If you’ve got a WordPress site and you want to learn more about why and how to improve its performance, then you’ve come to the right place. No need to be a WordPress whizz kid here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about optimising your WordPress website in an easy-to-understand way, so you can make sure your page loading time isn’t holding you back. So, let’s get to it.
What does it mean to optimise your site for speed?
If you’ve arrived here and you know site speed is important but you’re not really sure what that means, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In a nutshell, optimising your site to be faster is all to do with how quickly elements on your web page load when a person arrives at your website. Say you own an online jewellery store and you notice on Google Analytics that you have a high bounce rate, this could be down to how slow your website is to load up. You (and your customers) want your jewellery website to appear the instant people click on it, so they can go on to purchase your products easily. The fable about the tortoise and the hare does not apply here. Nor does slow and steady win the race when it comes to site optimisation. In short, our advice is to be more hare.
Why does my WordPress site need to be fast anyway?
Aside from providing a better user experience for your visitors, there are several benefits to improving your site’s loading speed:
- Reducing bounce rates: The average customer will navigate away from your site if it doesn’t load within 2 seconds. If that has shocked you, think about your own click-happy internet browsing behavior.
- Improving your search engine ranking: One of the ranking factors Google and other search engines take into account when ranking websites on the results page is how quickly your site loads. Fast sites are rewarded.
- Boost conversion rates: There is a correlation between a positive user experience and higher conversion rates. If you delight your customers with your UX, you’ll be more likely to turn them into paying customers.
How to make your WordPress site faster
If your WordPress website is slow to respond, there are several steps you can take to speed it up. We’ll cover how to make your WordPress load faster, plus recommend the best tools available for WordPress speed optimisation. Here are the three basic steps to tackling your slow WordPress site:
- Analyse your site’s performance
- Understand what issues you need to fix
- Fix the issues slowing down your site
Analyse Your Site’s Performance
Analysis is the first stage of site speed optimisation. Using specialist speed analysis tools, you can get a good overview of how your site is performing compared to optimal levels. The best tools on the market give you a performance scorecard and pointers for improvement. The great news is some of the best tools out there are completely free to use. Here is a couple we recommend you try:
Google’s PageSpeed Insights
PageSpeed Insights analyses the content of a web page then generates suggestions to make that page faster. It gives you an accurate snapshot of how your website is performing right now, with a numerical score between 0-100 to put that into context. Anything above X is where to aim for. They have a handy red, amber, green colour code so you know what’s considered ‘bad’, ‘okay’ and ‘good’. It also lets you see how your site performs for mobile devices and desktops, specifically. Which is a handy insight to know. What’s more, it’s completely free to use. All you have to do is head to the site and enter your website’s URL to unlock your personalised insights.
Here’s a screenshot of how PageSpeed Insights ranks its own web page performance. A perfect score, as you’d expect. But interestingly, look what happens when you see how it performs for mobile:
The score slips to 89, just in the amber category. Let’s take a look at the recommendations PageSpeed Insights has for its own mobile performance:
As you can see here, there is a long list of analysis on the site’s performance. The red, amber, green colour coding helps you see straight away where the issues are. It also shows you where time-saving could be made, plus gives you a list of fixes that could be made to improve the speed.
Another tool to check how your site performs is GTmetrix. It gives you a clear picture of how fast your website loads, revealing why it’s slow and how to optimise it. It uses an A-F scorecard, which may make you feel like you’re back in the classroom, but it certainly focuses your attention if you get an F! There is a free version you can use but if you want to be able to test your site’s performance in different locations and browsers or with different connection speeds, you’ll need to pay. As with PageSpeed Insights, you just need to go to the website and enter your website’s URL to get started. Here, I’ve had a go at analysing GTmetrix’s own page to show you an example:
You can see here an almost perfect score. If you’re like me you’ll be wondering where the 1% is lost for structure! Here is a snapshot where you can delve deeper into specific aspects of analysis:
We can see, then, that there are a couple of low-impact issues affecting the structure score, with the lack of use of a Content Delivery Network having the biggest impact. The fact that everything is a sea of green shows us that overall the site performance is very good. As we’d expect for a site optimisation tool.
Another interesting feature of GTmetrix is the speed visualisation. It shows you how long it takes to load each element of your page until it is fully loaded. We can see here it takes 0.5 seconds for GTmetrix’s homepage to fully load. And, as a rule of thumb, we should all be aiming for our websites to load within 2 seconds.
Understand what issues you need to fix
Now you’ve completed your site speed analysis, you can move on to understanding the issues your site is facing before moving on to fixing them. Here are a couple of tips for getting to grips with what needs to be done:
- Create a list of all the issues that have been highlighted to fix.
