You’re probably reading this because you have a WordPress site that runs at a snail’s pace on the front end, and your admin team struggles to open pages in the CMS. To crudely borrow from Goldie Looking Chain, “WordPress Doesn’t Make Slow Websites; People Do”.
When we took over Headmasters.com in 2018, some pages took 10 seconds to load, and the site had amassed over 80 plug-ins. Another site we looked at recently (and will remain nameless) had over 120 plug-ins!
How does this happen?
It tends to fall into two routes:
- The site was built on a budget by someone who just installed plug-ins as they didn’t know how to code.
- The site was built professionally and then handed over to a succession of admins and freelancers who just installed plug-ins as they didn’t know how to code. (Tip: Website owners should limit admin access to admins who know what they are doing.)
There is a theme (excuse the pun) here. WordPress success is down to its ease of use, but this also breeds complacency. Hopefully, our guide will help.
Website speed is not just a technical metric; it’s a critical factor that directly influences the user experience, conversion rates, and search engine rankings. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a first impression. Users expect a fast and seamless experience when clicking a link or entering a web address. If your website takes too long time to load, that initial impression can quickly turn sour, resulting in high bounce rates and lost opportunities.
Our guide aims to help you uncover why you might have a slow WordPress website and, more importantly, how to transform it into a high-speed, responsive online platform. We’ll delve into the intricacies of website speed optimisation, explore the intricacies of WordPress hosting, themes, and plugins, and learn about best practices for optimising images, reducing HTTP requests, and streamlining database operations.
The stakes are high in the online world. A slow website can lead to decreased user engagement, abandoned shopping carts, and diminished credibility. Furthermore, search engines like Google consider website speed a critical ranking factor. In other words, if your WordPress site is sluggish, it could be losing out on organic traffic and higher search engine visibility.
So, join us as we unravel the mysteries of WordPress speed, debunk common myths, and equip you with actionable strategies to improve your website’s speed, enhance the overall user experience, and bolster your SEO rankings. Fasten your seatbelts; we’ll journey towards a faster, more responsive WordPress website.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is an open-source content management system (CMS) that powers millions of websites worldwide. Its user-friendly interface and extensive customisation options make it a top choice for bloggers, businesses, and developers.
What’s the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com?
|Aspect||WordPress.org (Self-Hosted)||WordPress.com (Hosted)|
|Control||Full control over your website||Limited customisation options|
|Customisation||Highly customisable||Limited themes and plugins|
|Ownership||You own your website and data||Less control over data|
|Hosting||Requires separate web hosting||Hosting included in plans|
|Technical Knowledge||Requires technical expertise||Beginner-friendly setup|
|Hosting Costs||Pay for hosting and domain||Included in plans or free|
|Responsibility||Responsible for backups, security, updates||Updates and security handled by WordPress.com|
|Monetisation||Unlimited monetisation options||Restrictions on lower-tier plans|
|Branding||No WordPress.com branding||WordPress.com branding on free plan|
|Data Ownership||Full ownership of data||Limited control over data|
|Support||Community support and resources||Access to WordPress.com customer support|
|Time-Consuming||Can be time-intensive||Easier and quicker setup|
Importance of Website Speed
Website speed is crucial for various reasons, directly impacting user experience, business success, and search engine rankings. Here’s why website speed is so important:
- User Experience: A fast site encourages engagement and a positive user experience.
- First Impressions: Page speed impacts brand credibility and professionalism.
- Conversion Rates: Speed directly boosts conversions and business growth.
- Mobile Experience: Mobile speed is crucial with rising device use.
- SEO Ranking: Speed improves search rankings, driving organic traffic.
- Reduced Bounce Rate: Slow sites lead to higher bounce rates, impacting search rankings.
- Competitive Edge: Faster sites differentiate and attract and retain visitors.
- User Retention: Speed fosters user loyalty, which is vital for long-term success.
Factors Causing a Slow WordPress Site
Your choice of hosting provider plays a pivotal role in website speed. Shared hosting plans may be budget-friendly but can lead to slower loading times due to resource sharing. A managed or VPS hosting plan will offer the best way to improve speed and reliability.
