13 Tips on How to Optimize the Speed of Your WordPress Website

WordPress Expert Roundup

What’s better than a fast loading website? We all know how important speed optimization is nowadays. It not only helps you create a better user experience but can also help you turn visitors into customers.

Statistics show that a site-loading speed of more than 2 seconds usually results in about 47% of visitors bouncing off the website.

Moreover, it is one of the main ranking factors in the algorithm of Google.

Fortunately, there are a lot of techniques and tools that could help you speed up your WordPress website and get the job done.

We help you learn more about that we asked 12 WordPress Experts the following question:
What is the Best Speed Optimization Solution for WordPress?

Here is what they’ve told us:

1. Choose a Well-Performing Host, Implement a Caching System, and Then Leverage Lazy Loading

Jan Koch, Virtual Summit Host

You can optimize WordPress loading speeds in multiple ways. The best practice would be to choose a well-performing host, implement a caching system like WP Rocket or Swift Performance Pro, and then leverage lazy loading, minifying calls to 3rd-party resources, combining CSS & JS files, and so on.

By following that approach and making sure that you’re not using a bloated multi-purpose theme and plugins known to slow down sites (e.g. Broken Link Checker, YARPP, etc), you should be able to achieve pretty decent results. Most paid caching plugins do a good job of guiding you through the setup process but I’d still always suggest to test-run a new cache configuration on a staging version of your website.

An additional layer of performance would be to implement server-side caching using Memcached, Redis and Varnish. Those tools usually are set up at good hosting companies already and you don’t need to configure anything. Sometimes, you would have to exclude pages like your shopping cart and checkout pages in WooCommerce, but that really depends on your site’s setup.

If you want to take performance to the highest level, consider converting your WordPress-site into a static version. I am doing that for my WP Agency Summit’s landing page using a free plugin called WP2Static.

You’ll need to write custom code in order to make functions like opt-in forms work but the speed gain can be worth the effort. You’d simply host that static version on your favorite CDN to achieve global availability, to platforms like Netlify or upload it to your current host if you don’t want to add another service.

Jan Koch, Virtual Summit Host (WP Agency Summit, Ecom Services Summit) at WP Mastery

2. Testing and Iterating Through Improvements is the Best Way to Get Strong Performance

Shawn DeWolfe, Lead Developer at Web 321

My best solution is a meta solution: iterate. Use GTMetrix and Google Speed Test to assess and reassess your performance wins as you roll out performance improvements.
There are lots of little changes that may add up to a big win, or negate each other. Testing and iterating through improvements is the best way to get strong performance without sacrificing the goals of the website.

The biggest server-side wins come from .htaccess adjustments to cache and compress content. That will make the data smaller and easier to deliver; and the expiry of supporting content means that browsers will not have to grab the whole of the page to get a new page.

The biggest client-side wins come from deferring the Javascript to execute lower on the page after the page has been first rendered. Second to that is attention to third-party apps (Google, Facebook, Twitter feeds, Hubspot, etc.). It’s cheaper and easier for them to serve their content in an unoptimized way and that impacts site performance in a big way.

Where possible, get those assets from your own server. For example, the Instagram plugin from Smash Balloon uses a server-side connection to get most of its data, so the client doesn’t get impacted to the same degree you would see in a Javascript widget.

The website I am actively working on is https://web321.co/

Shawn DeWolfe, Lead Developer at Web 321

3. Optimize the Server Latency, Network Latency and Processing Time From a Visitor’s Point of View

Ivailo Hristov, Chief Technology Officer at NitroPack.io

Reduce the server latency

– The time your server needs before responding to visitors is crucial. It is one of the main reasons for slow loading websites, so you should aim at the fastest possible response times. This is typically resolved through caching. Popular techniques include full page caching which allows you to serve pre-rendered content to your visitors and object caching to speed up the data retrieval from a database for any remaining pages that are not being served from the page cache.

Reduce network latency by removing unused code

– You might think that you do not have direct control over the network latency of your visitors because this depends on their type and quality of the internet connection. However, you have control over how much data they need to transfer – hence you have direct control over the delays caused by network latency. Remove unused code and unnecessary requests. Plugins like Asset Cleanup are a very good starting point.

