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12 Accessible Ways to Speed Up Your WordPress Website
How fast did this page load for you?
Would you have waited if it took 2-3 seconds more?
We wouldn’t have judged if you had left instead of wasting your time. Connection speeds get faster every day, and this only makes us more spoilt for instant results.
We want it all, and we want it now!
Webmasters must meet these demands, nay, these needs or risk sending their projects straight to traffic-less limbo.
More often than not, people need help with website optimization and tips on how to speed up WordPress.
Why WordPress in particular? Easy!
The most popular CMS for the last few years, WordPress now accounts for over 33% of all existing websites. While WP started as a mere blogging application, it’s now used across all niches — business pages, online shops, multimedia libraries, and so on. There is hardly anything WordPress can’t do.
Even our site is WordPress.
Claiming that website speed is one of the most important metrics will be an understatement. It is absolutely crucial.
Here’s the deal:
According to web statistics, every second lost on your page load can result in 7% less conversion, 11% fewer page views, and a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction.
And the verdict is obvious.
Optimizing your WordPress page for speed in 2020 is no longer just good practice — it’s absolutely essential!
If you want to delve further into statistics about page load time, I’ve got you covered with this fact-packed infographic on the subject.
Enough about the numbers, though. I know why you are here.
You want answers and solutions.
And that’s exactly what I plan to deliver in this article.
This is what I did:
I went through a great deal of useful information from the WP community and tested a lot of possible fixes to come up with this comprehensive list of suggestions on how to make WordPress faster.
Ready? Let’s jump right in!
WordPress Speed Boosters
Don’t worry — I won’t be getting into too many technicalities that may confuse novice users. I focused on a list of good practices that any responsible site owner should know and follow. Still, if you don’t have the time or desire to learn how to make WordPress better by yourself, professional services like those WP Buffs offer might be worth considering.
Let’s start with the WordPress backend, where you can do a lot to optimize your website.
1. Image Optimization
The dreaded topic of image optimization still haunts the dreams of many webmasters around the world.
I know that your website has to be visually stunning to retain the attention of the visitor, but slapping on some beautiful HD images you found on the internet is not the answer.
Quite the contrary; it will just make your WordPress slow and drive away your visitors.
What are you supposed to do then?
Luckily, the WP community has recognized the issue and put a lot of effort into devising solutions, both online and offline.
Image optimizers come in the form of plugins. Now, as you may well know, plugins are among the most exciting parts of the WordPress infrastructure.
You can do wonders for your website with the right components!
However, the open-source nature of the platform often makes it hard to assess whether you’ve stumbled upon a gem or a poorly coded WordPress plugin that will completely ruin your efforts.
I will save you the trouble and suggest only solutions from reputable developers I tested for myself.
EWWW Image Optimizer
EWWW Image Optimizer is the plugin I found the easiest to operate with. This hefty tool has been added to over 700,000 WordPress installations already, and users seem to love it!
What’s more, the developers have found a way to support lossless compression of JPGs, PNGs, even GIFs. EWWW also touts some neat features like automatic resizing, CDN support, WPML compatibility and tops it all off with an effortless bulk image compression.
The plugin comes with both free and premium versions.
What’s the difference between the two?
It’s the number of photos you can optimize in bulk. The paid plans charge per image, so if you are running a WordPress gallery with a lot of visuals, you might be better off with the free download or one of my other suggestions.
WPSmush is the plugin with the best interface for me. You have a beautiful backend at your disposal with a ton of proactive tips on how to speed up a WordPress site.
All this pizzazz is not surprising when you look at the team behind the plugin. WPMU DEV are one of the most respected developers in the community, and they have delivered yet another top quality product.
WPSmush performs extensive scans on each uploaded image to make sure it preserves its original quality. The tool can also detect images with incorrect size, optimize across multiple directories, and compress up to 50 images with a single click.
Still not convinced?
