Did you know that most people browsing the internet only give a new site a few seconds to catch their eye before they bounce onto another site? Would you like these new visitors to your site to stick around? Don’t you think it would be horrible to loose those visitors before your website even has the chance to load? Time for you to speed up WordPress!
The reality is that if your site takes longer than a few seconds to load then your visitors may have already left. They’re gone before they have even seen what you have to offer. Do you want this to happen to you?
In order to grab the attention of your visitors you need to make sure that your site loads fast. It won’t matter how well your website’s content is optimized for conversions if nobody is there to see it.
On top of capturing new visitors, web site speed is also a known factor that search engines use to rank your website. We all know how important it is to keep the search engines happy too!
(Image Credit: Paul Malon)
Before you start tweaking your website in order to speed up WordPress, you really need to benchmark it to see if there is even a problem in the first place.
I have two go-to tools for such a task. The first tool that I like to use is the Full Page Test from Pingdom. This tool runs a scan of your website and gives you an itemized list of everything that loads in order to render your site in a web browser.
The second tool I use is the performance test at GTmetrix. This test runs Google’s Page Speed test and Yahoo’s YSlow test. These two tests are similar but it’s valuable to see how different search engines may look at your site’s performance.
After you’ve run these scans you will be able to see if you have a problem. Now, before you start worrying about your scores, you need to be realistic. Sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter will load in 1″“2 seconds but they also have a few dollars to spend on dedicated hardware and a team of experts.
When you put a site like MatthewHooper.com to the test, you will come up with some more realistic numbers. You’ll see that MatthewHooper.com renders out in around 3 +/- seconds depending on the time of day you run the tests. It’s interesting to note that even though MatthewHooper.com doesn’t do too well on the YSlow test, it still loads pretty fast. Don’t get too hung up on trying to be perfect on all accounts. However, it doesn’t hurt to make improvements where you can.
The theme that I use on MatthewHooper.com is a bit older and the code isn’t as optimized as I would like. When I’m not working on other things I am slowly rebuild this theme using Headway which will eventually bring up the Yahoo Yslow and even the Google Page Speed results. Until then, I’m still pretty happy with this sites load times.
The takeaway so far is that if your website is in the sub 4 second range, then you are doing ok. If you’re not, then you’ve got some work to do in order to speed up WordPress.
Before you proceed with any of the items below, make sure that you backup WordPress. You shouldn’t have any problems with the techniques below but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Check Your Code
If there is one thing that will slow down your site faster than anything else, it is the code that is powering it. If you want to speed up WordPress then there are a few areas to look at that all play a pivotal role in how fast your pages are going to render:
- The theme you are using.
- The widgets in your side bar.
- The plugins you have active.
The advantage to the Pingdom and GTmetrix speed tests mentioned above is that they will show you which elements are loading at a snails pace.
If your plugins or widgets are slowing you down then you really need to weigh the pros and cons of those elements. Are they worth keeping if they are slowing down your site? In some cases the answer might be “yes”. In other cases you might be able to find an alternative that will perform a similar role.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest offenders is very often the theme on your site. It may look great but if it takes 20 seconds to load, nobody is waiting around. If you’ve gone with a free theme or an older theme, it might be time to ditch that theme and go with a premium theme. There are lots of them out there but they are not all created equal. Just because you find a really expensive and flashy looking theme, doesn’t mean the code has been optimized. Trust me, I’ve experienced slow themes that look great. When looking for a new theme, you can also take a look at some of the existing theme frameworks out there that you can build upon.
Smush Those Images
Images take a long time to load. I’m sure that it’s not the first time you’ve heard this. A site that is one-hundred percent text is going to load faster than a site with images. However, it won’t be as interesting to look at.
In order to make your images load faster and speed up WordPress load times, you need to smush those images! Fortunately, Yahoo gives us a tool to use for free that does this. It’s called Smush.it. You can go to the Smush.it site and optimize individual images or you can use the Smush.it plugin for WordPress.
After you’ve installed the plugin, all of the images that you upload to WordPress will automatically get Smushed. Additionally, you can go back and Smush images that are already on your site. The Smushing process removes all unnecessary data from images to make the files smaller which means they load faster. It does so without noticeably reducing the quality of the images.
Cache Your Site
WordPress is great/horrible because it dynamically generates the way content is displayed on your website. Simply put, all of the content of your posts and pages are stored in a database and then generated for visitors as they ask for them. It’s good because this means that you don’t need to hand code a page every time you want to add a page or post to your website. However, it can also slow your website down when it has to keep generating this content. Website caching is when static versions of the dynamically created content on your website is stored so that it doesn’t have to continually be generated. This results in pages loading faster and content being displayed quicker.
Arguably one of the best tools for doing this in WordPress is a plugin called W3 Total Cache. There are a lot of boxes to tick and buttons to push with this plugin but one of the easiest to follow explanations for how to setup W3 Total Cache can be found back at the GTmetrix website.
Enable the minify settings and view your site in a few different browsers. Make sure that it renders correctly with your new settings. If you do run into issues, just disable the minify settings or look into a new theme.
The Power of The Cloud
CloudFlare is a service that works well with W3 Total Cache. CloudFlare is a content delivery network (CDN) that caches your website’s files on servers around the world. This caching makes your files load faster no matter where your visitors are accessing your website from.
CloudFlare is a great service that provides optimization, security and analytics tools along with their CDN. Unbelievably, the basic package is free and it is adequate enough for most website owners looking to speed up WordPress. Watch their video below for an overview.
(If you’re reading this in email or RSS, click here to watch video.)
The whole description of what CloudFlare does can get pretty technical. If this is something that you are interested in, then I suggest you check out their site for more details.
Get a New Host
In the end, if you can’t improve the performance of your site and speed up WordPress, there might not be anything else you can do. This could be due to the limitations of your web host and you may need to move to a new host.
Most people start out with shared hosting, which is fine in most cases. However, there are good shared hosts and there are bad shared hosts. Some shared hosts will crumble under just a small amount of traffic so make sure that you choose a web host carefully.
Then again, there are times when you will out grow your shared hosting package and you will want to look at moving to a virtual private server (VPS) or even your own dedicated server.
Before you start looking at a VPS or a dedicated server, you should really investigate other shared hosting packages. VPS solutions or dedicated servers can get costly. There are countless hosts out there and everyone will tell you a different answer. Not all shared hosting packages are created equal so make sure that you read the small print before choosing or moving hosts. As a general rule of thumb; the cheaper it is, the worse off you will be.
Start Tweaking and Speed Up WordPress!
Most of the techniques described above are absolutely free. Outside of getting a new web host or opting for a premium theme you won’t need to spend a cent. Therefore, you really have no reason to not give some of them a try.
What are have done to increase the speed of your site? Share your suggestions in the comments!