Speed up your WordPress website with these 10 tips

There has been a lot of research to show that websites that take more than 3 seconds to load, will result in a high bounce rate. The ideal benchmark for your page load time is 2 seconds and under. Today, we’ll be looking at how you can increase your WordPress performance to achieve this.

We’ve listed some tips and tricks on how to speed up your WordPress website. Follow these steps and you’re bound to see a positive effect on your page load speed.

Page load speed directly affects your bounce rate and can have a negative effect on your search rankings. A slow website creates a bad user experience as in today’s society, customers are simply not prepared to wait. A few seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but as you can see from the image below, research carried out on Pingdom shows, websites that takes 5 seconds to load will result in a 38% bounce rate. Scary right? Who would have thought 5 seconds was that long.

Bounce Rate Percentage

What is bounce rate?

Bounce rate is defined by users who land on a webpage, but don’t progress to look at any other webpages. They leave, rather than looking around your site. Search engines like Google uses bounce rate as one of it’s factors when determining where a site ranks in the search pages. If you’re using Google Analytics, log in and browse over to Audience > Overview. Here you’ll be able to see your bounce rate. The percentage of your users that visited your website, and then rather than looking at any other page, left.

You can use free tools to test your loading speed, and find areas that need improving. One such tool for measuring site performance is GTMetrix. Once you’re on GTMetrix, simply type in your domain, choose a server location nearest to you, and click Analyze. For reference, this is our GTMetrix report.

Silver Scope Media Website GTMetrix Optimisation Report

Now you have a base score, let’s see what improvements you can make and compare after.

How to speed up WordPress

1. Use a good web hosting company

Your hosting plan will determine to a big extent how fast your website will load. If you’re on a shared host you’ll want to ensure your provider in not overselling your server. Likewise different hosting providers have different specifications on their plans. We recommend SiteGround and host this website with them. They provide managed WordPress hosting, their prices are cheap, and their performance and support is top notch. They also offer a free website transfer from your old host to them so you don’t need to worry about how to do that yourself. You can read our review of Siteground here if you want to find out more information. Our readers can also save 60% off their hosting plans.

2. Enable gzip compression

One of the easiest and most effective way of speeding up your WordPress website is to enable gzip compression. Gzip is a library for compressing and decompressing data. You may be fimilar with gzip if you work on a PC a lot. The same library can be used to compress your website, meaning a reduction in file size which leads to a faster load time. Gzip compression is handled by your server, not by your website. Whilst their are free plugins available that would accomplish this for you, we would recommend that you don’t do this as the less plugins you use – the better. Instead you can either ask your hosts to enable this for you or you can modify your .htaccess file. Simply add the following code into your .htacess file and run your GTMetrix performance report again. You should see the file size reduced, and an increase in load time.

3. Minify and Combine HTML, JavaScript and CSS files

Minification and combining are two techniques to reduce file sizes of all your websites JavaScript and CSS files. Minification gets rid of all the whitespace and unnecessary characters such as comments (Not comments people leave on your website, but comments people use when coding). By minifying your HTML, JavaScript and CSS, you’ll reduce what a server has to send back to your end user resulting in your site’s speed rocketing. Speaking of rocket, we recommend WP Rocket for the above technique. Their plugin is simple to use, but more importantly certain techniques can break your WordPress site and their plugin has a great undo feature. There are free alternative WordPress plugins available such as W3 Total Cache, but this can be very difficult to setup and is not so forgiving if you do something wrong.

Combining simply combines multiple files into one. This reduces your HTTP requests as seen in GTMetrix. WP Rocket can also take care of this aspect for you.

4. Use a WordPress Caching Plugin

Caching is used to load static assets such as images, CSS files, HTML files, and JavaScript files. You’ll notice when you visit a webpage for the very first time it loads slower than subsequent times. This is because most websites enable caching meaning that the static files don’t need to be requested every time. If you’re using WP Rocket, then you can enable this from within it’s settings. Server side cache can also be enabled from some hosting providers such as SiteGround. If you’re using them they have a feature called SuperCacher which you can eballe from within cPanel > SuperCacher. The difference with this is that your content gets saved in the server RAM which is significantly faster than the storage drive. This makes the load speed even faster since reading from RAM is faster than reading from disc.

5. Consider which WordPress Theme and Plugins you use

Take great care when choosing what WordPress theme and plugins to use. Your site is built on a theme, and you’ve no doubt installed a variety of plugins to give you added features. But you should be careful about what you install. When it comes to WordPress themes, only use themes from reputable sellers or those avaiable in the WordPress repository. Check reviews, do GTMetrix performance tests on the demo sites if possible to get a rough idea of where, and whatever you do, NEVER download a nulled theme or plugin to save on costs. Whilst it may be tempting, you’ll end up with Malware which can be damaging to your reputation, your customers as it can spread to them, and will also get you banned from advertising services such as Google Ads. Most nulled themes contain backdoors into your site as well, meaning a loss of data – so don’t do it.

