We’ve compiled a shortlist of actions you or your site manager can take to speed up your WordPress site. Site speed performance has a huge impact on your business success, brand perception, and bottom line – we’ve written about this more deeply here. This list is ordered from heaviest to lightest lift and – the heaviest lifts, in context to this list, have the largest impact on site speed while the lighter ones have a smaller impact.
Choose The Right Theme: This is a hard one to open this article with because changing to a new theme can be a monumental task for some companies and could mean a full rebuild, which could be cost-prohibitive. However, it’s most important to note that a lot of speed problems start at a WordPress site’s theme, where everything is built on top of. We often give the analogy of foundations in a house – some foundations are more stable and durable than others. The rings true for WordPress themes as well – some are built better than others resulting in better performance. We often recommend compiling a list of themes that meet your design needs, looking for sites in the wild using these themes use a WordPress theme detector, and running that live site URL through Google PageSpeed Insights. We’ve also found that some theme markets have cracked down on poor performing themes and have forced theme developers to build with speed in mind – we recommend starting with Themeforest.
Theme optimization & caching: Theme optimization is not for the faint of heart and does require some level of understanding in how a WordPress theme and its parts function. Luckily, there are a lot of plugins available that can automate a large bulk of the work for you. As stated above not all themes are created equally, which means that the degree to which your theme can be optimized will vary from theme to theme. Theme compression comes in the form of CSS minification, HTML, and .js minification as well as image load and scripting order behavior. Minification compresses your theme code and removes any unneeded characters added to make it easier for a developer to read. Image deferment and js deferment are another way to allow for the site to be interactable faster – more on how this is measured here (link). Caching, in its simplest form is a way in which your site stores some information on a user’s computer after they visit your site. In this way, you can cut down on load speed because some of your site’s data had already been downloaded to a user’s machine. We recommend WP Rocket which is an all-in-one Theme compression and caching plugin.
Image Optimization + Compression: Poor image optimization is something we run into all the time, especially on websites that weren’t built by a seasoned developer or maintained with speed performance in mind. Unless you have a digital design or photography-based background it’s hard to know which image file types are best for different circumstances, especially when varying filetypes carry different metadata and file data. For example, a .png is going to be heavier than a .jpeg because a .png is “lossless” meaning that it is optimized for image clarity under varying environments of compression (Link) and carries an alpha channel allowing for image transparency whereas a jpeg is not lossless, nor carries data for an alpha channel (imagine laying your logo on top of a color layer – it has to be a .png or .svg because those filetypes support alpha layers. More on .svgs later). Ultimately, using the correct sized photos and appropriate filetypes will have a huge impact on speed performance. We usually recommend Smush, which is a WordPress tool that does the bulk of image compression and filetype management for you and automatically.
Optimal hosting and leveraging a CND: Hosts aren’t created equally and this is most evident in the technology a host uses to store your site and deliver your site’s data to one of your users. Any host worth their salt will also have a CDN (content delivery network) which allows your site to distribute static access over a global network of servers which improves performance because your data has to travel shorter geographical distance to your end-user. We’re keeping this one brief because we wrote a lengthy article about this exact item here (link).