have a “silver bullet” and the exact recipe for success does tend to vary from site to site.
“…your goal should be to ensure your site loads at around three seconds or less if at all possible.”
The following five suggestions are applicable to virtually any site, of any size. We will briefly discuss what each one means and how to implement the change in your website. One quick note: the use of “weight” in relation to a website, refers to the total site of all of the website’s assets/files (i.e. 1MB).
1. Image Optimization
Images are a common fixture on websites of all kinds. Its very easy to add images to a website and even easier to take them, using a smartphone or camera. However, images taken directly from a camera are not optimized for web use and therefore are much larger than they need to be. Additionally, the image may contain additional metadata about the camera that took the photo or other information which makes the image file itself larger. Images will typically have the biggest overall impact on WordPress site performance and page load time.
Image editing software such as Photoshop, GIMP, and others have the ability to optimize images, but using those programs requires purchasing the software and being familiar with how to use it. Also, this type of workflow can be time intensive and not practical, especially if a site has multiple authors. Thankfully, there are several WordPress plugins that can make this process easy by automatically optimizing any images uploaded to your WordPress media library.
While the two plugins below are not the only plugins of their kind, these two represent two common choices and both operate in a similar manner. When WordPress images are uploaded to your media library, the plugin automatically optimizes the images based on a few settings you can adjust. You can additionally choose to bulk optimize all images that have not been optimized yet, which can be helpful if you install the plugin on a site with a bunch of existing images.
Note: Both plugins have a free and paid tier for usage and paid plans that are one-time or monthly. For websites that regularly output content, you’ll likely find you’ll need a paid plan to keep up with the number of images you’re uploading.
Imagify – imagify.io
This plugin is made by the same folks who make WP-Rocket, a performance caching plugin for WordPress. This plugin is new but still has a relatively strong following. Their plans are based on “bandwidth,” which is the total size (in GB’s) of the images you run through it. The free plan includes 1GB of data per month, which they say equates to about 10,000 images. It is important to note that their free plan only optimizes images less than 2MB in size, so if you have mostly images larger than 2GB you’ll likely need to jump to one of the paid plans right away.
ShortPixel – shortpixel.com
ShortPixel is very similar to Imagify, except paid plans are based on the number of actual images optimized, regardless of their size. This can be nice if you have a smaller amount of larger files, but may be less price competitive if you’re not constantly uploading enormous images.
So why bother with all of this anyway?
Reducing the size of the images on your website allows your pages to be loaded quicker and overall improve WordPress site performance. The less data required to download your site, the faster it loads! Additionally, using one of the above plugins reduces the amount of human effort required to optimize your WordPress site’s images.
2. Use a well constructed theme
There are many free and paid themes available for WordPress.Not all themes are created equal, as you might expect. Some may have sloppy or inefficient programming that causes them to load a bunch of additional assets (like .css or .js files), which can have a negative impact on page loading times and overall WordPress site performance.
“Not all themes are created equal, as you might expect.”
For a non-technical person, making a judgement call on this can be a tricky prospect. One option would be to find a demo page that shows off the theme and then run it through a page speed test, like this one provided by Pingdom or Google Page Speed Insights. If you notice that the page performs poorly, consider researching the theme more before using it on your WordPress site.
TitanHost customers can reach out to our support team for help evaluating a prospective theme for their website and they can run through some checks to help them make the right call.
3. Uninstall Unnecessary Plugins
Just like with themes, WordPress has many plugins. It can be tempting to just install a plugin for every little thing that doesn’t come included with WordPress or your chosen theme. WordPress plugins often enqueue their own assets (like .css or .js files) as well which can increase page load time.
At the end of the day, less is more. Use the plugins that really matter to your site, have good reviews, and a reliable author that updates them regularly.
The plugins you do keep should be kept up to date to insure the latest fixes and enhancements are available. If you’re a TitanHost customer, your WordPress site’s plugins are being updated for you, so that part is easy!
4. Server-side optimizations
There are various tweaks that can be made to a web server to help it serve WordPress sites faster, such as enabling gzip compression, enabling OP cache, and so on. Your web host should be able to make these types of changes on your behalf and if they can’t help you do so, it might be time to think about a new host. At TitanHost,this is already handled for our customers because our servers are optimized specifically for WordPress.
“Your web host should be able to make these types of changes on your behalf and if they can’t help you do so, it might be time to think about a new host.”
Here are some general examples of server side optimizations:
- Enable gzip compression
- Set cache expiry headers (done via .htaccess file on Apache)
- Enable OP Cache
- Using PHP 7
5. Caching/Performance Plugins
Caching or Performance plugins can provide some very useful capabilities to your site and help improve your page load time in the process. However, depending on your host, certain settings in such plugins may need to be disabled. When in doubt, you should check with your host’s support team to be sure if certain caching/performance options are already available for your site.
There are numerous WordPress caching or performance plugins to help improve WordPress site performance. Here are a few that have solid reviews:
A note about Security and WordPress Site Performance
Wait a minute, what does security have to do with WordPress site performance? Securing your website against attackers largely consists of blocking bad traffic attempting to access your site. Things like a WAF (Web application firewall) and proper security measures can help reduce the amount of malicious traffic that is able to hit your site. This in turn reduces the strain on your web server, which frees up more bandwidth for legitimate traffic.
At TitanHost we provide a WAF to protect the traffic of our Managed WordPress Hosting customer’s sites. Many other hosting providers offer something similar, but many low-end/budget hosts will not provide a WAF out of the box.
If you’re looking for a great security plugin, look no further than Shield WordPress Security by iControlWP. This plugin can help harden your WordPress installation even further and is especially recommended for websites running on shared hosting.
While the above list isn’t exhaustive, it represents some common approaches to helping your WordPress site performance issues. Did any of the above tips help your site run faster? Share your thoughts with us below.