Bloated Themes and Plugins
Off-the-shelf themes and plugins, readily available for use in WordPress, are a double-edged sword. While they offer convenience and functionality, they can also contribute to slowing down your WordPress website. Let’s explore in detail why these pre-made themes and plugins can have such an impact:
- Code Bloat: Many off-the-shelf themes and plugins have extensive codebases to cater to diverse needs, increasing website file size and loading times.
- Unused Features: Off-the-shelf themes/plugins offer many features, but only some are needed, causing unnecessary overhead as the entire codebase loads.
- Database Queries: Poorly optimised database queries by plugins can slow down site performance, accumulating with more plugin usage.
- Security Risks: Using poorly coded or outdated themes/plugins can expose your site to vulnerabilities, risking performance and security.
- Dependency on Third-Party Servers: Some plugins rely on external servers, affecting site speed and functionality if they experience downtime.
- Lack of Optimization: Off-the-shelf solutions need more fine-tuned optimisation for optimal performance than custom-built ones.
Theme & Plug-in Strategies
To mitigate the impact of off-the-shelf themes and plugins on your WordPress website’s speed, consider the following strategies:
- Select Lightweight Themes: Choose themes prioritising speed and efficiency, even with fewer features. Customisation can fill in functionality gaps.
- Use Plugins Sparingly: Only install essential plugins for your website’s functionality. Regularly review and deactivate or remove unused plugins.
- Regularly Update: Keep your themes and plugins up to date to benefit from performance improvements and security patches.
- Consider Custom Development: For critical components of your website, consider custom development to ensure optimal performance and compatibility.
By understanding why off-the-shelf themes and plugins can slow down WordPress, you can make informed decisions about which ones to use and take steps to optimise your site’s performance.
Optimising images and adopting new web formats are essential strategies for improving website speed and performance. Let’s delve into both aspects to provide valuable insights:
- Choose the Right Format: Select the appropriate image format for your use case. The most common formats are JPEG, PNG, and GIF. Use JPEG for photographs and images with many colours, PNG for images with transparency or crisp graphics, and GIF for simple animations.
- Resize Images: Scale images to the dimensions needed for your website. Large images displayed at smaller sizes still load the entire file, wasting bandwidth and increasing loading times.
- Compress Images: Utilize image compression tools or plugins to reduce file sizes without significantly compromising image quality. This is especially important for JPEG and PNG images.
- Enable Browser Caching: Set up browser caching to temporarily store images on the user’s device. This way, returning visitors don’t need to re-download the same images, improving load times.
- Implement Lazy Loading: Lazy loading defers the loading of images until they enter the user’s viewport. This reduces the initial page load time, as only visible images are fetched initially.
- Serve Images via Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): CDNs distribute your images across multiple servers worldwide, delivering them from the nearest server to the user. This reduces latency and speeds up image loading.
- Use Responsive Images: Implement responsive design techniques, such as srcset and sizes attributes in HTML, to serve different image sizes based on the user’s device and screen resolution.
- Optimise Alt Text: Include descriptive alt text for images. This not only helps with accessibility but also ensures that even if images don’t load, users still understand their context.
- Image Format Conversion: Consider using modern image formats like WebP, which offers better compression and quality than traditional formats. However, ensure browser compatibility by providing fallbacks for unsupported browsers.
New Web Formats:
The above formats have been around for years, but there are new kids on the block that are well-supported and offer significant advantages.
|New Web Formats||Best Uses||Replacing Old Formats|
|WebP||Web images with good compression and quality||JPEG, PNG|
|AVIF||High-compression web images||JPEG, PNG|
|WebM and VP9||Video content||Older video formats|
|SVG||Logos, icons, and simple graphics||Raster image formats|
|HTTP/2 and HTTP/3||Faster data transfer and improved page loads||HTTP/1.1|
|Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)||Enhanced user experiences||Traditional websites|
By optimising images and embracing new web formats, you can significantly boost your website’s performance, reduce loading times, and provide a smoother and more enjoyable experience for your visitors. Keeping up with the latest web technologies and best practices is essential in today’s digital landscape.
Excessive HTTP Requests
Each element on your webpage, including scripts, stylesheets, and images, requires an HTTP request to load. Minimise these requests by combining and minifying files, reducing the number of external resources, and using browser caching.