When it comes to plugins, consider the purpose of your plugin and the effect it can have on your site. A plugin is essentially modular code that you are adding to your existing code. Even if they are not activated they still pose risks from a security standpoint if they are not updated by their developers. Lastly, plugins slow your site down. Why? Because your expanding the amount of code the server has to serve to your visitors. So have a look through your plugins. If there’s any that are deactivated, delete them. If there are plugins you don’t need, get rid of them. Some users for example have AIO SEO (All in one SEO) installed for metadata such as titles and descriptions yet have a separate plugin for adding their Google Analytics tracking code when AIO offers this feature. Cutting down on your plugins means less HTTP requests, and a faster load time.

6. Keep your Themes and Plugins updated

You should always keep your theme and plugins updated. There are various reasons developers update their code. Sometimes it might be to add new functionality, or fix bugs, but it can also be to make sure that code is compatible with the latest revisions of PHP. Old themes and plugins wont be compatible with PHP7 which can give your site a huge performance boost though you need to ensure that your theme and all installed plugins are compatible. If you’re with SiteGround you can use their SG CachePress plugin to check for compatibility. If you’re hosting elsewhere you can use PHP Compatibility Checker. Be sure to delete either plugin after you’re done with it.

If you have cPanel from your hosting provider you can change your PHP version by navigating to cPanel > PHP Version Manager. If you’re on 5.6, then it’s worth switching to PHP 7.1 and testing to see if your site is functioning as expected. If it is, that’s good news because your site is very likely to load faster compared to running on PHP 5.6

7. Clean up database from old plugins

When you install a plugin, some of them will create their own database tables. Those tables are more often than not left behind after the plugin has been deleted. Plugins garbage collector scans your WordPress database and will show you these tables allowing you to remove them and keep your database clean and streamlined. Before using this plugin, we would recommend that you take a site backup, just in case as when messing with databases, this is best practise.

8. Optimise your website for mobile devices

We live in a world where people are glued to their mobile phones. In fact, an official statement from Google a few years ago stated that more than 50% of their global searches were carried out from a mobile device. Mobile has become so big that as of July 2018, Google started using mobile page speed as a ranking signal in their mobile search results. Speed has been a ranking signal for years from desktop, but now that’s also the case from mobile. Got a fast loading website from desktop but slow from mobile? You’ll end up with varying rankings.So, you should optimise your website for mobile. One way of doing this is only displaying content that needs to be shown on a mobile. For example, if you’re using sliders, you may opt to hide this element on mobiles, and instead display a static image. Likewise you may display high resolution pictures on your desktop site, but choose to display lower quality ones on your mobile site or hide elements altogether.

9. Optimise your images for web

Image optimisation is something that is done wrong on a lot of websites. Most modern phones these days have a decent camera. Take a picture and it will be in the range of 4-5MB. That’s great for personal viewing or printing, but when uploading to your website, you should serve scaled images, and compress your images for web. Exception being if you’re a photographer and your website is your showcase, though even then there’s things you can do such as displaying a lower quality preview, and the original upon click.

Serving scaled images is a process of serving an image that’s appropriately sized. For example, your webpage may contain some text and a 500×500 image. You can use the inspect tool to see the size of an element. So really you should change the size of your image before uploading to match. A lot of people get this wrong and upload a much larger resolution picture into a smaller element on their webpage. So the user still sees the 500×500 image, but the server has to load a 5000×5000 image for example. Doing this is bad practise as it means your pagesize is larger than what it needs to be and your sites performance therefore suffers.

Compressing images is a simple task. You can either upload images to an online service such as TinyPNG or use a plugin like Smush. Both are well known. It just depends if you want another plugin.

The average webpage is around 3MB in size where as pictures taken on modern smartphones can easily surpass this. A 3.5MB image taken on a mobile phone can easily be compressed to less than 500KB using TinyPNG. Saving yourself 80% on compression means… yep, you guessed it. Faster load times.

10. Use a Content Delivery Network

If you’re targeting worldwide traffic, utilising a content delivery network is definitely worth considering. When you visit a website from your browser, you have to load the websites files from the server its stored on. If you’re based in the UK, and so is the website you’re visiting, that’s not a problem. But if you’re based in the UK, and you’re visiting a website on a sever in America, the load times would be greatly increased. The reason for this is because of the distance to the server to fetch the information, before travelling back to your browser. A content delivery network gets rid of this problem by storing cached files in multiple locations across the globe meaning the user connects to the nearest host. If you’re based in the UK, and a visitor lands on your webpage from America, they’ll instead be served the cached files from a server nearer to them. Great huh? Some providers such as CloudFlare provide this service for free, and if you’re using SiteGround, you can simply enable this within your account.

So you’ve done the above 10 steps to speed up your WordPress website. Ready to see the difference? Head back over to GTMetrix and run another test. Your new website performance score should be greatly improved, as well as your page load times. There are of course other things you can do to increase performance but we’ve tried to keep this to the more simple areas of performance improvements.

If you need any help with your search engine optimisation strategy, website optimisation, management or development, please check out what we do. We would love to help.

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