WHY SPEED MATTERS
A faster site will lead to increased revenue, through a combination of improved user retention and better SEO results.
Studies have been performed by many entities including Google, Bing and Yahoo, giving us conclusive evidence that users prefer fast sites. This preference is important enough that speed is now a relevant factor when Google ranks sites in their search results.
WordPress provides some particular challenges when it comes to speed. WordPress is dynamic, meaning users are regularly contributing content and pages are always changing. For this reason we can not just cache everything and call it a day. We need to get creative. What follows is a comprehensive guide as to how to speed up your WordPress site. If you follow everything in this guide you will see noticeable speed improvements right away. Have fun 🙂
It all starts at the server. Many of the methods we’ll be recommending depend on a good server setup.
Imagine you have a slow computer. You can try optimizing it all day, but the most impactful thing you can do is simply to buy a faster computer. Same with your server. There is no getting around it, your website is hosted on physical hardware and it is limited by the same constraints as a computer, including processor speed, memory, and other factors. If you’re using cheap shared hosting, your site is going to be slow no matter what you do. If you move your WordPress site to a powerful, dedicated server, you will have fixed half of your speed issues with just this one change.
So how do you choose a server company? Below are our recommendations, depending on your needs.
KnownHost offers an ideal balance of speed, price and ease of use, and has worked great hosting. They use managed virtual private servers (VPS) which offer the benefits of a full private server but at a substantially lower price, along with fantastic technical support and virtually 100% up
time in our experience.
Another popular option is Rackspace. If your primary concern is speed over all else, and you don’t mind a somewhat steep learning curve to get there, Rackspace is an ideal choice. You won’t get much out of the box – no phpMyAdmin, no cPanel, just an empty server that you need to configure. But what you do get is an incredible infrastructure that will scale as you grow, and will be super fast right out the box. They have incredible support as well, both phone and live chat.
In many ways, WPEngine is the opposite of Rackspace. They don’t let you configure much, in fact their environment is quite restricted. However what they do offer is easy configuration and management. Anyone can figure out their interface, which is designed specifically to host WordPress sites. It’s reasonably fast and the support is good, and they have a terrific daily backup system. If you expect you will need to customize your server setup at all, this is not for you. But if you want a reliable server setup with minimal effort, and support that is specific to WordPress, this may be your best choice.
2. Object Caching
Page Caching vs Object Caching
Due to the dynamic nature of WordPress, page caching of HTML is not possible as it will cause content that is supposed to be updated in real-time to go stale. However we can still cache the PHP that is used to assemble those pages via Object Caching, which will reduce the amount of requests to your server and lead to noticeable gains in performance. Object Caching is built into WordPress, you just need to enable it on your server.
How to enable APC Object Cache
If you’re on shared hosting this will not be possible, as the change is set across the entire server. You’ll need to follow our advice in the Server section first.
Once you have moved your site to a dedicated server, contact your web host and request that they install the “APC” caching technology on your server. APC stores the cached content in RAM, which is why I recommend at least 2GB of RAM for ideal server performance. Once your web host has confirmed that APC is installed and working, you will then need to enable it for WordPress with a plugin.My recommended method is with the APC Object Cache Backend plugin:
This is not a true plugin, but rather a “drop-in” file. As such, you do not actually activate the plugin. You just need to copy the object-cache.php file directly into your /wp-content/ directory. To confirm that it’s working, you can type this into your browser while logged in as a WordPress admin:
It should show APC Object Cache as a drop-in plugin. You should begin seeing performance improvements.
3. Enable GZIP
Your website needs to send files to your visitors’ browsers, and those files can sometimes be large. Using GZIP, you can compress your web pages and assets by as much as 70%, resulting in noticeable speed gains during page load.
Enabling GZIP is simple. You just need to contact your web host and request that they enable GZIP on your server. Now your web pages will download quickly as compressed files. To confirm GZIP is working correctly, enter your site’s address here: http://checkgzipcompression.com/
4. Content Delivery Network (CDN)
What is a CDN?
Why use a CDN?
When someone loads a page from your website, the majority of the browser re-quests are for content assets that are loading directly from your server, and with a moderate amount of traffic they will queue up and slow down your site’s per-formance. Additionally, they have to be delivered from your server’s physical lo-cation to your visitor, and if your server is in Los Angeles and your visitor is in the Philippines for example, this will cause a delay. With a CDN your visitor may get most of your site’s files delivered from a server located in nearby Manila, result-ing in a noticeable speed improvement.
Setting up a CDN with WordPress
The first step is to purchase your CDN package. I recommend using MaxCDN as they are reliable, inexpensive, and easily integrate with several WordPress plug-ins. Some hosts such as Rackspace offer their own CDNs as well. Once you have correctly configured your CDN “zone” make sure to note down the CDN URL.
