WordPress Performance for Regular Folks

Why WordPress Performance Matters

Today’s internet users are generally not patient sorts of folk. We’ve all been conditioned to get what we want and to get it fast. Amazon gets us the goods we ordered in a day — or sometimes less. We download books to our iPads and readers instantly instead of waiting for the book to arrive by what we now call snail mail.

That’s why your website speed makes a difference. In the infographic below, prepared by Kissmetrics, they report that 40 percent of users will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Ouch. That and the fact that site speed factors into Google rankings means it’s more critical than ever to optimize your WordPress performance.

wordpress performance

These are the resources I’ve used to increase my site’s WordPress performance. This post is not written from the perspective of a developer. Though I’ve used WordPress since 2006 and know HTML/CSS pretty well, I’m not a server expert or a PHP developer (yet — I’m in the process of learning), so these suggestions are for regular people.

How Do You Optimize WordPress?

1. Choose the Right Theme

The best themes are lightweight and built for speed. If you see a theme that has all the bells and whistles you think you’ll ever need, it’s likely it’s bloated.

Remember, a theme should control the look and layout of your site; but it shouldn’t include functionality that is better added with plugins. An appointment calendar might be an example of this.

Besides performance issues due to theme bloat, there’s also the issue of theme lock-in. That is, if much of the functionality of your site is built in to the theme, you’re stuck with two choices if you decide to change themes later:
1) Rebuild the features in the new theme,
2) Do without them.

2. Be Careful With Plugins

A developer for WordPress once told me that it’s not the number of plugins on your site that hurts performance, it’s the kind of plugins. Choose plugins that do one thing, and do it well. Check reviews of the plugin and pay attention to how many installations it has and whether it’s up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

Outdated plugins are not only a security risk, they can slow down your site, so keep them updated.

3. Caching Plugins

You’ll most certainly need a caching plugin to optimize your WordPress performance.

There are quite a few to choose from, both paid and free. It’s a good idea to try several and see which works best. The W3 Total Cache and WP Rocket minify HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which reduces comments and extra spaces in code and makes it load faster.

Here are some of the most popular caching plugins:

W3 Total Cache • More than 1 million installs; updated within the past three weeks.
WP Super Cache This plugin is by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. Last updated two months ago, it has more than 2 million installs.
WP Rocket (Paid) • $49/ for a single site. It’s easy to set up and effective. I use WP Rocket and you’ll see my results below. I think that’s worth $49/year.

4. Keep Your Database Optimized

I use WP Optimize to keep my database clean. Over time excessive post revisions, spam comments and deleted plugins can clutter up your database and slow down your site. WP Optimize does a great job of keep your database clean automatically. Plugins Garbage Collector cleans up database tables left after you delete plugins.

Stay on top of spam comments and items in the trash and delete them regularly.

5. Choose Your Host Wisely

WordPress managed hosting company Kinsta outlines three different types of hosting on their blog:

A. Shared Hosting

The most popular type of hosting service is shared hosting. This means you share a server with many other sites. It’s the most economical, but probably won’t provide you with the best WordPress performance.

B. DIY VPS Hosting

This is for the trained professional who knows how to set up and manage a server on their own. Do not attempt this if you’re not sure you know what you’re doing.

C. Managed WordPress Hosting

Managed hosting is generally more expensive, but the host handles the server work and offers easy one-click backup and restore and staging features.

6. Use the Right Version of PHP

According to managed hosting company Savvii, “PHP 7 greatly improves WordPress page load times. The total load time decreases with 40%, without the usage of any caching.” If your host doesn’t offer at least PHP 7.0, consider a change.

7. Optimize Images

Optimized images can make a tremendous difference in page load speed. To ensure that your images aren’t slowing down your site, save them at the size you want them to display. For example, it’s better to save an image 400 pixels wide if that’s the display size than to upload an 800-pixel-wide image and use the theme to adjust the size to 400px. If you have Photoshop, use Save for Web (⌥⇧⌘S on Mac) and check Optimized.

If you don’t have Photoshop or another photo editor, you can use TinyPNG to optimize either JPG or PNG files.

photoshop settings for maximum wordpress performance

Use JPG on photographic (raster) images, and PNG only when you have dropped out the background, as you might for a logo. Better yet, use SVG (scalable vector graphics) for simple images such as logos and line art. You can export to SVG from Adobe Illustrator, and probably most other vector editors.

I recommend WP Smush or Imagify, both of which have free versions.

You can set both plugins to automatically optimize as you upload new images, and both allow bulk optimization. Imagify converts your images to WebP format, which provides better compression, which helps images load faster.

8. Use Text for Text

Don’t make an image file out text. If you do this, you are:

  1. Killing any SEO benefits you might get for the text.
  2. Loading an unnecessary image that doesn’t contribute to the attractiveness of your site.

I include this seemingly obvious tip because I’ve seen it done far too often.

9. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN increases page speed as it delivers your cached content to the user based on their geographic location. The closer the user is to the server, the more quickly the page is displayed, so the CDN reduces the distance the request has to travel.

Many WordPress sites are connected to Cloudflare, which helps speed up and protect your site. I recommend the Cloudflare plugin, which lets you control your settings from the WordPress admin area.

10. Don’t Load Scripts on Every Page

I use Asset Cleanup: Page Speed Booster, which lets you choose which scripts to load on a page-by-page basis. It’s a bit tedious and painstaking to use, but can provide an excellent performance boost.

How to Test WordPress Performance

There are free sites to test your site’s performance.
GTMetrix • Check out their guide on how to optimize WordPress performance.

wordpress performance

Google Page Speed Insights • Gives insights on desktop and mobile, and suggests ways to optimize your site.

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