Google has recently taken speed into consideration when ranking websites. So, it’s more important than ever for your WordPress site to be optimized for speedy load times. You have the need. The need for speed.
If your WordPress site uses a multipurpose theme, page builder, eCommerce solution, or other plugins — it’s probably loading a lot of scripts, styles, and images. Each file required by your website takes time to load. That’s valuable time. If it takes too long, you’ll lose visitors, business, and fall in search engine rankings.
Before we jump in, it’s important to understand why your site may be slow to load. The following are the biggest contributing factors to the speed of your website:
- Image Size
- Scripts and Styles
In the case of Organic Themes, our speed was abysmal. It’s a beefy site, and uses multiple robust plugins such as Easy Digital Downloads, bbPress Forums, Restrict Content Pro, etc. Those plugins are necessary for the operation of our business. However, they add a lot of weight. Additionally, our site contains content dating back nearly 10 years. Needless to say, it has a lot of information to load.
In this article, we will outline the 5 simple steps we took to drastically increase the speed of our website. Best of all, these solutions are entirely free.
Check Your Website Speed
Before increasing your website speed, you need to understand what’s slowing it down. GTmetrix is the standard for analyzing the speed of your website. While there are other options, GTmetrix is probably the only score you need to worry about.
Following the steps in this article, we increased our GTmetrix PageSpeed Score from an “E” to an “A”. That’s nearly a 40% increase in speed!
Assuming your site didn’t ace the test, these are some quick fixes to drastically improve your GTmetrix score, and increase the speed of your website:
1. Use A CDN
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is an essential tool for increasing the speed of your website. Basically, a CDN saves the files and content of your website on a geographically distributed network. Then, it serves that content at lighting speeds from a location closest to the website visitor’s geographical location.
It important to remember, the internet isn’t magic — though it may seem that way at times. Size and distance exist within the virtual world. Reducing the distance in which files are located relative to the visitor’s location will result in increased website speed. Makes sense.
There are several CDNs available. Jetpack even provides an image CDN service. It’s pretty good for serving up images faster. However, you may want to use a CDN for more than images alone.
2. Use A Caching Plugin
As previously mentioned, leveraging browser caching is yet another way to optimize the speed of your WordPress site. Caching stores files locally on the visitors computer. So, when the visitor returns, the site loads almost instantly. Fortunately, there are several caching plugins available for WordPress.
For our site, we settled on the WP Fastest Cache plugin. It’s the caching plugin we recommend due to its simple setup, ease of use, immediate results, and compatibility with other plugins.
While we have tried other popular caching plugins such as WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache, those solutions didn’t work well with our particular environment. That’s not to say they will not work well for your site.
3. Minify Your Files
Code is typically written for humans to understand. That requires the usage of spaces, formatting, and other methods to improve legibility. Believe it or not, those spaces and extra lines add considerable size to your files. In order for that code to be delivered to your website visitors faster — it should be minified. That means those spaces, lines, and formatting need to be removed.
Fortunately, there are tools available to minify your WordPress website files. While CDNs and caching plugins can provide some options to minify the code served by your website, they sometimes don’t go far enough. The Merge + Minify + Refresh plugin did wonders for improving our website speed. In fact, after activation and a simple setup, our GTmetrix score saw a 10% increase!
4. Compress Your Images
The biggest culprit for a slow website may be the size of your images. If you’re saving images directly from resources like Unsplash, those files can be huge. Uploading them directly to your WordPress media library will wreak havoc on your server space, not to mention the speed of your site.
It’s important to compress the images on your website. However, this is a multi-step process.
- Resize the image in an image editing software. Depending on your theme, the ideal image size may vary. However, it probably should not exceed 2400 pixels wide (at most!).
- Save the image for the web. This is a standard save option in software like Adobe Photoshop.
- Use an image compression plugin to decrease the file size further.
We recommend the WP Smush plugin from WPMU DEV. It’s a robust plugin that will automatically compress new images uploaded to your WordPress site. Additionally, it can be used to retroactively compress images already uploaded to your media libraries.
It should be noted, there is a fine line between compression and quality. Compression will result in a minor, but noticeable decrease in the quality of the images displayed on your site. If the purpose of your site is a portfolio, you may want to avoid compressing your website images.
5. Optimize Your Database
The final step may be necessary if your WordPress site is several years old. Over time, you have probably accumulated several comments, post revisions, and tried a series of different plugins. All of that data consumes space, and eventually slows down your website.
Your database is like the internal organs of your WordPress site. A healthy database will result in a healthy, speedy website. Again, there are several plugins available that work great for optimizing your database.
A Few Extra Tips
When it comes to speed, every little bit helps. These are a few additional steps that can be taken to increase the speed of your WordPress site.
Use A Lightweight Theme
Many popular multipurpose themes and page builders are great if you need hundreds of options, layouts, and features. However, they can be a major hindrance to the overall speed of your website — and many of the features are often redundant and unnecessary.
Tammie Lister, a WordPress core contributor, emphasizes the importance of theme developers creating themes that do not try to do everything. “The basic purpose of a theme is to style the front-end and provide an editor style.”
Organic Themes develops lightweight themes. As our name suggests, we don’t believe in added hormones. Much of our development process involves removing unnecessary scripts and styles.
Conditionally Load Scripts and Styles
Find A Good Hosting Provider
If you have made several optimizations and seen little improvement, it may be time to consider a new hosting provider. Cheap hosting is usually shared hosting. That means your data is bouncing around in the same server with a bunch of other people’s data. So, if you have a noisy neighbor hogging up a lot of bandwidth, it’s going to slow down your site. In some cases, the only way to avoid this is to find a better hosting provider — or upgrade to a better plan with your existing provider.
In summary, these are the actionable steps we took to increase the speed of our website:
- Sign up for Cloudflare, and setup a CDN for your site.
- Use the WP Fastest Cache plugin to leverage browser caching.
- Install the Merge + Minify + Refresh plugin to minify your scripts and styles.
- Use WP Smush to compress the images in your media library.
- Optimize your database using one of the recommended plugins.
Please note, before following these steps you should backup your website. When tampering with your website database and files there is always a potential for something to go wrong.
We hope this post will be a guide to anybody that wants to have their WordPress site load at blazing fast speeds!