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How to Speed Up Your WordPress Site

We’ve written, to a great extent, about the impact of speed on your users’ behavior. And, of course, if there’s an impact on user behavior, there’s an impact on search engine optimization. Most people don’t realize the number of factors involved in the simple process of typing in a web page and having that page load for you.

Conversely, if you’re spending hours every week on developing content… trying to shave a few bucks off of your infrastructure environment doesn’t make any sense. It’s like writing a blog post and putting it in a bottle instead of ensuring its delivery. Slow websites hurt business.

While WordPress runs hundreds of millions of websites, the chief complaint of many who leave the content management system (CMS) is the out-of-the-box site speed. If you load up WordPress on a cheap hosting platform, add a free theme that’s poorly written, and add a ton of plugins… you’re likely going to be battling speed issues.

How WordPress Works?

As with most CMS platforms, WordPress is basically a front-end for users, a back-end for administrating and easy editing and adding content, and storage of that content in a database. When a user requests your web page, here are the basic series of steps that produce the page:

  1. Domain – the domain you are using is looked up in a domain name server and routed to your host.
  2. Host – Then, your domain is looked up on your host and resolved to your WordPress site.
  3. WordPress – WordPress loads initial settings.
  4. Permalink – The permalink slug in your URL is looked up in your database, and resolves to a Post ID where the core content and any additional post metadata are looked up and resolved.
  5. HTML – Your web server (typically LAMP) assembles the page using PHP from your theme.
  6. Files – additional files, like images, scripts, fonts, and stylesheets are loaded from the site or a third-party site.
  7. CSS – Your HTML is styled utilizing cascading style sheets.
  8. JavaScript – client-side code is loaded for your browser to load additional interaction with the content.

Your page is now loaded!

What Slows Down WordPress?

  • Hosting – the memory, computing power (CPU), and bandwidth available by your host will determine how fast the web server can interpret the code, assemble, and present your page. If you’ve been on a host for years, chances are that you’re running on some old hardware and it’s time to move.
  • Network – If you’re running a business in Indianapolis, but your server is hosted in Las Vegas, even though the infrastructure is fiber, every mile away adds latency to deliver your content. To remedy this, companies implement content delivery networks (CDNs) that cache the site regionally throughout the country or globe to deliver your content quickly.
  • Database Queries – querying and getting back data from a database takes time. Modern hosting like our host, Flywheel, has automated caching technologies that will store a temporary, complete, webpage so that the database query isn’t necessary (unless otherwise specified). Additionally, you can load additional caching on the WordPress server with a plugin like WP Rocket. Database tables often get bloated and aren’t properly indexed. Database optimization can also help.
  • Settings – WordPress loads initial settings and transients. Over time, or with poorly written themes and plugins, these settings can get bloated. Additionally, themes and plugins often don’t remove these settings when they’re uninstalled. It’s often a manual process to go through the settings table in WordPress to remove unnecessary settings.
  • Server Scripts – One of the advantages of WordPress is that anyone can build and share themes and plugins. This is also one of the biggest disadvantages as well since inexperienced developers often write code that isn’t efficient… driving up the number of queries and computing power necessary to assemble a WordPress page. Additionally, overuse of plugins typically adds a ton more script requests to the site which will slow it down. We find that we can often integrate plugin features into a child theme and significantly speed up a site.
  • File Sizes – JavaScript and CSS often have extra space that’s unnecessary. Minifying compresses those files so that they’re a fraction of the size. Additionally, images are often uploaded at resolutions and sizes that are overkill for a browser. Image compression is another means of significantly reducing the time it takes your site to load.

How Does A Fast WordPress Site Run?

If your infrastructure and WordPress site are optimized to run fast, the difference is significant:

  1. Domain – the domain you are using is looked up in a domain name server and routed to your host.
  2. Host – faster hosting platforms can reduce the latency involved in identifying and routing traffic to your server.
  3. WordPress – WordPress loads minimal settings and is able to load faster.
  4. Permalink – The permalink slug in your URL is looked up in a cached file, immediately displaying your page rather than querying the database.
  5. Files – Minified files and compressed images are loaded. Your host may even compress the files with GZIP compression which can reduce file sizes by up to 70%.
  6. Lazy Loading – Not every asset requires loading on your site to present your page properly. One example is images that are down the page. Lazy loading is a methodology that loads unnecessary assets only when needed – including scripts, images, videos, and more.

This infographic from PassionWP walks through a logical process of improving the performance of WordPress.

  1. Reduce Server Response Time (SRT) – According to Google’s PageSpeed Insights, your optimal SRT should be under 200 milliseconds.
    • Solution: Migrate your site to a high-performing host like Flywheel that has a solid infrastructure and built-in CDN. They’ll even help you migrate your site there.
  2. Use a good caching plugin – While Flywheel has great server caching, you’ll also want to cache locally.
    • Solution: Migrate your site to a high-performing host like Flywheel that has great server caching and install a plugin like WP Rocket that has outstanding local caching.
  3. Enable GZIP compression – GZIP is compatible with all modern browsers. Many modern hosting platforms automatically configure this but you may need to contact them.
  4. Minimize Browser Requests – Themes and plugins that load a plethora of scripts, CSS, fonts, and media files from your site or others can significantly slow your site.
    • Solution: Using your browser development tools can show you how many requests you’re making and how slow they are. Some plugins like WP Rocket have advanced features to combine scripts and CSS and cache them so that you don’t have to make multiple requests. It also has the capability to lazy load images.
  5. Optimize Your Database – Optimized queries, less data stored, and indexing tables can improve site speed.
    • Solution: clearing page versions, removing the storage of unnecessary data, and reindexing your database can all be done with WP Rocket.
  6. Reduce The Number of Plugins In Use – The more plugins you have installed, the higher the number of requests to your server.
    • Solution: Upgrade your theme to one that has most or all of the features that you were trying to achieve with plugins. We recommend Themeforest, but be sure to buy a plugin that’s well-rated, has plenty of updates, and has high sales. Some plugins add unnecessary code to pages as well. For example, we found that Formidable has the capability to only include scripts and CSS on pages with forms so that other pages aren’t impacted.
  7. Use A Well-Optimized Theme – Poorly developed themes are at the root of most issues we find with clients.
    • Solution: Upgrade your theme to one that has most or all of the features that you were trying to achieve with plugins. We recommend Themeforest, but be sure to buy a plugin that’s well-rated, has plenty of updates, and has high sales.
  8. Compress and Scale Images – WordPress already has a fantastic feature to add specific image sizes that incorporate how to scale and crop them for different views.
    • Solution: Be sure your theme or child theme functions.php file has registered the appropriate image sizes for display in your theme. As for compression, WordPress doesn’t have this capability, so a third-party integration like Imagify or Kraken works great. WP Rocket also has an image compression add-on.

We maintain a full list of what we believe are the Best WordPress Plugins for Business. As new technologies emerge, and other plugins aren’t kept up, we replace them on that list. Here’s the full infographic!

how to speed up wordpress

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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