WordPress uses a relational database management system (RDBMS), typically MySQL, to store its data. This database-centric approach worked well for WordPress’s original purpose as a blogging platform. However, as WordPress evolved into a full-fledged content management system (CMS) capable of powering complex websites, it faced challenges in efficiently storing and managing data beyond simple blog posts. Here’s some historical insight into this issue and how other data tables can be used to address it:
Historic Data Storage in WordPress:
- Core Tables: WordPress relies on core database tables like wp_posts, wp_postmeta, and wp_options to store various data types. The wp_posts table primarily stores posts, while the wp_postmeta stores post metadata—the wp_options table stores site options and configurations.
- Custom Post Types: WordPress introduced custom post types to accommodate different types of content. However, these custom post types still use the same underlying data structure, which can become cumbersome when dealing with complex content structures.
- Taxonomies and Terms: WordPress introduced taxonomies (categories and tags) to organise content. While they work well for organizing posts, they may need to be more suitable for complex data relationships.
Challenges with Storing Complex Data:
- Limited Schema Flexibility: WordPress’s traditional database schema is optimised for posts and basic content types. Storing more complex data structures, such as e-commerce product catalogues, event schedules, or membership databases, can be challenging within the confines of this schema.
- Performance Issues: As data becomes more complex and tables grow, performance issues may arise. Complex queries can lead to slow database responses, impacting the overall site speed.
- Data Integrity: Ensuring data integrity can be challenging, especially when dealing with complex relationships. Relying solely on custom post types and taxonomies may provide a different data structure.
Using Other Data Tables:
To address the limitations of WordPress’s default data storage mechanisms, developers often resort to alternative approaches:
- Custom Database Tables: Creating custom database tables allows developers to design data structures tailored to their needs. For example, an e-commerce plugin might use separate tables for products, orders, and customer information. This approach provides better control over data and queries.
- External Databases: In some cases, external databases, such as NoSQL databases (e.g., MongoDB) or cloud-based solutions, can be beneficial for managing complex data. These databases offer scalability and flexibility that traditional RDBMS may lack.
- Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) Tools: ORM tools like “wpdb” in WordPress enable developers to work with database tables and queries more efficiently. They can help abstract the complexities of database interactions.
- Caching: Implementing caching mechanisms, such as Redis or Memcached, can help alleviate database load and improve performance, especially when dealing with complex data.
- Data Serialization: Developers often serialise data into a single database field for storing complex data within existing WordPress tables. While this approach is useful for certain use cases, it can simplify data querying and manipulation.
In summary, WordPress’s historical data storage and update mechanisms were designed for simplicity and blogging but may only partially accommodate the requirements of complex data structures. To overcome these limitations, developers have employed custom tables, external databases, ORM tools, and other strategies to manage and organise complex data. This ensures that WordPress remains adaptable to various website types and purposes.
Caching strategies are crucial for optimising website performance, reducing server load, and delivering faster loading times to users. Cloudflare, a content delivery network (CDN), is a powerful tool that can enhance caching and improve website speed. Let’s explore caching strategies and the use of Cloudflare:
- Page Caching: This strategy involves storing entire HTML pages as static files and serving them to users. When a user requests a page, the server can deliver the cached HTML instead of dynamically generating it. Page caching significantly reduces server load and speeds up page load times—popular WordPress plugins like WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache offer page caching features.
- Object Caching: Object caching stores frequently used database queries, objects, or API responses in memory. This reduces the need to make repetitive database queries, improving the efficiency of dynamic content generation. Memcached and Redis are commonly used object caching solutions for WordPress.
- Browser Caching: Browser caching instructs a user’s browser to store certain static assets (like images, stylesheets, and scripts) locally. When the user revisits the website, these assets can be loaded from the local cache instead of requesting them from the server, resulting in faster page rendering.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) Caching: CDNs like Cloudflare distribute website assets to multiple data centres worldwide. They cache static assets and serve them from the nearest server to the user, reducing latency and improving load times. CDNs also offer security features, DDoS protection, and SSL encryption.
- Opcode Caching: Opcode caching stores the compiled bytecode of PHP scripts in memory, allowing them to be executed faster. The popular PHP opcode caching solutions are APCu and OPcache. These tools can dramatically improve the performance of dynamic WordPress websites.
