WordPress controls around 50% – 60% of the global CMS market, making it the most popular content management system available today. Originally starting out as a blogging platform, WordPress quickly grew into the preferred CMS solution for many designers, thanks to the community support and ease of use compared to it’s competitors (Drupal or Joomla). Source: codeinwp stats

If you’ve ever worked with SEO, you likely know that blogging can drastically boost your ranking on search engines. There is an old saying that Content is King.  These days, the same can be said about site speed. According to a survey done by Akamai Technologies, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, as they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds.

Testing Site Performance

Luckily there are a number of free services that allow you to run a performance test on your website. Aside from providing you with an average speed score, they often provide technical statistics on user experience, location grades, and useful tips for optimization. Some of which I will cover in this article. Simply copy the URL of your website and use one of the services below:

  • PageSpeed Insights shows you how Google evaluates your site. You will be scored separately for mobile vs. desktop browsing performance.
  • Pingdom website speed test is useful for seeing where you rank on average with other websites.
  • dotcom-monitor is a web app that detects your issues from around the world using multiple locations.

Now that I’ve covered where to test your site speed performance, let’s get into the main points of this topic.  To best optimize your WordPress site – I’ve narrowed down 6 key tips that will make the biggest impact on that speed grade of yours.  The points are as follows:

  1. Web hosting package
  2. Lightweight theme
  3. Minimal plugins
  4. Image compression
  5. Caching
  6. Content delivery network (CDN)

Improving upon an already-running site is good practice and should always be encouraged.  But I feel it’s necessary to mention that the most efficient way to optimize your WordPress site is during the planning & development stages, not after the fact.  One of the first and perhaps most important steps of planning an efficiently fast website starts with a good web hosting package.

Tip 1 – Web Hosting

With so many hosting services on the market, deciding on which provider to choose can be a time consuming task. Some popular companies you may already heard of – GoDaddy, Bluehost, Greengeeks, etc.. usually offer a variety of packages to suite the needs of your website. But what is best for WordPress?

Shared hosting is the budget-friendly plan that is usually suitable for small websites. Using this means you’ll be sharing the server space with multiple websites online, which in turn can cause risk of your pages crashing during peak times throughout the day.

VPS hosting is a more flexible option compared to the shared plan. You’ll still be using a shared server (less shared) but you’ll receive your own amount of disk space. One of the best things about a VPS is that you can upgrade your account as needed, rather than paying a flat fee for a limited quota.

Dedicated hosting is costly service that gives you full control of your account.  This means you won’t be sharing server space or memory with anyone, so you will get the best results.  But it also comes with a great deal of responsibility.  If anything goes wrong, it’s on you to solve the problem.

More companies are now offering dedicated WordPress hosting as a service package, which is great. Most of them will offer enhanced speed, security, backups, and pre-loaded WP plugins to give your site a head start.  But I recommend reading the fine print before you jump on board.  There are certain companies that advertise these “WordPress friendly” hosting packages that are nothing more than shared hosting that is simply compatible with WP.  So do your research before you choose.  WordPress.org has a recommendation page for friendly WP hosting. 

Tip 2 – Lightweight Theme

Yet another reason to start your optimization strategy in the early stages is your theme. Switching themes is a time consuming task, so you’ll want to choose the right one first. In most cases, a specialized theme is best choice.  What do I mean by specialized? in plain terms – not picking an overstuffed multipurpose theme.

For example:  I want to start a coffeehouse site that will inform users of our in-house brews and perhaps display an events calendar with a special section for promotions. Time to begin theme shopping.  I’ll need something that comes pre-loaded with an events section and maybe a nice big slider to display our brands.

I’ve looked through the live theme demos and chose my favourite.  But wait a minute.. my favourite theme comes with BuddyPress, WooCommerce, bbPress, Gravity forms, Events Calendar, and Visual Composer.  Do I need any of those for my simple coffeehouse site?

Multipurpose Theme

Events calendar would be nice and perhaps Visual Composer to save time on development.  But having e-commerce compatibility, social user profiles, and discussion forms all in one package will surely slow it down. My recommendation – stick to the essentials.

Tip 3 – Minimal Plugins

To emphasize further on lightweight themes, keeping plugins to a minimal number is ideal for loading times. Using too many third-party add ons can be a speed killer.

A good way to see the impact of your plugins is by downloading the Plugin Performance Profiler. Yes, it’s another plugin! but this one can be used temporarily. This will measure the impact of every plugin your site is currently using and creates a detailed performance profile.  By using it, you’ll be able to narrow down which plugins are making the biggest impact on your load times.

Plugin Profile Results
Note: This plugin does not work if you are running PHP 7+. The creators are currently working on a big update to make it compatible.

Tip 4 – Image Compression

Quality images are the backbone for any modern website. This is especially true if your running a WordPress blog.  By default, your blog is set up to display 10 posts per page.  Add that number to the additional banner & theme photos you likely have –  and your looking at a sizable amount of memory load. But don’t worry, there are solutions!

An effective image compressor will reduce the file size of a single image by 50% and up. Luckily there are plenty of free compressor sites available with a simple search.  Compressor.io, tinypng, and kraken.io are among the higher-rated services. Another option is the Optimus plugin to auto-compress your already existing media library.

Compress Website Images

Tip 5 – Activate Caching

To see what kind of optimized caching services are available, check the c-panel page on your web host. If the host is WordPress friendly, chances are it has a GZip compressor.  Having GZip activated reduces the file size needed for a browser to download when a user visits your page. To check whether or not a website has GZip enabled, visit checkgzipcompression.com.

Another effective technique is browser caching. The browser cache will temporarily download files and images from a web page and store it locally. This is great for returning visitors because the next time they visit your site, the files will be pre-loaded. I recommend installing the W3 Total Cache plugin.

Tip 6 – Content Delivery Network

Using a CDN (content delivery network) service can drastically improve your loading times. The main purpose of a CDN is to accelerate performance by loading data through multiple servers across the globe. This can prevent issues such server outages and traffic spikes.


Optional Tip – Clean Up Your Database

Last but not least, once everything is fine tuned the way you like, I recommend cleaning up your database.  It’s a good way to apply that final touch towards web performance by clearing out unnecessary data. Download the WP-Optimize plugin to effectively clear out old data and get your database running more smoothly!

That just about covers your speed optimization tips.  I guarantee if you’ve tried at least a couple of these techniques, you will notice a difference. Having a fast loading website is essential for maintaining a good rank on search engines.

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