How to Speed Up Your WordPress Website

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Image of a speed gauge ranging from red to green with the needle pointing to green. Text overlay reads "How to Speed up Your WordPress Site"

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In this post, we’ll go over 12 ways to speed up your WordPress website. This includes, but is not limited to, choosing the right hosting and theme, optimizing/scaling images, and deleting slow plugins.

Web users hate slow websites. We live in a world where patience is thin and people want their content served up immediately. Your website is no different.

Beyond having a great user experience, learning to speed up your WordPress website might also improve your conversion rate. According to Unbounce, a 100-millisecond delay in load time can cause conversion rates to drop by 7%. That’s huge!

As a result, Design Extensions has always focused on boosting our clients’ web performance.

In this post, I’m going to share exactly how DE optimizes WordPress sites. While some of these tips are specifically how we speed up sites with our tech stack, the general tips and ideas still apply to other types of WordPress sites, and websites overall.

7 Huge Performance Optimizations To Speed Up Your WordPress Website

I’ll cover a lot of smaller performance tweaks that you can make in the next section. But these seven optimization tips are going to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of speed improvement.

Before you get started, test your site with Pingdom Tools or Gtmetrix. That way, you can see exactly how much these tips work to decrease page load time and increase speed score.

1. Select a Quality Hosting Provider

Repeat after me: “My website will only be as fast as the engine that powers it.” Okay, good — we’ve got that out of the way. These tips are worthless without a quality hosting provider working underneath.

So what exactly does that look like?

First, you should find a host that offers PHP 7 and above. PHP 7 offers significant performance improvements over the older versions of PHP 5 that many budget WordPress hostings are still running. A quality managed WordPress host should offer PHP 7, as well as many other performance tweaks to help speed up your WordPress website load time, like server-level caching.

We recommend these hosts:

  • WPengine
  • Liquid Web
  • SiteGround
  • Kinsta
  • FlyWheel

Liquid Web, SiteGround, and FlyWheel are more affordable options for freelancers or smaller sites. As your business or web traffic grows, WP Engine and Kinsta offer excellent solutions at a higher price.

2. Pick a Lightweight Theme

This is often easily overlooked. “But I use a page builder to create my website.”

Your theme is still going to play a big part in how quickly your site loads. Period.

At DE, we look for these things in a performance-oriented theme:

  • Lightweight in regards to file size and volume of server requests
  • Modular so you can select only the features you need
  • A strong community of developers and users who keep the theme updated and vetted

So what are some great, performance-focused WordPress themes?

All these options are solid and have been used extensively by our team:

  • Hello Theme – The Elementor team created this lightweight theme to pair with Elementor Pro, available only to Elementor Pro users.
  • GeneratePress – A popular and lightweight theme with a strong development community.
  • Genesis – A theme framework rather than a single theme developed by StudioPress (very popular with WordPress developers because of their hooks and SEO emphasis).

3. Optimize All Images  (Automatic and Easy)

This one is very important. According to Speedcurve.com, the average website uses 1.8 MB of images, or roughly 60 percent of the total page weight in 2017. Images and graphics are a serious contributor to your page’s file size, and oftentimes, the biggest contributor. As a result, you can get some major performance improvements simply by optimizing your page images.

There are two main parts to optimizing the images on your site: scaling and compressing.

Scaling has to do with the actual image dimensions. Many themes only display images up to about 800px wide. So, it’s bad practice to upload full 3,000px+ images (except for hero images, photography sites, etc). Even on retina or 4k screens, that’s just a waste of page space.

So, step #1 is to resize the actual dimensions of the images on your site to a maximum width that fits your theme. In WordPress, you can insert smaller images based on what WordPress has generated for you.

Step #2 in optimizing your images is compression. Compression takes your scaled images and “shrinks” them even more. There are two main types of compression:

  • Lossy: large file size reductions, but some loss in quality.
  • Loss-less: fewer size reductions, but no loss in quality.

You must decide on how important image quality is to your content, then you can choose between the two methods.

At DE, we typically only do loss-less compression. We also try to limit the number of images on-page, if possible.

Here are the plugins we use for compression:

  • ShortPixel – Charges you based on the number of images you optimize. No restrictions on size. Free for up to 100 images per month.
  • Imagify – Charges you based on how many MB you optimize. No restrictions on the number of images. Free for up to 25MB per month.
  • Smush Image Compression and Optimization – 100% free, but only for loss-less compression. The free version also has a 1MB file size limit. We use and prefer Smush Pro, which allows for Super Smush and the ability to smush your original full-size images.
The WPMU Smush Interface

4. Remove Slow Plug-ins (Bonus: How To Find Slow WordPress Plug-ins)

Many WordPress users believe the myth that there is a direct correlation between the number of plug-ins on your site and your site’s speed. This is not true.

Not all plug-ins negatively affect your site’s speed. But a lot do. Rather than trying to randomly remove plugins, you should pinpoint the plugins that are slowing down your website.

So… how do you find the WordPress plug-ins that are slowing down your site?

Our preferred way to find slow plug-ins is the Waterfall tab in a tool like GTmetrix or Pingdom Tools.

Screenshot of GTmetrix waterfall
Gtmetrix Waterfall View

Just use the tool to scan your site and look at the various requests to find any bottlenecks. You can easily hover over each request and identify the URL to see which plug-in is the source of each request:

Now, how can you fix a slow plug-in?

The simple answer is to remove them if they’re not completely necessary or find performant alternatives. Sometimes this means spending time researching and testing alternatives or developing something custom.

5. Minify Code and Combine Files with the Free Autoptimize Plug-in

Minification and combining files (concatenate) are no-brainer practices to shrink the size and number of code files on your site without changing any of the underlying functionality.

