Complete Guide to Optimising WordPress for Page Speed and Faster Loading

Whether your WordPress website is running too slow or if it loads up fairly quickly but could still be faster, there are steps that you can take to not only measure the performance of your site but also boost it.

Why is it important to have a WordPress site that loads quickly? Well, first off, when it comes to surfing the web, speed does matter quite a bit. And having a high-speed website will help boost your SEO and search engine ranking too, while at the same time improving the user experience of your site.

Continue reading to learn more about the importance of a fast WordPress site, and what you can do to optimise every page for greater speed and performance.

How Google Analyses Webpage Load Times

Google uses a search algorithm that takes a look at page load times, amongst other parameters, to determine your page rank. In fact, the search engine giant crafted an experiment that was used to replicate the slow speeds that accompany a page or site with a poor page load speed. The company did this by developing a system in which speed was deliberately lowered with the use of a server side delay.

If a website were to load slowly, a general user wouldn’t be able to tell why the results are slow. Is it the browser that is operating slowly, or is the website? Either way, it causes the same effect, which is fewer searches on Google.

Effects on User Experience

In addition to affecting your Google ranking, slow load times are not any fun for users either. If someone visits your site but it does not load right away, they are likely to leave. So this is yet another reason to boost your WordPress site’s speed.

First, Measure Your Site’s Speed

The first step involves measuring how your site currently performs so that you can measure whether or not there are any improvements once you get started. Tools like GTmetrix, PageSpeed Tools, and WebPageTest are a great way to measure performance easily and quickly without the headache of trying to figure it all out on your own.

You will also need to continually keep track of your site’s performance. Head over to the labs section of your Google Analytics account so that you can access site performance. And if you have not yet added your site to Google Analytics, now is a great time to do so.

If you want to take a different route, you can check your hosting service, which may provide you with access to basic webpage load speed data that you can use.

Ready to make your site perform faster than ever? Keep reading for the steps below.

Selecting a Hosting Service

There are several things that you can do in order to enhance any site’s performance, but a lot of those tactics come with limitations. And while tweaking your software could assist you with optimising your site’s performance, the best hardware is necessary for the best results.

If you run a low traffic website, you can opt for a shared hosting option. This will work fine until the traffic to your website grows. At that point, you will need to boost the hardware. For those sites that get medium to high amounts of traffic, it is better to go with Managed Hosting, Dedicated Hosting, and Virtual Private Hosting instead, with Dedicated Hosting being ideal for the largest websites that attract millions of hits daily. Virtual Private Hosting, on the other hand, is great for those who are technically adept. And for non-tech users who run an online business, Managed WordPress Hosting is a great option.

For those on a tight budget, a good recommendation is SiteGround’s Shared Hosting option. With almost 100 per cent uptime, free backups daily and free registration for a domain name, as well as scalability and a 30-day money back guarantee, you can’t go wrong.

However, for the best hosting that your money could buy, check out WPEngine Managed WordPress Hosting Solution, which provides top-notch hosting for super fast websites, all with solid user support. And with WPEngine, you can skip the step on caching because it utilises EverCache. Plus, when you use a Managed WordPress Host, you can focus on the content of your page and worry less about site performance.

Implementing a Great Caching Plugin

A best selling, premium caching plugin is WP Rocket, which operates efficiently when it comes to optimising a site for speed. Even though there are plenty of WordPress caching plugins to choose from, it can be a bit complicated for someone new to the process, but for those who have intermediate to expert levels of experience as WordPress users, the options are great to have. Nevertheless, WP Rocket is easy to figure out, regardless of your experience level.

WP Rocket will use page caching in order to decrease load speed, and it will also perform cache preloading in order to assist with site indexing by Google and other search engines. Images will only load upon request, and it will also work on file compression so it can convert JS, CSS, and HTML into static files.

It is hard to compare one caching plugin to another because every one is a little different, and configuring each one optimally is not easy. But if you decide not to utilise WP Rocket, make sure that whatever caching solution you use will provide the same function.

