Comprehensive Guide to Improving WordPress Speed

Slow load times kill your website’s hopes of success. Not only is website speed an important component of SEO (which will impact how many visitors you get), but it also impacts your conversion rate.

Slow load times kill your website’s hopes of success. Not only is website speed an important component of SEO (which will impact how many visitors you get), but it also impacts your conversion rate. More traffic and a better conversion rate means more profit – and potentially a lot more.

So, now we know why you should want a lightning quick website, it’s time to look at how to get it. Today I want to share six speed optimization tips for WordPress users, to knock seconds off your site’s load time.

How effective can these tips be? I recommend analyzing your website using a free tool such as Pingdom or Google PageSpeed Insights to test your site’s load speed. Run the test before and after you make the changes so you can see just how much time you’ve saved.

A Good Host

Managed Hosts

As much as we’d like to think we have complete control over our website’s performance, speed optimization starts with your web host. If speed is important to you – and it should be – I’d advise you not to skimp on your hosting provider.

Now, I’ve got nothing against a $5 shared hosting plan. In my opinion, these services are fine for a hobbyist looking to become familiar with WordPress. Do they provide the solid foundations for a successful, sustainable online business, though? Unfortunately not.

A server has a finite set of resources, and every website sharing that server will deplete those resources. The more websites you share with, the fewer the resources left for your site – and those resources aren’t allocated equally.

Shared hosting services are so economical, simply because of the huge volume of websites you’ll be sharing the server with, bringing the cost per site down substantially. However, all those websites are then competing with you for server resources, and this slows down every single website on that server.

Shared hosting isn’t looking so good now, is it?

Install a Content Delivery Network (CDN)


Typically, your website is hosted on one server. That means one fixed, physical location. Now, although it seems like everything happens instantaneously in the online world, this isn’t the case. The larger the physical distance between someone trying to access your website and your server, the longer it takes for your website to load.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) solve this problem by hosting your website on servers located all over the world. Now when someone tries to access your site, they will connect to the server closest to them. By reducing the physical connection distance, latency is reduced, and your website loads faster.

There are free CDN services out there, most notably CloudFlare, and premium services like MaxCDN.

Install a Caching Plugin

Caching Plugins

Most people know a caching plugin is a good way to improve load times. This is absolutely correct, but only if that caching plugin is configured correctly. Rather than loading every element of your website from scratch for each visitor, a caching plugin stores a static, HTML version of your website. Every time a new visitor accesses your website, this static version is fed to that visitor. This can save huge amounts of time, with no impact on quality.

The two most popular caching plugins available today are W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. However, don’t think that installing and activating one of these plugins is enough – they need to be properly configured.

If you want more information on configuring W3 Total Cache click here, and for configuring WP Super Cache click here.

Optimize Images

WP Smush It

Images are an important component of any successful websites: they’re eye-catching, break up the monotony of too much text, and can enhance your content’s main points. Images are also one of your website’s “heavier” elements – an image’s file size is far greater than a paragraph of text.

I would recommend using images in moderation, plus ensuring your images aren’t too large. Generally, I aim for images smaller than 100kb.

You can cut down a lot of file size by re-sizing or cropping your images until they’re the size you want to display them at. You can do this from within the WordPress dashboard, by going to Media > Library, selecting the image you want, then clicking Edit Image. You can also use a free photo editing web-app like Pixlr.

Using a form of lossless compression will further reduce your image’s file size – lossless compression removes the unnecessary parts of the image like the meta data, resulting in a smaller file size but no noticeable loss of quality. The go-to plugin for lossless compression is WP – automatically “smushes” newly uploaded images, plus you can go back to compress your entire media library.

If you would like to learn more about optimzing your images for the web, you should have a look at this post: Image Performance Tips For Authors.

Use GZip Compression

Your website’s absolute file size is one of the biggest limiting factors on speed. All things being equal, an 800kb website will take longer to load than a 500kb website – makes sense, right?

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to bring your site’s file size down. We’ve already talked about reducing file size by using smaller images, but now I want to talk about GZip compression.

GZip compression can reduce the file size of your website’s content and stylesheet by as much as 70%. This can result in a much faster load speed and reduced bandwidth use. There are a number of ways to activate GZip compression, but in my opinion, installing a WordPress plugin is the easiest as you don’t have to go anywhere near your .htaccess file.

To activate GZIP compression, simply install and activate the GZip Ninja Speed Compression plugin.

Use Fewer Plugins


With so many cool plugins available on CodeCanyon, it’s easy to get carried away – I’m guilty of this myself, too. However, plugins add to your website’s load times, and some more than others.

If you’ve committed to sit down to improve your site’s load time, this is the perfect opportunity to consider how much value each plugin adds to your website. If it’s not doing much, get rid of it.

Taking this one step further, consider adding the Plugin Performance Profiler (P3) plugin to your website – you can remove it when you’re done. P3 isolates each plugin to tell you how much additional load time each plugin adds.

Not only is this a great way to spot plugins that slow your site down way too much, you could also use it to compare like-for-like plugins to see which is quicker – for example, finding the quickest social sharing plugin.

It’s time to understand that speed is fundamentally important for WordPress users – in fact, it’s right up there with a functional (and aesthetically pleasing) website design and producing high quality content.

Speed optimization is a complicated topic, and an ongoing process. However, the six tips today are easy to implement, and can knock significant chunks of time off an unoptimized website. If you care about your visitors’ experience of your website, make speed a priority and reap the rewards.


Feature image: garloon

About the Author Shaun Quarton

Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.