Website speed is essential for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, by serving a fast-loading website, you’re making the experience for your readers a lot less frustrating. And secondly, slow websites have a lot harder time ranking in Google.
Learning about website speed optimization is, therefore, a win-win scenario. Your readers win, and you win as well!
Here’s your introduction to website speed optimization and a beginner’s guide to making your WordPress website fast in 2019:
1. Get a fast website hosting
There’s no way around this step when it comes to website speed optimization! Frankly, if your website is hosted on a slow platform then none of the other tweaks from this list will matter.
A fast hosting platform will give you the foundation to do your further performance tweaks on.
Check this out; this is our in-house data about the speeds that some popular hosts offer. This is based on our own experiments done through the years:
|Host||Av. loading time measured from New York||Av. loading time measured from Stockholm||Rating|
What’s interesting is that we tested each of these hosts by running the exact same website on them. But, as you can see, some hosts are just much better at delivering speed than others.
So just don’t waste your money. Fast hosts aren’t necessarily more expensive than slow hosts. You can comfortably find a quality host and pay less than $5 a month for it (SiteGround). On the other end of the spectrum, you can find a top-of-the-line managed hosting for around $25 / month (Kinsta).
👉 Here’s our roundup of the top 8 website hosting services available.
2. Use a lightweight theme
With the web host component of website speed optimization taken care of, the next element that impacts your load times significantly is the WordPress theme you’re using.
I know that your theme probably looks great, and you love it, but … it just might not be the fastest thing around.
Do a quick test, while on your current theme, fire up Pingdom Tools and test one of your pages.
See the score you’ve earned. Example:
Now go to your WordPress dashboard and switch to the default theme. Don’t worry; your content won’t vanish – you can come back to your normal theme in a sec.
Repeat the test. See if the results are the same.
- If you’re getting roughly the same score, good – your theme is all right considering speed.
- Higher score? Awesome, your theme is top-notch!
- Lower score? Your theme is slow.
Unfortunately, trying to “fix” your current theme can be really unproductive. You’re better off just switching to something faster if you want to get your website speed optimization done with the least amount of effort.
We can recommend you a handful of quick-loading themes:
3. Optimize your site for mobile
In 2019, it’s actually more likely that a random visitor is looking at your website on a mobile device than on a desktop computer.
There’s hard data behind this statement. More people are using mobile devices to access the web these days than those using laptops or desktops.
Why is that important?
With this many people making the phone their primary “web access device,” you simply cannot neglect how your site looks on mobile devices.
What’s perhaps even more crucial, Google now puts more value on your site’s appearance on mobile than on desktop. Read: if you want to rank well in Google, you need to have a mobile-optimized site. Mobile-optimized sites also tend to be better at website speed optimization overall.
The level to which your site is optimized when it comes to mobile depends on a couple of key factors:
- your theme and code structure
- the images you have on the site
To check how optimized your site is right now, go to Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
If the result of your test looks something like this then things need to improve:
Again, the best way to make your site mobile-friendly is to simply change your theme. (Refer back to the list of themes recommended above.)
So with your theme being the first element of mobile friendliness, the other element are the images you use on your site and the amount of space and bandwidth those images consume:
4. Optimize your images
Did you know that even up to 90% of your site’s total loading time is consumed by images alone?
Sounds surprising, doesn’t it? Well, the reason for that is actually quite simple:
Image files take up a lot more disk space than text documents (including your written website content).
That being said, it’s not like we can avoid using images altogether, so getting rid of them isn’t really a solution. There are better things we can do if we want to improve our website speed optimization. Here’s a handful:
4.1. Pick the right image type
JPG and PNG are two of the most common image types on the web.
The no.1 thing you should know about them is that they were built to serve different purposes:
TL;DR: Use JPGs for photos and complex graphics, PNGs for simple graphics.
4.2. Don’t upload images that are bigger than they need to be
(“Bigger” as in dimensions – width and height in pixels. This is not about the amount of disk space the image takes – we’ll cover that in a sec.)
Most themes have max settings when it comes to the size of image that can be displayed in a blog post or page.
You should find out what that max size is for your theme and then make sure not to upload images that are more than 2x that size (this will also make sure the images look great on Retina screens).