Minification is the process of removing unnecessary characters (like white spaces and line breaks), while concatenation works by combining multiple files into one.

The free Autoptimize plugin by Automattic (official WordPress dev team) can do both. Our preferred method is to use WProcket — this one only comes in a premium version, but it can make a bunch of other performance tweaks too that we’ll hit on in a moment.

Pro tip: If you have any issues with your site, a great troubleshooting step is to try turning off JavaScript optimization and see if that fixes the issues.

6. Use Page Caching to Generate Static HTML Versions of Your Content

This one minor tweak can offer some serious performance improvements. It’s our secret weapon.

Page caching is so effective because it creates a static HTML version of your page to serve up to visitors, rather than forcing your server to generate the page from your database and PHP files for every single visit.

Our managed WordPress host implements page caching at the server level, so this might not actually be something that you need to do yourself if you’re already using managed WordPress hosting, or any of those we recommended above.

But if your current website host doesn’t automatically implement page caching, you can do it with a plug-in.

There are many solid caching plug-ins out there, but some good options to get you started with are:

WP Rocket – again, this one only comes in a premium version. It’s our favorite.

WP Super Cache – free plug-in from Automattic

7. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A content delivery network, or CDN for short, helps speed up your site for visitors around the world.

Here’s how it works:

Without a CDN, every single user, whether they’re in Columbia, SC or Colombia the country, needs to download your site from your server’s location.

A CDN fixes that by storing copies of your site’s files in various locations around the world. That way, visitors’ browsers can download your site from the location that’s closest to them. This equals lower latency and improved page load times. Did we mention it’s free?

Yes, you can actually take advantage of a free CDN called Cloudflare. While Cloudflare does have paid plans, the free plan is what we use for most websites.

To get your WordPress site set up with Cloudflare, you just need to sign up at Cloudflare and change your domain’s nameservers to the nameservers provided by Cloudflare.

5 Smaller Performance Tweaks to Use

Smaller, less significant tweaks that can make speed up your WordPress website.

1. Reduce # of HTTP Requests to Get Rid of Bottlenecks

Whenever someone loads your website, their web browser “requests” a list of files that are needed to paint the page in their web browser. These requests include HTML, CSS, JS, images, etc. And they even include external files and scripts, like your Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics tracking code.

This is what all those requests were in the waterfall image above.

While each request can take different amounts of time, a good general rule is that more HTTP requests equal a slower website.

Now you know why Pingdom and GT Metrix showcase the number of requests from your site at the top of their reports.

While some of the stuff that we’ve discussed – like using Autoptimize for concatenation – will help you reduce the number of requests at your WordPress site, you can also take things further with a more manual approach.

Some quick improvements for most WordPress sites are:

  • Removing or combining Google Fonts
  • Disabling Font Awesome
  • Disabling Gravatars

To turn off Google Fonts and Font Awesome in Elementor, you can add these two code snippets to a plug-in like Code Snippets or within your child theme:

  • add_filter( ‘elementor/frontend/print_google_fonts’, ‘__return_false’ );
  • add_action( ‘wp_enqueue_scripts’, function() { wp_dequeue_style( ‘font-awesome’ ); }, 50 );

2. Set Up Browser Caching

Browser caching is another type of caching that can speed up your site’s load times. This is different than page caching, though. Browser caching tells your users’ browsers to store certain types of files on their local computer. That means faster load times.

To enable browser caching manually, you just need to add another code snippet to your site’s .htaccess file:

  • <filesMatch “.(ico|pdf|flv|jpg|jpeg|png|gif|js|css|swf)$”>
    Header set Cache-Control “max-age=84600, public”

Be careful, as this has been known to break a site when done incorrectly. Always take a website back-up beforehand.

3. Optimize Your Site’s Database to Get Rid Of Clutter

Your site’s database is where all your content and settings are stored. Over time, it will get bigger and bigger by accumulating:

  • Post revisions
  • Trashed posts/comments
  • Etc.

Don’t expect a noticeable improvement in front-end page load times from simply cleaning your database, but optimizing your database does ensure that your database runs more efficiently.

WP-Rocket can help you clean this junk out of your database. And then Perfmatters can help stop it from accumulating in the first place.

4. Use Perfmatters to Get Rid of the Small Stuff

Perfmatter is an excellent plug-in that allows you to make numerous, granular performance-tweaks all from a user-friendly interface.

We recommend that you play around with it, but here’s what we do at our agency:

  • Disable emojis. This is an extra .js file that WordPress adds. Unless you absolutely love emojis, you can safely get rid of it.
  • Remove Query Strings. Most speed testing tools will ding you for this.
  • Change the Heartbeat API frequency to 60 seconds. This lessens the load on your server while still giving you the benefits of the Heartbeat API.
  • Change Revisions to 1. While some people like to completely disable revisions, I find it helpful to still store at least one revision. It still lessens the load, while also giving you at least one revision in case something goes wrong with your current draft.
  • Change the admin login link to something unique. This helps prevent hacks because imagine how many bots are constantly trying to brute force hack /wp-admin/.
  • Disable Google Maps embeds. If you absolutely need Google Maps, you can leave it on. But most sites can get by without direct Google Maps embeds. The plugin will let you exclude certain pages if you just need to use Google Maps on a specific page.

5. Host videos on a Third-Party Platform

Video is everything right now. All our clients want video on their new website — and we encourage it! It’s really important to have video content on your website, but video can slow down your page load speed tremendously. That’s why we rarely ever self-host a video on the server. Instead, consider uploading the video to another service that specializes in video hosting and then embedding the video on your page. Some video hosts we use are:

  • Vimeo
  • Youtube
  • Cloudflare Stream

By following the tips in this guide, you should be able to speed up your website by several seconds — easily.

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