Reduce the initial processing time

– This is the time that your site takes to become usable on the visitor’s device. The less initial processing there is the faster your site will become usable. Popular techniques include removing unused code and plugins, lazy loading, image optimization, js execution optimization, etc. This can be much harder to resolve as it involves low-level changes to the code you ship to your visitors. It is best to use a specialized solution for this as it is easy to break things.

Ultimately you want to have all of these features integrated into a single solution for the best results. Otherwise, you typically end up with conflicts between the different solutions that you might use for every single optimization feature. NitroPack is such all-in-one solution. We have found it to be the easiest solution to set up, provides great results and everything works out of the box 99% of the time.

Ivailo Hristov, Chief Technology Officer at NitroPack.io

4. Install an Image Optimization Solution

Tom Greenwood, Managing Director of Wholegrain Digital, Sustainable business leader using design and tech for good

The best speed optimization solution for WordPress is to design for efficiency from the very beginning, adding only what is needed and thinking carefully about the impact on the performance of each design choice. This can be helped by setting a page weight budget. So for example, you could design your pages with the goal of keeping them under 600kb.

On the other hand, if you have an existing WordPress website and want to improve its speed, then I’d suggest installing an image optimization solution such as ShortPixel Adaptive Images that handles responsive sizing, compression, and converts images to the smallest file type (e.g. WebP). Combine that with a specialist WordPress host with good server caching such as WP Engine or Kinsta and you’ll see a good improvement in load times.

Tom Greenwood, Managing Director of Wholegrain Digital, Sustainable business leader using design and tech for good

5. The Best Solution Begins With a Good Diagnostic Tool

Rhys Wynne, Director of Winwar Media, Freelance WordPress Specialist at Dwi'n Rhys

For me, the best solution begins with a good diagnostic tool. I use a mixture of GTMetrix and Google Lightspeed to identify issues within WordPress and sites that can be bottlenecks. I ignore the page speed score and instead focus on elements such as requests, page size, and amount of JavaScript loading & processing on the page.

As far as tools – it depends on the budget. My go-to paid tool is WP Rocket as I particularly like their Critical CSS generation tool which saves a lot of time, compared with doing it manually. If there isn’t a budget, something like Autoptimize along with WP Super Cache does the job perfectly well, but it’s a bit more time consuming to set it up.

Rhys Wynne, Director of Winwar Media, Freelance WordPress Specialist at Dwi’n Rhys

6. Check the Size of Your Website Images, Your Plugins, Choose a Caching Plugin and a CDN Service

Jodi Albon, WordPress Trainer, Consultant, Designer, SEO Consultant, Creator of Let’s Build a Website

The speed optimization steps I would perform on a client’s website to get a speed of 3 seconds or less.

1. Check all the images sizes on the site. If you are seeing large file sizes like 1MB or more. This can affect your speed dramatically. So the first step would be to reduce them manually with an image editing program like Canva.com and then reloading them into the pages. Obviously, if you have a lot of images this wouldn’t be feasible. So you could use a plugin like Smushit to do a bulk edit. I tend to reduce them to around 100 kb or less.

2. Check your plugins. Too many plugins can slow down WordPress a lot. I generally try to have around 10 or less. Sometimes that’s impossible. So if you can’t delete some old or unused plugins the next step would be to install a caching plugin.

3. Caching plugin. There are several free caching plugins for WordPress. W3 Total Cache, LiteSpeed Cache, and more. There are also some great premium ones like WP Rocket. Caching can improve your speed greatly if set up properly. I would recommend getting an expert to help set this up. As you can break your site if not done properly.

4. Lastly, try a CDN service like Cloudflare. A CDN delivers your website pages to visitors based on their geographic location. Hence should load quicker. Try Cloudflare as it is free.

Jodi Albon, WordPress Trainer, Consultant, Designer, SEO Consultant, Creator of Let’s Build a Website

7. Choose a Web Host Based on Traffic, Use CDN and Caching Plugin

Travis Buck, Co-owner NW Media Collective, WordPress custom Theme and Plugin developer

Website speed depends on a multitude of factors, so there isn’t a silver bullet solution for optimizing your site’s performance. But here are the three most important steps you can take to make your WordPress website faster:

  1. Choose a web host based on your website’s traffic

Setting your website up on fast web hosting is just as important as choosing the right speed plugins. You should choose a hosting plan based on the number of visitors your website receives. And if your site starts slowing down due to more visitors, you can always upgrade your plan.

