As everyone knows, a website’s speed is very important to its success. The longer the site takes to load, the more people will close the page and go elsewhere. One in four visitors will leave if the site takes longer than four seconds to load, and one in three will leave if it takes longer than ten seconds to load. (source) When Shopzilla dropped their latency from seven seconds to two seconds, revenue went up 7-12%, and page views increased by 25%. (source) We can all agree, a website’s speed is a big deal!
Finding the Bloat
Before we can trim the fat, we need to find the fat. Head on over to Pingdom’s Website Speed Test Tool. It’s a fantastic, free tool that provides excellent insight into a website’s speed, both through the raw data it provides and the suggestions it gives on top of that. PageSpeed Insights for Google Chrome is another free tool for analyzing a website’s speed. With these tools, we’re looking for (obviously) a fast load time, but we also want a small page size and a low number of requests. The fewer, and smaller, files that the browser must request from the server, the faster the web page loads. So let’s review some techniques on how to reduce a WordPress site’s load time.
I’ll spare you the technical talk, point is WordPress can be quite slow if not cached properly. Some WordPress web hosts (like WP Engine) have built in caching, but most web hosts don’t offer such a service. Thankfully, there are a lot of free WordPress caching plugins available. At Vuepoint Creative, we prefer W3 Total Cache. W3 Total Cache is a pretty simple plugin to use, simply install, activate, and enable caching. For many users, that’s enough, but if you know what you’re doing, the plugin can be further fine tuned.
Quality Web Host
Quite obviously, the quality of a site’s web host is very important. If your web host is like GoDaddy with under powered and over crowded servers, the website’s speed will be very slow. Quality web hosts do have a higher price tag associated with them, but they are well worth it. Having a website on a more powerful server is just the same as playing a video game on a more powerful computer, after all, servers are just computers with different software on them.
Most good web hosts will also have additional services paired with the hosting to improve a website’s speed. Many good web hosts will offer built in caching, a free or discounted “CDN,” or other speed related services.
Content Delivery Network
A CDN (content delivery network) is a very valuable tool for managing a fast website. In short, A CDN is a network of powerful servers located all across the world that delivers content quickly to their region. Let’s say someone in Australia tries to load a website that’s hosted on a server located here in San Antonio, that person will have a slower load time than we will here in the Vuepoint Office. That’s where the CDN comes into play. Websites can be hosted on multiple servers all across the world to reduce the delay. The two web hosts we recommend, WP Engine and Site Ground, both offer built in CDNs, but if you aren’t using either of them, MaxCDN is a great service with some fantastic integrated WordPress features.
Compress and Optimize Images
It goes without saying that images can have very large file sizes, those large sizes can drastically reduce a website’s load time. Thankfully, there are ways to compress images without altering their appearance. For Mac users, check out Image Optim. Windows users should check out Caesium. After the images are compressed, make sure to not embed the fullsize image onto the page, with todays cameras, those images can be quite large even after they are compressed. WordPress automatically resizes images, so use an image size that is appropriate to the width of the content area. In the “Add Media” dialog window, select the appropriate size in the bottom right corner (see image to the right).
WordPress developers, be sure create appropriate image sizes and use get_the_post_thumbnail correctly to deliver the appropriate size image. Using get_the_post_thumbnail without declaring what size image to use can be disastrous for a WordPress site’s speed.
“Lazy loading” is a technique of loading images only when they are actually needed. This is useful on large websites with long pages and lots of images. Not everyone scrolls all the way to the bottom, so why slow down the website and bog down the server by loading every image on the page? Once again, WordPress comes to the rescue with many plug-and-go lazy loading plugins. However, the king lazy loading WordPress plugin is BJ Lazy Load.
The more plugins a website has, the slower a WordPress website will be. Some large plugins (WooCommerce for example), are needed. But some large plugins, or even poorly built plugins, could be trimmed without harming the visitor’s experience. There’s already a fantastic WordPress plugin to help discover plugins that are slowing down a website. Making the decision to cut out plugins can be very difficult, but if a certain plugin is greatly reducing a website’s load time, it needs to be removed or replaced.
Consolidate and Compress CSS and JS Files
Even though this is a very important method of improving a website’s speed, unfortunately, it pretty much requires WordPress development knowledge. There are some plugins that include tools for compressing and consolidating these files, but in my experience, they almost always cause problems. So if you do try one of these compression tools, give your website a thorough check to make sure it’s functioning. Thankfully as a general rule, well built WordPress themes or custom WordPress websites from good developers will already have their CSS and JS files consolidated and compressed.
Having a fast website is very important to running a successful online business. Even a fraction of a second delay in load time can result in a loss of sales. While this is by no means a comprehensive list on ways to speed up a WordPress website, it is a great start that doesn’t necessarily require a WordPress developer’s time. Every little bit helps.
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