- Fragment Caching: Fragment caching caches specific parts of a page, such as widgets or sections of content. This is useful for websites with dynamic elements that can’t be entirely cached as static pages.
Using Cloudflare for Caching:
Cloudflare is a CDN and web security service that can greatly enhance caching strategies for WordPress and other websites:
- Global Content Distribution: Cloudflare caches static assets and content at its network of data centres worldwide. This means your website’s content can be delivered to users from a server that’s geographically closer to them, reducing latency and improving load times.
- Dynamic Content Caching: Cloudflare offers options for caching dynamic content. You can cache HTML content at the edge servers, reducing the load on your origin server and improving response times for dynamic requests.
- Bypass Cache Rules: Cloudflare allows you to create custom page rules that specify what should or shouldn’t be cached. This level of control helps ensure that specific pages or content remain dynamic.
- Full Page Caching: Cloudflare’s full page caching feature (“Apo”) allows for advanced HTML caching at the edge. It can significantly improve page load times for logged-out users.
- Web Application Firewall (WAF): Cloudflare’s WAF offers security protections while still caching content. It can help protect your site from various web threats.
- HTTPS and SSL: Cloudflare offers free SSL certificates and can handle SSL termination, further optimising security and speed.
By leveraging caching strategies and integrating Cloudflare into your WordPress setup, you can improve website performance, user experience, and security. Properly configured caching can help your WordPress site handle traffic spikes, reduce server load, and deliver content to users worldwide with minimal latency.
Optimising WordPress for Speed
Choosing the Right Hosting
Investing in quality hosting is the first step to a faster WordPress website. Understand where your site will be hosted, data centres in the united states might not make sense for a site that serves the UK. Look for providers known for speed and reliability; a web server with an SD drive might be a good idea, even if it means paying more.
Selecting Lightweight Themes and Plugins
Opt for minimalist themes and plugins that are designed for speed. Avoid themes with excessive features you don’t need, and regularly update your plugins.
Image Compression and Lazy Loading
Use image optimisation plugins to compress and resize images automatically. Implement lazy loading to ensure images load as users scroll down the page. Tools like WP Rocket might help here.
Minimising HTTP Requests
Database Cleanup and Optimization
Schedule regular database optimisation tasks to remove unnecessary data and keep your database running efficiently.
Implementing Effective Caching
Install a caching plugin like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache to generate static HTML versions of your pages, reducing server load and speeding up delivery.
Testing and Monitoring WordPress Speed
Tools for Speed Testing
Use online tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, or Pingdom to assess your website’s speed. These tools provide insights and suggestions for improvement.
Regular Performance Monitoring
Monitor your website’s speed regularly using performance monitoring plugins. Set up alerts for significant speed drops to take immediate action.
Common Myths About WordPress Speed
Myth 1: WordPress Is Always Slow
WordPress speed depends on various factors, including hosting, themes, and plugins. With the right choices and optimisations, WordPress can be fast.
Myth 2: Premium Themes Are Faster
While premium themes may offer benefits, their speed depends on how well they are coded and configured.
Myth 3: Caching Solves Everything
Caching is essential, but it’s not a panacea. Properly configuring other speed optimisation techniques is equally important. A cache plugin might help, but it may also add complexity to the code.
Speed is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity for modern websites. By addressing the factors that make WordPress slow and implementing effective speed optimisation strategies, you can provide a better user experience, improve your SEO rankings, and ensure your website performs at its best.
Slow WordPress FAQs
Use online tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix for a quick analysis.
Shared hosting can slow down your site due to resource sharing. If youa re on a cheap plan you may be sharing resources with a lot of other users. Consider upgrading to a better hosting plan.
Not necessarily. The speed of a theme depends on its coding and optimisation. Bear in mind an off the shelf theme free or premium will always be slower than a bespoke theme built specifically for your business.
Yes, slow websites tend to rank lower in search engine results. Google keeps a keen eye on Core Web Vitals specifically for mobile, you should too.
Page builders can add complexity and affect speed. Choose one that is performance-oriented. We recommend Advanced Custom Fields Pro as it provides great flexibitltuy with minimal impact on speed.
Aim for 2-3 seconds or faster loading time for the best user experience.