What a Free Caching Plugin Will Typically Accomplish

If you plan on using a free caching plugin, you should expect that it will accomplish the following:

  • Minify JavaScript, CSS, and HTML: Blank space, new line characters, comments, and pretty much anything else that is redundant within the code of your site will be deemed useless to the server and IP. Removing this extra baggage will help your site perform better.
  • Reduce the Amount of HTTP Requests: Each time a visitor comes to your site, they are requesting the site’s files, including CSS, JS, and HTML files. And if you have multiples of each type of file, every individual file creates a request for the server. Therefore, if you have a lot of files that require multiple server requests, you lose efficiency. But this can be remedied by combining HTML, CSS, and JS files and scripts together.
  • Swap PHP with Static HTML: This is also referred to as super caching, and it refers to when the PHP is totally bypassed and files are then served in HTML. This is one of the fastest methods for caching your site, and it will make your WordPress site load faster. Perform super caching with mod_rewrite.
  • GZIP Compression: If you compress the code on your site, you can reduce bandwidth usage, which will help boost load time. When a compressed file is received by the browser, it will be easy to read.
  • Browser Caching: If you are working with static content, such as CSS, images, and JS, you can download and store these on a visitor’s browser after they visit your site for the first time. When the user returns, the information will be taken from cache and loaded quickly.
  • Lazy Load for Videos, Images, and Text: Lazy Load helps load images as they are about to appear on a user’s screen during scrolling. This allows the site to load more quickly because images are otherwise heavy on data and will slow your site down. Caching lazy load can be done with a premium plugin rather than a free one, or you can opt to use Unveil Lazy Load or BJ Lazy Load. You can even do the same for videos and iframes with Lazy Load XT.

Choosing the Best Framework

Frameworks are used to develop the skeleton that you will then build your WordPress site’s design on. In order to ensure your site performs at its best, you need a solid framework in place. Also, the theme that you choose to modify and design your site so it looks just as you want it to look will affect its load time, so keep that in mind. Avoid multimedia-heavy and Flash-heavy themes, as these have bulky frameworks that create lags in load time.

To find the right theme for your site, you can search through theme provides, such as StudioPress, iThemes, and Headway Themes. These are great because they offer lean frameworks that are strong and filled with colours and designs that are appropriate for a variety of niches.

Utilise a CDN

A CDN is a Content Delivery Network, and it helps in the delivery of static files so that your website will load more quickly when visitors are accessing it from a server that is located closer to them than the server that your site uses. A normally quick website will load even more quickly because the CDN will ensure that visitors hit cache instead of your server. Accessing cache files instead of requesting the site data from your server is a way to allow your site to load more quickly.

Just about every high traffic website now utilises CDNs for static content. Check out MaxCDN, which provides solid state drives that are located strategically around the world in order to have the widest possible reach.

CDNs differ from normal host provider servers because a CDN will be tailored to be able to deliver your site’s static content in the shortest amount of time possible. There are also tieups offered by the most popular telecom businesses so that your site’s overall load time won’t be affected by interruptions or delays on the part of the provider.

Ultimately, if you choose to incorporate a CDN, you will note that your server’s overall bandwidth usage will drop considerably, thereby helping to bring load times down even more.

Optimise your WordPress Website’s Database

A database optimisation plugin is a great way to get your database in order, especially if you use one designed for WordPress, such as WP-Sweep, which is a strong plugin that can perform a variety of tasks in the WP-Spring Cleaning process.

What does WP-Sweep do? Well, it basically removes redundant comments, including those that are marked as unapproved or spam, as well as redundant post revisions. It also gets rid of duplicate and orphaned metadata, such as user data, comments, and posts. And it will remove unused terms from the database as well.

Other optimisation plugins designed for WordPress databases include WP Optimize and WP-DB Manager. However, WP-Sweep is considered better than the rest because it can perform delete commands on your data to ensure there is not any orphaned data that would otherwise be left behind.

Compressing Your Images

When compared to the text throughout your website, your images are bulky and will take up a lot more space on the WP content folder. By simply compressing the images throughout your website, you will take a step towards driving down load times. And you can also reduce the actual size of images without having to lose a lot of the quality of the images.

EWWW Image Optimiser is a compression option that reduces sizes of images without losing quality. You can also try out Compress JPEG & PNG Images, which is a plugin that does the same. You can expect to compress roughly 40 per cent to 60 per cent of JPEG images, and 50 per cent to 80 per cent of PNG images without losing visible quality.

Diagnosing Your Plugins

Every plugin that you apply to your WordPress website will provide a piece of code that will perform some type of function, but sometimes a plugin can be counterproductive and cumbersome, resulting in slower load times.