In 2018, WPSmush won Plugin Madness in the fierce competition of big names like Yoast, WooCommerce, Autoptimize, Shortpixel’s image optimization plugin, and many other popular add-ons.
The compression tool offers a free and pro version. While the free account still gives you all of the features of WPSmush, the paid add-on also introduces lossy compression and removes limitations on image size (which sits at 2MB with the free version).
Another crowd favorite for optimizing photos is the Imagify plugin. It introduces a smooth-to-navigate backend where you can choose between three different levels of compression. The Normal level employs lossless methodology, the Ultra one uses lossy, and the Aggressive setting combines the two.
Here’s the good news:
Imagify compression tests delivered excellent results. The plugin managed to reduce the load from some of my photos by up to 70%, so it was guaranteed a spot in this WordPress speed guide.
Free Imagify plans let you optimize 250MB of images for free each month. Should you need more, you can opt for a monthly or one-time premium plan.
Compression plugins are great, no doubt about that, but remember we can do our fair share of optimization offline.
Ever heard of Adobe Photoshop?
Of course, you have.
In recent years, Photoshop has become synonymous with (online) photo manipulation. The celebrity looks unnaturally thin on the photo? Must be photoshopped!
The landscape seems way too sharp and colorful? Photoshop!
A shark’s head on a bear’s body? Photoshop (hopefully).
Adobe’s product is so versatile that the fact that it can also help with WordPress image optimization comes at no surprise.
GIMP is another tool you will find very useful in your photo editing efforts. It’s an open-source platform that is best known for its in-depth customization features and extended community support.
GIMP is a loyal assistant whenever you need help with photo resizing, compression or other speed optimization techniques. Due to its open-source nature, Linux configurations get the most out of this photo editor, but it is also compatible with Windows and Mac.
With so many advanced features GIMP might look aimed toward the tech-savvy people.
But with a little time and desire to explore the options, anyone will find it useful in their quest for ultimate WordPress speed optimization.
Pixlr is best known as an online photo editor, but nowadays it pampers users with a desktop app as well.
This is huge:
Over 130 million people have downloaded the app already and used it to edit over 10 billion images.
Pixlr comes with a fancy, user-friendly interface that lets you start optimizing right away. Developed by the team behind AutoCAD, the app works amazingly fast and delivers impeccable results.
The best thing? It’s free!
Well, there is a paid version, but it’s best suited for professionals, so it doesn’t bring much benefit to our purpose of boosting the overall WordPress performance.
Which brings us to:
2. Server-side Caching
This is where things get a bit more complicated.
Server speed is not something under your direct control per se, but it’s a metric you can improve with the proper caching solutions. Although the WordPress community provides plenty of caching and optimization plugins, their performance varies on different server configurations.
Still, before we apply any WordPress improvements, we have to select a hosting provider carefully. Specific server optimizations, managed WordPress hosting packages, and a knowledgeable support team is what you can expect from quality WP hosts.
Take Varnish for example.
Varnish is an HTTP web accelerator designed to deliver content-heavy dynamic websites by storing (as opposed to generating them from scratch every time they are requested) often-used assets such as files, images, or CSS. It acts as a pipeline between client and server, ensuring the optimal page load.
That is brilliant news for WordPress!
Popular and high-traffic websites tend to get a lot of requests for the same web assets, and quick page load is an absolute must. Varnish delivers quickly cached versions of these assets and significantly speeds up WordPress.
This makes Varnish a preferred server technology for many Top 100 websites like Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Wikipedia, and the New York Times.
OK, so Varnish is one nifty WP improvement tool to look for while researching WP website hosts, but what else can a hosting provider do?
While many hosts advertise WordPress-optimized hosting packages, few can genuinely deliver on that promise. A solid managed WP plan would include WP-specific server configuration, automatic updates, and distinct security measurements in place. The SiteGround name often pops up as one of the favorites of the WP devs in terms of fast and reliable hosting.
