Make Your WordPress Website A Speed Machine!

March 1, 2014

There are three main reasons why speed is important.

1)   Customer usability

2)   Better Google & SEO (search engine optimization) results

3)   Mobile usability in an increasingly mobile world

The way customers view and use your website is directly linked to its basic usability. One of the key factors in the minds of all customers when it comes to a website and its usability is its speed. Having loads of sliders and videos on your home page might sound great. However, if all this stuff makes your home page take forever to load on a mobile device, this can quickly become an usability nightmare for you customers and clients.

The faster your site loads, the better your customers’ experience will be. So what do you need to know to make your WordPress-powered website a real speed machine?

Firstly, you need to have a starting point to measure any improvements that you’re planning to do. So how do you identify a measurable starting point?

This is where Pingdom Tools’ free online speed-testing tool Website Speed Test  comes into play.  This tool will give you a nice waterfall of information on your website’s speed and performance.

Now that you know where you are starting from, there is a long list of things that will make your website that mystical online speed machine. What are the first things that you need to look at?

DNS

The Domain Name System, or DNS, ensures that your domain name gets users to the server hosting your website. Usually you don’t have much control over the speed of this process, but problems can have a very negative impact. Use Pingdom’s DNS Health check tool to make sure your DNS is working properly.

If you have used Pingdom Tools and found that your DNS is timing figures are poor, what are you going to do? Well, if you are on some cheap shared hosting plan, complaining to your hosting provider is probably not going to get you very far.

However, there are alternative solutions out there. You could decide to use a DNS specialized service like AWS  (Amazon Route 53) or Google’s Developer DNS service. Or if all of this sounds too complicated, you could ask the folks at Fantasktic  to help you out.

There also are a number of CDN (content delivery networks) services out there; one of the best is CloudFlare. However, I’m not a great supporter of CDNs. I’ve taken over the administration of some clients’ websites, only to find that they were using free CDN services that were making the sites perform oddly and poorly.

HOSTING

After you’ve got your DNS sorted out, you should move on to your hosting provider. If you only do one thing after reading this post, it should be to avoid using GoDaddy or BlueHost for your website hosting.  There are a number of superior hosting companies that specialize in WordPress. Here are three popular ones that I’ve heard good things about:

·      Kinsta

·      SiteGround

A lot of providers such as these use NGINX, which is open-source high performance HTTP server software. NGINX is used on a number of high-traffic websites like Netflix, Airbnb, WordPress.com and Zappos.

CACHING

The idea behind caching is to take the results of a request to your site, save it, and serve that copy to the next similar request rather than regenerating the content.

Caching is a tricky business and must be tailored to your hosting configuration. A caching plugin that works well on one host may actually slow a site down on another. It’s a good idea to ask your host which caching plugin they recommend, or to have an experienced technician check your setup.

One of the most popular caching plugins is W3 TotalCache. A good caching plugin like this one can make a massive difference in the speed with which your website is served during high traffic loads. This plugin is recommended by a number of hosting providers like Page.ly, Synthesis and DreamHost.

WP Engine won’t allow you to use this plugin on their hosting packages because it comes with a caching system that is already optimized for their hosting configuration. There is quite a long list of popular plugins that they won’t allow you to use if you host with them.

PLUGINS & THEMES

Plugins and themes can add great design and functionality to your site, but they can also be full of bugs and extra code that can slow your speed or even cause security flaws. Be careful where you get you plugins and themes, and do some basic research before you buy or install. A badly coded plugin or theme can really slow down your website.

If a theme or plugin is slowing your site down, it can be difficult to identify which one is doing you wrong. Ironically one of the easiest to use plugins to address is problem is made by GoDaddy: P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler).

On a live production website, make sure only the themes and plugins that you are using are active. Even non-activated plugins and themes can be a security threat to your live website.

ENABLE GZIP OR ZLIB COMPRESSION

I’ve read that doing this can increase the speed of your site dramatically, making it as much as 3-4 times faster! That’s just what I have read; I’m personally not that sure you should expect such large improvements. Nonetheless it will undoubtedly improve the efficiency of your website.

The method used for compression is important. Solutions that collect an entire request’s content before zipping can actually feel slower, because the page can’t start rendering until the complete content is generated. I’ve heard that complaint lodged against W3 Total Cache’s compression option in the past. Make sure to try out any changes you make and make sure the experience is really better.

DISABLE POST REVISIONS & TRASH

Post revisions can really build up in a WordPress database and slow it down in some situations. You can stop this by adding this bit of code to the config.php file.

define(‘WP_POST_REVISIONS’, FALSE);

Having a load of trashed posts and other stuff can also slow down your site. Take out the trash!

COMPRESS IMAGES

I personally feel this is an important one.  Images are nice, but they can really slow down a website that uses them heavily. A useful plugin to optimize your images is WP Sush.it plugin.

OPTIMIZE YOUR DATABASE TABLES

There are a number of plugins that can help you with this. However, before you do this, make sure you have a backup of your database.

WP-Optimize (this is the one I use)

WP Database Optimizer

Clean Options

DON’T GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Website performance can be a black art. If you manage to improve your site performance with some of the recommendations in this article, pat yourself on the back! You’ve walked a dangerous path unscathed. If you’re trying one thing after another, though, and just feeling more and more uncertain about the results, don’t blame yourself. Restore your most recent backup and live to fight another day!


The method is important. Solutions that collect an entire request’s content before zipping can actually feel slower, because the page can’t start rendering until the complete content is generated. I’ve that issue with W3TC’s zip option.

This Article was written by Jonathan Denwood & Dylan Kuhn.

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