So how can you diagnose your plugins so that you can determine which ones to keep and which ones to remove? Continue reading to learn about a couple of the best tools to get started:

  • P3 Plugin Performance Profiler: This convenient plugin will effectively detect those plugins that are really negatively impacting site load time. The plugin will generate a report that will allow you to quickly identify those plugins that are dragging the speed down.
  • Plugin Organizer: This is yet another great plugin that will help you enhance your site’s load time by allowing you to determine exactly which plugins are adversely affecting your WordPress site’s performance. In this way, you can disable those plugins from any posts and pages where they are not necessary.

Disabling Hotlinking

Hotlinking is basically a way for people to utilise content that is hosted on a site’s server for their own sites. In other words, people can use your server, as well as the content found throughout your site, resulting in your server getting loaded without any benefits to you. As you might have guessed, it is important to stop others from stealing your server’s space and resources.

In order to stop people from hotlinking content from your site, you will need to edit the code on your site a bit. You can do so by utilising tools from HTAccessTools.com, as an example, as these will help you generate the code that you need to add to a server to protect your work. Unfortunately, your host will likely be unwilling to help you, so you need to take steps yourself.

As soon as you are able to prevent others from hotlinking, you can rest assured that your server’s resources are not being used for hosting content on sites that are not your own. Remember, hotlinking typically targets multimedia and images that are heavy on data, so disable hotlinking and try to run a site with minimal amounts of images and multimedia.

Disabling Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Pingbacks and trackbacks will let you know when someone has placed a link to one of your posts on another website or blog. While pingbacks function automatically, trackbacks are used manually, but they both show up in your comment moderation section.

Roughly 99 per cent of all pingbacks and trackbacks are spam, so if you are getting a lot of them, your site’s speed could be affected adversely. To fix this issue, visit your Settings, head over to Discussions, and find the setting for disabling trackbacks and pingbacks under Default Article.

Another option would be to incorporate the use of a plugin that can effectively manage spam. A good example is WP SpamShield Anti-Spam, which will deal with all kinds of spam.

Placing JavaScript on the Bottom and CSS on the Top

Because browsers will not load any content before loading CSS, your CSS references should be placed at the top. Otherwise, you will find that your content is unstylised. Placing your CSS at the top will ensure that the site will not fail to load properly. Plus, if the CSS is at the end, the browser will need to redraw all of the site’s elements, and this will take longer than simply having the CSS placed as part of your header.

JavaScript, on the other hand, should be placed last because it will prevent parallel loading within a browser, and progressive loading will be blocked if there is a script file on top of the content. So to be certain that all of the content will progressively load, you need to place the scripts at the bottom.

Bear in mind that those free caching plugins that are available will not really be useful for this task. Instead, you can opt to utilise something like Autoptimize along with the free caching plugin of your choice. Remember, though, that sometimes there are breakdowns and if you are not capable of cleaning up a potential mishap, it is better to use something like WP Rocket.

Combining Multiple Images into One

Your browser will need to make several trips back and forth in order to get multiple images for your website, but if you combine the images into a single large file that contains all of them in one convenient place, you will reduce the number of requests necessary and speed up the load time of your site. Great tools, especially for those who are not familiar with the way CSS works, include Sprite Me and Sprite Pad, which will help you set CSS Sprites to quickly accomplish this task.

Using a Social Sharing Plugin

Any WordPress site needs Social Media Sharing as part of its marketing plan. But too many sharing options on your page could slow down your site and annoy visitors. Opt to use plugins like Social Sharing by Danny or Floating Social Bar in order to keep things simple. The plugin won’t load until a visitor moves their cursor over the appropriate social share button.

Using a Combination of the Right Tools

Ultimately, for the best results and the fastest load times, it is a matter of figuring out the list of tools that you can use together for your particular WordPress website. The right combination of software and tools will let you create a speedy website without having to break your budget, or spend any money at all.

If you are on a budget, use tools like Lazy Load XT, any free caching plugin with a good reputation, Autoptimize, Social Sharing by Danny, WP SpamShield Anti-Spam, WP Sweep, and Sprite Pad, along with a solid free theme.

And remember to test your WordPress website again after implementing these tools in order to ensure that they are actually accomplishing what you need. Again, to test your website’s performance, stick with products like WebPageTest, GTmetrix, and PageSpeed Tools.

Finally, to test accurately, make sure you use a single new plugin at a time in order to gauge its results. And try plugins like Fastest Cache to determine how much faster the site gets. You want to see some solid increments of improved performance before you opt to stick with a new plugin. And if a plugin is not working as it should, go back to your previous plugins or keep searching for those that will help you optimise and speed up your website.

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