Are your posts very slow to load? You are in the right place. In this guide, I will show you simple steps that you can take to speed up your WordPress page loading time.
Why page loading speed is essential
The “back” button on a browser is your enemy. You only have a few seconds to hook a visitor and get him or her to stay away from the “back” button. You better make each second count.
Great looking design, stunning imagery and valuable content are essential elements of a successful website. They help you convince a first-time visitor that your site is worth their time. None of this matters if your content is impossible to reach or very slow to load.
53% of mobile visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load according to a Google study published in September 2016. Page loading time is also one of the ranking factors Google uses to determine which content will show on top of their search results.
WordPress speed test: How fast loading is my content right now?
The best starting point for improving your page speed is to check your current loading time and performance. Run the speed tests at sites below to see how fast or how slow your content loads right now. These tools analyze the performance of your site, and provide useful advice on things you can do to optimize the loading time:
Now you have an overview of the current performance of your WordPress site. The Google study that I mentioned earlier found that the average mobile site took 19 seconds to load. Any load time below 3 seconds is excellent in my book.
Monitor your server uptime/downtime
Keep an eye on the uptime of your web server. Uptime basically tells you what percentage of time your site is up and available for visitors. The more reliable your webhost is, the more uptime you will have and your downtime will be minimal if any at all. WordPress runs Jetpack plugin which allows you to activate a “Monitor” add-on that constantly checks your server and notifies you in the case of a downtime.
Check the speed impact of the WordPress plugins that you use
Measure the impact each plugin has on the loading time. There’s a plugin for that: P3 Plugin Performance Profiler. After analysing you should consider removing any of the plugins that slow you down. Alternatively, you can consider more “light” options that can replace the feature of a plugin that slows you down.
P3 might, for example, identify your social media sharing buttons plugin as one of the plugins that slow you down. This is very common as those buttons with share counters can be the enemies of speed. Consider using a lightweight option like Social Sharing By Danny instead of the official buttons. These use external scripts and make too many calls to services.
Deactivate and remove P3 when you have finished testing. Always deactivate and delete any plugins that you do not use.
How to speed up your WordPress: The checklist
Let’s look at the checklist first before getting into details:
Reduce the image size before uploading
High-resolution images are an integral part of web content. They brand your site, and they keep your visitors interested in your posts.
The size of these images is huge and can dramatically impact the loading time. First-time visitors are impatient and won’t wait around for your large images to load. Your photos should be big enough to make an impact, but not so large that the file size prevents a quick page loading time.
When saving the image make sure to resize the picture to the exact dimensions that you need in your content to help keep the image size low. Aim for somewhere around 100-150kb per image. Compress the picture by using “Save for web” in your image editor before you actually upload it.
You can also use one of the image optimizer plugins for WordPress. From my experience, they can help you reduce the picture size by 30+% without compromising the image quality itself.
- EWWW Image Optimizer plugin is a solution that compresses your images as you upload them.
- WP Smush.it can help optimize your existing archive or images in a lossless way by stripping meta data and compressing.
Use lazy loading of images
If you have an image heavy site like a fashion blog or a food blog you should consider using BJ Lazy Load plugin. Lazy loading only loads images that are in the browser’s view (i.e. above the fold). It loads the rest only as the visitor scrolls down the page.
Use Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source initiative from Google. It optimizes your content for mobile devices and helps it load instantly when visited from the search engines. Here are more details from Google:
Speed matters and instant is the ideal. Research shows that the bounce rate can be as high as 58% for web pages that take nearly ten seconds to load. Using the AMP format will make it far more compelling for people to consume and engage with more content. But this isn’t just about speed and performance. We also want to promote enhanced distribution so that publishers can take advantage of the open web’s potential for their content to appear everywhere quickly – across all platforms and apps – which can lead to more revenue via ads and subscriptions.
There’s the official WordPress plugin for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Just install and activate the plugin to have your content AMP-ready.
Enable a caching plugin and minify your files
This part is a bit more tech heavy but is arguably the fastest and most effective way of speeding up your page loading time. Install and activate a caching plugin and you will immediately see an improvement in your speed.
Caching plugins speed up your content by generating static files and serve those files to your visitors instead of the dynamic files as WordPress does by default. “Dynamic” means that they are refreshed every time they are viewed.
