Last updated - August 16, 2019
WordPress is a fast, scalable, and easy-to-use content management system, but we’ve all come across slow, unresponsive, and frustrating WordPress sites. There are many causes of poor performance, but they boil to misconfiguration, poor hosting, and unoptimized code and assets.
Fixing a slow WordPress site isn’t a five-minute job, but it is possible for even non-developers to implement optimizations that make a huge difference to performance. In this article, we’ll look at eight optimizations that will improve the performance of almost any WordPress site.
Check Mobile Performance on an Old Device
It is hard to get a realistic idea of the user experience provided by a WordPress site when its pages are loaded on a browser running on a high-performance laptop with a high-speed broadband connection.
It is unlikely that every visitor has a similar setup, and, even if they do, the average site gets more visitors who use mobile devices than desktop computers. Mobile devices may not have the power to quickly render heavy sites. Mobile networks are prone to latency and slowdowns.
It’s worth finding out how your WordPress site performs on mobile with a slow network connection because if you can make it fast for these visitors, then it will be fast for everyone.
Browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox include a feature for throttling CPU performance and network speed in their developer tools. Chrome’s Lighthouse tool, which can be found under the Audit tab of Developer Tools allows site owners to apply several throttling options.
Remove Unused Plugins
Plugins don’t necessarily hurt WordPress performance, but they can. WordPress plugins add code that may be executed when pages load. The code might make network requests, database queries, or simply waste processing resources by carrying out tasks that have no visible impact.
Removing unused or unnecessary plugins doesn’t hurt user experience, and it can increase performance. Take a look at the plugins installed on a site and deactivate or remove any that aren’t needed.
Use a Lightweight Theme
Instead of installing a theme that includes all the bells-and-whistles, consider choosing a simple theme and adding features via plugins when you need them. Storefront is a great option for a WooCommerce store.
On the average web page, images are the largest component. aImage size is a particular problem on mobile, where images are displayed in small sizes even when a full-size image is downloaded.
WordPress supports responsive images; it generates multiple versions of each image at different sizes and sends the appropriate size to the browser. However, WordPress users can do more to ensure that browsers don’t waste time and bandwidth downloading superfluous image data.
Cameras embed large amounts of metadata in images. Images downloaded from Unsplash and other popular free image sites also contain metadata. The extra data is useful for photographers, but not for the average site visitor. Removing the metadata and optimizing image compression can drastically reduce image size without affecting image quality.
WordPress plugins such as Smush Image Compression and Optimisation process images and ensure that they are no larger than necessary.
Install a Caching Plugin
WordPress’ default behavior is to generate pages when they are requested. That means executing PHP code and making database queries, both of which take time. Caching reduces the amount of time it takes to respond to browser queries by sending pages and parts of pages that were generated in response to previous requests.
Most web pages don’t change quickly. They remain the same from one visitor to the next, so there is no benefit to generating an identical page many times over.
There are several caching plugins to choose from, including:
- WP Rocket, a premium plugin that aims to be easy to use.
- WP Total Cache, a free plugin that provides fine-grained control over caching options, but is more difficult to get to grips with.
- WP Super Cache, a popular caching plugin developed by Automattic, the company founded by WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg.
Any of these plugins can significantly increase the performance of a WordPress site while reducing the load on its hosting account.
Use a Content Distribution Network
A content distribution network (CDN) takes a site’s static assets and distributes them to servers around the world. When a browser requests those assets, they are served from the nearest CDN location. CDNs reduce latency, speed up page loading, and reduce server load.
The best WordPress hosting providers include content distribution network bandwidth in their hosting plans, but it’s also possible to hook a WordPress site up to a CDN such as MaxCDN or Cloudflare. The caching plugins we mentioned earlier have CDN integration functionality.
Minimize Video Embedding
WordPress site owners should try to strike a balance between performance and on-page content. Videos are often necessary, but if a video is merely decorative or adds little the page, removing it can provide a significant speed bump.
Migrate to a Better Hosting Provider
The server that hosts a WordPress site has the biggest impact on its performance. The hosting company provides the computational power, storage, and memory that WordPress needs to generate pages. The hosting provider is also responsible for providing the site’s network connection.
Too few resources and a poorly managed network can defeat any amount of performance optimization, and they are largely outside of the control of site owners. It is not difficult to host a low-traffic WordPress site, which is why so many hosting providers offer cheap WordPress hosting. They cram as many sites onto their servers as possible, charge next to nothing, and hope that no site uses more than its tiny portion.
Once a site attracts more than a handful of visitors each day, this type of low-cost hosting quickly comes up against its limits. The solution is to migrate from shared hosting to cloud hosting or virtual private server hosting, which offers guaranteed resources and more control over the underlying infrastructure.
WordPress is a fast and capable content management system. A slow WordPress site is usually caused by inadequate hosting, poor configuration, or over-large bandwidth requirements.
Any WordPress site owner who completes this eight-item checklist will solve most WordPress performance problems and be rewarded with a faster site and an improved user experience.