SiteGround fulfills all the above requirements, and then some. The company has developed a proprietary WordPress caching plugin called SG Optimizer. This optimization tool connects the WP application with SiteGround’s NGINX reverse proxy, which stores the cached information on the server’s RAM, allowing it to handle heavy traffic at unparalleled speeds.
On top of that, SG Optimizer caches every aspect of WP when it needs to send a database request, further enhancing the page load speed. As if that’s not enough, the plugin also checks the compatibility of the site with the latest PHP versions and updates it to the most appropriate one.
Now that’s what I’m talking about when I say “fast web hosting tailored for WordPress”.
SG Optimizer might be configured to function only on SiteGround’s servers, but there are plenty of other caching plugins that will work with any host.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is the most popular performance add-on for WordPress today. The plugin touts over 11 million downloads and supercharges the high-traffic websites of AT&T, Mashable, and MakeUseOf.
W3 Total Cache is probably the most feature-packed cache tool out there and enjoys very positive feedback, especially for its advanced mobile and e-commerce optimization options.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is another one of those WordPress caching plugins that can do miracles with your site speed. It’s a bit more lightweight compared to W3 Total Cache, but certainly no less efficient. I don’t want to bore you with too many technicalities, so I will just mention a few key features like automatic compression, cache scheduling, and mobile device support.
Oh, and by the way, WP Super Cache is developed by Automattic. WordPress is also developed by Automattic. You can connect the dots.
3. Leverage Browser Caching
But what does it mean? And how can you fix it?
You can leverage your browser caching and boost the WordPress speed by applying a string of code in your .htaccess file. However, if you are unsure what you are doing, you can seriously mess up your website, so I am going to let you in on a simpler solution.
That’s right — plugins!
I already mentioned the W3 Total Cache and, unsurprisingly, leveraging browser caching is also among its limitless capabilities. You just go to the General Settings tab, enable the browser cache, and save all settings.
As easy as pie!
Another top contender in the WordPress performance tuning category is WP Fastest Cache. Very popular among WordPress fans, the plugin has amassed over 9 million downloads and a considerable number of positive reviews. While it does wonders with leveraging browser caching, the optimization tool also extends to enabling GZIP compression, minifying HTML/CSS, and generating static HTML files from the dynamic WP assets.
4. Specialized vs. Multipurpose Themes
In the last few years, there has been a massive influx of multipurpose WordPress themes. That’s hardly a surprise when you consider the benefits. They come packed with plenty of pre-designed pages and widgets, completely reusable, and can easily turn into a blog, shop, or business website.
There’s a catch, though:
Multipurpose themes make your WordPress site slow!
All that convenience has to come at a price, right?
By definition, pre-built components bloat the WP theme code and slow down your entire website. Sure, they can save you time and efforts with site functionality and design, but are they really worth it? How about something custom-tailored yet efficient in terms of website speed?
Enter niche themes.
Specialized WP themes are exactly what their name suggests. They represent a particular niche, offer a unique feel and outlook, and, most importantly, help to speed up a WordPress site.
Niche themes only bank on the essentials. You might not get a ton of flashy elements or extra predeveloped plugins, but those components are often responsible for your WordPress being sluggish, so you don’t really need them anyway.
Specialized themes are undeniably better-looking, too.
Multipurpose templates tend to have a more neutral, corporate look, which is understandable given that they aim to appeal to a broader audience. Creativity takes a back seat, while Clean Layouts take the wheel.
All in all. niche themes are better tailored, better looking, and better for your WordPress page speed and security.
What’s not to like?
5. Free vs Paid Themes
One of the main reasons for WordPress’s international acclaim is that it’s free. Sure, some neat premium resources can add extra gumption to your website, but everything essential is free of charge and ready to download.
Same goes for the themes. If you google “WordPress free themes” right now, you will stumble upon thousands and thousands of stunning visual layouts that are only a few clicks away from becoming the new image of your business.
And they come at no cost, none at all.
