A Non-Techies Guide to Speeding Up Your WordPress Website

1st June. Posted in Guides.

If you already own a WordPress website, you probably already know that website speed is important. Google uses website speed as a (very small) ranking factor and your website speed will have a big impact on how users perceive your website and brand. It can make the difference between them interacting with your website happily or leaving annoyed and unlikely to return.

According to a report by Kissmetrics, 47% of consumers expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less and 40% of users would abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Unfortunately, WordPress themes are not particularly fast without some time and effort being spent on optimising the speed. Most themes are loaded with frameworks including lots of images, javaScript and CSS files. The code quality of themes varies greatly too. A well made theme will aim to minimise all these separate files and load them efficiently. A badly made them wont, and the performance difference could be significant.

On the plus size, WordPress is a very flexible system which has all kinds of amazing plugins to help you speed up your website.

What Makes a Website Slow?

Before I get to the tips on making your website faster. I want you to keep in mind what makes your website slow in the first place.

Now, there are actually quite a few things that can make a website slow but article is for non-techies so I will cover the things that will give you the most bang for your buck!

Firstly, we have your server. The company you choose to host your website will have an impact on your website speed. A poor quality host can really make your website slow. The location of your host will also effect your website speed. For example, if your host is in the USA then your website will probably be significantly faster for users in the USA than it is in India.

Secondly, we have the number of requests. When a person visits your website your website will ‘request’ all the things it needs to load the website. This includes lots of things you cant even see like the calls to the functions that make WordPress work and lots of other things like the images in your theme, the files that determine how your website looks and the files that make certain features work.

The fewer the requests, the better.

OK, so lets take a look at how you can make your website much fast, even if you’re a beginner…

Choose the Right Theme

A small, focused theme will generally have much fewer requests than one of the popular multipurpose themes you see on Themeforest.

Choosing a theme well will make a big difference to your website speed. Small themes often don’t need any external plugins or frameworks to make them work whereas multipurpose themes will often come with tons of plugins like Visual Composer and Slider Revolution. Each of these plugins will load their own CSS (files used to determine how your website looks) and javaScript (files used for various functionality) and they often result in very messy HTML code which increases the weight of your page (the lower the weight of your page, the better).

Let’s take a look at an example…

Here, you can see a summary of the Atomic theme by Array Themes. This is a simple portfolio theme and Array are well known for creating simple themes with no unnecessary bells and whistles.

Here, you can see the results for Avada, the most popular WordPress theme ever created. It’s a mammoth multipurpose theme with all kinds of features.

Both of these tests were using https://www.webpagetest.org on the default demo sites for each theme.

As you can see, Avada has over the double the amount of requests as Atomic does and the page itself is over 1MB bigger. The fully loaded time for Avada is nearly double Atomic’s.

I’m not picking on Avada here, it’s performance is actually good for such a large, complex theme. I just want to show you that if you buy a specialised theme that fits your website well rather than buying all in one theme and adapting it to your needs, you will have an easier time getting your performance up to scratch.

Choose a Good Host

Most well known WordPress hosts will provide perfectly adequate speeds for most websites but there are still plenty of people out there with budget hosting solutions wondering why their websites are so slow. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with cheap WordPress hosting as long as the service is good but opting for a host purely because they are the cheapest may be a bad idea. I’ve already written a guide on choosing a cheap WordPress host which covers speed, as well as lots of other important factors when choosing a host.

Set Up Caching

Caching is a way of making your website much faster by saving a copy of it for a given time. When somebody wants to view your website, the cached (copied) version can be shown to them instead of a fresh version being generated every time.

Caching is actually a pretty complex topic but setting up caching with WordPress doesn’t have to be complex due to the amount of excellent plugins available.

Step 1

Go to gtmetrix.com and do a speed test of your website. Take a screenshot of the result.

Step 2

Install the W3 Total Cache plugin and activate it.

Step 2

Go to ‘General Settings’ and enable ‘Page Cache’. Leave the cache method as Disk:Enhanced.

Step 3

On the same page, enable ‘Minify’ and use ‘Auto’ as the mode. Minifying will combine files to reduce the number of requests and remove things from those files that are not needed like comments and extra space.

Keep in mind that using the ‘Auto’ setting can break things some times! If you have files that need to be loaded in a certain order then the ‘Auto’ setting can break things by altering the order. Once you have applied this setting, go through your site and check for any errors.

Step 4

Enable the database cache.

Step 5

Enable the browser cache.

Note!

There is a setting below browser cache called ‘CDN’. A CDN is a great way to speed up a website but we wont be covering it here due to the extra cost involved and complexity for beginners. Feel free to explore this option though!

Step 6

Now the basic settings have been applied, run through your website and test your pages. Then go to gtmetrix.com and do another test. You should see your page weight and number of requests come down.

Optimize Your Images

I’ve lost count of the amount of WordPress websites I’ve seen run by beginners with huge images slowing the website down dramatically. I’ve seen sites where the owner has uploaded original photos straight from their camera to use as a header image. I’ve seen images over 4000 pixels wide and 5MB in size being used. This is ridiculous and your not going to make the same mistake.

Images have the potential to dramatically slow down a website. Many themes these days are very image heavy so keeping the file size of these images down is important.

Firstly, think about how big your images need to be. Make them as small as you can by physically resizing them using an image editor such as Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop there are some good free options available such as GIMP or Pixlr.

Once you’ve changed the size of your image, you need to optimize when you save it too. Photoshop has a great save for web feature where you can adjust the quality of the image to reduce the file size. Most free versions will have similar features too.

Once you’ve changed your images you can compress them more using the Smush plugin. Install this plugin and run it on all your images. It will make a big difference.

Audit Your Plugins

This goes back to reducing the amount of requests your website generates. Each plugin used on the front end of your website will impact performance to some degree. Go through your plugins and decide if you really need them or not. Disable anything you don’t need. Not only will your website be faster, but it will be easier to maintain too.

Further Improvements

There are LOADS of other things you can do to speed up your website but I don’t really think they are beginner friendly. Stick to the guide here and cover the basics first, then think about the things you can do to get more improvement if your website is still too slow.

Some things to look into for more advanced users are:

  • Moving files that the browser needs to download before it can continue (render blocking files) to the bottom of the page
  • Setting up Cloudflare
  • Setting up a CDN
  • Optimising your database

I’ll cover these things in a future post. So stay tuned and sign up for the newsletter to get useful guides sent to your inbox.

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