WordPress is a great platform and it has come a long way from the days when it was suited only for a personal blog. Now fully functional, beautiful websites can be created using WordPress as a CMS. One weakness that it suffers from, however, is it can be quite slow. Without taking the right precautions, you could end up with a sluggish site.
That’s not only a hassle for repeat visitors and may cause you to lose new subscribers or customers. But that is not the only problem. Increasingly slow sites are being penalized in the SERPs by Google and other search engines as well.
But WordPress’ propensity towards sluggishness can be fairly easily overcome. In this post we are going to look at some of the best ways to do just that.
Why WordPress Site Speed Matters
When a person lands on your site for the first time, you only have a few seconds to capture their attention to convince them to hang around.
Get ready to lose sleep at night: according to a report by the Microsoft Bing search team, a 2-second longer delay in page responsiveness reduced user satisfaction by 3.8%, increased lost revenue per user by 4.3%, and reduced clicks by 4.3%.
Devices matter too. Those on mobile have far less patience than those accessing sites from a desktop computer:
If your site takes too long to load, most people are gone, lost before you even had a chance.
Not only that, but Google now includes site speed in it’s ranking algorithm. That means that your site’s speed effects SEO, so if your site is slow, you’re now losing visitors from impatience and have reduced rankings in search engine result pages. Yikes.
So what can be done to prevent all this horror? Let’s take a look:
Get a Good Host
For a small business just starting out it’s very common for the owners to select a basic GoDaddy (or similar) hosting plan that offers shared hosting. When you are new and on a budget, a shared host might seem like a bargain (“Unlimited page views!”). It comes at another cost: incredibly slow site speed and frequent down time during high traffic periods.
You are sharing hosting with hundreds of others, so the fact that this happens often should come as no surprise. The stress of your site going down is never something anyone needs, so invest in proper hosting.
Start With a Good Theme
WordPress does come with a default theme – one that is usually updated every year – and it is usually lightweight and quite speedy. That’s because they keep the “guts” simple; compare that to bloated frameworks which have tons of features that you will never use, slowing your site to a crawl.
However, it’s also rather limited and you do have to be very familiar with customizing WordPress themes in order to create a decent site. It’s for this reason most people look at other theme options. And there are certainly a lot of them out there to choose from.
The key to avoiding bloat is to choose a theme that meets your needs as closely as possible and then only make use of plugins that you actually need.
You should also invest in a premium theme from a trusted source – if you don’t want to use the WordPress deafult – currently Twenty Nineteen – Themeforest is a good one – rather than a free option. Not only are free options limited, and often buggy, they also almost always contain links the developers that will sap at your SEO ‘juice’.
Get a Good Caching Plugin
Many WordPress plugins are quite useful, but some of the best fall under the caching category, as they drastically improve page load time, and best of all, all of them on WordPress.org are free and easy to use.
Our favorite, at Pearl Lemon is W3 Total Cache, as it has all of the features you need and is extremely easy to install and use. Simply install and activate, and sit back and watch your page load faster as lots of different
elements are cached.
Use a Content Delivery Network
If your site is used for online marketing in any way, which we’re sure most people reading this are doing in some way, a CDN – content delivery network – is another way to seriously boost your WordPress site speed and overall performance.
A good option to try the is Max CDN Content Delivery Network, as we’ve found that they have the most reasonable prices and their dashboard is very simple to use.
Auto Optimize Your Images
Big image files KILL WordPress speed, so it a MUST that every single image be optimized. There is a great optimizer, built by Yahoo! called Smush.it that will drastically reduce the file size of an image, while not reducing quality. Perfect! Except doing this to every image is a real pain, not to mention incredibly time consuming.
Fortunately, there is a plugin called WP-SmushIt which will do this to all of your images automatically, as you are uploading them. It’s free, easy to use and it really will save you both time and effort while also speeding up your WordPress site significantly.
Optimize Your Site Architecture As Much As Possible
This isn’t one thing but a number of things that you can do to ensure that your WordPress site loads quickly and does so for every page.
To get you started, implement all of the following:
- Show excerpts instead of full posts
Reduce the number of posts on your blog page.
Remove inactive plugins and widgets that you don’t need
Keep in minimal! Browsers are there for information of some kind, or to buy a product, not 8,000 extra widgets on the homepage
Optimize your WordPress database. There are plugins that can take care of most of this for you, although you may need professional help if the data bases are large.
Hotlinking is a form of bandwidth “theft.” It occurs when other sites direct link to the images on your site from their content, creating a server load that is increasingly high.
To prevent this, but not block the backlinks you need, there is code that can be inserted to prevent this (which can be found at Github or you could simply ask a member of the Pearl Lemon team) and it really is a good idea to do so, as this way you can cut your load time significantly for your regular users.
Adjust Gravatar Images
You’ll notice on this site that the default Gravatar image is set to… well, nothing.
This is not an aesthetic choice, we did it because it improves page loads by simply having nothing where there would normally be a goofy looking Gravatar logo or some other nonsense. Some blogs go as far to disable them throughout the site, and for everyone.
You can do either, just know that it will at least benefit your site speed if you set the default image (found in “Discussion”, under the settings tab in the WordPress dashboard) to a blank space rather than a default image.
Add LazyLoad to Your Images
LazyLoad is the process of having only only the images above the fold load (i.e. only the images visible in the visitor’s browser window), then, when reader scrolls down, the other images begin to load, just before they come into view.
This will not only speed your page loads, it can also save bandwidth by loading less data for users who don’t scroll all the way down on your pages.
Turn off Pingbacks and Trackbacks
By default, WordPress interacts with other sites that are equipped with pingbacks and trackbacks.
Every time another site mentions a post on your site, it notifies your site, which 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.
Replace PHP with Static HTML, When Necessary
This one is a little bit more advanced, and most people will need some help here, but it can drastically cut down your load time for the page.
This is similar to the section above on using CDN’s, and making use of CloudFlare, along with the W3 Total Cache plugin discussed above, as they integrate seamlessly with each other can be one of the best ways of all to increase both the speed and security of your site. The security factor is an added bonus as this too is another area that Google are paying an increasing amount of attention to when ranking sites in the SERPs.
These are just some of the ways you can speed up your WordPress site. There are more, and believe us when we say that even if a tweak will only speed up your site by another couple of milliseconds, in SEO terms it’s worth it. Google – and the other search engines – are never going to penalise a site for being too fast.