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Have you ever come across a page that seems to take its own sweet time to load on your browser? Most of us have encountered sluggish websites at one time, or another and chances are, we reacted the same way and left the website in a huff, never to return again.
If you’re a blogger or website owner trying to learn how to speed up your WordPress site, we’ve prepared a list of the best practices you can replicate but first, a little discussion on why page load speed matters.
Why should you even care how fast (or slow) your WordPress website loads on the browsers of your web visitors? Does load speed even matter?
The short answer is yes, it does matter because it directly impacts the experience of users visiting your website.
A slow loading website damages user experience and can diminish your authority as a trusted source in your industry or niche. People are always in a hurry to get the information they want from a link they clicked on. When a page takes more than 3 seconds to load, user annoyance sets in, and you can kiss that prospective customer or client goodbye.
Fast loading pages also improve user engagement. The faster your pages load, the more motivated your users will be to interact with your content and check out other pages on the website.
Google even conducted an experiment where they deliberately slowed down the loading speed of their main search portal (google.com) to gauge its impact on engagement. What they found out is that people used the service less frequently than before they conducted their experiment. When they turned the speed back up, engagement and frequency of searches promptly increased.
Page load speed matters, in fact, and when you consider its impact on your search ranking, there’s no other option for any website owner but to merely try to speed things up.
When Google first announced the inclusion of site speed as a ranking factor in their search algorithm, Matt Cutts tried to calm the nerves of some jittery website owners. Observing that the change will impact less than 1 percent of websites, Cutts stressed that relevance to the keyword or search topic is still their primary consideration.
Nevertheless, in instances where all things are equal, and your page happens to discuss the same topic being expounded on by the next million pages out there, search engines are always favoring faster-loading pages that do not conflict with the smooth user experience.
In this article, we’re going to discuss tested ways on how to effectively speed up your WordPress site and improve performance. It might seem complicated, but if you implement these tweaks piecemeal, you’ll soon have a fast loading site that satisfies both your readers and the search engines.
Shared web hosting service might seem a good option when you’re just starting your website or blog, but the moment your site gains popularity, and your traffic takes off, it might be a good idea to get your own dedicated server.
Shared web hosting can be a pain when it comes to downtime and sluggish speed during peak traffic hours when all the websites (sharing the same bandwidth) are making demands on the server simultaneously.
Choose a reliable web hosting company and try to get on a plan that gives you your own dedicated server. This might appear like a pricey move to some, but a good web host and a dedicated hosting plan can definitely speed up WordPress website.
When choosing a WordPress theme, our first instinct sometimes is to go for the pleasant ones with great designs, flashy features and animations, and elaborate layouts. Unfortunately, many of these themes with overly complicated layouts and designs are also sloppily coded and can slow down your website.
Of course, you have your own design preferences but our advice is to go for clean and simple themes that are solidly coded and optimized for speed. In addition, try to select plugins you need that will not impact speed and are compatible with your theme.
When it comes to factors that slow down web pages, high-resolution images in very large files site high because many website owners are unaware of the impact of these images on site speed.
Try to optimize your images by uploading only the maximum size that fits and looks good on your page when viewed from a desktop computer. Once you’ve decided on the maximum size, use this parameter throughout your website.
Use a good image compression plugin that can reduce the file size of your images by removing unnecessary data without compromising image quality. With a good compression plugin, your images any speed issues might be on upload, and older images are already existing in your media library can be processed in bulk with just a single click.
Without a caching plugin, a WordPress website will significantly slow down during peak hours when several people are visiting the site and reading the same pages at the same time.
Always install a good caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, WP Rocket, WP Super Cache, etc. This will ensure that your site will always be able to serve pages 3X to 5X faster because the caching plugin functions to significantly shorten the process of retrieving information from your servers.
Images are not the only files that can throttle your page load speed. File requests to external servers can also significantly slow down your page, and you can improve site performance by minimizing these requests.
Files stored externally are usually scripts, CSS stylesheets, and images being utilized by third-party services and plugins or used to render your website’s theme.
If it’s possible, try copying script, image, and stylesheet files and host these in your own servers. Go a step further by combining some of these files to reduce file requests when your pages are being loaded.
Your home page is the most frequented page on your website. It would be wise to score a good impression by having a fast loading home page.
Remember, your website visitors are there for the information not for clunky slides and galleries and complex layout of the home page. Try to keep it simple by using excerpts of posts (for blog home pages) instead of displaying full articles.
Remove clutter by minimizing images and widgets. Sliders are notorious causes of lagging so try to choose a slider or gallery plugin that’s optimized for speed.
Long posts (over 4,000 words) are excellent materials for content marketing and search engine ranking, but if these are full of images and widget displays, long posts can also slow downloading speed.
Try to break up long posts into different parts or installments but make sure that you’re linking these installments to each other for your visitors to navigate easily between posts.
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) helps enhance site speed by taking all your website’s static files (images, scripts, stylesheets, etc.) and serving requested files from servers geographically located closest to your website visitor.
For example, if a visitor from London visits your site, files would normally be retrieved from where your web host’s servers are located (in the U.S., for example) and it would take some time to properly load the page. With a CDN, files will be retrieved from a server in England closest to that visitor from London, thus, significantly improving site load speed.
Image optimization plugins are now capable of compressing image files stored through a CDN so you’ll have the benefit of streamlined image files that load several times faster than when they’re stored in your own servers.
Some website owners think it makes them look more professional by displaying their own videos right from their WordPress website. It doesn’t make a difference at all if you ask me. The only thing it does for sure is to slow down your website.
You see, uploading your videos directly to WordPress consume a good amount of bandwidth and will display much slower causing a slowdown in your page loading time.
Video sharing sites like YouTube are optimized for faster rendering and playback of videos and you can leverage that on your website. The best thing to do is to host your video on YouTube and embed those on your pages and posts.
Regularly test the loading time of your posts and pages to see if there are any speed issues that might affect overall site performance. Try to whittle down your page total file size to less than 2MB across your website and see if you can have it loaded in less than 3 seconds on different browsers.
You can use site speed testing services like Pingdom and Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Using these tools can give you a clearer idea on how fast or how slow your website loads and you can then take action to improve the situation.
If you don’t speed up your WordPress website and improve site performance, your search results ranking will always be mediocre at best. The worst case scenario is that the site will be relegated to the very back pages of search results.
It’s such a waste, but the fact is, a sluggish website will never get traction as far as optimization and increasing web traffic are concerned. With the millions of web pages competing for readers’ attention, most people don’t have the patience to wait for a page that takes forever to load.
With the best practices outlined above, you can easily speed up your website and improve overall site performance. Get it done one step at a time and soon you’ll have a fast loading website that your target audiences will love to visit.
If you have your own tips and suggestions you’d care to share on how to speed up a WordPress website, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.