Who wouldn’t take this deal, right?
Watch out, though.
As our main goal is to optimize WordPress, free themes can often carry some hidden dangers. Due to the open-source nature of the application, practically anyone can design a layout and put it online. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the template is optimized, loads fast, or even functions as expected.
Quite the contrary.
Downloading a theme from an untrusted source is very risky. Hindering your speed and performance is one thing, but these free resources may also contain hidden backdoors, which are an entry point for future hacker attacks!
Should that happen, you’d be facing the danger alone, as finding support for a corrupted free theme is virtually impossible. And then you will be dealing with much bigger conundrums than figuring out why is WordPress so slow.
Premium themes eliminate those risks to a great degree.
They are designed by reputable providers and often contain extra features and optimizations, compared to free templates. The premium layouts are frequently updated. Should you need any support, the developers are always there to lend a helping hand.
When you think about it, paid themes aren’t even all that expensive.
Popular marketplaces like Envato and ThemeForest offer a plethora of stunning templates for only $20-$30, which is peanuts compared to the benefits they bring to the overall WordPress speed and performance.
If you are running a business and want to establish a trustworthy reputation, there is no reason to risk it all just to save a few bucks.
In summary, getting WP themes for free might seem like a great idea, but don’t forget what they say — if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
6. WP Plugins
Here’s where things get interesting!
So far we’ve talked extensively about WP plugins and how great they are in terms of website enhancement and optimization. While that’s an undeniable fact, webmasters tend to go to extremes when it comes to utilizing the power of WordPress plugins.
I get it.
Starting with WP and all its handy add-ons can be very exciting.
You need to keep something in mind, though. Each plugin also drains server resources. Similar to themes, there is always a risk of installing a badly-coded one, which makes the entire website crumble.
Let me tell you a horror story from my own experience.
While working in customer service for a hosting provider, a client contacted me one day with the question: “How to speed up my WordPress site?”
I typed the URL and waited for the page to load…and waited…and then waited some more. It took over 20 seconds for me to see the homepage. The site looked rather simplistic, so the load time was indeed alarming.
I took a look around the admin backend and what did I see?
54 active plugins!
Let me put that into perspective. WordPress experts advise webmasters to keep less than 5 active plugins on a shared hosting plan and up to 10 on a more powerful server.
It turned out my client had been looking for ways to speed up WordPress. Once in the marketplace, he drowned in this endless pool of neat add-ons — calendars, contact forms, polls, cool social icons. And what did he do?
He downloaded them all!
While doing so, he forgot the single reason that brought him to the marketplace — a quality caching plugin. The result was a website so sluggish that it felt like a journey back to the 90s dial-up era.
I’m just going to go ahead and say it:
When it comes to plugins, less is more.
Make sure to only install essential add-ons and keep an eye on how they influence your WordPress performance. If you notice any adverse effects, you can easily detect the culprit in your plugin library and deactivate it.
In short, you don’t need a lot of add-ons — you only need the right ones.
7. Updates - WP Core & Plugins
A good web-building app is like a fine red wine that gets better with age. When the community is active enough and the developers listen to constructive feedback, that’s a sure sign that things are going the right way.
WordPress is a prime confirmation of this.
Regular updates should always keep you on your toes, though.
When you optimize WordPress and update it to the latest stable version, you also have to double-check if all additional components run well on the new environment. This includes your theme and any active plugins.
Because even if a single add-on is incompatible with the latest WP version, the result can be a tediously slow or unresponsive website.
Yeah, that’s all it takes.
Here’s how you can avoid this inconvenience.
It’s always a good idea to keep a test environment that replicates your live website. Whenever a new WordPress update rolls out, try it on the test installation first to see what happens.
If you feel your WordPress site is slow or doesn’t load at all, it’s time to locate the culprit. Login to your admin area and go the Plugins section. Deactivate them one by one and turn them back on to determine which plugin makes the difference.
As simple as that.
Remember when we talked about good web hosts?
Here they are in the spotlight once again. A reliable hosting provider is like a mother hawk watching over her babies — always there and always aware.
The companies that offer properly managed WordPress hosting are mindful of the effects a new update can bring, so they are well prepared with solutions such as 24/7 monitoring systems and automatic test updates.
At this point you might be thinking:
If updates are so risky, shouldn’t I just keep my WordPress to the current version? Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken, right?
The thing is, new updates, among other benefits, also fix security loopholes and patch existing bugs. Running an older version of WordPress might work for you now, but in the long run, you are just asking for trouble.
Now that we’ve covered what you can proactively do to speed up WordPress from the inside, let’s see what outside help you can get from the hosting provider.
Hosting Speed Boosters
There are certain things a host can provide to improve the speed of any site, not only a WordPress installation.
8. PHP v.7.x.x.
The WordPress framework is developed on PHP and MySQL.
You could even say that PHP is the glue that holds everything together.
The PHP code is everywhere — frontend, backend, themes, plugins…there is hardly anything WP-related that doesn’t operate with this programming language.
So this next thing shouldn’t come as a surprise: PHP needs to be updated as well.
If you want to optimize WordPress speed, that’s one of the first things to check. While WordPress still supports older versions back to 5.2.4, the app developers recommend running on 7.3 or higher.
There is a good reason for that.
PHP 7 set a new benchmark in terms of speed, security, and resource consumption, and things only improve as newer versions roll out. Hosting providers are well aware of that.
An average web host makes sure to update their servers whenever a major PHP update rolls out. А good web host provides easy access to the PHP settings on your account and lets you change them according to your preferences. A great web host tests and tweaks PHP to best serve your website.
Just as with WordPress plugins and other components, your site might still function on an older version, but this will take a serious toll on its speed and security.
9. GZIP Compression
This is a software application for data compression. It analyzes your code and looks for identical or similar strings, and then replaces them with a shortened reference.
Now, this optimization can significantly reduce the page size and boost your website speed. GZIP compression is most efficient on a server level, so check with your host if it has this option enabled.
If you want to learn more on the subject, you can check our comprehensive guide.
This acronym stands for content delivery network and represents a range of proxy servers scattered across the globe.
If your website enjoys international traffic, there is a high chance visitors in different countries will experience different page load times. This is where a trusted CDN comes in handy.
Whenever a visitor makes a web request, the system checks where it comes from and loads the (static) content of the requested website from the closest server location.
You’re in luck, as there are some handy free and quality CDNs out there.
11. Code Minification
A combination of code minification and GZIP compression makes up for a wonderful WordPress performance tuning.
Experienced developers know how important it is to write clean and well-structured code in the process of building a website. This helps them (and other developers) locate issues or apply customizations on-the-go.
A typical string of CSS code looks something like this:
Machines don’t need all those fancy lines and spacing — they can read the code perfectly, even if you stack it in a single block. Which is precisely what code minification does.
Here is the minified version of the above code:
Shrinking the code to a single string of characters allows us to reduce the page size and make WordPress faster.
12. Reduce HTTP Requests
Simply put, HTTP requests are the signals your browser sends to the server whenever a visitor requests any web resource, like CSS, image, or video. The server analyzes the request and determines the assets it needs to load.
However, as your website gets more traffic, requests will grow in numbers, and your server will eventually run out of resources.
Ideally, you should use hosting with HTTP/2 because the newer version of the hypertext transfer protocol can handle multiple simultaneous requests with ease.
As you can see, there is a variety of ways to speed up WordPress and keep your visitors happy. Some require a bit of technical knowledge, but most can be easily applied with a few mouse clicks.
Here’s the bottom line:
A fast website is key to online success. It improves the time visitors spend on the site, boosts your conversion rate, and complements your SEO.
Are you still with me?
What are you waiting for?
Go ahead and try these tips out — I guarantee it will be worth it!