How to speed up WordPress website from the non-technical perspective?

(Last Updated On: 15/07/2018)

Introduction

  • We will show you how to speed up WordPress website from the user perspective, using some of the simple, yet efficient techniques and tools, so-called “quick-wins”.
  • The stuff that speeds up (or slows down) a web site is truly a random pile of tweaks, tips and changes. It’s a ton of little things that add up to enormous impact for visitors and search engines alike.
  • You will see which free web tool to use to identify the biggest speed problems on your site, and how to remove them.
  • We will briefly introduce you to Swift Performance Premium plugin (speed up “Swiss  Army knife”) which you can use to perform most of your site improvements in the shortest time possible.

Why page speed really matters?

  • Page speed is a measurement of how the content of a site’s page loads.
  • A faster site (which means faster-loading pages) provides a better user experience.
Faster is better, because having a slow website could have many negative impacts on your website

Page speed impacts traffic and page views

  • Lower page load times mean that less visitors are visiting more than one page.
  • Sites with average page load times of 2 seconds get 8.9 page views on average, while those with 7 second page load times get just 3.7 page views on average.

Page speed impacts social media

  • Content sharing and likes improve—if your visitors actually see your site’s content.
  • Pages that load slower than 2-3 seconds make visitors impatient.

Page speed impacts revenue/sales

  • The better the user experience, the more you sell. Page speed impacts the very core of the user experience and conversions.

Page speed impacts paid media performance
Your landing page loading time:

  • If it takes too long for your website to load when someone clicks on your ad, they’re more likely to give up and leave your website.
  • This unwelcome behavior can signal to Google that your landing page experience is poor, which could negatively impact your Ad Rank. That’s why you want to make sure your landing page load time is up to speed” (from Adwords Support)

Page speed impacts your brand image 

  • Poor website speed experience really can impact your customers’ perception of and loyalty to your brand.

What impacts page speed?

The “client”/web browser

  • The client, which is usually the web browser, asks the server for content.
  • When the server delivers its response, the browser has to ‘draw’ it all.
  • If a web page is poorly coded or structured, the browser has a hard time doing that rendering and slows down.

The server

  • The server gets the request from the “client”/web browser and delivers a reply.
  • It has to build all of the pages on the site, process various forms, manage leads and do all the other “dirty” work.
  • If the server is slow, than everything’s slow. If you speed server up, everything runs faster. However, tweaking server performance requires certain expertise.

The “pipe”/bandwidth

  • The “pipe” (or bandwidth) delivers the output that server creates.
  • Once the web server replies to a browser request, the response goes through the “pipe”. The more you put into the pipe, the slower it goes.

How fast is fast enough for your pages?

  • acceptable site’s speed for Desktop is between 2-3 sec and preferable speed is about 1 sec (nearly half of web users nowadays expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less).
  • 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • acceptable site’s speed for Mobile is between 4-5 sec.
  • 75% mobile users will abandon if takes more than 5 seconds to load.
  • second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

How do you measure the page speed?

The first rule of website speed optimization: always measure and test more than just your homepage, measure other web pages as well

  • Page speed optimization can be difficult, but there are free online tools that make our lives easier – they “advise” us what to do, in order to improve the speed of site’s page.
  • Our recommended free tools to measure website speed:
    a) Pingdom Website Speed Test (online tool)
    b) Gtmetrix (online tool)
    c) WebPageTest (online tool)
    d) Page load time (Google Chrome extension)

There are other tools, but these are the most popular ones and we’ll stick with them.

Pingdom Website Speed Test (online tool)

  • Quick page speed test. Super simple. Great for impressing (or depressing) clients.
  • You get the basic summary data.
  • With Pingdom, you have an option to test the page speed on 4 different locations. Results are all different for each location, which shows that server geo location is important.

Pingdom waterfall analysis
How to use Pingdom Speed Test tool

Gtmetrix (online tool)

  • Gives you more detailed information about which things are optimized and which are not
  • Optimization details are listed/ordered by importance and rated on a scale from 0-100. If you follow the tasks and optimize the ones that don’t have a 100% score, you’ll be able to speed up WordPress site relatively quickly.
  • It keeps track of the history of the tests.

A Deep Dive Into the GTmetrix Speed Test Tool

WebPageTest (online tool)

  • Another quality page speed tester, with a lot more features than the previous tools, for more advanced users.
  • It has more locations to choose from, an internet speed can be selected, you can enable/disable a few browser options and you can test specific devices.
  • It does ‘film strips’ showing page render, and lets you ‘race’ with other sites.
  • Every WebPageTest run is actually 3 runs and displays a detailed waterfall report for each run.
  • It provides first and repeat load monitoring so you can see how well your browser caching is performing.
  • It gives the all-important measurements of when the page starts to become useful to the visitor.