- Prioritise them, starting with the worst issues first to ensure your site speeds up as quickly as possible.
- Spend some time understanding each issue fully. We’ll go through the most common issues shortly, but you may need to conduct some research online.
- Understand where you may need to bring in some additional help to solve your issues if you don’t have the technical expertise.
Fix the issues slowing down your site
It goes without saying that you should try to fix the issues slowing down your site as soon as you can to reap the benefits mentioned above. Here are some of the most common ways to make your site load faster.
Choose a high-performing web hosting provider
There are many, many web hosting services available and for different price points, too. It can be hard when you’re starting out to know where to start. However, this isn’t something you should scrimp on. We recommend you spend time carefully assessing which web hosting companies perform well because a bad one can mean issues like:
- Having an incredibly slow website
- A website that goes down, so customers can’t access it
- Errors caused by the database being overloaded
- Poor search engine rankings and low traffic
- Being blacklisted as a spam site
Spending a bit extra on a quality, high-performing web hosting provider is a good investment, as it lays the foundation for an excellent website that can drive the results you deserve. We recommend using Krystal if you’re based in the UK. It hosts sites such as Nike, NHS and Cadbury.
One of the biggest contributors to site load time is images. While hi-res images look the part, if your images are too large they can weigh down your WordPress site, increasing your load time. While we’re not telling you to get rid of all your wonderful imagery, optimising images before you upload them is how to avoid overloading your site. The trick is creating the smallest possible image file size without compromising on image quality. Clever WordPress image optimisation plugins can reduce image file sizes by up to 80% while retaining their quality. Here are some important notes when it comes to image optimisation:
- Use .jpeg and .png file types for images and .gif for animated images
- Try WordPress plugins Optimole, Imagify or EWWW Image Optimizer to compress image file sizes
- Resize images using image editing software, such as GIMP, to reduce the file size
If you haven’t optimised your images yet, we recommend this is one of the top things to put on your list to fix.
Implement lazy loading images and videos
Another tactic to avoid the toll that images and videos can take on your load time is lazy loading. Rather than the usual process of loading visual elements as soon as a visitor enters a website, lazy loading means that images and videos are only loaded when needed. In practice, this means that they only load if and when a person scrolls to them, saving resources until they’re needed. As some cloud hosting providers and web servers charge per image/video load, this may end up saving you some money, too. Here are a couple of things to know about lazy loading:
Slim down the number of external scripts running
WordPress websites can get laggy if they have many external scripts running on the site’s backend. Third-party codes can serve a purpose and we don’t recommend removing important scripts, especially those that are essential for functionality. However, loading your script up with external ‘extras’ can drag you down rather than enhance your website. We recommend conducting some basic analysis of all the external scripts you have running and querying if they are pulling their weight or pulling you down. As a quick refresher, here are some common external script sources:
- Widgets, such as live chat
- Web analytic providers, such as Google Analytics
- A/B testers
- Social sharing buttons (i.e. Instagram, Twitter)
As a rule of thumb, any dynamic elements on your site will likely require a script that contributes to slowing down your site. So, before you get excited by creating a website with all the bells and whistles you’ve ever dreamed of, sense check yourself. Less is more and simplicity wins out when it comes to WordPress web design.
To return to earlier examples, both GTmetrix and PageSpeed Insights have very pared down sites. This obviously works well for their very practical product and won’t work for all businesses, but it’s worth keeping an A* example in the back of your mind when thinking about your site.
Pick a WordPress theme that won’t slow you down
The great thing about WordPress is the amazing array of themes you can choose from when designing your site. According to Kinsta, certain themes perform best in speed tests. While it’s really important to pick a theme that best suits your website’s needs first and foremost, think about speed performance, too. The last thing you want is your theme to work against you when it comes to the technical aspect.
According to Kinsta, Astra is the best-performing WordPress theme for speed. Astra’s own homepage balances striking colours with a pared-back web design for optimal performance.
Install WP Rocket for an easy speed optimisation solution
WP Rocket is considered the number 1 speed optimisation plugin for WordPress sites. It’s simple to use and claims to carry out 80% of speed optimisation best practices automatically, so you can rest assured that your site will perform better. It costs between $49-$249/per year, though. So, you’ll need to weigh up if you think the ease and optimisations weigh out the cost. If you get most of your business through your website, it might be a good idea to invest in this.
Optimising the performance of your website is just one of the ways you can improve your SEO, UX and conversion rate. If the content you have on your website does not hook your visitor, your website is not user-friendly to navigate or your site doesn’t include keywords that your audience is searching for, then a speedy website won’t fix these issues. It’s worth taking a holistic approach to performance optimisation, ensuring that your website will bring people to your website and prime them to buy once they arrive.
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