You need to speed up WordPress. No matter what your site is about, you need to care about page load times because a faster WordPress site means more conversions, happier users, and even better search rankings.
But you can’t just snap your fingers and magically halve your site’s load times. Nope – while WordPress performance optimization isn’t that complicated, it’s also not magic.
Instead, you need to implement some common technical strategies to speed up your site. And in this post, I’m going to list out the four biggest things you can do for your page load times, as well as plenty of smaller tips to get your site loading even faster.
What Slows Down WordPress?
Before I get into how to speed up WordPress, it’s important that you have a basic understanding of the things that are slowing down WordPress in the first place. Because without an understanding of what’s going wrong, you can’t actually figure out what needs fixing!
This list is not meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it’s the most common culprits that slow down an average WordPress install:
- Poor Use of System Resources – While some shared hosts throw around phrases like “unlimited,” your server actually does have limited resources. If you’re not using these resources efficiently by failing to implement caching or by letting a plugin run wild and cannibalize your resources, your site will slow down.
- Huge file sizes – If you pack your pages with huge files (usually images), your site will naturally take longer for visitors to download.
- Too many external requests – Every instance in which your site needs to request a resource from an external source means slower page load times.
- Slow web hosting – You can personally fix the first three issues. But when it comes to slow web hosting, your only option is, unfortunately, to switch to a faster host or upgrade your hosting plan.
What Are Some Big Quick Wins to Speed Up WordPress?
If all you do is implement these four tips (and ignore the other smaller speed optimization tips in the next section), you’ll still massively improve your page load times.
That is, these are the speed tips that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Make these 4 changes on your WordPress site and speed up page load times exponentially.Click to tweet
Install a Quality WordPress Caching Plugin
To explain what caching is, I need to first explain what happens when someone visits your WordPress site without caching. Without caching, a visitor lands on your page. Then, instead of immediately serving up that page, WordPress needs to ask your database what content WordPress should actually display.
This is not a long process. But it does take some time… especially if your server is under heavy load.
Page caching eliminates this relationship by storing a copy of the already rendered page. So once WordPress builds its “cache” of pages, it no longer needs to ask the database for help rendering a cached page. And that means your site loads significantly faster.
There are a number of different caching methods, but the method that will speed up your site the most is page caching.
So how do you add page caching to WordPress?
Easy! With a plugin (bet you saw that coming). There are tons of popular options. Some good ones are:
But out of the many caching plugins that exist, my favorite is one called Cache Enabler because it’s super simple to use. The other plugins can get needlessly complicated. But with Cache Enabler, you just install and activate it and then configure the small set of options to look like this:
Use a CDN to Speed Up Delivery
A CDN, short for content delivery network, speeds up your WordPress site by storing your static files (like images) at data center locations around the world.
Ok… why is that important?
See, when a person visits your WordPress site, they need to download all of your files from your web server, which is located at an actual physical data center somewhere in the world. For this example, let’s say your physical data center is in Dallas, TX.
That means everyone who visits your site needs to download files from… Dallas, TX. That’s fine if someone is in Austin, TX. But if they’re in, say… London, that’s not very good. See, data travels fast but it still needs to follow the laws of physics.
But with a CDN, your London visitors could download your site’s data from a London data center, while your Austin, TX visitors download it from Dallas. Through this process, your site loads at the same quick speed no matter where your visitors come from.
That’s cool… but it sounds expensive, right?
Nope! You can use a CDN called CloudFlare for free. I even wrote a post on how to set up CloudFlare with WordPress.
Compress and Resize Every Image You Use
According to Akamai, the average website’s file size is 63% images. That means the images you use determine well over 50% of your page sizes. A smaller file size means faster page load times, so..
You need to focus on making your images’ file sizes as small as possible.
How to do that?
Two main ways:
- Resize your images’ dimensions. Because most WordPress themes only display images that are ~700-800px wide, it almost never makes sense to upload an image that’s 3,000px wide. All those extra pixels just mean increased file sizes for zero benefit.
- Compress your images. Image compression shrinks file sizes by removing unnecessary information (while maintaining the same dimensions). You can compress images losslessly (no change in quality) or lossily (smaller file sizes, but some loss of image quality).
I wrote a whole post on optimizing WordPress images. But for most cases, you can use a plugin called Smush Image Compression and Optimization to both compress and resize all of the images on your WordPress site.
Pick a Faster Host
Those three tips above? They’ll speed up your WordPress site. But your site will always be limited by your hosting speeds. So, if you implement the three tips above and are still unhappy with how fast your WordPress site loads, it might be time to bite the bullet and upgrade your hosting.
Which host should you choose? Well, it depends on your needs.
What Are Some Smaller Tweaks to Speed Up WordPress?
These tweaks won’t move the needle nearly as much as the four big wins above. But they are good solutions to further optimize your WordPress site’s load times.
Optimize Your WordPress Database
Optimizing your WordPress site’s database can boost performance by cleaning out the post revisions and transients that are cluttering up your database.
To optimize your database, I recommend a plugin called WP-Optimize. It’s super easy to use and only removes 100% unnecessary data.
Leverage Browser Caching
If you’ve tried Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, you might have come across this phrase: Leverage Browser Caching. Like page caching, browser caching speeds up your site by creating a cache. Only this time, that cache is located directly in each visitor’s web browser.
To add browser caching to WordPress, you’ll need to use an FTP program to open a file called .htaccess (located in the same folder as wp-admin and wp-content) and add the following code snippet:
Lazy Load Your Images and Comments
With lazy loading, you can delay loading resources like images and comments until they’re actually needed. So when a visitor lands on your page, any unnecessary images or comments will wait to load until your visitor starts scrolling down the page.
We have a whole post on tools that help with adding lazy loading to WordPress. The process is fairly painless thanks to some helpful plugins.
Minifying your code shrinks it by removing unnecessary data without changing any of its functionality. It’s not a huge improvement, but every little bit counts, right?
Some caching plugins will automatically minify your WordPress code. But if your caching plugin doesn’t, I also recommend a plugin called Autoptimize because it’s easy to use and handles minification for all of your code.
Disable Image Hotlinking
Image hotlinking is when other sites use images hosted on your site. Basically, they’re using your server’s resources for their own site. That’s a waste!
To avoid unnecessarily wasting your server’s resources, you can disable hotlinking by using a plugin called All In One WP Security & Firewall.
Implement GZIP Compression
GZIP compression is like image compression… but for your entire WordPress site. That is, it shrinks down your site’s size without changing any of its functionality.
Some caching plugins like W3 Total Cache and WP Rocket can help you add GZIP compression. Or, you can also add the following code to the bottom of your site’s .htaccess file to manually add GZIP compression to WordPress:
# Remove browser bugs (only needed for really old browsers) BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4 gzip-only-text/html BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4\.0 no-gzip BrowserMatch \bMSIE !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html Header append Vary User-Agent </IfModule>
Try to Eliminate External Requests
This one is more of a conceptual strategy than a specific tool you can use. Essentially, try to limit any requests to external sites. Requests usually come from plugins or embedded code that pulls in content from somewhere else. So…
Unless such content is absolutely necessary to your site, you’re better off skipping it and reaping the rewards of a faster loading WordPress site.
Wrapping Things Up
If nothing else, you absolutely need to implement the first four speed tips. After that, you should still implement everything else… but to be honest, your site should already be pretty fast. So if you’re just a hobbyist, you can probably skip the rest.
If you’re running a serious business, you should absolutely implement everything and try to wring as much performance as possible out of your site and host. Even tiny improvements will boost your conversion rate – and that means more money in your pocket!