Let’s face it. Everyone likes a fast website. Your visitors and you. In 2020, anyone should have one, given that the prices to achieve that, are much smaller than a few years back.
An average user per a few studies makes his mind in 2-4seconds, so if your website is slow, you’re risking to lose your visitors, or even worse, potential customers. In other words, users expectations patience has decreased while on the other side, their expectations have grown. That means just one thing. The speed of your site today means more than ever.
While on one side you have to keep your visitors/customers happy, the story doesn’t end up there. You want to make search engines like Google happy. If Google is “happy” with your website speed amongst other factors like your site SEO, authority, which we won’t discuss in this series of tutorial, you gain more benefit from Google, your site ranks higher, which beings you more potential traffic for your website, which is a win-win situation then.
There are more ways to speed up your WordPress sites, but per our experience, we will focus on those who worked like a charm, per starting and correct order.
- Your WordPress Theme
- Your WordPress Hosting
- Caching system
1. Your WordPress Theme
Your WordPress site has to use the latest techniques and follow the latest development standards. Now, if you’re not an expert on this no worries, we’ll try to explain. When you’re in a process of deciding what your next WordPress theme it’s going to be, ask your self, what you really need. If you’re in the market to buy a theme, there are plenty of choices, some of them are built superbly but on the other side, some not, or they are simply bloated with a lot of options you will never use or need, or in some cases page builders.
What means bloated in this case? Let’s say you have a Magazine website. You found a theme that looks nice to you, then you see a full scope of things which offers, like functionality, plugins included. Aside from this, you’ve might be reading how to improve your website and you did find more plugins to help you out on your success road.
Now here’s a thing. You have to ask yourself do you really need all that, because, the more stuff you have on your website, the bigger impact will be on your website’s page speed, which could result that the hard work you put on that website is for nothing. Our usual first rule about things like this is, the fewer plugins you have, the better. Just because something looks nice for your eyes, the less of sliders, dynamic elements, the better. We’re not even speaking about the speed thing only, the security of your website as well. Some plugins could be outdated and that could put your website in security risk. In other words, don’t “bloat” your website just because you can. Think twice!
The road to success is simple, you can have the best possible plugins there are, but the content of your website is all that matters, in other words, focus on your content rather than investing your money thinking it would help you magically.
To have a solid WordPress theme, usually, the best way is to have it built custom-tailored per your actual needs, which StyleWP does. This way you get what you really want and need and avoid all the hassle. Now, maybe you’re a starter, or a student, maybe you want to try your chances in the “online world” and of course you don’t have a budget for that. That’s normal. We all have to start somewhere. You opt to find a free WordPress theme, from WordPress.org or maybe to buy a ready theme. In this case, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure you are getting a solid theme.
Check the reviews, test that theme at GTmetrix, Google Page Speed, and Pingdom Tools. See what grade they get. That alone could tell you a lot. Theoretically, a theme with the grade D and a load of let’s say 2 seconds could be better than a theme with grade A and the load of 4/5 seconds could be better. But not to confuse you, look for a better grade on websites like those and better loading time. After that steps, check the size of that particular page and check how many requests it generates (the less the better). Finally, before going live with it, test it out, so you get a feel of that theme on your website.
2. Your WordPress Hosting
When you found your ideal WordPress theme for your website, the next step is to find your web hosting. Finding a good web hosting company it’s not always easy as it looks like. Your web hosting provider could impact on your website a lot. Aside from the speed matter, you want to find a web hosting which has your back always. Things can always go “down” and you need to know your website is in good hands.
What to look for at web hosting providers?
There are a couple of things you need to look for before you decide to pick one like their reputability, what hardware and software they use. Do a study before you decide. A major factor as we noted above, is their support. Search for reviews, but also think with your head. You might find a raging review, which turns to be a fault from the user, not from the web host. A good place to find your self a good host or to check web hosting reviews can be webhostingtalk.com.
Even though the web-hosting industry has advanced with technology, and the prices of their web hosting plans have dropped compared to a few years back, you need to look for your needs. Many web hosting companies for example offer cheap web hosting plans called – shared plans. Per price those look the most affordable and of course, why pay more if you don’t have to. Have in mind when you go with a shared plan, you’re going to share a server with many other websites, which results in delivering a poorer performance.
Now, if you’re brand new in this, and you’re just starting with your website, a shared plan might be the best fit for you. Do note, your account could be suspended, because of things we’ve mentioned above. Let’s say you have a bad optimized theme or a plugin. Those could impact on your web hosting provider server, and given you’re not alone on your shared server, to protect other users your website could be suspended. There are also other factors to be careful within your search for your new web hosting provider. If you’re just starting to ignore the next part, but if you’re not, you already know some info about your website. Info like, how many visitors you’re getting, how fast or slow is your website, how much on average visitors are spending time on your website.
If your site has medium or heavy traffic, a shared plan won’t fit you. Your website could keep going offline at the peaks of the highest traffic and you don’t want that to happen. Sometimes, which is a good thing, as it means you’re doing good, your website has outgrown a shared plan and it’s time to upgrade your web hosting plan with the VPS or Dedicated server. Now, those might be expensive, but all of it depends on your needs. Do research, talk with some web hosting companies.