4.3. Optimize images on the site
With the above done, the last thing you should do is take care of optimizing the images once they get uploaded to your site.
We’re doing that because most images take a lot more disk space than they really need to. In other words, most images are hugely unoptimized.
In fact, you can optimize your images in a way that doesn’t impact the visual quality of the image while at the same time making them use much less disk space. Thus, the image in question will load much faster.
This all sounds pretty complicated, but there’s software that does all the work for you. Optimole is an excellent solution for that.
- Optimole takes your images and optimizes them automatically
- Picks the right image size for the visitor’s browser and viewport
All you need to do is sign up to Optimole and install their WordPress plugin. Optimole is free up to 1GB of images monthly – should be enough for a small site.
4.4. Serve images via a CDN
In a standard setup, the images you have on your website will be loaded from your main web server whenever a visitor’s browser requests to fetch them.
If you have a fast server and your images are optimized then it’s all good. But we can speed that process up even more.
Instead of loading all images from the main server, we can load them via a CDN (or a Content Delivery Network).
A CDN is a network of servers that can take the burden of displaying the images and thus free some bandwidth up on your main server.
Why is this better for website speed optimization? In this setup, the CDN is built of many servers all around the globe instead of just one server. When a visitor attempts to display your images, the CDN server that’s the closest to that visitor will deliver the image. The sole fact that the server is closer to the visitor than your main web server will make the image load a lot faster.
You get a free CDN hookup for your images automatically when using Optimole.
5. Set up a cache
Caching is a rather boring concept, but hugely valuable nevertheless!
The basic idea is this:
By default, WordPress is something we call “website software.” Each time a visitor comes to your site, WordPress executes its code and outputs the resulting web page. This all happens dynamically, meaning that the code executes all over again for each new visitor, and it happens on the fly.
However, the content on your pages doesn’t actually change all that often, so a much more productive approach is to generate the page just once and then serve that pre-generated result to each new visitor who wants to see it. This is what caching does.
In WordPress, caching is handled by push-button-easy plugins. In other words, just activate one of them and you’re done. Some popular options include WP Rocket, Hummingbird, WP Fastest Cache, Comet Cache, W3 Total Cache.
6. Keep everything updated
One of the great things about WordPress is that it’s a platform that’s constantly being updated, and all those updates are free.
Each update comes with a number of improvements under the hood – many of them relating to website performance.
Always use the most recent versions of WordPress and all the plugins you have active on your site.
Click those update notices as soon as you see them, and both your website speed optimization and your website security will improve.
7. Minify your site
Technically speaking, minification is about stripping a source code file of all the unnecessary portions that are not required for the proper execution of said code file.
In practical terms, by minifying some of your website files, you’re making them smaller and thus causing them to execute faster, which is better for your overall website speed optimization.
A minification plugin can do this whole process for you. Here are the top free options out there.
8. Move scripts to footer
Another thing you can do to some of your site’s script files is move them further down in the execution queue.
Script files are fairly common on modern websites, and while they do make the experience better for the visitor overall, they don’t need to be loaded immediately when the person visits the page.
To speed things up, we can move those files to the bottom. This is all done by a handy plugin called Scripts To Footer.
9. Optimize your database
WordPress stores all of your site’s data in a database. That database can get cluttered over time, with a lot of should-be-temporary data building up without being properly deleted, plus other related problems.
While those issues probably won’t lead to your website breaking down or anything, they do contribute to longer loading times.
To fix this, you can use one of the available database optimization plugins. WP-Optimize is a popular solution that’s easy to use.
10. Spring clean your site
We all love to install a bazillion plugins only to then forget about them a week later and not use them ever again.
Well, those unused plugins can contribute to your overall loading times too.
The solution is simple:
- delete the plugins you don’t use
- delete all themes apart from the one you use and the default WordPress theme
- deactivate all plugins that you use only occasionally (such as your database optimization plugin, for instance)
Consider your website speed optimization done!
Taking care of these 10 steps will give you a quick-loading site that’s enjoyed by your readers as well as Google (which equals higher rankings).
If you want to learn more about WordPress and how to build a successful website using it, read our other guides: