No matter what industry your business is in, having a fast website is essential. WordPress is an excellent platform with many great features but its performance can be hindered if it becomes weighed down by unnecessary plugins and isn’t optimised correctly. Website speed is critically important for a number of reasons:
- It affects your rankings – a slow website impacts user experience and this in turn harms your search engine rankings, leading to diminished traffic to your site.
- It affects customer engagement – sub-standard page loading times frustrate prospective customers, resulting in less sales leads and conversions. Many visitors won’t even bother exploring your site beyond the first page they enter the site from (the landing page), if it’s too slow. According to research, almost 50% of users expect pages to load in under 2 secs, while only 15% of mobile users are willing to wait up to 5 seconds for a page to load.
- Speed is even more crucial for mobile – once upon a time, desktop users represented the overwhelming majority of visitors, now this is no longer the case. In 2017, over half of the world’s internet users access the web using a mobile device, such as a smartphone or a tablet and this number is increasing all the time. With the majority now using mobile devices, Google has responded by placing a greater emphasis on mobile performance than ever before. A recent update now means that all websites are ranked according to their *mobile* rankings, regardless of whether they’re using a mobile device or not. So if your site is performing slow on a mobile device it will have widespread consequences to your business as a whole.
How to Speed Up WordPress
According to research performed in 2017, WordPress is now used by almost 60% of websites that use a CMS (Content Management System). It’s a hugely popular platform, especially among small businesses which is why this guide has been aimed at WordPress users. There are a number of ways in which the speed of your WordPress site can be optimised to go faster, resulting in a more enjoyable experience for visitors to your site, better rankings and ultimately, more business for you.
1) Choose a High Performance Web Host
Even before we highlight ways in which you can optimise the performance of the WordPress CMS, we must first consider the most important factor that determines website speed; your web hosting package. With most basic hosting packages, your site will be hosted on the same server as multiple other sites, where you’ll share the bandwidth with their sites (shared hosting).
Whilst this is the most economical method of hosting, it’s not performance-oriented and any business who is serious about ensuring the best possible speeds and user experience for customers will instead opt for a dedicated server hosting package.
How Do You Choose a Good Web Host?
So which web hosting provider should you go with? When in doubt, always search online. Simply search for ‘best web hosting providers’ or ‘best web hosting providers [your_country]’ and take a look at their various hosting deals. There’s no better way to gauge how good a product or service is than by looking at customer reviews. If they’re overwhelmingly positive, consider signing up with them, if on the other hand customer reviews are mostly negative, avoid them and continue your search elsewhere.
When sifting through reviews, it’s important to be wary of fake reviews that are posted for the sole purpose of boosting a company’s aggregate rating. If you see a glowing endorsement that consists of little more than a generic “These guys are amazing! I would definitely recommend!”, then it’s probably safe to assume that the review is not genuine. Whenever I personally review a product – whether it’s to praise or criticise, I always take the time to explain why I’m happy with the product or why I’m dissatisfied with it. This is usually a good sign that the review can be trusted.
2) Select a Fast WordPress Theme
There are an endless list of high quality WordPress themes on the market today, but not all of them are geared towards swift performance. Although there are many fantastic looking themes to choose from, their overly elaborate designs can sometimes hinder loading times. Here’s a good article that details 20 fast loading WordPress themes.
3) Use a Robust WordPress Caching Plugin
Whenever you browse the internet, your web browser stores data locally on your computer. This avoids the need to keep downloading the same data over and over again from a website server, resulting in faster page loading speeds. This process is known as (client-side) caching. It is possible to employ this same method of speed optimisation for WordPress, as well. This is known as server-side caching and it’s crucial to providing better website performance. WordPress is capable of caching many different types of data, including HTML pages, database queries, PHP caching and more.
Here’s a list of some of the more popular WordPress caching plugins:
4) Optimise Your Images
Images play a major role in web design aesthetics and many modern sites feature large header images that span the entire length of your screen. Additionally, home pages often feature multiple header images that cycle through in a carousel fashion, known as sliders. Whilst images are an essential element, they typically account for the majority of data that needs to be downloaded for each web page, so it’s important that they are suitably optimised to help ensure fast page load speeds.
Here’s a number of ways to help optimise your images:
- Don’t resize images in HTML – often, we’ll come across large images on web pages that have been downsized in HTML. It’s important to remember that the size of an image file does not automatically become smaller when it’s dimensions are merely rescaled in HTML. For example, a 500 kb image file that measures 1000 x 500 pixels on the screen is still going to be 500 kb, even if the image has been scaled down in HTML to only display at 500 x 250 pixels. The only way to shrink the actual file size is to resize the image in a photo editing program such as Photoshop or such.
- Compress your image files – going through and compressing every single image on your site manually can be unreasonable if you have hundreds of images, so there’s a handy little WP plugin called WP Smush.
- Consider using CSS image sprites – normally, when you need to display several different images, you’ll have several different files – a separate file for each image. With sprites however, you have a single image file that contains each of the several images stitched together. Using CSS, you then simply choose to display a specific area of this sprite image to display each of the several different images. CSS image sprites reduce the workload of the server, resulting in better site performance.
5) Speed Up Your Home Page
Your home page is the most visited page on your website so it’s important that it loads as fast as possible. To do so, be mindful of the following:
- Avoid displaying too many blog posts on the page
- If you do display blog posts, choose to only display small snippets of the content with a link to the full article, rather than the article in its entirety
- Refrain from cluttering the home page with any unnecessary widgets or plugins, as these only serve to add to the page loading times
6) Protect Your Site from Hotlinking
Hotlinking is the process of displaying an element on your site such as an image or linking to a file hosted on someone else’s website – without their permission. In other words, it’s the unauthorised use (theft) of someone else’s bandwidth. The strain on your server due to somebody hotlinking your files can impact the speed of your website, so it’s important that you prevent it from happening. There’s a good article published on Media Temple which explains how to prevent hotlinking.