The loading times and overall speed of your website is crucial for user experience, however it also plays a large role in how well your website ranks on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing five steps to improve the loading times of your WordPress website. These steps include: bench-marking the current website speed to get an idea of where to improve, choosing the right hosting package that suits your websites needs, installing a free WordPress caching plugin, optimizing image file size using a free WordPress plugin, and finally, testing the loading times against the benchmark to measure the progress you’ve made.
For reference, the website I’ll be speeding up:
- WordPress Version: 5.1.1
- PHP Version: 7.1.26
- Theme: Astra
- Pagebuilder: Elementor
- Hosting: Bluehost VPS
- Using the “Homepage – Restaurant” template provided by Elementor.
Set a Benchmark Using a Speed Analysis Test
Before making changes to your WordPress website, it’s important to get a benchmark of the current performance in order to later measure against. This benchmark will also give good indicators in where our website can improve in terms of speed. In this blog post, I’ll be using a fantastic free-to-use website speed analysis tool, GTMetrix. I also recommend trying out the Pingdom Website Speed Test, another fantastic free speed analysis tool that provides similar feedback.
Setting The Stage: Performing a Speed Analysis With GTMetrix
The PageSpeed and YSlow recommendations will share similarities and offer unique recommendations to improve the loading time of your website. Optimizing images, enabling gzip compression, and leverage browser caching will yield the most improvement in PageSpeed and YSlow scores, as well as improving the fully loaded time, total page size and number of requests made.
Things that can contribute to long bars include:
- Downloading of large files
- Hitting bandwidth limits with multiple concurrent files downloading
- Network issues
For more information on the waterfall graph, check out this informative GTMetrix blog.
Choosing the appropriate hosting package will play a large role in the load-times of your WordPress website. Most hosting providers will offer three different tiers: Shared Hosting, VPS Hosting, and Dedicated Hosting. More recently, WordPress and Cloud Hosting have been additions to the aforementioned hosting packages. I will cover the differences of the three main tiers: Shared, VPS and Dedicated.
Shared Hosting is generally the most affordable hosting option since you essentially share the same server with multiple customers. The main benefit of Shared Hosting is that it’s very affordable, usually less than $10 per month. Of course, paying less for something will most likely come with its drawbacks. Because your website is on a server being shared with numerous other websites, if one or more of those websites sees a sudden increase in traffic, it will occupy resources of the server, potentially slowing down your website.
VPS (Virtual Private Server) Hosting shares similarities to Shared Hosting since multiple websites share the same server. However, VPS Hosting gives you guaranteed resources in terms of CPU, memory, and disk space. A VPS Hosting package will also give you full control, as each dedicated space on the web-hosting providers server includes its own operating system (almost always CentOS or Ubuntu Server Linux Distros). You can expect to pay around $20 to $30 a month for a VPS Hosting package.
Dedicated Hosting is exactly as it sounds, dedicated to one website and has the best performance out of all the hosting packages. The Dedicated Hosting package will come with all of the benefits of VPS Hosting, but with even greater performance. This high-level of performance also comes at a higher price point, so only purchase a Dedicated Hosting package if your website requires it. If your website sees a high number of visitors everyday and you notice loading times dropping off dramatically, this may be an indicator that your website requires a Dedicated Hosting package. However, if your website is for a blog or small-business that gets very little traffic, a Shared or VPS Hosting package will suffice.
Implementing a WordPress Caching Plugin
WordPress was built to dynamically build each web page the visitor on your site requests by running PHP scripts and querying the database, put together the HTML, then deliver it to the visitor. Since running PHP scripts and querying the database every single time a visitor requests a page is extremely taxing on the web server, caching was introduced to save the normally dynamically generated HTML and deliver this to the visitor instead of running PHP scripts and querying the database each time a request is made.
For this demonstration, I will be using the free caching plugin W3 Total Cache, however there are countless other free caching plugins available for download on the WordPress repository. In my experience, W3 Total Cache performs the best.
Image Optimization Plugin
Optimizing the size of images on your WordPress website is extremely important not only for reducing the loading time of the website, but also for improving the experience of users. Image optimization essentially compresses the image to reduce the file size, while still maintaining the same quality, it’s almost magic! For this demonstration, I’ll be using the free image optimization plugin, reSmush.it. reSmush.it provides image size reduction based on several advanced algorithms and will optimize images up to 5MB in size for free. reSmush.it will bulk optimize all of the images on the WordPress website at once and automatically compress images on upload.
Once reSmush.it has been installed, it can be found in the “Media” area of your WordPress dashboard. To optimize all uploaded images on your website, click “Optimize all pictures” and simply wait for reSmush.it to do its job, and that’s it. Now all your images are optimized and you can be assured that future uploaded images will be optimized automatically.
Continuously testing your progress is important for getting an idea of what’s working and what’s not. You’ll want to run a speed test every time you modify a setting in your caching plugin. Along with performing speed tests each time a change is made, you’ll want to open your website in an incognito tab to replicate the experience of a brand new visitor to your website, this will give you a first-hand look of how fast your website loads without browser cache. This also gives you the opportunity to see if any of the minification settings “broke” your website, this may occur depending on which theme and/or pagebuilder you use, it’s good to play with the settings of W3 Total Cache to find what works for your website.
Now it’s time to do another speed analysis using GTMetrix in order to compare our results with the benchmark test we did earlier. Let’s fire up GTMetrix and run a speed analysis.
That’s a heck of a lot better! We reduced the total page size from 2.72MB to 2.16MB, the fully loaded time from 3.6s to 3.1s and the number of requests from 89 to 72! The PageSpeed and YSlow are now above average which is also good. There are still areas of the website to improve upon that caching and image optimization plugins alone can’t fix. Luckily, GTMetrix provides detailed explanation based on the recommendations made by PageSpeed and YSlow.
Improving the speed of your WordPress website offers too many benefits to pass up, from improving user experience to ranking better on Google. Using free WordPress plugins and website speed analysis tools made available to us, achieving a faster loading, higher ranking website is easier than you think. If your website isn’t loading quickly and/or you’ve noticed your Google rankings drop, please feel free to reach out and request a free consultation.