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WordPress Speed Optimization Guide.

A slow website drives down SEO and destroys the user experience. There’s absolutely no reason a painfully slow website should go unfixed because it can be fixed FAST (lame pun intended). As an example, a midsized B2B SaaS company we work with recently optimized its website (which had 78 pages), and all it took was 8 hours. The site went from an average load time of 5.3 seconds for the homepage to 1.4 seconds. Were those 8 hours well spent? I think so, and the research agrees with me.

Need to speed things up on your website? Consider this your quick and dirty guide on how to significantly speed-up a slow WordPress website. Will this list have everything that can, and should, be done to improve website speed? No, we don’t have time to go into that much detail. Rather, this will focus on high impact, low effort steps that you can reasonably take within eight hours (all in) if your WordPress site is under 100 pages. And in case you’re asking, “why WordPress?” Well, it’s one of the most common website platforms out there, and I wanted to make this post as much of a tactical “how-to” as possible. On top of that, it’s also what the client had, so for me, it’s just an honest listing of what we did, and that example will guide the advice that follows. Here your WordPress speed optimization guide.

Step 1: Get a baseline and identify problem areas.

Get a reasonable understanding of how slow (or blazingly fast) your website currently is. This will both inform the main areas that you need to concentrate on, but also provide you with a way to measure the impact. How long will this take? It only takes about 5 minutes to run the reports, and then if you’re like me, it takes around forty-five minutes to read through and compare those reports. I recommend running your website through the following three (free) sites: GTmetrix, Pingdom, and Google PageSpeed Insights. Be sure when you run these reports to save a copy of each, that way, you have a very black-and-white way to measure the impact you had on improving your website speed.

Step 2: Remove or disable all of the plugins you don’t need.

If you’re working on your WordPress speed optimization, start with your plugins. Every active plugin adds more calls and slows down a site. Granted, while there are MANY exceptionally light plugins, there are still many more that can be scale breaking. Disable all plugins not currently in use, as well as plugins that are not used regularly. Remove or limit any third-party libraries, such as an analytics tool no longer in use or any javascript libraries that are too heavy. Be sure to address the non-core, fringe requirements. What qualifies as fringe? If 98% of website users wouldn’t notice it, and your web team hasn’t touched it in the last 3-months, it can go. Additionally, if you purchase a pre-made theme on WordPress, note that they all include the kitchen sink in terms of script, so be sure to remove anything you don’t need that came preloaded with your theme.

Step 3: Resize and compress images.

Don’t let large images hurt your site speed. Resize all of the images that are oversized for what you’re using them for on your website. Use Photoshop and export the images pre-optimized to avoid large, clunky images dragging down your speed. Not sure how the images on your site affect it? Use https://pageweight.imgix.com if your site images are on the larger size.

If you’re just uploading jpegs and gifs onto your site (especially if you’re using PNG’s, which are heavier than they need to be), compressing images is a must. For example, our client compressed their site images using Lossy compression, which shaved off an average of 27% from each image and upwards of 85% in several rather large images.

Compressing images is easy, and plugins that compress them automatically could save up to 50% of the file size, which will go a long way in helping your wordpress speed optimization. If your site does not feature hundreds of pages, look to use plugins like Smush.it, Kraken and ShortPixel, to save yourself a lot of time. ShortPixel would be my plugin recommendation, and you can find a video on how to set it up here. While these do a great job, be sure to double-check that they do not interfere with the front-end appearance of your site.

Step 4: Combine and minify your JS and CSS files!

The more JS and CSS files that you have on your site the more calls that it’s going to make, which will ultimately slow load times. To combat this, there are two best practices used; combining files and minifying files. Minifying your JS and CSS files will essentially shrink the files so that the calls to the server are faster. Combining CSS and JS into larger but fewer files is also considered a best practice because the idea is that fewer files mean fewer calls to the server. However, something to keep in mind is that some of your pages might have the kitchen sink while others may have less than 10 scripts. So, if you combine those, the kitchen sink then gets carried over to every page.

Step 5: Cache HTML.

This could be the biggest improvement you could make because instead of making numerous calls to the server to generate your website on the fly, it instead calls up static files from the website. Doing so increases your load times and has no side effects, so it should be a no-brainer to cache HTML. Furthermore, with WordPress, there are a plethora of plugins that do this automatically because caching is the most effective way to speed up your site.

It wouldn’t be a proper WordPress speed optimization guide if I didn’t call out some of our favorite WordPress caching plugins. I would recommend WP Super Cache https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache/, WP Fastest Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-fastest-cache/), and W3 Total Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/w3-total-cache/). All three take less than 10 minutes to install and configure, and show better results immediately.

Step 6: Get a content delivery network (CDN).

A content delivery network uses other servers to serve up files and assets that are closer to the site visitors. This improves the speed of high traffic websites that get worldwide visitors. For example, if the server is located in California, but the visitor is in the UK, the site will load slower for that person as opposed to someone else in California visiting the same site. CDN is good for moving assets closer to where visitors are located. If CDN is right for your site, do this step over the weekend or late at night because when you make these changes there will be about 15 minutes of dead time while your IP addresses repropagate.

Step 7: Google AMP pages.

Google AMP is a great way to speed up your website by 3x, as I’ve explained in detail in my previous post weighing the benefits and drawbacks of using Google AMP. Essentially, when people go to visit a website that follows AMP’s standards via Google search results, they have a faster load time. This is because of Google caches and serves up this content, allowing it to load extremely fast and make mobile browsers happy. See if Google Amp is right for your website, and if it is, visitors can load your site in milliseconds rather than seconds.

The Iron Horse insight.

Every millisecond counts for web visitors and speed will always be a factor for digital conversions. However, when you work on optimizing your site speed, keep in mind that your mileage may vary because there’s no one-size-fits-all fix. Use the steps in this WordPress speed optimization guide to speed up your website and when you’re done, go back and do step 1 again; this is a rinse and repeat process.