Testing your site with WebPageTest

Page load time (Google Chrome extension)

  • Measures page load time and displays it in the Chrome browser toolbar.
You shouldn’t be obsessed over a perfect score and focus your attention on the users experience of your site

Warning for Google PageSpeed Insights tool:

Better to avoid its usage because of the following:

  • it doesn’t accurately measure your site’s speed when it comes to how your visitors perceive it around the globe.
  • it doesn’t provide any speed result, instead it throws you a list of things you should improve. On top of that throws you a score without giving sources of results.
  • its score isn’t based on the actual speeds of the site but on the “things Google believes you should be optimizing”.

If your visitors get a fast site that’s easy to use, then you did your part of the story.

How can you improve the page speed?

Backup your site before starting speed up optimization

Foundations / Prerequisites for fast websites

Quality and fast hosting

Whatever way you go, there are certain factors you must consider before making your choice:

  • Price – choosing the cheapest hosting usually isn’t a good idea. You know how the saying goes: “you get what you pay for”. If you want your site to grow and (probably) generate income, you must invest in server power to guarantee fast loading pages and 100% uptime.
  • Limitations/tech specs – when you’re running an e-commerce site or a site rich in content and multimedia, you must sign up for a hosting plan with enough RAM, disk space and processing power to meet your business needs.
  • Support – hosting with 24/7 support is your target. If your site unexpectedly goes down – you want to be able to talk to someone to sort out the issue, day or night.
  • Reviews – check what real people say about specific hosting. Testimonials help you figure out if a hosting service is really as reliable as the company advertises. When you want to check some provider, go to ReviewSignal – read how real users perceive their service.

We recommend SiteGround shared hosting: their servers with SSD disks are very fast, highly secured, with advanced integrated services (backup, advanced caching, staging, CloudFlare CDN, etc.), especially in the GoGeek shared hosting package we currently use.

Optimized and lightweight WordPress Theme

  • As much as we would like to think that all themes are created equal, the real truth is they are not. Many themes have bloated code with more functionalities than you’ll ever use.
  • Many WordPress themes are overkill. Your goal should be to choose a lean and lightweight theme that provides the design required for your website and basic functionalities needed.
  • Before installing a new theme on your WordPress website, test the theme’s demo using one of the above-mentioned on-line speed tools. The results will provide insight into how well-coded the theme is.

Themes we recommend and use: X Theme and X Theme Pro.

Plugins choice

Having many plugins isn’t a bad thing so long as you focus on quality rather than quantity

Here are some useful tips for managing the plugins on WordPress website:

  • Evaluate potential plugins before you install them on your website. With WP Speedster free tool you can analyze the effects of hundreds of plugins on site performance and can help you decide which ones are a no-go.
  • Test your website. Before installing a new plugin, test your website by using an on-line speed analysis tool. After plugin’s installation test the website again. If you notice website slowed down, find an alternative – more lightweight plugin.
  • Carefully choose your plugins. Every time a plugin is added to your website more server requests are required to allow them to function properly on the front end of your website. Try to use one plugin that performs multiple functions (such as Swift Performance plugin) rather than using several separate plugins. Also, make sure you do not use plugins that are outdated, as they present security risks and can cause slowdown problems on your website.
  • Use a plugin Query Monitor: it is a debugging plugin for people with more advanced knowledge/experience.

Four major questions are important while selecting plugins for your site:

  • Does plugin perform complex operations?
  • Does plugin load many scripts?
  • Does plugin increase the number of database queries for all page requests?
  • Does plugin perform requests to external providers?

If the majority of answers to above questions is YES, you should really avoid such plugins and find alternative/lightweight plugins.

WordPress Settings for speeding up your site

  • in Discussion deselect “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks)”
  • in Discussion check the box next to the “Break comments into pages” option
  • in Discussion uncheck the box next to “Show Avatars” option
  • in Reading select “For each article in a feed, show: Summary” instead of “Full Text” and lower “Blog pages show at most” to 8 or 6
  • disable XML-RPC (it’s just one more action your server has to take. Your server is busy enough.)
  • ask your hosting to disable hotlinking and leaching of your content in .htaccess file

Optimize images

  • Simple things like images compression can have a huge impact on site performance because they are eating up bandwidth so that the server can’t upload and the client can’t download quickly enough. These are among the easiest speed up optimization “quick wins”.
  • Choose the right image format – the most popular image formats for online use are .JPEG and .PNG. You can save a lot on image file size by selecting the correct image format. The most used image types are:
    • .jpg format for photos, images with gradients and images with millions of colors
    • .png format for images with limited colors (e.g. logos) and images with transparency

