Learning how to speed up WordPress is an essential skill for any website owner.
Because page loading speed influences everything from traffic to bounce rate to conversions, user satisfaction, and, ultimately, profits.
For that reason, we have put together a detailed guide on how to speed up WordPress. We will talk about why page loading speed matters, which factors influence the speed of your WordPress site, and how to measure it. After that, we have compiled the best techniques to make your site as fast as possible. They range from basic all the way to advanced measures so that the users of advanced skill levels will find something they can implement.
Are you ready to wave goodbye to slow-loading WordPress sites? Then keep on reading.
But First, Why Website Speed Matters?
The first question when talking about website speed is: Why should I care about it in the first place? Meaning, as long as your site loads within a few seconds, it should be fine, right? People can’t really be that strapped for time, can they? Well, the answer might surprise you.
1. Slow Speed Leads to Lost Visitors
Here are some statistics concerning page load time and user behavior:
- Between 2000 and 2015, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 to just 8 seconds. Moreover, in social media, like Facebook, the average attention span is only 2 seconds.
- 40% of customers abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.
- 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with a website’s performance are less likely to return.
- One second delay reduces conversions by 7%.
While this might not sound like much in abstract numbers, it has very wide-ranging consequences in the real world. For example, Amazon calculated that a one-second slowdown of their page loading speed would cost them $1.6 billion in yearly sales.
Now, we don’t all run a website as large as Amazon. However, the takeaway is clear: When it comes to visitor retention and conversion, every second count.
2. Speed is a Ranking Factor on Google/Bing/Yahoo
Obviously, this fact doesn’t get past search engines. After all – their goal is to present their users with the best possible search results. A site that exasperates visitors with slow loading time is anything but.
While speed is not (yet) officially a ranking factor, it definitely factors into your search position.
A slow-loading site increases your bounce rate. That means the rate of users who pretty much leave immediately after landing on it. In this case, they just don’t bother sticking around until your page is done loading and hit the back button instead.
If that happens, Google will take note and downvote you since they consider this behavior a sign of a low-quality site.
The problem is more prevalent with mobile traffic, which tends to have slower Internet connections than desktop computers. Plus, Google has gone on record, stating that for their mobile index, page loading speed will definitely become a ranking factor.
Considering the fact that mobile devices have taken over as the main Internet devices globally, you better make sure your site is up to snuff.
17 Tricks to Speed up WordPress
From the factors that influence page loading speed above, we can already draw a number of conclusions for what makes a WordPress website fast or slow. In this first part, we will talk about basic steps to speed up your WordPress site and decrease page loading time.
1. Invest in Quality Hosting
One of the most basic steps to increase site performance is to choose a good host to house your site. Sure, there are lots of cheap offers out there. Keep in mind that hosting is one of those areas where you get what you pay for. Since we have seen earlier that speed matters, this is not a good place to skimp too much.
What does that mean?
As a first step, avoid shared hosting if you can. Doing so eliminates the risk of having bad neighbors on your server that can slow down your site. Also, unless you have a huge site and the manpower/budget to run your own server, a dedicated server might be more than you need.
For that reason, a VPS is a good option. This type of hosting provides a nice balance of speed, comfort, but is a bit higher in cost.
Another option is to go with one of the growing offers of WordPress hosting options, especially if you’re just getting started. Doing so means your site will run on a server specially optimized for WordPress and you don’t have to take care of any of the technical stuff of running a website. Plus, prices for managed WordPress hosting are dropping and the costs for developing a managed platform yourself are extremely high.
- Best WordPress Hosting – uptime, speed, features, and cost comparison
- Best Hosting Providers – a list of the 10 best overall hosting providers. We compared their performance, pricing, and features.
2. Keep Your Web Technology Up to Date
The second item on our list of measures to speed up WordPress is keeping your core technology up to date. New versions of HTML, PHP, and other web technologies come out for a reason. They contain improvements, new features, and often improved speed. For that reason, it’s important to stay up to date.
All websites should be running at least PHP 8.0 or 8.1. You can check for currently supported PHP versions here.
A quality host will take care of this by themselves and notify you if your PHP version is out of date. However, that doesn’t free you from the responsibility of checking. When you log into your hosting backend, make sure to look for a PHP configuration or a similar menu item. Here, you can often control which version of PHP you are using.
Just a quick note: some old code (and older versions of WordPress) are not compatible with, for example, the latest version of PHP. For that reason, when updating, make sure you test on a staging site first and take a backup. This way you do not inadvertently break your live site and you have an easy way to revert your changes if something goes wrong.
3. Use the Latest Versions of WordPress and Its Components
What’s valid for the software on your server, also holds true for WordPress. Each version of the CMS comes with new features, bug fixes, and more. They make your website run more efficiently and prevent it from slowing down too much.
Keeping your website up to date is not only speed but also a security issue. With the latest version of WordPress, your themes, and plugins, you also make sure all known vulnerabilities are fixed. Nothing will slow you down more than a compromised website.
It is a good idea to keep a spreadsheet with your plugins and what they do too. A free Google Sheet is a great starting point for organizing and keeping an overview of your WordPress and WooCommerce plugins.
4. Use a Proper Theme
While we are talking about themes: they can be a decisive factor in website speed. That’s because some themes out there are just bloated messes. They offer so many features that it slows down your site from sheer weight. Bear in mind – those features all consist of code that needs to be loaded – in many cases this code executes even if you are not using those features!
