Simple Methods for Speeding Up WordPress

Have you noticed the load times on your WordPress powered website aren’t so fast? Well, you’re certainly not alone.

Have you noticed the load times on your WordPress powered website aren’t so fast? Well, you’re certainly not alone.

Many of us run our sites on shared hosting platforms. They’re very affordable and convenient. After all, most site owners won’t have the resources to hire their own IT department and run an in-house server.

The downside of most shared hosting is that a WordPress site with a good bit of content and traffic can slow down significantly. There are, of course, more expensive types of hosting that alleviate much of the problem (usually with automated caching and more server resources). Then again, most of us don’t have that type of room in our budget.

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to boost the speed of our snail-like sites. Let’s take a look:

The Simple Stuff

Here are some basic things you can do to speed up your WordPress install:

Check Your Theme
Is your theme severely outdated? Have you enabled features that you’re not using? Make sure your theme is up to date (please do use a child theme or at least ensure you won’t lose any customizations before updating). Who knows, there may be an incompatibility with a script that could be slowing you down.

Keep Plugins Updated
Good plugin authors are always trying to improve performance and squash bugs. For example, a plugin may cause JavaScript errors on either the front end or back end of your site. This can lead to usability and speed issues. While there’s no guarantee that an update will cure every issue (sometimes a new version is actually the cause of an issue), it’s still a good idea to keep up with the latest versions.

Deactivate and Delete Unwanted Plugins
I’ve seen so many sites that had dozens of plugins enabled, only to find that the most of them weren’t actually being used. This is a very easy way to trim fat. And, if you notice that a particular plugin really is slowing your site to a crawl, think long and hard about how important it is to your site. If it doesn’t provide functionality that can’t be replicated by something else, get rid of it like yesterday’s trash.

Optimize Images
Whether you’re optimizing them in your favorite photo editor or using a WordPress plugin, lowering the file size of your images should always be a priority. You could also have a look at Ben Smithett’s image performance tips for authors.

Optimize Your Database
After awhile, your site’s database can become as cluttered as your junk closet. Optimizing can help speed up response times. Some web hosts may let you do this manually (or better yet, set a schedule for automatic optimization) within your control panel. Plugins like WP-DB Manager will allow you to optimize your database from within WordPress (and it’ll back up your database, too).

Cache In On Speed

WordPress caching plugins have been around for awhile. In the old days, I was against using cache for most sites because the plugins I tried seemed to cause more problems than anything else. Thankfully that has changed. While you still have to be careful with how a cache plugin is setup, using the recommended (default) settings for most small to medium sized sites won’t cause too much trouble.

The plugin I most often recommend is W3 Total Cache. The free version can work wonders on a slow loading site. While there are a ton of settings, you only need to know a little bit to see some positive results.

w3 cache plugin

Types of Caching to Enable
Once you’ve installed and activated W3 Total Cache, you’ll notice a new menu item inside WordPress called Performance. Click into the General Settings page and you’ll see a listing for the following types of Cache:

  • Page Cache
  • Minify
  • Database Cache
  • Object Cache
  • Browser Cache
  • CDN

For most basic sites, I’d recommend having the Page Cache and Browser Cache enabled. ¬†These two items will reduce the load on your server by storing static versions of your pages and posts (Page Cache) and locally storing JavaScript, images and CSS files (Browser Cache).

The other types can be very effective, but their use really depends upon the type of site you’re running¬† and the server environment it’s hosted on. Since we’re looking for something easy and basic, just using the Page and Browser Caches will give you a great starting point. You might want to dig deeper to see if those other types of cache would be a benefit to your site.

I will note that a CDN (Content Delivery Network) like MaxCDN, Amazon CloudFront or CloudFlare can really give your site a boost if you host a lot of media files. Depending on how much traffic your site generates, a CDN can also be fairly cheap. Though again, that is definitely a more advanced feature.

As an aside, the Jetpack plugin also features its own free Photon service, which will store your images in the cloud, thus speeding up your site.

Compare Results

Here’s something that may just make your eyes light up with joy. Use a site speed tool like Pingdom or GTMetrix to check your site’s Google Page Speed and YSlow rankings both before you optimize your site and after you’ve taken steps to speed things up.

google pagespeed insights


You may be pleasantly surprised to see how much faster your website is after just a few tweaks! If the results aren’t quite where you want them to be, then do a little research and play around with the W3 Total Cache settings. Then, give the speed testing another try.

Do you have any tips for speeding up a WordPress site? Feel free to leave a comment and let us know.

Next Steps

From here you should head over to Tuts+, they have a series of in-depth tutorials for configuring the W3 Total Cache plugin that will help you truly speed up your site. Want some more WordPress tips? Then you should check out my previous post…

5 Things You May Forget When Launching a WordPress Website