4 tips on speeding up your WordPress website

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Written by Stephan Hayward

This article covers the following topics:

  • The popularity of WordPress
  • Testing speed
  • Add a cache plugin
  • Creating the right images
  • Adopt best practices
  • Controlling requests
  • Summing it all up

WordPress first arrived on the scene in 2003. You can create a website for free, but you may not have realized that this is actually an open source product. This means via a completely open and transparent ecosystem anyone can modify and improve the system.

This approach ensures that WordPress is accessible by millions round the globe and can be adjusted to suit your own unique needs. The simple fact is that over 74 million websites rely on WordPress! This number is growing daily as 22% of new sites are registered with WordPress.

This is all great news if you’re looking to create or build upon your site; you can certainly establish something that portrays the exact image and message you want.

The growth of WordPress has led to a huge array of features. Many of these are helpful but if you are not careful you will find that your website becomes slower and slower over time.

Even the most successful of firms can experience issues with a slow website. The modern age is orientated on instant results; a delay in loading your web page can mean the loss of that customer. This is compounded by the fact that mobile use of the internet is higher than desktop use; for the 4th year running.

Google stats suggest that the average time to load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds but that 53% of users will change to a different page if it takes longer than 3% to load! Speed is clearly essential. Of course, a user doesn’t need to wait for the entire page to load to start scrolling or reading. The figure of 22% includes the tracking features and ads that load after the main content is visible.

Testing Your Speed

The first stage in speeding up your website is to measure your current speed. This is actually very simple to do; visit Pingdom or GTmetrix and enter your URL; it will give you all the statistics you need.

 

Sample speed test results

This is important as you now have a base point. From this you will be able to verify how much difference the changes you make to your site actually affect the loading speed. You should be aware that loading your own page on your computer is not the same experience that a new
visitor will get. You will have a cached copy of your website which means the site is already being got while you type the address. A first time visitor will not have this luxury.

Remember, the average for your industry may be 11% or 22% at the moment but in 2018 experts expect successful pages to load in less than 3 seconds. This must be your target. Research suggests that even a 1 second delay over the expected time can decrease conversion rates by 7%.

Here are 4 ways in which you can improve the speed of your website and make sure you are ahead of the competition:

 

Add a Caching Plugin

You may have spent hours creating the perfect page, but this is not stored in the same way that you see it. The page is stored in code. Every time someone logs into your site the page needs to be built. This involves collating the relevant information and then building the page to display to the viewer.

There are many steps to complete this process, you can’t see them but they will slow down your page loading time. A caching plugin is capable of speeding up the load time; making it as much as 5 times faster!

The reason is simple. When you create a page and load it to test it, the caching plugin will save a copy of this page. This is then ready to be loaded and saves the majority of the building steps.
A standard load involves a visitor arriving at your website. This triggers the PHP to request information from your SQL database in your servers. The information is then converted into HTML and displayed for your user.

A cached load means the visitor visits your site; it requests the cached copy, and this is displayed for the user. Fewer steps make this a much faster process.

It is worth noting that if you are already using a managed WordPress hosting provider they should be providing caching for you; it is essential to verify this.

There are many different caching plugins available but, as always, we recommend you go with the ones that have a good amount of existing installations and reviews such as W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache and WP Rocket to name a few. However, do note that you can only install a plugin if you have either a self hosted WordPress.org site or the business version of WordPress.com.

Once you’ve chosen your plugin you can visit your WordPress site and click on ‘admin’. Then find the plugins option and follow this with ‘add new’. This will display all the plugins available; you can use the search bar to locate the one you want. Once it is displayed you click the ‘install now’ option and wait while it loads. As soon as this is done you need to click the ‘activate plugin’.

Now it’s ready to use.

You will then need to go into the advanced settings of your plugin and ensure the ‘cache hits to this website’ option is ticked. You can then select the way in which caching will operate; it is advisable to select the ‘use mod_rewrite to serve cache files’. You will then need to define your rules regarding the cache and garbage, the plugin will guide you through this and then you can click ‘update’.

That’s it; your site is now using cache.

