Increase Website Speed in WordPress

Page Speed is the amount of time it takes for a page on your website to load and search engines use page speed in their algorithm to help rank your site.

Why, you ask? Think about it, when you visit a website and it takes FOREVER to load a page, what do you do? Some people may wait for the page to load, but the majority of people return to the search page and try another website – especially if the site is loading at a glacial pace on your mobile phone!

The good news is there’s great, free ways to reduce page speed if your site is hosted on WordPress. These plugins are easy to use and once set-up, quietly run on the backend so you never have to do anything to them again (other than update them when requested).

Let’s Get Started with Testing Your Current Page Speed

There are 2 free tools I like to use to help test page speed – Google Page Test and Pingdom. It’s a good idea to see what your current homepage speed is before you install any of the tools we’ll mention next so you can see if the process was worth it. You can run more than just your homepage through these tools, but the tools I’ll be sharing will cause site-wide changes in speed, so starting with your homepage will work just fine for now.

  • Google Page Test

    Run your website through this free tool and write down the score that Google gives you for the mobile page speed and desktop page speed. BONUS: Scroll to the bottom of the mobile test and take note of your user experience score too.

  • Pingdom Website Speed Test

    Another great place to run your website through to see an overall performance grade, how many requests your site is asking for, total load time, and page size.

Plugins & Tools to Speed Up Your Site

1. W3 Total Cache

By far the #1 tool I’d recommend for page speed; however, it can be tricky to setup. If you want to tackle it yourself, I’d highly recommend this W3 Total Cache guide.

This is a great page speed plugin to install on your WordPress site to help compress and cache items on your site that are taking up precious load time. Once you install it, go to General Settings and turn on the different tools one-by-one. Clean the cache (you’ll see a note from W3 at the top of your website dashboard to do this) between turning on the different tools, and then refresh the website in a browser you aren’t logged into or in an incognito browser to see if the tool rendered the website wrong. If you use the guide mentioned above, it’ll teach you how to turn off cache for logged in users so you don’t have to constantly clean it through all of your changes – so you’ll just need to clear it when you’re done so it’s corrected for your users.

Note: I’d highly recommend going through the Minify section of the guide line by line. Depending on the Javascript and CSS of your theme, this can get things really ugly, really fast. And leave the Google Analytics (GA) Javascript where it is – GA gets picky when you start moving that code around.

2. WPSmush or EWWW Image Optimizer

Images can take up A LOT of space on your website. WPSmush and EWWWW Image Optimizer are free tools that will help shrink the size of your images – all without changing the appearance of your images to users.

When we ran WPSMush on our site, we were able to reduce our image size by 9.11 MB (or 17%). There is a limit of only reducing the size of images under 1 MB for the free version, so you’ll have 3 options at this point: 1) pay WP Smush Pro (which may be a good idea if you have a lot of images on your site) 2) manually reduce the size of those images using one of these tools, or 3) Deactivate/Delete WPSmush and install EWWW Image Optimizer.

We opted for #3 and let EWWW Image Optimizer do a bulk optimize of our images and gained almost 5 GB of space back – wow!

3. WPOptimize

If you’re site is small, you don’t need to really worry about this one until spam comments, pingbacks/trackbacks, and trash/delete folders start to get too large. Basically, this toll helps keep the trash off of your site, which gives you back extra storage and speed. For a full list of what this tool is able to help clean-up, check out their WordPress page.  If you don’t want to add another plugin to your list, you can clean-up these items manually too, or you just run this tool on a quarterly basis (add it as a reminder on your calendar) – simply load it, run it, and then delete it off of your website. BONUS: This tool also cleans up all of those revisions that get stored from pages and posts.

4. Image Lazy Load

If your website has a lot of items to load before the full page load is complete (eCommerce sites will have this issue), you’ll fall in love with this tool! If you’ve ever visited a website and see that the images load as you scroll (instead of all at once), this is what image lazy load it. This tool makes images above the fold load, but won’t load images below the fold until the user starts scrolling. This helps with page speed, because only above the fold has to load to be considered done/loaded for the user.

5. Delete Old Plugins

I’m not a fan of having a lot of plugins on WordPress websites. With that said, because I just recommended adding new plugins, make sure to go thin on any unused plugins you still have installed; meaning, delete any that aren’t being used and go through the ones that are still active and make sure you even need them anymore – if not, deactivate and delete those too. An example of a plugin that is likely installed, but not needed is the Hello Dolly plugin that WordPress automatically installs on every new website – it’s not really needed and okay to delete.

6. Leverage Browser Caching

There are 2 ways to handle this – the super easy way and the easy way.

    • Super Easy Way. You can setup browser caching with W3 Total Cache in the Browser Cache menu option. Just follow the W3 Total Cache guide I mentioned above to see how to set the settings correctly.
    • Easy Way. You’ll have to add a line of code to your .htaccess file, which can be done through File Manager in your cpanel (where your site is hosted – GoDaddy, Bluehost, etc), but the line of code is just copy and paste – promise. The code that needs to be added to .htaccess is below – copy and paste it at the top of the .htaccess file. To check if you did it right, just run your site through one of the page speed tools and Leverage Browser Caching should be gone as a suggested fix.

## EXPIRES CACHING ##
<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresByType image/jpg “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/jpeg “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/gif “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/png “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresByType text/css “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/pdf “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/x-javascript “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/x-icon “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresDefault “access plus 2 days”
</IfModule>
## EXPIRES CACHING ##

Conclusion

Anytime you’re adding/deleting plugins, you’ll need to test the performance of your site in the speed tool, while also clearing the cache and making sure the site visually still looks as it should. You’ll also want to do this between turning on/off the different features each plugin installs. This will be the only way to know what plugin/feature is causing your site issues.

As a result of all of our page speed optimization efforts (or at least what we could do with some theme restrictions), we were able to improve our scores as follows:

  Before After
Google Mobile 46/100 62/100
Google Desktop 65/100 80/100
Pingdom Performance Grade 82/100 88/100

 

About Kasy Allen

Kasy brings years of experience in search engine optimization (SEO), content strategy, Internet marketing, and overall web-geekery to the table. She enjoys writing on the web and improving user experience across the Annapurna site, as well as with our clients. When Kasy is out of the office, she can often be found volunteering her time to help non-profit organizations build a better online presence and exploring the great outdoors with her family.

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