Why Should You Care About Website Speed?
How do you feel when you’re trying to get something done, and a website takes 10 seconds to load? Annoyed? Frustrated? Exasperated? Infuriated? Irate?!
Other Web users are no more patient than you. Visitors, especially mobile visitors, don’t like waiting for sites to load. They’ll move on to a faster site, which could be your competitor!
Page speed is also important to user experience. Pages with a longer load time tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page. Longer load times have also been shown to negatively affect conversions.
Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide says one of the questions you should ask yourself is, “Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?”
People using mobile devices are especially impatient, which is why starting in July 2018, Google will make page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches.
On the positive side, a faster site can result in higher conversion rates and higher revenue. Would you like higher conversions and higher revenue?
Key Concepts for WordPress Website Speed
Before we dive into the details, I’d like to point out two key concepts that will put you on the path to a faster WordPress website:
- Your web host is often the main determinant of speed. Your hosting plan determines your website’s computer resources, performance technologies available to it, and where on the planet your site loads from.
- In general, the simpler your site, the faster it is. The less functionality, less code, and less content on your site, the less work for computers and networks to deliver your website to visitors, and the faster they can do so.
Keep these principles in mind as you make decisions about your website, now and in the future. Let’s look at a few specific ways to increase the performance of your WordPress site.
Where do you begin in trying to speed up your website? Start by running speed tests to see what’s slowing it down. GTmetrix and Pingdom Website Speed Test are two useful tools. Because the results and recommendations are technical, you’ll likely need a developer to figure out how to act on the recommendations and make changes to your website.
Note: this section contains hosting affiliate links. Your web host is often the main determinant of performance. Your hosting plan determines your website’s computer resources (processing power, memory, bandwidth, etc.), performance technologies available to it (caching, CDN, etc.), and where on the planet your site loads from (geographic location).
If your site is running on an underpowered budget hosting plan, you can make as many other speed improvements as you’d like, but your site will still be held back by the hosting. On the flip side, if your site is running on a hosting plan with plenty of horsepower, it won’t be as important to make small tweaks to try to eke out more speed, because the hosting alone will give a significant boost.
Managed WordPress hosts are great because they have their servers tuned to make WordPress run fast, and they often include caching, CDNs, and other speed enhancements as part of your plan or as optional add-ons.
Flywheel is our favorite managed WordPress host! We use it for client sites whenever we can, and we use it for our own site. They focus on making hosting simple; the control panel and tools are easy to use. Their hosting is fast, secure, and reliable.
WP Engine is also a managed WordPress host, with an emphasis on security, speed, and scale. It’s great for sites that get a lot of traffic and need rock-solid stability.
SiteGround is an excellent WordPress-optimized shared host. They’re faster, more secure, and more reliable than all-purpose shared hosts (like Bluehost, HostGator, HostMonster). They’re also less expensive than managed WordPress hosts such as Flywheel and WP Engine (because SiteGround doesn’t offer the same level of service).
Learn more in our post How to Choose a WordPress Host and Plan.
When someone visits a page on your website, WordPress needs to run the template file, pull the proper data from the database, and assemble the page before it can send it to the visitor. That process happens quickly, but it still takes time. Caching is one way to speed that up. A cache saves a copy of the completed page in memory, so that the next time someone requests that page, it’s been “pre-built” and is ready to send.
The easiest way to take advantage of caching is to use managed WordPress hosting, because they often handle caching for you.
If you’re not using managed WordPress hosting, your host may still provide some form of caching. Use that if possible, because caching at the server level is generally faster (and more reliable) than caching at the plugin level.
It’s a good idea to ask your host what they recommend for caching. They may point you towards their caching solution (such as SiteGround’s SG Optimizer), or they may recommend a plugin that works well with their systems, or they may be able to tell you what not to do, which is also important.
If your host doesn’t have a caching system or recommendation, try WP Super Cache. It’s one of the most popular caching plugins, and it’s simpler and less problematic than W3 Total Cache (which is more powerful but more problematic).
3. Image Optimization
Large image files are a major culprit in slowing down websites. The smaller the file size of your images, the faster they’ll load. To shrink the file size of an image, resize it (decrease its dimensions), then compress it (remove unnecessary data).
You can do this on your computer. If you have MacOS, you can resize and compress with Preview, and further compress with ImageOptim.
You can also have your WordPress website resize and compress images for you. The Imsanity plugin will automatically do this as you upload images. It will also let you bulk-resize images that are already in your Media Library. Learn more in our post Imsanity plugin automatically resizes, compresses images.
In general, the leaner your site is, the faster it will run. Most WordPress sites I’ve worked on are loaded with plugins, themes, and media that are leftover from previous months or years, or even date back to when the site was originally built!
It’s always a good time to give your site a “spring cleaning” and declutter plugins, themes, media, posts, pages, comments, custom post types, and more.
Learn specifically how to do that in our post How to Declutter Your WordPress Website.
Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) means your website will load from a server closer to the visitor than your web server is. For example, if a visitor is on the other side of the world, your site would load from their country or a nearby country rather than from the opposite side of the planet. Generally, the shorter the distance, the faster the site will load.
A managed WordPress host may include a CDN as part of your plan, or as an optional add-on. You can also consider Cloudflare, which has a free plan and works with most WordPress hosts. Check your host’s support documentation for instructions on setting it up (Flywheel, SiteGround). If your host doesn’t have Cloudflare documentation, contact your host’s support, or see Using Cloudflare with WordPress.
Another option is Jetpack’s Image CDN, a CDN specifically for images. By enabling this feature in the Jetpack plugin, your images will load from WordPress.com’s servers rather than your web server, making them faster.
6. Update Software
When you think of making your WordPress site faster, you probably don’t think of updating its software. The reality is that software updates can fix bugs, resolve compatibility issues, and take advantage of new features. Any of these can speed up your site.
You should already keep WordPress Core, plugins, and your theme updated for sake of security. But the updates can also speed up your site.
Quick Wins Checklist
Start by testing your site speed, to see what’s slowing it down. That will help you figure out how much attention to pay to each of the following steps:
- Evaluate your web hosting plan to decide if it’s right for your site. Change your plan or host if necessary.
- Enable caching.
- Set up a system or process for optimizing images going forward. Optimize images already in your Media Library.
- Declutter your website (plugins, themes, media, posts, pages, etc.).
- Consider using a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
- Install updates to WordPress Core, plugins, and theme.
When you finish, it’s a good idea to test your site speed again, and look for the next round of improvements you can make. I recommend doing this regularly; quarterly is a good frequency.
Is Your Head Spinning?
Is all this talk of hosting and caching and decluttering making your head spin? You don’t need to figure out how to speed up your website all by yourself. Contact us for help with making your WordPress website faster.