Lately, a market of managed WordPress hosting is growing a lot and in most cases, those could be the best fit for you, if you’re serious about your website, and here’s why. They specialize in WordPress, knowing exactly what their servers need to make your website fly. When you’re looking for such web hosting, look for the following:
- do they use the latest php version on their server
- do they use SSD storage
- do they offer website backups
- do they offer website security
- do they use Nginx server
- what they are using for your database handle (MariaDB is one of recommending ones)
- do they offer litespeed (not a must but a good thing to have)
- do they have a list of banned plugins (some of them don’t accept the installation of some caching plugins)
- do they offer support and in what cases
- check their terms
- check their plans, your website traffic and the proper plan for the same
- check your website storage and the proper plan for the same
- do they offer CDN
- where are their servers located (for an example if you’re in EU and plan to have mostly EU visitors, you should look for a hosting which provides EU server location)
Again, even you did find golden web hosting, it won’t cure the problem of your plugin or theme, so that’s still a must thing. Managed hosting prices for 1 website are not expensive anymore, and if you can afford it, you definitely should, even though that might mean you spend an extra.
3. Caching system
Any website should have some sort of caching. Especially in WordPress. It is highly recommended that you enable cache. Caching is basically storing data in a temporary storage area which improves your website speed by serving your visitors already prepared content, so no need for that content to be fetched and processed. There are two ways of having a WordPress website with caching.
- Server-side caching
- Caching plugin
Now in this article, we won’t go into full details about caching as we have in plan to write a standalone article for the same, but to help you out now, the best thing to do is to ask your web hosting provider do they use some sort of server cache (if you don’t know) or what WordPress cache plugin they can recommend to you.
Some of the plugins we’ve worked on and have proven very good are:
- WP Rocket (paid one)
- WP Super Cache
- WP Fastest Cache
- W3 Total Cache (not recommended for starters)
Each of these will perform nicely given your theme is in good shape, your plugins, as well as your web hosting provider. Having a cached website will help you with your page speed by improving the first byte and rendering fully website to your visitors in a shorter time.
That’s why you have to minify those, so instead of thousands of lines of codes, those lines get minified, and the files served are smaller. Some of the caching plugins have built-in those options, but if you’re looking for a separate option, we’ve used Autoptimize plugin (it’s free) and had good results with it.
Some scripts like ads, font loaders, etc can’t be “optimized” from your side as they are external so have in mind our first rule about page speed, the less is better.
Everyone likes images. Articles without images are harder to read, they are boring, especially when image impacts a lot on the topic of an article. The problem is, images are heavy and they impact a lot on your website speed. So you have to reduce the image size to the best possible. Some tricks to have the best possible is to check what your theme’s featured image sizes are. The ones you add inside post content can’t be found there, so there’s an alternative way to solve that.
While everyone likes high-resolution images, the better the quality of those, likely the bigger size of those is. So to address this issue we need to reduce our image size, which we can do in two ways.
Usually, inside your function.php, there’s a line
add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' ). Some authors move stuff to another folder, differently named file, in this case, do a search inside your full theme folder using some of the coding editors for that line and when you find it, under it look for
add_image_size(name, width, height);. Another option could be to ask the theme’s author.
We’re interested here in the width attribute of the images which your theme is using. Look for the biggest one in size. Let’s say it’s 1024px. That means if you have an image of 1900px in size, that image will be scaled to 1024px in some cases, while still having the same size. So what you could do in this case is to resize an image of 1900px to 1024px and have the best possible size.
After this step, you can further optimize your image by using a website like TinyPNG or their plugin. Wp Smush and EWWW Image optimizer (free and paid versions) will do the same very nicely. Once you did that, not only you are helping your page speed, you did a lot to you and your website visitors. It will save you storage on your server, and your visitors will be loading your website faster, because do have in mind your visitors might be from all over the world and sadly all won’t have the fastest internet speeds there are. Browsing your website on mobiles will faster and many visitors in 2020 are mainly browsing websites via their mobiles and pay for their bandwidth.
6. CDN or Content Delivery Networks
Having a CDN is the final step in having your website fast for your visitors. As we noted little above, your visitors might be from all over the world. Let’s say your website is hosted in London and your visitors are from New York or India. The difference in serving all the files from your website to them and people in London or EU will be different. The further they are from your server location, the slower website will be for them. That’s why it’s good to have a CDN, especially as they are not expensive anymore, some of them are even free like Cloudflare and offer even an extra layer of protection for your website. Some of the paid ones if you can afford those are a former MaxCDN now StackPath and KeyCDN.
A CDN acts like this. It copies your website files in various data centers located in different places and then it serves them from the nearest location to your visitor, thus reducing loading time for your visitors to the smallest possible one.
After you have done all 6 steps which we’ve mentioned here, your website speed should improve a lot. Still, there are other things you can make aside from this to improve it a little more.
- If you have installed plugins which you don’t use – delete them
- Cleanup your database (it will reduce the size of it and your web files)
- Enable GZIP compression (via .htaccess file or plugin)
- Disable pingbacks and trackbacks
- Turn off comments if your website doesn’t need them
- Remove emoji if you don’t need them
To conclude, all these steps will make both you and your visitors happy. Today it’s all about user experience and having a fast and optimized website is the key to having a good one. Not only that, having a fast website will improve your rankings in the SERPs, which can lead to more visitors (potential sales), while also it will cut some costs to you by using less bandwidth from your web hosting.