I use W3 Total Cache on several of my projects, and it’s a very powerful and advanced plugin that does a great job. The plugin was created by Frederick Townes, the senior technical advisor of Mashable and they use it too.
It can be a bit overwhelming the first time you look at it because of all the different options. Activating it with the default settings on will be fine for the majority of content creators, though. In “Performance” -> “General Settings” make sure all of the below are enabled:
- Page Cache to create a static version of your site and serve it to your visitors. Choose “Disk: Enhanced” as page cache method
- Database Cache, Object Cache and Browser Cache to cache the static files and do gzip compression
Most of the above will impact your theme files. Do make sure to test your site when you enable these options and see if it displays the way it is supposed to.
Use a CDN
You also have the option to enable CDN (Content Delivery Network) support to offload static files to fast data centers around the world. MaxCDN is the very powerful premium CDN solution.
It might be too much power for a newbie, but it’s useful to more established and bigger sites that have more traffic and are OK with investing some money into having a speedy experience. CloudFlare is a free alternative that you can test.
Keep your WordPress updated
WordPress comes as a very light and speedy platform out of the box. It gets regularly updated with cleaner and leaner coding and functionality. You should always make sure to keep your WordPress updated to the latest version. It’s an easy process that can be automated.
Optimize the WordPress database
You should make sure to optimize the WordPress database too. This is where WordPress stores and organizes all your data.
WP-Optimize is a great plugin that helps you run regular database maintenance without any tech know-how and with one click on a button. It cleans all post revisions, spam comments and reduces the size of your database. Aim to set it to do this process automatically at least once per month.
Choose the right web host for WordPress beginners
Invest in a good web space and the right hosting plan. Your server is the foundation and the first step towards having a speedy WordPress. Free hosts are usually not too fast, unreliable with regular downtimes, so I would avoid them.
You want a host that is reliable and guarantees at least a 99% uptime and a server that has a fast response time. Look for webhosts with managed services that specialize in WordPress.
You can get these for around $50 per year for basic WordPress sites and they are great options for starters. See my post on getting started with WordPress for the recommended hosting services.
Eventually, as your traffic increases you may outgrow the basic hosting account. Only then you may need to invest in a dedicated server, but here we talk of thousands of visitors daily.
Use a light, fast, clean and minimalistic design theme
One option is to go with a premium theme like the one that I use on my site. Premium themes are highly likely to be developed clean coded. They offer you great flexibility, are speedy out of the box, and allow you to customize your design. Premium themes also provide support and are continuously upgraded and improved. This is not always the case with the free-to-use WordPress themes.
Here’s all my advice on picking the right WordPress design. I’ve handpicked these free, minimalistic, lightweight and mobile responsive options for you to consider:
Reduce the number of WordPress plugins you’re using
I’m currently using 5 plugins, down from having some 20+ not too long ago. A ballpark figure is to try to keep your WordPress to 10 plugins or less activated at any time. Consider whether the plugin truly adds any value to your site before installing it.
You should only use plugins that are listed in the official WordPress directory. Quality signs to look for are:
- High number of downloads and sites using the plugin.
- Regular and recent updates.
- Good reviews.
Check here a list of 50+ of best plugins that I recommend.
Just keep it simple, stupid
In order to keep your WordPress speed as fast as possible think like a minimalist. Consider simplicity and user friendliness when making any design and content decision. This will help your user’s experience and it will decrease the loading time and the bounce rate too.
- Remove and eliminate all the elements that don’t matter such as buttons, widgets, flashy ads and pop-ups. Think about what purpose these elements have and test how they affect the speed.
- Show fewer posts on your front page and category pages. You can do this in the “Reading” part of WordPress settings. Show post excerpts and summaries instead of full posts on the front page and category pages. Many themes allow this change to be done.
- Simplify your navigation menu, sidebar and footer. Only keep necessary and essential widgets. Or simply remove the sidebar.
- Restrict the amount of flash and image based banner ads. There are more effective options to monetize your content.
- Make sure to take these steps to fight and eliminate those spam comments. Spam comments (and the comments area in general) can slow down the loading time.
- Last but not least do follow this advice to keep your WordPress safe and secure.
Aim to implement the majority of the steps recommended as they will make a difference in your speed and loading time. Get speedy as Your visitors will love you for the faster and more efficient experience and so will Google.