People don’t like to leave performance on the table. That’s why we’ll endlessly circle the bottom of a peanut butter jar for scraps and risk whiplash for the last few drops from a soda can. The same applies when we’re looking to speed up a WordPress site. We want to suck every last bit of performance we can from that juice box.
Thankfully you don’t need to fall down an optimization rabbit hole to squeeze extra speed from your site (though you certainly can). Below you’ll find a handful of steps you can take to boost your load times. Most you can do yourself. Some may require help. But they’re all effective.
Speed up Your WordPress Site With a Bit of Spring Cleaning
Like the neighborhood packrat, WordPress sites have a tendency to accumulate junk. This deadweight is a drag on performance. You can speed things up again by uninstalling any old plugins, themes, and other components you no longer use.
It’s also worth paring down plugins that may not be necessary. You may have a lot that seemed useful at the time but now don’t serve a purpose. The more plugins you add, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter a conflict. Lose those you don’t need or look for newer plugins that do the same thing.
Finally, confirm that the themes and plugins you are using are up to date. Running old versions of WordPress along with antiquated components can cause performance issues.
Shrink Those Images
If your pages feature a lot of images you can speed up your WordPress site by optimizing them. The larger an image file is, the longer it takes to download. You can use a service like Optimizilla to compress all of your images down to the smallest size possible while maintaining image quality.
Just be certain your images are saved at a decent resolution to start with. As they say, “poop in, poop out”. Your compressed images won’t look good if your originals don’t.
Enable Browser Caching
When you enable browser caching on an element of your website, you’re telling your visitor’s browser to hold onto a local copy. The next time they visit, their browser will access this saved version instead of downloading it from your server again.
If you have a lot of imagery, videos, and other large elements that don’t change, this can save a lot of time on subsequent visits. Speed up your WordPress site this way by setting the expire headers on each element for a date far in the future.
Be careful, though. If you instruct browsers to cache an element and then later alter it, your visitors will continue pulling their local copy and won’t see your change.
Upgrade Your Hosting Environment
Hosting your website on a shared server is easier on your budget because you’re sharing resources with a bunch of other websites. But the downside is that...you’re sharing resources with a bunch of other websites.
Switching to dedicated hosting will speed up your WordPress site by allowing it to take full advantage of the available CPU power, RAM, and other resources. This delivers considerably better performance and is worth the extra cost if you need it.
A good middle ground is VPS, or virtual private server hosting. This grants the user more control over their site’s configuration while still operating in a less expensive, shared environment. You get better performance than traditional shared hosting with the benefit of server redundancy. Unlike dedicated hosting, which is a single point of failure, if a server fails in a virtualized environment, another will pick up the load.
Use a Content Delivery Network to Speed Up Your WordPress Site
A CDN is a global network of servers that cache the static elements of your website (those that don’t change like images and videos). This makes certain that no matter where your website visitor lives, they will pull your static elements from a server that’s geographically close by.
Cloudflare is the CDN we recommend because it’s affordable (they even have a free option), easy to set up, and promises your website will load up to twice as fast.
Add Performance and Caching Plugins
There are a number of WordPress plugins that automate some of the website optimizations that normally take a trained hand. W3C Total Cache and WP Rocket are two we recommend. If you don’t have professional help these are reasonable stand-ins. They’re certainly better than nothing.
However, to get the fastest “time to first byte” you really need to set the caching settings, gzip compression, and other performance-related items within the web server configuration files themselves. That often requires professional assistance.
To Really Speed Up a WordPress Site, You Need to Build it Properly From the Start
Everything we’ve talked about so far will help boost performance if your site is reasonably well designed. But remember the sage wisdom from earlier, “Poop in, poop out”. No amount of finesse can speed up a site with 300 JS files, 50 CSS files, images that are 9,000 pixels wide, and embedded Flash players pumping bad ‘90s techno music in the background. If your website is bloated it will always take a long time for visitors to download it.
A good developer can build a website that loads fast without any performance enhancements at all. That’s the holy grail of web design. When things are done properly from the beginning very little optimization is necessary.