How to Speed up a WordPress Site

WordPress is rapidly becoming the CMS of choice for pretty much everyone.  According to w3Techs, by the end of 2018 over 60% of CMS based sites were using it, which means it accounts for over a third of all websites! 

The only real problem we often see with WordPress installations is the speed, it’s not uncommon to see page load speeds between 5 and 10 seconds or more! This is clearly apparent when you look at a Google search for “WordPress site is”, the first suggestion is “slow”!.

google showing slow wordpress search term

So let’s look at how to make WordPress sites faster easily and quickly.

Why is a slow website bad?

In a word: Ranks. Google and other Search Engines have said that they don’t like slow websites and if they’re slow it could be a negative factor in their search positions, i.e. slow sites don’t rank well.  It does make sense, nobody likes waiting for a site to load, and when they are paying for gazillion bit broadband, why should they?  Every second that a user has to wait for a page to load increases the chances that they’ll hit the back button and visit your competitors site instead. So in short a slow site = lower ranks and lost visitors.

How Slow is Slow?

We work to a general rule of thumb that 2 seconds is the maximum acceptable page-load time.  This is quick enough that you shouldn’t lose visitors and, in our experience, is fast enough to not lose ranks in Google.  We aim for 1 second, while it’s not always possible and other factors on the internet can cause fluctuations, I’d suggest that you make that your aim too. Anything slower than 3 seconds really should be addressed as a priority. I actually wrote about this topic back in 2010, when Google had only just announced that speed had become a factor.

How do I Know if my WordPress site is Fast Enough?

This is the easy bit and from now on I’m going to assume anyone reading is from the UK or Europe, if not, just adapt the regions to wherever you are instead.

Dotcom Tools

So fist, go to Dotcom Tools speed checker , I like this one because you can test from multiple locations and from mobile or desktop browsers.  For the time being keep it set to the Chrome browser and just Europe for the locations (otherwise it takes too long to run), enter the captcha and click “start test”.  You’ll get a report back along the lines of the one below. In this case the site already loads fast enough from London, so if you see a similar time, yours is already quick enough. Also note that towards the bottom left, there are no errors.

uk website loading in less than 1 second

I’d suggest running the test 2 or 3 times just to get a feel for the average.  Assuming it took more than a couple of seconds, we’ll move on to another test.

GT Metrix

This time we’re going to have a look at a GT Metrix test , they do offer different locations for paid users, but we already know it’s slow, this time we’re looking for some simple reasons for that, so we can use it for free from Canada which is fine. If you want a detailed breakdown of the tool, there’s a detailed article here.

gmetrix results for eco seo

As you can see, our speed is showing slightly slower on this one, but remember, this fetch has traveled across the Atlantic to Canada, so it’s to be expected.

It’s worth mentioning here that a lot of people get too tied up in striving for perfect scores, if your WordPress website is loading fast enough, don’t worry about them.  It’s a great way to waste a lot of time. That being said, if your test looks anything like the one below, you need to take action.

Note, we have omitted the header info’ to protect the site owners identity, but rest assured there are plenty more out there like this and worse.

gt metrix showing a slow wordpress site

There are plenty of other tools out there, including Googles own page speed insights tool however, I’m keeping this simple, so we won’t go there today. So moving along….

How to Make my WordPress Site Load Faster?

The first and simplest way is often to move your hosting.  While this may sound a bit drastic, it really is simple these days.  We find the best host for WordPress is Siteground. They offer fast servers, good support and their own built in Caching utility, which is really easy to use compared to what you may have installed as plugins before.  In fact, their package might mean that you can get rid of a few plugins which can help reduce the number of conflicts and speed it up a bit more.  They will also migrate your website for you and install and activate the SSL.

They are offering a discounted rate at the moment which you can take advantage of for up to 3 years.  So I’d suggest if you are going to go this route, you select the “Grow Big” plan and buy it for as long as you can afford to lock in the discount. Plus it means that’s an expense you potentially don’t have to think about for another 3 years.  We are now recommending them to all of our customers when their hosting is up for renewal and we’ve seen some good results with their SEO since.

