Nobody likes a slow site. Just think about the sheer number of times you revisited a website that took too long to load…we’re guessing it’s zero. Let’s look at some statistics to back this up.
As shown in this Kissmetrics infographic, 40 percent of site users exit a site that takes more than three seconds to load. The statistics are even scarier for e-commerce sites: 80 percent of shoppers who are not satisfied with a site’s speed or performance are less likely to shop on the same site again. Plus, a one second delay cuts customer satisfaction by 16 percent and results in a 8 percent loss in conversions. Yikes!
Speed is also a critical component of Google’s ranking algorithm. If you have a slow site, your Google rankings will fall and you will experience considerably less traffic to your site. As we saw with Google’s introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), mobile page speed is also going to be an important ranking factor.
So you now understand the effects of site speed user experience, engagement and SEO. What can you do to make your site load faster? This post will take you through 10 quick and effective ways to speed up your WordPress site.
Before we begin, you need to measure your current site performance and speed so that you can quantify any improvements in performance after you implement the methods in this post. Pingdom offers a free performance analysis for your site. You can also look at your site’s page speed and other performance data in Google Analytics under the Behavior section.
Let’s get to it.
1. Choose a Good Hosting Service
Choosing a good hosting service can be quite tricky unless you have experience or advanced knowledge of the subject. Here are some of your options simplified.
Shared hosting should only be an option if you have numerous sites that you rarely use. At an average of $4 per month, you get what you pay for: strained resources and consequential unreliable service.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
VPS is the way to go. They give you more resources and usually offer additional tools and services like automatic updates, mobile site customization apps, backups and more. At an average rate of $25 and up per month, Virtual Private Servers are still very affordable.
Dedicated hosting is typically used by webmasters with experience in server technologies or by websites with enormously high traffic. So if you have a hugely popular site that needs dedicated servers, and do not understand the tech behind it, you may want to hire someone else who does.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting can be a good way to go. The servers are built for WordPress so it comes with tools and features that are designed to make your WordPress site run optimally. You can obviously also run WordPress on a VPS, but managed WordPress hosting solutions are only intended for WordPress sites.
There are, however, a few restrictions: certain WordPress features like plugins and themes may be disabled due to security concerns.
Still confused about which option is best for your site? Perhaps talk to customer service teams for each option and discuss your specific needs.
2. Choose a Lightweight Theme
Is your theme lightweight? If not, you should consider switching to one. Unlike premium themes that offer many features – most of which you probably don’t use or need – and unnecessarily load too many scripts and styles, lightweight themes come with only the basic features that you need, making them faster than premium themes.
You can use various free plugins to optimize your site speed but you won’t see results if your theme is not fast to begin with. WPDean has gathered a great selection of the fastest themes out there, so be sure to check those out.
3. Reduce Image File Sizes
Images take up a lot of space in your wp-content folder and consequently lower your site speed. That’s why it is always a good idea to compress all your images.
Plugins like EWWW Image Optimizer and Compress JPEG & PNG Images reduce image file size without losing too much quality. For example, the latter plugin compresses image file sizes by 40-60 percent for JPEGs and 50-80 percent for PNGs without a visible loss in quality.
4. Add Lazy Load to Images
Lazy Load is a tool that can drastically speed up any image heavy site. What it essentially does is force images to load only when they are in a reader’s view, so above the fold. For example, if you were to see an entire post on a single page, the first few images within your view will load and the rest will load as you scroll down the page.
Ready to implement it? Here are a few popular versions that’ll get the job done with minimal effort from your part:
- Lazy Load: Straightforward and easy to use. Just install, activate and you’re good to go. A no-brainer for anyone’s site.
- Rocket Lazy Load: A lightweight plugin with a tiny script (less than 2 KB!).
- Unveil Lazy Load: More lightweight than Rocket Lazy Load with an even smaller script (0.5 KB).
- Image Lazy Load: More lightweight version of Lazy load. It does give you more options and has settings for lazy loading images on mobile.
5. Use a Caching Plugin
Caching is arguably the best way to speed up your site and improve performance. Let’s look at how it works.
A cache is a place where data is temporarily stored. So when you visit a website for the first time, your browser caches active data to quicken the loading speed. When you later revisit the site, your browser will have a large portion of the site’s files stored within its cache, meaning the site will load faster since your browser doesn’t need to collect many files.
What caching plugins do is save an HTML copy of a website for a specific time period. The plugin then serves these files from the cache (as opposed to getting the server to process it).
6. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDNs enable you to host images off your server in order to decrease your image load times. They are also helpful in storage and potential migration of your site to a new host.
What a CDN does is store requested files – cached static content – close to a visitor’s geographic location. So if your website is hosted in the United States, and a user accesses your site in Chicago, they may receive your site images from a data center in Illinois. Similarly, even with your site being hosted in the US, if a user in London accesses your site, they may receive your images from a data center within the UK. In this way, transfer times, hops and other processing parameters are decreased, resulting in a much faster site.
7. Minify JS and CSS files
8. Clean up Your WP Database
Your database hoards a lot of data: from inactive plugins to revisions to spam and trashed comments. Getting rid of this unnecessary data can greatly reduce the size of your database and consequently speed up your site and improve performance.
WP-Sweep is by far the most popular and effective plugin for cleaning up a WordPress database. It is also quite straightforward to use. Once activated, go to Tools > Sweep and the plugin will begin analyzing your database. It will provide a report of different sections/components of your site that need to be cleaned. You have the option of cleaning individual items or sweeping everything up at once.
9. Optimize Your Homepage
Your homepage is arguably the most important part of your site since it serves as the main landing page. And optimizing it to load faster doesn’t require much effort on your part. Here are a few things you can do to increase the loading speed of your homepage:
- Limit the number of posts on the page
- Don’t show full posts; show excerpts instead
- Sharing widgets (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. share buttons) should only be included in posts
- Remove inactive plugins and widgets
- Remove all other unnecessary content and elements from the page
The rule of thumb is to keep your homepage as clean and minimal as possible. It will look good and load faster as well.
10. Deactivate Hotlinking
You may unfortunately be victim to content leeching or theft: other sites may be serving images from your site instead of uploading them on their own servers. In doing so, they steal your bandwidth and you don’t benefit from any of the traffic they generate. This is called hotlinking.
Speeding up your WordPress site can provide tremendous benefits. That being said, speed isn’t everything. You shouldn’t allow it to compromise other aspects of user experience, aesthetics, and most importantly, your business goals. Evaluate where site speed fits into your overall site and business goals and implement the above recommendations accordingly.
We would love to know your site speed and performance improvement methods, goals and ideas. Let us know in the comments below!