Next, download the plugin “CDN Linker” from Github (look for the “Down-load ZIP” button):
Install and activate the plugin on your website.
Go to Settings > CDN Linker in your WordPress dashboard. Then add your CDN URL that you noted earlier in the “CDN URL” field. If you’re using MaxCDN, it will look something like this:
5. Minify and Com-bine CSS
Your website is likely to be loading many CSS stylesheets, perhaps twenty or more. These come from your theme as well as the plugins you are using. Each stylesheet needs to be downloaded separately by your browser, causing a no-ticeable speed impact. Additionally, the stylesheets contain a lot of empty white-space which contributes to larger files sizes and more work for the browser to read through them.
Minifying is the process of removing all of the whitespace, leaving you with tiny compressed stylesheets. Then we can combine all of your stylesheets, with the end result being just one compressed stylesheet for the entire website! This will lead to speed improvements, especially noticeable on mobile devices.
Better WordPress Minify
With Better WordPress Minify, it is very easy to automate the whole process of minifying and combining CSS files. First, install and activate Better WordPress Minify:
Then go to BWP Minify > General Options. Check the box for “Minify CSS files automatically?” and set “For cache buster, use” to the option “Cache folder’s last modified time” so your compressed stylesheets get regenerated when you update any theme or plugin.
All of your stylesheets should be minified and combined now. To confirm, you can view your page source in a browser and you should see every stylesheet combined into one file. Look for the extension “.CSS”. Click to view the file, and you will see all whitespace has been removed.
If you read the previous section about CSS, this will be very familiar.
Better WordPress Minify
7. Compress site images
One thing often overlooked is the size of images uploaded into your media directory, both by admins and the members of your community. If a user uploads a 1GB image to your site, whenever someone views that page they will have to download a 1GB file. And if you have a page with 10 images like this, the page size will get enormous. This can lead to considerable speed delays, especially for mobile devices and slower internet connections.
The solution we recommend is TinyPNG: https://tinypng.com/Despite the name, it will actually compress both PNG and JPG file types, often by 70% or more. Even if you compress your images first in Photoshop, you will still see noticeable gains by running it through TinyPNG, with virtually no loss in quality.
You can manually upload any image to the service and it will output a com-pressed version for you, but the real magic is in their fantastic WordPress plugin:
The plugin will retroactively compress your site’s entire media library, and will then automatically compress every new image that is uploaded into it. The catch? You have to pay for the service. The first 500 images per month are free, the next 9,500 are at $0.009 per image, and after that it’s $0.002 per image. Sign up for your API here:
8. Deactivate slow plugins
The WordPress ecosystem is enormous and it can be tempting to run every plugin that looks interesting. But this can come at a cost as some plugins will slow down your site. Every plugin is adding more code that must be executed when you load a page.
P3 Plugin Profiler
Often times it just one plugin, or maybe a couple of plugins that are causing your site to slow down. You will need to diagnose the situation to figure out what is causing the problem. A fast method is just to disable all plugins, and re-enable them one by one until you find an obvious slowdown. However a more sophisticated solution exists. We recommend using the plugin “P3 Plugin Profiler” avail-able here:
This plugin creates a profile of your plugins’ performance by measuring their impact on your site’s load time. Using this, you can narrow down which specific plugins are causing slow load times and remove them. Go to Tools > P3 Plugin Profiler and click “Scan Now”.
9. Clean up your database
Over time your database can grow to be full of redundant and unused content, which can lead slow PHP queries during page loads. It is possible to maintain a cleaner database using a plugin, which can lead to faster load times both on the front-end and in the WordPress dashboard.
We recommend using the plugin “WP Optimize” available here:
This plugin will clean up your database in various ways. For example, every time you edit a post WordPress saves your edit as a revision. If on average you edit each post 10 times, and your site has 2000 posts, you may actually have 20,000 post revisions in your database. This plugin will remove all of the stale re-visions resulting in a dramatically smaller and more efficient database. It will per-form other various scheduled tasks as well.
10. Test, Test, Test
It’s important to test your site speed before and after implementing changes, so you know you’re having a positive impact and not just relying on anecdotal evidence. There are two fantastic, free web tools that you can use to test your site.
Google Page Speed Insights
For figuring out what to optimize, we recommend using Google PagenSpeed In-sights, available here:
Enter your page URL and click “Analyze” and it will score your site and provide suggestions to speed it up. If you’ve followed the rest of this guide, you have already implemented many of the most important suggestions.
Pingdom Website Speed Test
For determining your site’s actual page load times, we recommend using the Pingdom Website Speed Test available here:
Enter your page URL and click “Test Now” and it will display the load time along with a visual waterfall showing which elements of your site are taking the most time to load. There may be a specific resource or two that are contributing to slow load times.