A common question we get asked a lot is how to make a website load fast, afterall one of the biggest factors modern SEO companies constantly talk about is having blisteringly fast loading speeds to improve the user experience, ensure the site remains mobile friendly and to increase your SEO rankings. Fortunately, there are many ways in which we can increase the speed and thus reduce the page load times to provide the best experience possible.
So without further ado, here’s our top ways of reducing that ever so painful load time on your WordPress website.
Pick and use a stable host
One of the most overlooked areas is the quality and speed of your hosting provider. Many people will often choose the cheapest shared hosting they can find, often with many thrown in extras and promises of unlimited xyz. In reality these hosts will often used slower hardware, or cram their servers with users in a practice known as ‘overselling’. The end result being you will carry the risk of slow downs during peak times or server resources being limited or slow.
What you need to look for with hosting is to find a host with a decent reputation, solid online reviews and preferably one who uses the latest technology such as SSD storage, up-time guarantees and decent support. This blog post isn’t really the place to go into the specifics of picking a good host, but should instead serve as a notice to make sure you research and give more thought & consideration into the selection of a host rather than opting for a cheap or unlimited deal.
A stable framework to build upon
So we know you will be using WordPress as your CMS of choice, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog but what we mean by framework is ensuring that the WordPress installation is the latest, stable release and the theme you have opted to use isn’t going to let you down in the future.
WordPress evolves at a rapid pace and it’s quite easy for your choice of theme to be left high and dry, behind technology and lacking the latest improvements. When picking your theme it is a good choice to check the history for updates to ensure the theme is still supported, still being updated and has a good development team to update it. This will ensure your theme remains stable and up to date for all security updates, that it will always be improved and optimised and features etc will be added accordingly.
Here at Social Saxon we have a few themes we use but the main 3 which we have stuck by are X Theme, DIVI and Be Theme, all of which receive regular updates, good support and are search engine friendly. There will always be faults or issues but by sticking to a known theme you will at least have developer support.
Lastly, always consider what plugins you are using and whether they actually benefit the user. Far too often we see plugins in use where they look ‘cool’ or only really benefit the web master, these clog up and slow down your site so every time you wish to add a plugin ask yourself if the benefit of that plugin (for your users) outweighs the slower loading times.
Image optimisation can work wonders
For many WordPress users the media abilities are simple and just work, however very little thought is often given to the optimisation of the media in use. Luckily there are solutions out there which can do this for you, and more importantly, can do this automatically!
To start with there are some great online tools for optimising images such as Optimizilla which you can upload individual files to and have them optimised, but these often come with limits and can be very time consuming when you have large quantities of images to do. However they still require you to remember to carry out the process.
So what if there was an automated way of doing this? Luckily there is a few plugins which you can use, some free, some paid for but the two we often opt for as follows, check them out, they work magically for you and automate the entire process!
How about some cache love?
We all know that WordPress can really be boosted by plugins, both in terms of features, flexibility, ease of use and power. However by far the most useful plugins you will ever come across are those which fit into the cache category, it’s not often you come across a plugin which can essentially double, triple or even quad the speed in which your page loads!
With every page load you make on a WordPress site you are pushing hundreds of requests (sometimes thousands) to your server and asking it to generate the pages in question. The caching plugins will store copies of generated pages and serve these where possible thus greatly reducing the number of requests that your server has to carry out, having the knock on effect of much quicker load times.
For many this sounds like some form of witch craft of wizardry that is going to set them back a small fortune on the plugin. Luckily there are many solutions on the Plugin database that are, put simply, free! Of course they are also paid versions, or premium editions which charge for specific features or enhanced features which again are great, but often not required.
We use a number of plugins for caching and mostly its dependent on the environment in which WordPress has been install, the common ones are W3 Total Cache, LiteSpeed and WP Fastest Cache. Generally speaking we default to W3 Super Cache unless a server is running LiteSpeed in which case we will then use the LiteSpeed cache plugin for compatibility and reliability issues primarily. The biggest advantage with W3 is the vast amount of online tutorials, walk through and guides on the various options it can provide, from cache, minify, combining, gzip and CDN’s. So many options and abilities for you to shave precious milliseconds off your page load times.