Resize & compress your images

Before uploading images to WordPress site

Optimize the images with one of the following image manipulation applications:

During & after uploading images to WordPress site

You can optimize the images with one of the following image manipulation plugins:

Perform database optimization

  • When you create or delete posts, delete comments, change WordPress options, install/uninstall plugins or themes, your database could get bloated with “leftovers” that need to be cleaned regularly.
  • Cleaning the database on a regular basis rids you of drafts, spam comments, leftover tables, and so on. It’s also recommended you delete unused images, themes, or plugins and fix broken links. Otherwise, your site can seem sluggish.
  • There are many plugins in the WordPress Plugin Repository that clean up the WordPress database. We can suggest two that we use and that work very well:
    • Swift Performance:
      • An alternative is WP-Optimize: an effective tool for automatically automatically cleans your WordPress database so that it runs at maximum efficiency. 
    • Plugins Garbage Collector: scans your WordPress database and shows the tables beyond of core WordPress installation.
Clearing your database of useless or redundant information is an excellent way to „trim” your heavy website

Update your WordPress, theme and plugins

  • Keeping WordPress, themes, and plugins up to date gives you access to the latest features and also lets you take advantage of possible speed improvements.
  • You must keep your WordPress site, theme and plugins updated to the latest versions if you don’t want your site to became slow, unreliable and vulnerable to security threats.

Use caching and loading optimization plugins

  • Caching your site temporarily stores copies of web content to satisfy user requests from the cache database. Caching is really effective to speed up your WordPress site.
  • Loading optimization options – minimize overall page size and number of HTTP page requests:
    • Remove unnecessary query strings from CSS, JS and image files
    • Prefetch DNS
    • Bypass Google Analytics
    • Lazy load for images, Iframes & scripts
    • Minify HTML, JavaScripts & CSS
    • Compress CSS
    • Merge Assets & Scripts
    • Execute merged javascript files asynchronously
    • Disable chosen plugins on particular website pages/posts
    • Disable Heartbeat
    • Disable Emojis
  • Two recommended plugins for speeding up WordPress sites that we use are:

Update website’s PHP version to latest 7.x version

  • quick-win optimization is to upgrade the PHP version to 7.x (which every decent hosting should offer nowadays). PHP 7.x version is, in comparison to older PHP versions, a great speed and performance improvement. It’s rather easy to switch to it, so we recommend you to take advantage of it.
  • However, if you are afraid your site could “be broken” if you upgrade to the latest PHP version, you don’t have to worry much as you can always downgrade your PHP version to the latest version that doesn’t break up your site
  • in case your WordPress site is running on PHP version much lower than 7.x version (like 5.6 or even older), you could always contact your hosting support and ask them to update it to the latest PHP stable version

WRAPPING UP

A quick summary of major steps in speeding up WordPress website:

  • Regularly test your website pages using speed test tools to monitor your site’s  speed at different times. We recommend: Pingdom & Page load time.
  • Invest in a quality hosting provider that can handle your website’s traffic.
    We recommend:  SiteGround hosting.
  • Pick an optimized theme with only the functions you need.
    We recommend: X Theme & X Theme Pro.
  • Carefully choose plugins you use to reduce server strain.
    We recommend: WP Speedster.
  • Clear out your database of unnecessary data dragging your site down.
    We recommend: Swift Performance.
  • Resize, crop, and compress images that you upload to your website.
    We recommend: Imagify Image Optimizer.
  • Update your plugins, theme and WordPress.
  • Always cache & speed up optimize your website.
    We recommend: Swift Performance.
Not all tools are adequate for speeding up all sites – site complexity influences tool’s choice

Final message:

  • websites are created for people, your potential clients.
  • you must have a good balance between content, design, user experience and page speed.
  • don’t be obsessed about page speed (and especially with page speed scores!).
  • as long as you improve your visitors experience, your business goals will be achieved
  • … and yes, speed matters, a lot! 

More useful info/curated posts on Speed Up topic you can find in our Speed Up Knowledge base.

If you have any speed up questions, you can join us in our
WordPress Speed Up group on Facebook.

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10 Comments

  1. great guide, i use siteground and wprocket plugin, but still my TTFB is more than 1sec. I even tried swift performance plugin but no change.. how to fix it?

  2. Great article! My website it hosted with Siteground but it’s on my previous web developer’s hosting account which is part of a larger Siteground account. Does this sound okay or are not all of Siteground’s plans shared hosting?

      1. Also my theme is ‘x child theme’. Is that different from the theme you suggested and is it okay speed wise? Thanks in advance!

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