During the time that your site has been online, it accumulates baggage. As more and more images, plugins and other content gets added to your site it will slow down. The majority of internet users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. Every second above that will result in people leaving your site. Google also ranks your site lower if it has a slow page loading time. But to be honest, the reasons to improve your site speed should be pretty obvious. So let’s get to the how.
Luckily for us, WordPress plugins makes this process pretty easy and you don’t require much technical knowledge. Let’s keep in mind the 80/20 principle. 80% of the results will come from 20% of what you do. There are so much you can do to optimize your site but lets stick to the major factors. Btw, all the tools in this article are free to use.
First, let’s measure your current site so you have something to compare with as you follow the steps below.
For the page speed, go to https://tools.pingdom.com/, choose the server closest to where your site is hosted and start the test.
We are only going to look at two different factors: Load time and page size. Once the test is completed, take a print screen of the results and save it somewhere.
Now go to https://www.webpagetest.org/, enter your website again and start the test. It’s good to test it on another site so we can compare it to the pingdom results. Again, look at the load time and page size. This test will also give you a third important number; First byte time. This is the time it takes from the request to the server until the server sends back data. There are many bad hosting providers out there so keep an eye on this number. Ideally this should be under 0.5 seconds from a location that is not too far away from the server.
Alright, take a print screen of the results again and let’s get started with the improvements.
This will be the bottleneck for many websites. We all like pretty high resolution pictures, but what good does it make if they load so slowly so people will get frustrated and leave the site before they see them?
There are many image compression/optimizing plugins out there. My favorite is WP Smush. The negative thing with this one is that with the free version you can only compress images with a maximum image size of 1.5mb. For images larger than this I use a solution outside of WordPress which is a website called Optimizilla. Try it out!
In essence, use the tools I mentioned or find some other one. Doesn’t matter. Just get those image sizes decreased and enjoy the speed improvements that comes with it!
Now our image files are smaller, which is great. But still, we can optimize the images further by preventing the browser to load every single image on your page right away, and instead gradually load them as the user ventures down the page. This will barely be noticeable and should provide a nice speed increase in the initial page load.
Search & Install a plugin called a3 Lazy Load. Basically just enable all settings. Under the tab “Effect & Style” I recommend choosing “Fade in” as oppose to the spinner. Configure the loading background color to be the same background color as you have on your site. This way it will not really be noticeable by your visitors. Thats it!
Install a cache plugin
You might have noticed that the first time you go to a website it can be pretty slow, but after that its super fast! This is possible through browser caching. Essentially a static version of your site will be saved and served instead of rendering from scratch every single time.
If your content changes very often you might want to adjust how long the data will be stored. Otherwise the visitors may see the old version of the site for a long time. The highest rated plugin in this category is by far WP Fastest Cache. It will not only cache your website but also minify your HTML, CSS and JS into smaller files. Install that plugin and go to the plugin settings for it. Once you are there, just tick all the boxes you can on the main Settings page and press Submit. Done!
Just by doing these 3 things you will likely cut several seconds of your page loading time (of course depending on your starting situation). Do the website speed tests again that I listed in the start of the article and compare the results.
Site speed didn’t improve?
Alright so if you have done all the things above and the speed is still as slow as before or just a tiny bit better, it might be because of the theme you are using. Many of the themes on themeforest look very pretty but they might not be optimized for speed (like the one I use for this site LOL). Make some research about the theme you are using to see if it is optimized for page speed or not. Many of the theme providers provide a demo of the theme, you could try using the speed tools to measure the speed of that demo to get an idea.
Some themes that are fast and solid are Avada, Divi and all the StudioPress themes.
One thing you could do which is out of the scope of this article is configuring a CDN. This is basically a network of nodes split all over the world that each have your site saved. So when someone from Australia connects to your US hosted side, it might get the site data from a node in Singapore instead so the first byte time will be faster. Basically, this will enable faster load times on your site no matter where in the world you are requesting the site from. CDN’s usually offer a lot of other benefits as well. But that is a topic for another time.
I hope you were able to increase the speed of your site. The expectations for how fast a site should load just keeps increasing so its important to try and stay on top of the game. There are of course a lot more you can do beyond what I mentioned but this is just the absolute basics that will give a big chunk of the results without too much effort.