Nobody likes to wait. We want what we want, and we want it now. More than ever before, it’s important for our websites to be fast and responsive. They should load quickly, provide a great user experience, and look good.
With WordPress, it’s easy to put together a site that looks amazing but is unbearably slow; and it’s easy to put together a site that’s hideous but snappy. How do we get both looks and speed? WordPress, like most content management systems, is like an expensive car. It works great. It will treat you well. But, you have to do your part to maintain it and keep it at peak performance.
Use images responsibly
Pictures can breathe life into your posts. They break up blocks of text and add a bit of visual excitement. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Unfortunately, they can also slow down a WordPress site. This isn’t unique to WordPress. Anything a web browser displays has to be transferred from a server (web host) and understood by a client (computer). It doesn’t matter if you’re using Drupal, Joomla, Magento, or even hand coded HTML. Everything has a performance cost.
Every picture in your post must be downloaded onto your visitors’ computers. Usually this takes a matter of milliseconds – barely enough time for anyone to notice on a properly optimized page.
When pictures are too numerous or too large, it takes a bit more time for a web browser to collect its thoughts. This translates into slower load times.
Don’t add too many images
Find an appropriate balance. In a typical post, I prefer not to add more than one or two. Obviously there will be exceptions to the rule. But the point is, don’t turn every post into an image gallery. That will only hurt your load times.
Compress your images
Compressing images reduces the amount of data that has to be transferred in order for them to be displayed. This, in turn, leads to faster load times. Beautiful. We have a couple of ways to do this.
These plugins integrated directly into WordPress and will reduce the file size of any image you upload. Pretty convenient!
- WP Smush – https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-smushit/
- EWWW Image Optimizer – https://wordpress.org/plugins/ewww-image-optimizer/
- Optimole – https://wordpress.org/plugins/optimole-wp/
If you would prefer to avoid using a plugin, there are several web-based tools to accomplish the same thing. Compress your images using one (or more) of these tools, and then upload them to WordPress.
- Kraken.io – https://kraken.io
- Optimizilla – https://imagecompressor.com/
- Compressor.io – https://compressor.io
Use a light weight theme
If you don’t like how your site looks, change its theme! WordPress makes this stupidly easy. Great-looking themes – both free and paid – can change the way your site looks and feels. One column. Two columns. Customizations galore. But it’s not all sunshine and roses.
Some themes can be a real drag on the performance of your site. Even expensive, paid themes can cause such a performance hit that they should never be used. Sure, they look great, but the performance is lacking. Often, these themes attempt to do so much with intricate code and poorly optimized assets that they cause noticeable delays.
If you have the ability and knowledge, you can edit the underlying code – hoping to optimize what should have been streamlined from the start. Usually, however, that is a needlessly painful option and may not be practical.
What’s the alternative?
Only install themes that are fast and efficient. It is better to have a fast site that isn’t as “pretty” than a “pretty” site that takes a long time to load.
If you want the ability to customize and edit your layout to your heart’s content, try something like Elementor.
Get rid of unused plugins
One of the great features of WordPress is its extensibility. Nearly anything you want to do that isn’t supported by stock WordPress can be achieved through a plugin. These, like themes, come in both free and paid flavors.
The added functionality available through plugins is nearly limitless. Whether yours is a simple one-page site or a full-fledged eCommerce store, there are plenty of plugins for you. Capture leads. Add widgets. Create alerts. Add animation. It’s all possible – and easy – with the help of plugins.
But, like themes, there is a downside.
These bits of code can – and do – add to your site’s load time. Now, usually we’re talking a matter of milliseconds. But those milliseconds do add up.
I’m not saying dump all your plugins and give up on your dream of having a flashy eCommerce store. Not at all. But be smart about what you install. Your site is like a horse. It’s fast. It’s very capable. It will do just about anything you could hope for. But it can only carry so much at once. Every plugin you add is just one more bag for your horse to carry. It’s just one more thing weighing it down.
Just as you should when you install software on your computer, ask yourself if you really need what you’re about to install. If you do, awesome. If you don’t, pass. Don’t give the horse more to carry than you actually need.
Periodically, look through your plugins and deactivate or uninstall any you no longer need. In this way, you will keep your site clean and tidy. Your site’s speed will thank you.
Use a caching plugin
Your website works hard. When someone visits, WordPress is busy in the background trying to gather all the little pieces of your site, putting them together, and displaying a complete page. Though it works, this is incredibly inefficient. Why make WordPress do all of this leg work over and over?
This is where a caching plugin comes in.
With such a plugin, visitors are shown a “cached” version of your site. WordPress tells the visitor’s browser, “Here, just use this.”
Imagine a scene with me. John goes to the store to buy a laptop. He walks up to the counter, looks the associate in the eye and says, “I’d like to purchase this laptop please.”
The sales associate nods and runs in to the back room. Five minutes pass. Ten. Twenty.
“What’s going on? What’s taking so long?” John asks.
Another associate steps over and says quietly, “I’m sorry sir. This laptop comes to us in pieces. We have to assemble it for you.”
“What? Seriously? You don’t have any already put together?”
“I’m afraid not sir.”
Would it not be much more efficient to have pre-assembled laptops ready for customers? Most definitely.
John, in this case, is your visitor’s web browser. He knows what he wants, and he wants it now. The sales associate is WordPress, frantically trying to put things together fast enough.
Now, to be fair, WordPress doesn’t take five minutes to put a page together. But, it does take time. It is far more efficient to have something ready to go for visitors before they ever arrive.
Here in my town, a local pizza chain advertises their “hot & ready pizza” deals. People love the concept. Why? People come, get what they want and leave – all without waiting. Your visitors – and search engines – are the same in that regard.
When using a caching plugin, your site serves hot and ready pizzas and pre-built laptops. The visitor’s web browser doesn’t have to wait while WordPress gets its stuff together.
Popular Caching Plugins
WP Rocket – https://wp-rocket.me/
W3 Total Cache – https://www.w3-edge.com/products/w3-total-cache/
WP Super Cache – https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache/
Why does site speed matter?
Does it really matter if your site is a bit slow? Yes. It really does. Many people focus on making their sites beautiful and don’t think about performance. They do this to their own detriment.
Search engines care about your site’s speed. They will periodically test your site to see just how fast it is. If they aren’t pleased, expect your search rankings to suffer. Now, this isn’t the only ranking factor, and it is possible to have a slower site rank well – but only if your content is absolutely phenomenal, to the point that the quality of your content balances out your site’s slowness.
Perhaps more importantly, your site speed matters because your visitors care. Sure, most people won’t be at the computer with a stopwatch and a web browser, testing how long every little thing takes to load. But they know when a site feels sluggish and just not as snappy as they’d like. If your site doesn’t load quickly, or using it feels like running in quicksand, don’t expect people to stick around. They won’t.
How to test site speed
It’s useful to periodically check your site’s speed to make sure it’s living up to your expectations. One of the best tools for doing this is Google’s own Pagespeed Insights. This tool will show you what Google sees – and tell you what Google thinks is a problem with your site’s loading speed.
This is not a tool to end all tools, of course, but it is useful to see precisely where Google thinks you could improve, along with suggested actions to take.
WordPress is one of the best content management systems on the net. It’s free. It’s powerful. It’s extensible. As you build your WordPress site, consider how fast it will load and ask yourself if the content you add will help or hurt your speed.
Search engines and your users care very much about the speed of your site. Do your part to keep it running well – whether you use WordPress or any other CMS.