How to Speed Up a WordPress Website
Every website owner or developer should learn basics on how to speed up a WordPress website to improve its performance and response times. Any business needs a fast website as that’s crucial to its overall goal of being online. Slow websites give a bad impression to your visitors and makes them more likely to leave the website. Any website page that loads in one to five seconds increases the probability of a bounce rate of about 90%.
Slow websites will find it more difficult to get discovered organically. Note that all search engines like Google and Bing consider page speed a ranking factor, hence slow pages are ranked poorly.
Opportunely, there are several ways to fix a slow website. In this guide, we will explore some of the most common actionable steps that can significantly speed up WordPress websites. We’ll provide valuable tips and you’ll get a deeper understanding of WordPress speed optimization
1. Pick a Suitable Hosting Plan
Get a reliable hosting provider and a plan that can meet your organization’s website requirements. Poor quality hosting and inadequate hosting plan can cause your website to be slow, among other undesirable issues.
Choose a hosting provider that has a proven record of offering excellent WordPress performance and customer support, more so, those that offer unique features to speed up WordPress (cache manager and LiteSpeed servers to optimize server performance and load times).
Generally, put into consideration your goals, amount of content to upload, and anticipated traffic, all in advance. A good plan should have enough resources for daily use and leave a little headroom for upgrades and times when you might get unexpected high spikes in traffic. This covers chances of running out of storage or website crashing or going down when traffic is high.
2. Get the Server (Data Center) Closest to Location of Your Target Audience
Latency, the amount of time taken by a web server to receive and process a request for a web page has always been a significant connection issue. This is significantly influenced by its physical distance to the processing server.
Servers further away from users means web requests and data travel from many more server networks before they arrive at requesting client. High latency slows down websites and worsens the overall user experience, and this can be significantly noticeable in sites with heavy content like images, animations, and videos. It also becomes a serious for users with slow or unstable Internet connections.
Always, ensure that the server you pick from your hosting provider is physically close to your target users which you can be sure of by using Google Analytics.
3. Use a CDN
A content delivery network, CDN, is a network of geographically distributed servers that work together to speed up the process of delivering websites to users’ clients (browsers). The perfect solution for websites with a global footprint with users from different geographical locations.
The CDN works by saving copies of a website’s static content in the cache, which reduces server requests to external HTTP. The CDN reduces the distance between the user and the server, substantially reducing latency and increasing page speed.
4. Deliver Content Over HTTP/2
The first iteration of HTTP (the foundation of data communication on the World Wide Web; how clients and servers exchange information), HTTP1 is quite effective but considerably slower compared to the newer version, HTTP/2.
Here are some of the advantages HTTP/2 has over HTTP/1:
- Efficient communication. HTTP/2 uses a binary protocol designed for communication between machines. Compared to HTTP/1’s use of a text-based protocol, binary data is significantly simpler to process.
- Weighted prioritization. With HTTP/2, the website developer can decide which content should load first. This feature lets browsers load lighter content like text first, giving the impression that the website is loading faster.
- Multiplexing. With HTTP/1, the browser can only load elements one by one. HTTP/2 improves on this by letting browsers load different types of content in a single connection.
- Server push. HTTP/2 lets servers send content before the browser requests it.
- Advanced compression. Compared to HTTP/1, the compression HTTP/2 uses, HPACK, can eliminate redundancy in exchanged HTTP packets. HPACK makes HTTP messages smaller, shortening load time.
Additionally, as nearly all browsers only support HTTP/2, via an encrypted connection, ensure that you install an SSL certificate on HTTP/2. Fortunately, most WordPress hosting providers already use HTTP/2 by default.
5. Choose an Optimized Theme
An installed theme can influence the speed of your website. Hence, it’s essential to choose a well-optimized theme to ensure the speed of your WordPress website is good.
When choosing a fast WordPress theme, consider:
- Optimized code. To prevent any performance or security issues, make sure that the theme’s code abides by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and WordPress standards. Use tools like the HTML Markup Validation Service and the free plugin Theme Check to validate a theme’s code quickly.
- Browser compatibility. Unfortunately, not all WordPress themes can perform well across different browsers. Choosing a cross-browser compatible theme lets you offer the best experience for any user.
- Mobile responsiveness. When a theme is mobile responsive, it can adapt to mobile screens without slowing down. With over half of all web traffic originating on mobile devices, responsiveness is important to ensure accessibility and attract visitors.
- AMP-ready. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology lets WordPress sites load faster on mobile devices. Choosing an AMP-ready theme can significantly improve the speed of your mobile site.
To test a theme, install & activate it on your website, if free, and without any content on it, test its speed using a tool like PageSpeed Insights. If the tested website turns out to be slow, it means the theme is poorly optimized. Try other themes until you get the ideal page speed.
6. Optimize Images
Images provide aesthetics to a website. One of the best ways to attract attention, show oof a product, or evoke emotions. However, large images can significantly contribute to a page’s size, slowing download time.
To optimize images and speed up WordPress:
- Make sure the file size is 500 KB or less. Before uploading any image, check its file size. In general, images larger than 500 KB load noticeably slower. Use a tool like TinyPNG to compress images.
- Use the recommended file format. Different image formats use different file compression methods. As a result, some file formats are more suitable for specific uses than others. Most common image file formats and what they’re best for include:
- JPEG. JPEG uses a lossy compression, which means some information will be lost in favor of smaller file size. JPEGs are best for sharing photographs.
- PNG. PNG uses lossless compression that retains all information within an image, ensuring the best resolution. PNGs are recommended for graphics and drawings.
- WebP. WebP is gaining popularity due to its ability to combine lossy and lossless compression. By using WebP, you’re able to offer a high-resolution image that’s smaller than a JPEG or PNG file.
- Use the proper display size. Avoid uploading high-resolution images and resizing them on WordPress later. While they will look smaller, machines will still have to download the entire file from the server, taking up more bandwidth space. If you need to feature 2000 x 1000px images, it’s best to resize them to that exact size before uploading.
- Lazy load images. When lazy loading is enabled, images on a page will load on-demand. This improves site speed because the website doesn’t have to load all the images at once, only when the user scrolls down to view them.
7. Update WordPress Core, Plugins, and Themes
The WordPress software updates ensure that your website is always has the latest performance and security improvements. Security and performance are interconnected; if a WordPress site is vulnerable, it can be slowed down or even become unusable.
It’s important to enable auto-updates for minor upgrades only, as major updates may add significant changes that might not suit your website.
To choose how your WordPress core software should auto-update, log in to your dashboard and navigate to Updates.
- If minor auto-updates are already enabled, you will see a message that says This site is automatically kept up to date with maintenance and security releases of WordPress only.
- If you want to enable major auto-updates, click Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress. Once this is enabled, the message This site is automatically kept up to date with each new version of WordPress will appear.
To update a plugin, log in to the dashboard and go to Plugins -> Installed Plugins. Find the plugin you wish to update and select Update now. Alternatively, you can choose Enable auto-updates from the Automatic Updates column.
To update a theme, go to Appearance -> Themes and click the theme you want to update. To manually update the theme, select Update now. Alternatively, you can also select Enable auto-updates.
If it’s a big update, whether for WordPress core, plugin, or a theme, set up a staging environment to test it before applying it to the live site.
8. Uninstall Deactivated Plugins
Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress, but some can be resource-intensive, taking a toll on the performance, hence a need to avoid having too many WordPress plugins, and uninstalling those you no longer use.
Note: Deactivating a plugin is not enough because it’s still attached to your website. You have to delete unused plugins form WordPress completely.
The best part in removing plugins is the simplicity of the whole process. From your dashboard, go to Plugins, locate the deactivated plugin, and select Delete.
Before you remove a deactivated plugin, check the plugin’s official documentation that covers how to uninstall it properly. If the plugin doesn’t have an in-depth uninstallation guide, you’ll have to manually remove its leftover settings and database files.
To avoid having to uninstall WordPress plugins frequently, try to be more selective and intentional about installing plugins in the first place:
- Always vet the developer first. Ideally, the developer should have a track record of creating good plugins and responding to user feedback. Read customer/user reviews. They should also update the plugin regularly.
- Use trustworthy marketplaces. Unreliable sources are more likely to feature poor-quality plugins that may even include malware with them.
- Only install the necessary plugins. Before installing any plugin, ask yourself whether it’s essential to your website. The fewer plugins you have, the lighter and faster your WordPress site will be.
Fewer plugins result in better performance. However, plugin quality is equally as important. One poor-quality plugin can cause devastating performance issues.
You can do this manually but it will be tedious and time consuming when the lines of code are in thousands. Best way is to:
- Install a minifying plugin like Fast Velocity Minify; just select files types you want to minify in the plugin’s settings and that’s it. Caching plugins like LiteSpeed, W3 Total Cache, and Autoptimize also offer minification functionality.
Minification is one of the easiest and most effective ways to optimize website performance as it can shrink files sizes by about 40-60%.
10. Use Latest PHP Version
Note: PHP is a scripting language that lets developers create dynamic, interactive websites. PHP is used by nearly 78.4% of all websites with an identifiable server scripting language. The WordPress CMS and all websites built on it are written in PHP.
Hence, each release of a new version introduces performance and security enhancements. Currently, the newest version of PHP is 8.0 which has a feature called just-in-time, which lets it compile a program into machine code immediately before execution, improving on performance of WordPress, making it faster.
When using an older version of PHP, you will be missing out on new features, performance improvements, and security patches which improve overall site security.
11. Optimize WordPress Database
A WordPress database is where all your website information is stored: posts and pages to theme and plugin settings. WordPress uses MySQL as its default database. With time, the database might accumulate unnecessary information that bloats the website. Such unnecessary data clutter includes post revisions, deleted comments, old plugin settings, and unused tags and if left alone. The bloated database will make it harder for servers to retrieve specific information quickly. This takes a heavy toll on website performance, reducing its overall speed.
You can optimize your WordPress database using:
phpMyAdmin: an open-source database management system bundled with many hosting accounts.
- From you cPanel area, under Databases section, select phpMyAdmin
- Under the List of Current Databases, select the database name you want to optimize and click Enter phpMyAdmin.
- Once redirected to phpMyAdmin, choose the database name from the navigation sidebar.
- Click the Structure tab, then scroll down until you reach the bottom of the table and select Check all.
- In the drop-down menu, choose Optimize Table.
- When the process is finished, you will receive a message that says, “Your SQL query has been executed successfully.”
Use a WordPress database plugin like WP-DB Manager
- From your WordPress admin dashboard, install and activate WP-DB Manager
- Go to Database -> Optimize DB.
- Choose Yes for all the database tables you want to optimize.
- Select Optimize.
Note: Database optimization is the riskiest optimization method. If done improperly, you risk accidentally breaking your website. It’s essential to back up your database before optimizing it.