 

Create the Right Images

Videos and pictures have become critical to the success of any website. In fact people will absorb more information from a picture than they will from a block of text.

However, large images and videos require a big chunk of memory. The more memory that is used the longer it will take for the site to retrieve the information and display it. The very thing you are using to attract customers could be the cause of your slow site.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution. You need to use photo editing software; never upload a picture directly from your camera to your site.

The most common formats for pictures are JPEG and PNG. PNG has an extremely high amount of detail in every uncompressed image. However, it loses some of the quality when compressed.
This is the best option for simple images.

JPEG is already compressed and therefore much smaller, making it faster to load. This is best if you have lots of different colours in your image.

You will need to select your format and then use the optimize tab to reduce the size of the picture. On average a JPEG max will be 119KB. After it is optimized it will be approximately 93KB; this is a significant difference but can be improved more if you opt to use high optimized JPEG; then it should be roughly 33KB.

Optimizing is a simple process. You will need to open your picture and then click on the file options. You should see one that saves ‘save for web and other devices’. Select this and play with the different options. The file size will show at the bottom of the screen.

Smaller files load faster but the quality may not be as good as for larger files. You’ll need to use trial and error to find the right balance for your own site.

 

Adopt Best Practice

This is not the same as optimizing your images. The first two steps should have your website moving much faster; but you need to keep it this way.

The first stage of this is to update your site whenever a new WordPress edition is released. Because it is open source there are many changes which improve previous bugs and add new features. Uploading them will help your site to work more efficiently and load faster. You just need to check for updates once a week.

It is also important that you optimize your site by using excerpts on the landing page and archives. This gives you the opportunity to simply display a piece of each article or your categories. The benefit of this is less data to load which will speed up the page. But, it will also help to keep your readers being interested in your site as they will only need to read the articles they are interested instead of seeing too many articles and giving up.

It is also important to utilize a content delivery service. These are designed to store the static files from each of your web pages. These files are stored on servers located all over the world.

The result is two-fold.

Firstly, your home server will be faster as it will not be dealing with so many page requests.
Secondly, users in other countries will be obtaining most of your site information from servers close to them. This reduces load time and increases the speed of your WordPress site; keeping everyone happy.

You may not be aiming for an international market, but the world is rapidly shrinking and you can’t control who wants to access your site. This is why it is essential to use a CDN; you may even find a market that you didn’t realize existed.

It is also worth noting that the theme you choose for your site can affect the speed of your pages loading. It is advisable to choose a theme that is designed for speed. This generally means a simpler approach without flashy animations.

 

Controlling Requests

This is a little more advanced; making the difference between fast loading and really fast loading. Remember, the faster your page loads the better your retention rate and potential conversion rate.

You may be surprised to find that every plugin and theme added to your website adds a range of files from a range of other websites. There are scripts, stylesheets and images as well as all the analytical services provided by Google and social media sites.

This can amount to a huge amount of info which could slow down your site. There is a difference in these files. Some are optimized to load as quickly as possible and if they are essential then this will be faster than having them on your own site.

However, too many plugin requests will reduce the speed of your site. You should disable the ones that you don’t need.

To assess which ones are slowing down your webpage you should go into your website and right click. Choose ‘inspect’. Then select ‘network’ and reload your page. You’ll see the progress of each file as it loads. You’ll be most interested in the files that have been loaded and how long they took.

The best approach for plugins that load too many pages is to uninstall the plugin and replace it with one that loads fewer files. You should only ever use plugins that have good reviews and are known to minimize the amount of files they add to your site.

Multiple plugins do not need to be an issue providing they don’t load many files. The fewer the number of files the faster your page can load.

 

Summing It Up

Operating a quality website is essential to the ongoing growth and success of your business. To do this you need to evaluate your current approach to website building. It doesn’t matter how good the information on your site is; speed is of the essence in attracting and retaining customers.

Whilst it may take some time to apply these 4 tips to your website the end result will be worth it. Not only will your website be faster, you’ll have a better understanding of how it works. You will also have built a solid approach to your future site development.

By adhering to these rules for every piece of information you add to your site you will have a fast, efficient and popular WordPress site.