Web Hosting

What are the Alternatives?

If you aren’t ready to change your host there are a few other things which you can do relatively easily:

  1. Update your PHP version – We’re keeping this simple, so I won’t go into detail of what PHP is, if you’re interested you can find out more here, if not, it’s basically a language used by your server and WordPress needs it.  So log in to your hosts control panel and locate the PHP settings, you might find it’s set to an old version such as 5.xx, if so, look for the version drop down and select 7.xx.  Check your website works properly after you’ve done this, if there’s a problem just try the next oldest one instead.  Once you have the newest stable version run your speed checks again, this single task can make a lot of difference.
  2. Use a Faster Theme – Much like websites in general, themes can be fast or slow. To check if your theme is the culprit just log into your WordPress dashboard, go to “appearance” / “themes” in the left hand menu and select a different theme, you should have 2010, 2019 etc already there.  Click one and do the speed tests again. PLEASE NOTE: This will probably temporarily break your website until you reactive your normal theme again, so do it when you receive little to no traffic and change it back again straight after you’ve run the checks.
  3. Tidy up your Plugins – We see a lot of websites which have accumulated tens of plugins, many unused, of those plenty left activated. Get rid of what you don’t need.  Deactivate them one by one, checking the site works properly after each, to be safe I’d suggest leaving them installed for a little while afterwards, then once you’re 100% sure they aren’t needed, go through and delete them.  WordPress plugins add bloat and the more you have the more likely you’ll have conflicts between them (which to be quite frank are a pain to resolve), so just get shot of them.
  4. Caching Plugins – OK, so after saying delete plugins, one which you should consider adding is a Caching one.  This is a massive subject and I will probably write about which we prefer and why at some point in the future. It’s taken many years of trial and error to get there and not all of them will work best on all hosting environments.
  5. Optimise Images – Most WordPress sites use quite a lot of images, probably partially because they’re so easy to add, but make sure you’re not loading huge images, this can really slow things down. There are a number of free plugins which can do this for you from within the admin dashboard, alternatively you can do it yourself with free online tools.
  6. Use a CDN – Particularly useful for websites with international coverage.  They distribute your content across multiple servers around the world, so your content always loads from the closest location. A popular one with a free option (at the time of writing) is Cloudflare

The Final Results

The image below shows the results when we made our own WordPress site faster.  Initially it was around 5 seconds, which is poor. We then made it faster, tried a few different plugins as a couple were slowing it down, then tweaked again to end up below 2 seconds.  From the UK it’s below 1 second on average.

eco seo before and after wordpress speed optimisation

Once you’ve sped the site up remember to go back and see how it’s improved, remembering that GTMetrix is based in Canada, so Dotcom Tools will give you a much better indication of speed in the UK.

Now that you’ve sped up your website, it’s worth checking a few internal pages (we’ve only been working with your home page up until this point because it’s usually the biggest page).  You should see that on the whole, your internal web pages load even faster than the home page.

As always, if you’d like our help with any aspect of speeding up your WordPress site, seo services or web design please do get in touch.

4 thoughts on “How to Speed up a WordPress Site

  1. Ed says:

    Thanks, that is a great article. I skimmed it but then went back and read it properly. My speed is averaging just over 4 seconds and I already use w3TC. What would you suggest is my best option, change host or go through the bullet points at the end?

    • Steve says:

      Hi Ed,

      It depends how much time or money you want to spend on it. Changing host takes little effort on your part but they aren’t the cheapest, (or the most expensive to be fair). Going through the bullets is free but can be pretty time consuming.

  2. Sharon Day says:

    What a delightful read, informative yet easily understood by the non-technically minded. i.e. me. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the concepts and the practicality of testing and implementing them, it makes a pleasant change from some of the other WordPress SEO guides I’ve read. It genuinely is very much appreciated. Sharon x

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