WordPress Speed Optimization: How to Lower Website Load Time

Web Hosting

Slow load times on WordPress are one of the most frustrating things a website owner or user can experience.

How likely is a user to continue using a website that takes forever to load? Not likely at all.

Often it can be difficult to find the root cause of a slow loading website. Likely it is a combination of factors putting too much load on your web server.

As with all websites, though, long load times can hurt a WordPress site’s search rankings, traffic, and reputation. To prevent this from happening to your WordPress site, follow these tips to optimize it for faster load times.

Ways to make WordPress faster

Install a Fast, Responsive Theme

When choosing a theme for your website, pay attention to its load times. No two themes feature the same code. A cleanly coded, responsive theme will likely load faster than one that is poorly coded and non-responsive. You can experiment with different themes to see which ones are fastest.

After activating a new theme, use an online speed tester like GTMetrix to measure your site’s speed. GTMetrix will tell you how well your site rates in terms of speed and give you suggestions to improve load times. If your load time and rating improve after changing a theme you know it is at least partially to blame for your slow speed.

Paginate Visitor Comments

Visitor comments can enhance your website’s content while boosting visitor engagement in the process. Some internet users specifically look for user-generated content such as this because it can more trustworthy than content published by businesses.

As your website attracts comments, however, visitors may encounter longer load times. A web page with 500 visitor comments, for example, may show all 500 comments on that page. That adds more data to the page, and subsequently, makes it slower to download.

To prevent visitor comments from slowing down your site, enable pagination by logging in to your WordPress dashboard and accessing Settings > Discussion. From here, click the box labeled “Break comments into pages with” and enter a number between 20 to 50 into the adjacent field. Once enabled, WordPress will automatically create a new page every 20 to 50 visitor comments rather than publishing them all on the same page.

Remove Non-Essential Plugins

Plugins offer a convenient and straightforward way to add functionality to your website without modifying HTML, CSS, or PHP code, but you should keep them to a minimum.

Each plugin your site uses increases the number of HTTP requests it must process when someone visits it and some plugins also trigger database queries. Both HTTP requests and database queries take time to process, thereby slowing down your website.

To achieve faster speeds, remove plugins that you don’t need from your website. There’s no magic number for the maximum amount of plugins that a WordPress website should have. A small site may use just one or two, whereas a large site may use 30.

Your hosting plan will have an effect on how many plugins you can run without noticeably slowing your site down. If you have an expensive hosting plan that gives you access to more resources on the server you will be able to have more active plugins than if you have a really cheap hosting plan that offers limited server resources.

Just remember to avoid downloading and installing plugins that offer little or no value.

Enable Web Browser Caching

By enabling web browser caching, you’ll make your website faster for returning visitors. Browser caching works by saving large files of a web page like HTML, CSS, images, videos, etc. locally on the visitor’s computer or device. Typically, visitors must download all of a web page’s files each time they access the page. With browser caching, they’ll only have to download the data during their initial visit, after which the files will remain on their computer for a specified length of time.

You can enable browser caching on your website by editing the .htaccess file. This is done through your cPanel or via FTP but not through your WordPress dashboard. However, if you prefer to use a plugin, install a browser caching plugin such as WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache or WP Rocket.

Optimize, Compress and Lazy Load Images

Images play an influential role in a website’s speed. Pages with lots of large, high-resolution images will take longer to load than pages with fewer, smaller images. But you don’t have to stop using high-resolution photos on your website.

There are ways to optimize and compress images to make them smaller and faster to download. In Adobe Photoshop, you can use the Save for Web feature to shrink them. Alternatively, you can install an image compression plugin like WP Smush or ShortPixel.

Optimize and compress all large images on your site to make them load faster. Keep your pictures under 100kb each for the best performance. 

Lazy loading images is another way to decrease page load time. Images will only load when they are visible in the browser. If a page has images down to the bottom those at the bottom won’t display until they are viewable. Plugins to enable this feature can be found in the WordPress plugin repository.

Enable gzip compression

Not to be confused with image compression mentioned above, gzip compresses the HMTL, CSS, and JavaScript files of your website. According to GTmetrics, gzip compression can reduce page size by 70%.  The best way to enable gzip is to edit your .htaccess file.

Similar to enabling caching this needs to be done through the admin dashboard of your website. If you aren’t comfortable editing this file your hosting company should be able to make the edits for you. 

Disable Pingbacks and Trackbacks

The default WordPress settings allow pingbacks and trackbacks. The former is an automatic notification created when someone links to your site, whereas the latter is a comment automatically generated when you link to another pingback-enabled website.

There’s some belief that pingbacks and trackbacks can improve a site’s search rankings, but it’s best to avoid using them because of their impact on speed.

If your website gets bombarded with trackbacks and pingbacks, visitors may encounter longer load times.

You can disable pingbacks and trackbacks in WordPress by accessing Settings > Discussion and unticking the box labeled “Allow link notifications from other blogs.”

Use a CDN

In addition to the right web hosting service, a content delivery network (CDN) can speed up your website. CDNs like Cloudflare, KeyCDN, and StackPath work by storing cached copies of your website’s static files across a network of servers.

When a user visits your site, the CDN will distribute these files from the nearest server or servers to achieve the fastest speeds.

Choose a Good Hosting Company

Unless your site is horribly optimized, meaning it has lots of images with large file sizes and resource hogging plugins, quality hosting will make the biggest improvement in the speed of a WordPress website.

Opting for a cheap shared web hosting plan from some no-name vendor may sound like a good way to lower your website’s operational costs, but it could backfire by slowing down your site.

Not all web hosts have the servers, IT architecture and other technical capabilities to efficiently host WordPress sites. Therefore, you should choose a web hosting service that’s optimized specifically for WordPress. These services are optimized for the fastest speeds and greatest reliability when hosting WordPress sites.

Also, avoid using a shared web hosting service if you can afford it. Shared web hosting can slow down your site by placing dozens or even hundreds of other sites on the same server. Hosting plans around $5-15 are likely to be shared. Cheaper plans are almost always shared because your website is on the same server as tons of other websites and that’s cheaper for the hosting company.

Choose a virtual private server (VPS) or a dedicated server if you are getting a lot of traffic. The best way to determine if you need to upgrade your hosting plan is by checking your resource usage on your hosting company’s dashboard.

You can see how much CPU and RAM you are using in relation to the traffic you are getting. If the resource usage tops out when you get increased traffic, it’s time to upgrade. 

Before you sign up for a hosting company or upgrade your plan look at reviews online to see what actual customers have to say about the service.

I use SiteGround and couldn’t be happier with them.

Final thoughts

If your WordPress website suffers from slow speeds, you may struggle to attract and retain visitors. Pages that take forever to load can negatively effect search engine rankings and search engine optimization too.

Users expect sites to load within a reasonable amount of time, with some reports suggesting that three seconds is the maximum amount of time that most people will wait.

You can speed up your website and improve its usability, however, by following these tips.

I build and maintain multiple WordPress websites. By using the experience gained from building these sites I help others create and customize their own websites.
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