Alternatively, many consider WP Rocket to be one of the best cache plugins with often proven results, however it comes at a cost although we personally think the cost is worth every penny simply for their support services. Check out WP Rocket here
Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
This really needs a blog post fully dedicated to it, but once you have a decent cache program up and running then the next step is to use a decent CDN, our personal favourite is the services offered by Amazon but there are many others including Max CDN and CloudFlare. This is especially important if your site is global or has reach across multiple countries as the CDN’s will ensure the fastest possible load times when a potential customer is viewing from a country other than the one it is hosted within.
Combine, Minify & Compress, eh?
You will hear this a fair bit and it’s quite a simple concept. Your theme and it’s pages will over time build up multiple files, these files will consist of CSS, JS and HTML/PHP files, every time a page load is requested there will be calls to all of these files which result in reduced page load times. There are however things we can do to combat this and they normally come packaged in with a cache plugin as discussed above, or an increasingly common option is for the theme to carry this out too.
Combine – This is when you combine the same type of file, so for example your WordPress site may have a collection of JS files and a collection of CSS files, it isn’t unheard of for a single page load to be using 10+ CSS files and 5+ JS files. Each time a file is needed it results in a new request to the server which is precious time! Many plugins and themes will now allow you to combine the same type files into one thus reducing the number of files requested and served.
Minify – A lot of code based files have un-needed space within them, for example new lines, paragraphs and white space take up file space to store in the file but aren’t needed for a computer to read, they serve only one purpose and that is to make it easier to read to a human. There is a process called Minify which will strip all of this cosmetic code out of your files, again included in most of the major caching plugins but also becoming more common for themes to do this too. It’s a simple trick but can shave precious bytes from file sizes, combine this over 1000’s of page views and it soon adds up!
Compress – Many web servers have the ability to provide a level of compression to files which are sent out, a common name which you may of heard is GZIP. If your server supports this you can turn it on to try and reduce the file sizes which are sent out from the server. Again many of the cache plugins will use this to full effect if supported although there are ways to manually enable and disable this directly such as via the .htaccess file which I wont go into detail on here.
If you aren’t using a caching plugin (why not!) or you feel that your caching plugin doesn’t do a good job at these points there are specific plugins that specialise in this area such as the wonderful Fast Velocity Minify or Merge + Minify + Refresh
Optimise your homepage for fast loading
Your homepage will be the most visited page on your site (generally speaking) so it’s always best to ensure this is the quickest loading. As a general rule of thumb you should lose any sharing, video or high bandwidth content and concentrate purely on catchy content and bullet point information (excerpts).
This isn’t always the case, for some their homepage isn’t the busiest part, or they rely solely on a video to draw people in so you have to be a bit creative in how you combat this area.
The biggest and best advice that can be given in this area is to think about what a potential customer or viewer wants to know or wants to see when they visit your site, this will let them know if they are in the right place, if so then provide the links or ability to continue on their journey. Don’t fill your home page with flashy widgets, share buttons and videos when they simply aren’t needed.
Another area you may wish to look into, which fits in with optimising the use of images on your site is known as Lazy Loading. This is a technique where you load the page as the user scrolls down and can be really helpful if your home page or landing page has to have the content it does and there is no way of reducing it.
Keep an eye on hotlinking and leeching
Hot linking or ‘leeching’ is a trick where other webmasters use your images directly in their content. This has the long term effect of using your bandwidth up and also consuming some of your server/hosting resources. There are a few ways of combating this from adding blocks to your htaccess, wordpress software firewalls or similar methods. It’s also best to customise this solution based on your current technology and setup.
A nice quick, simple solution would be to add the following code to your .htaccess file
Make sure to amend the code above by changing the domains in question.
Lastly, a nice simple solution is to optimise WordPress itself to ensure there is as little bagage as possible to slow things down. There are a few plugins on the market which can really help with this such as the WP-Optimize plugin, quite simply this will scan your WordPress installation and ensure that comments, revisions, tables and data are cleaned up and tidy.
There is also a second plugin called WP – DB Manager which will automatically schedule and run database management tasks keeping you up to date and clean.
There’s a pretty neat plugin known as Clearfy which can turn off a lot of WordPress features which are simply not used or not needed on some sites, this process can stream line your site, reduce loading times and give a small boost to your SEO. It is certainly worth investigating and having a look at for your site.
Finally, in order to keep your WordPress install clean we always recommend keeping overheads as low as possible, one of the easiest ways to do this is to limit the number of calls made to resources and a deactivated plugin can cause just that as it is still checked. Therefor if you have any plugins which aren’t being used then back up the settings and actually remove them rather than just de-activate. Secondly keep all of your themes and plugins updated where possible also.