  1. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Some web hosts offer CDN’s (content delivery networks), which can improve website performance. Cloudflare is one of the best. The service offers a CDN and a bunch of tools to help deliver your content from a server closest to your visitor. Cloudflare’s optimization features allow you to enhance your WordPress site’s performance beyond what a traditional CDN can do. It can even help with optimizing your images. Many times, people will use a plugin for this, but Cloudflare can improve image and web page load times by compressing images and stripping metadata using its Polish tool.

  1. Install a caching plugin 

If you’re not ready to upgrade to a better web hosting service with a CDN, you can still do some things to optimize your WordPress website’s speed. Plugins like WP Rocket offer page caching, preloading, file compression, and more. This type of plugin speeds your site up significantly with minimal effort and cost.

Travis Buck, Co-owner NW Media Collective, WordPress custom Theme and Plugin developer

8. Do you Really Need all Those Extras?

Mike Haydon, Founder & CEO at Intelliwolf, Co-Founder & CTO at Web A11y

Do you really need all those extras?

Using the performance check at gtmetrix.com, look at the waterfall tab. Look at all the files that are loaded to make your website look and behave the way it does. Then think what you can remove.

Do you really need all those variations of all those Google fonts loaded? Can you make the images load “on demand” instead of on initial load by using lazy loading? Is that Facebook Pixel really being used by your business, or is it just there because you might use it at some point in the future, but probably won’t?

Others in this article share excellent tips on plugins to use or settings to turn on, but don’t forget to take a step back and think about what you really need the website to do.

The fewer plugins you have activated, the fewer files will be loaded. That will make your caching solutions far more efficient and do wonders to speed up your website.

Mike Haydon, Founder & CEO at Intelliwolf, Co-Founder & CTO at Web A11y

9. Nine Times out of Ten, Investing in Better Hosting is Essential

Ian Pegg, Web designer, WordPress fanatic, Small business enthusiast, Founder of EggCup Web Design

Whenever I look under the bonnet of a slow WordPress website I typically see several things going on. The most fundamental problem I commonly see is a sluggish server that fails to respond quickly enough to that vital first request. 

So, nine times out of ten, investing in better hosting is essential but depending upon the size of your business you might not have the budget to plump for a dedicated managed root server. If that’s the case, find a web host that supports LiteSpeed. LiteSpeed is a proprietary variant of the good old Apache web server, so all your standard WordPress .htaccess rewrite rules will continue to work fine. But there the comparison ends – I’ve seen many tests where LiteSpeed comfortably outperforms NginX. 

I’ve made sites fly on shared hosting accounts, all thanks to this technology. It does take a little configuration – but the software authors have created a companion plugin for WordPress that makes this process far simpler. The plugin also comes with a bunch of other optimization features such as CSS/JS minification and HTTP/2 push. It probably won’t solve all your optimization problems but it’ll be a huge leap in the right direction!

Ian Pegg, Web designer, WordPress fanatic, Small business enthusiast,  Founder of EggCup Web Design

10. Get a Great Hosting, Review the Current Codebase, and Make a Plan to Improve the Code or Rebuild

Jeffrey Visser, Operations Manager & Partner at Web Agency Van Ons

Get a CDN, work on caching, bring the amount of plugins down, all of that will help improve the speed of your website. But there’s not just one solution that has the same result in every situation so rather make sure you’re taking the right steps to get a fast site. In our case that is almost always 1) Get a great hosting provider 2) Review the current codebase meaning the theme and plugins in use and everything else 3) Make a plan to improve that code or rebuild. Here your Google PageSpeed score can be a guide on what to improve.

We encounter both SME’s and corporates wanting to take care of their own hosting for security reasons and because the IT department is in charge of all data. Great web hosting has become (or always was anyway) an area of expertise you have to keep up to date on though and providing server-side caching like Varnish and specialized services such as Elastic really make it necessary for the hardware to work together closely with the developers that are working on making your site as fast as possible. 

That’s why our first step is to get any site up and running at hosting providers specializing in WordPress or anyone software so they really know what they are doing. As a digital agency, we’ll be in charge of writing clean code and figuring out the fastest way to serve web pages but it all needs to sit on stellar servers.

Once step 3 is completed it’s a lot more fun to find ways to serve pages faster and faster. Ever-increasing the user experience on your site. Good luck!