For that reason, try to find a theme that has just what you need and nothing more. Or better yet, get a lightweight theme and add functionality via plugins. That way you can keep things lean and lightweight. Your loading time will thank you. This does sometimes require rebuilding your site with another theme but luckily this is only something you do once!
Some light themes that are good starting points for any WordPress or WooCommerce project are GeneratePress and Astra.
5. Perform Regular Database Maintenance
Just like the WordPress core gets bogged over time, so does the database. It’s prone to accumulate temporary disk space and unused data from uninstalled plugins, post revisions, and other culprits.
For that reason, regular database maintenance is crucial for keeping your database lean and usable. There are many tools out there that can help you. Our recommendation is WP-Optimize, which makes the process quite comfortable. WP-Sweep is another option.
Plus, while you are at it – reduce the number of your post revisions.
The wp_options table is something to focus on too because if it grows out of control it can seriously slow down your site. Advanced Database Cleaner is the best plugin for doing this but it’s not perfect so remember to take a backup first.
You can also try to clean up the database yourself. And if you’re a command-line fan, there’s also a good tutorial for cleaning your wp_options table.
For more advanced and thorough database cleanups consider hiring a professional from Codeable.
6. Set Up Monitoring
Do you know how they say that only what gets measured gets managed? This is also true for website speed. Only if you are aware that there is a problem you can take corrective action.
We already talked about how to measure your site speed earlier. Many of the tools mentioned above, like Pingdom, also offer automatic monitoring. When you register for it, they will send you an email if your site gets too slow. It’s worth investing in.
GTmetrix has a paid service starting at $14.95 that will monitor key metrics like server response time and visual render time which is what Google and your visitors will really appreciate.
7. Decrease Server Requests
A server request happens every time your browser asks for some type of resource from your server. This can be a file like a style sheet, a script, or an image.
The more server requests necessary to complete loading your site, the longer it will take. As a consequence, requests should be as few as possible. Here are a few things you can do to reduce them to a minimum:
- Lower the number of posts shown on a page.
- Only show post excerpts, no full posts on your archive pages (find the option under Settings > Reading).
- Split longer posts into pages – it’s easy
- If you get a lot of comments, break them up into several pages (Settings > Discussion).
- Reduce the number of images and other elements on your page.
- Uninstall unnecessary plugins, especially slower ones.
- Deactivate plugins you are not using permanently.
- Enable lazy loading to delay loading images until they are actually visible on the page.
- Reduce external resources such as fonts if they aren’t necessary.
The already mentioned Pingdom and GTmetrix can show you a detailed list of server requests and how long they need to complete. From there, you can take steps to either eliminate requests or make sure they complete as quickly as possible. That brings us to the next point.
8. Optimize Images
Images often make up the bulk of a page. That’s natural since they need more space than text or CSS. For that reason, in order to speed up WordPress, it is crucial that you learn how to make them as small as possible without losing quality, or what is called compression.
The old way used to be compressing your images before you even upload them. For example, in Photoshop you can use the Save for web option but this will not compress the images to the maximum.
TinyPNG used to be one of the best image optimizers but you will probably get much better results with ShortPixel and its lossy image compression. It will automatically compress your images when you add them to your WordPress site. It also has a bulk optimization tool so you do not have to optimize your existing images manually.
If you prefer a free plugin then try WP Smush or EWWW Image Optimization. Both plugins will compress any image you upload to your site but the results will not be as compressed compared to premium image optimization services.
When you use images in your content, it’s important to note that WordPress creates several sizes of them. That way, you can insert the size of the image it will actually appear in.
Posting a full-size image and then shrinking it down to 300 pixels is just asking for a slow website. Unfortunately, it happens way too often so make sure you choose the appropriate image size for your posts.
9. Avoid Hosting Videos on Your Own Site
Continuing with the topic of media, videos are also an issue. While WordPress is perfectly capable of hosting and playing videos, doing so is not a good idea.
First of all, it costs you bandwidth, which is especially important if you have a limited hosting account. Secondly, it will make your WordPress site considerably larger and thus harder to back up.
Most importantly – there are loads of superfast video hosting sites that can probably do a much better job than your own server ever could. Plus, with auto embeds, literally, everything you have to do to include videos in your content is to copy the YouTube, Vimeo or DailyMotion link and paste it into the WordPress editor.
10. Enable Page Caching
Earlier, we mentioned that WordPress dynamically creates an HTML version of your pages whenever someone requests to see them.
Since that is one of the things that slows it down, wouldn’t it make sense to have the finished HTML page at hand all the time? After all, that way you could save several steps.
That’s exactly what page caching does and it’s one of the best ways to decrease the page loading time of your WordPress website. The CMS also offers several plugin solutions to enable it, most notably WP Super Cache, WP Fastest Cache, and W3 Total Cache.
There are several premium all-in-one caching plugins for doing this in case you want to support but be careful as these can be quite bloated and have more features than you actually need and can end up breaking your site. It would also be a good idea to ask your host if they provide server-side caching first (see below) before tinkering with any caching plugins.
Please bear in mind that page caching is too often used to hide performance issues that are related to low-quality hosting, slow plugins or themes, and even a bloated database. It is best to make sure you have all of these taken care of first so your site is fast without having to rely on page caching. WooCommerce store owners will know this all too well!
If you are more technically minded, you can also implement caching yourself via .htaccess. In addition to that, there’s also server-side page caching. To do that, you would have to talk to your host. Many managed WordPress hosting providers now offer their own caching solutions so you don’t have to do anything.