Jeffrey Visser, Operations Manager & Partner at Web Agency Van Ons

11. Check out Hosting Providers that Have Caching Already Built-in at the Server-side

Michiel Tramper, Founder of Make it WorkPress, Founder of CreativeSolvers, UX Designer & Full Stack Developer

Before answering the question, we need to take a step back. How do we achieve great optimization? There are, in a simple sense, two sides of the coin. One side is taking care of the server and network where you’re WordPress website is running on. In other words, have a great hosting provider. For beginners and up, Kinsta is one of the best choices. For the techies, GridPane is amazing. 

The other side is optimizing your application – which is WordPress. In WordPress, you’ll mostly use plugins to optimize. If you want to start simple, use WP Rocket (which is paid). A bit more advanced optimization (but also a more controlled one) can be achieved with W3 Total Cache. 

At last, there may be a more advanced way. Proper hosting providers such as Kinsta and GridPane have caching already built-in at the server-side. You only need Autoptimize to optimize your CSS and JavaScript and something like Nginx Helper and Redis Object Cache to clear your caches.

Michiel Tramper, Founder of Make it WorkPress, Founder of CreativeSolvers, UX Designer & Full Stack Developer

12. Get Into Server-Side Optimization

Milan Ivanović, WordPress Developer at valet.io

When I think about caching and optimization, the first thing that pops on my mind is the W3 Total Cache plugin. Some things get stuck, am I right? 🙂 For many users, that plugin had and still does way more options than it should – but I liked those. I loved how many things I could tweak inside it.

With big-in-size projects came a whole set of new problems, and that’s when I realized doing things from plugins won’t help. These problems got me into server-side optimization and getting to love LiteSpeed. 

Now I have a few servers running this lightweight Apache alternative, and I recommend giving it a spin. Using LiteSpeed and it’s LSCache plugin, I have the best of both worlds: server-side optimization and a plugin with many settings I can tweak.

Milan Ivanović, WordPress Developer at valet.io

13.Optimize your Database by Giving it a Spring Clean

Wil Brown, Consultant & Developer, Expert WordPress Consultant at Zero Point Development

The single best thing you can do to increase the speed of your WordPress site is to choose a premium managed hosting company that uses either Amazon Cloud or Google Cloud infrastructures and who also have a premium DNS service.

Managed WordPress hosting companies with these services include Kinsta, WP Engine, Flywheel, and Pagely.

Within WordPress, optimize your database by giving it a spring clean.

Remove expired transients (temporary caches) using the Transients Manager plugin

Limit the number of revisions (copies of posts) stored in the database by adding the following line to your wp-config.php file

define( ‘WP_POST_REVISIONS’, 3 );

Then remove all those revisions form the database using the WP-Sweep plugin.

Lastly, for a quick performance hit, optimize your images.  You may have to download your wp-content/uploads folder to your local machine and run a good optimizer tool over them before re-uploading them to the server.

Windows users can download the FileOptimiser app and Mac users can download the ImageOptim app.

Wil Brown, Consultant & Developer, Expert WordPress Consultant at Zero Point Development

My Take

Website performance is crucial for both business owners and web visitors.

From a website owner’s perspective, a slow website leads to fewer conversions, poor organic ranking, possible violations, and an excess of server resources for a suboptimal site (i.e. more expensive hosting or data storage solutions, among potential outages).

Web visitors want to be able to access information in a timely manner – especially when it comes to the predominant number of mobile requests over the past few years (and data plans providing 3G at times). Maxing out your data plan could be a solid bummer when loading a non-optimized 4K video hosted somewhere.

For regular projects and some of our internal tools (including my personal website), I’m pretty happy with the results NitroPack provides out of the box. It’s a wonderful turnkey solution that doesn’t clutter a website, causing misconfiguration issues, security leaks, or incompatibilities with plugins, themes, or the hosting plan.

For our high-tier accounts serving hundreds of millions of monthly views, we’re able to allocate the necessary time and resources to manually optimize and fine-tune each and every aspect of the entire web stack, continuously. Additionally, we make sure the server infrastructure can scale – which is often handled by the ops team at Pagely while we are busy with web engineering.

There’s a ton going on for high-scale projects, which is the main reason innovation occurs in the web space still – from better image formats like webp to data throttling, async assets, 3rd party microservices offloading complex activities, and a ton of background processes handling the heavy lifting.

What’s your best tip when it comes to website performance? Let me know in the comments below.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog and reprinted with permission.

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