by Emaad Paracha
Whenever websites are designed and developed, there are several important factors that go into them, from the theme and plugin choices to gathering analytics. However, one of the most important factors developers work on is WordPress speed — ensuring those websites are loaded and delivered to visitors as fast as possible.
We even see web development agencies advertising fast site speeds as an important part of their service offerings, and sometimes even as standalone services.
Site speed has also become extremely important for search engine optimization as well. It can be seen in Google’s Core Web Vitals ranking, with “Largest Contentful Paint,” or the load time for the page’s main content, as one of the most important metrics to rank pages on.
5 tips to speed up a WordPress website
As a web developer, it can seem daunting to work on speeding up a WordPress site, with so many moving parts, plugins, and files. But, as I’ll explain more below, by taking small, efficient steps and actions, it doesn’t have to be! Here are five tips on how you can improve your WordPress website speed:
1. Optimizing cache
Cache… Some developers’ greatest friend, while others’ greatest enemy. The cache is often looked at in a negative light though, usually being the reason we run into storage or other related issues. But the positive benefits of cache are very easily overlooked.
Caching mechanisms are always running in the backend on whatever device we use, a phone, a computer, etc., helping save copies of the websites we go to, the settings we input on a specific site, and more.
This helps in optimizing load speeds of websites considerably, as we no longer need to wait for a previously visited site to load up again.
This is extremely important in the case of WordPress websites since they are dynamic sites and have several files involved. Whenever you load up a WordPress site, it has to essentially “cook up” the site from all the resources and files in the backend, and this process can take a while, leading to slower loading of your website.
This is where caching plugins come in.
These plugins can save static HTML files of the pages as cache so that the website can load these static files up first, loading up the overall site faster and efficiently. This is extremely important not just from an SEO and user experience point of view, but also to help lessen load on the server.
While there are many such plugins available, one great example that I often use is WP Super Cache, an extremely customizable plugin that allows for the ability to cache your site and generate an HTML file that can be served when a user visits your site instead of running PHP scripts repeatedly.
There are several settings that can be customized, including which users to cache for (logged in/not logged in), how long to keep cached files and when to refresh them, what pages to cache, and even different caching methods that can cache a whole page or keep some portions dynamic!
2. Optimizing images
An often-overlooked area when it comes to web development is putting images on websites. Many websites have pictures that vary greatly in quality and size, from low-resolution, low-size pictures taken from the internet to high resolution, large-size pictures imported straight from cameras onto the webpage.
After all, you just need to show the images and let the server load them up efficiently, right?
That’s unfortunately one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to uploading images. Developers sometimes do not pay attention to the file sizes of images (they can range from kilobytes to several megabytes) and end up with slower sites because they’ve overloaded their websites with large-sized pictures.
There ends up being just so much more data to load up for the server. Fixing this issue is not just important to have a fast and efficient website, but it can make or break your website’s SEO, since one of the main metrics Google and other search engines rank sites based on is how well the site and its images are optimized.
As goes with WordPress sites though, we can again make use of plugins to help us fix this problem!
Amongst several image optimization plugins, my favorite is Smush, a one-stop-shop plugin that helps in optimizing images, whether JPEGs or PNGs, and ensures there is no drop in quality, so you show the same images but more efficiently.
Smush is extremely customizable as well, allowing you to compress up to 50 images in one go, resize them if required, find images that are slowing down the site, and even convert images to the next-gen WebP format.
Now you no longer have to worry about uploading large images or having to resize them before uploading, just upload what you have and let Smush take care of the rest!
3. Offloading videos
When I first started developing websites, I noticed there were a large number of sites that usually hosted their own video files. Now, this could be a necessity for some, due to legal or branding reasons, however for the majority of the sites that wasn’t the case.
They were simply hosting the videos on their own server and playing them from there without giving that much thought to the problems associated with that. Video files can take up lots and lots of storage and bandwidth just by loading them up, especially videos that are in 4K that can be up to multiple GBs in size.
What’s the best way to avoid this? Look at video sharing services like YouTube, Vimeo and more!
Why burden your server with the task of hosting and displaying videos when you can do the same on YouTube/Vimeo and let them handle the bandwidth and delivery themselves? They’re built with the sole purpose to deliver videos efficiently!
The benefits of uploading videos to such services are that you can now offload the burden from your site and server and just embed the YouTube/Vimeo link onto your website. Your site does not need to load the video along with the page, leading to your web pages loading way faster and even your video as well.
That’s because the video’s loading up through YouTube.
By offloading your videos to such services, you not only reduce the load on your site, but you also get other benefits as well, such as a smaller website backup file, as it no longer contains videos, less cost for your server, since you don’t require as much bandwidth, and the ability for your viewers to choose between different video qualities (capability within YouTube/Vimeo, etc.) according to their internet speeds.
So, the same 4K video doesn’t load for everyone, but instead, someone with slower internet speeds can load up the video in 720p instead. This way you not only get a faster site but a better user experience as well!
4. Updating WordPress & plugins
Everything in technology needs updates, from hardware like computers and phones to software, such as your latest iOS/Android version or even different WordPress versions. Even though WordPress is an open-source project, it is extremely well maintained with periodic updates for security and performance patches.
These updates aren’t always just recommendations, they are often important and critical for the security and performance of your website.
Likewise, plugins and themes are updated regularly for both security and performance as well as to ensure compatibility with newer versions of WordPress. It’s extremely important to stay on top and up to date with such updates to make sure your plugins work and are optimized for performance.
The best way to achieve this is by using The Hub by GoDaddy Pro.
All you need to do is add your WordPress websites and enable periodic performance checks, and you’ll be notified whenever updates come out and which updates are pending, from plugins to themes and WordPress itself.
You can also process the updates directly from the Hub dashboard, not requiring you to go to the actual website backend either, helping make the process of staying efficient… efficient!
5. Updating PHP
Along with updating plugins and WordPress, we must not forget the importance of updating the underlying frameworks powering your WordPress site, including PHP. We need to keep up to date on all these changes so as to not be left with slow and sluggish websites with security vulnerabilities.
PHP needs to be kept up to date for those reasons as well, to ensure better speed and security. The current version of PHP is the latest iteration that runs twice as fast as the previous versions, offering great performance boosts.
Imagine your websites taking double the time to load — that would be a developer’s nightmare.
Most hosts already use the latest PHP versions, but there could be some that do not. If they do not, you can always change them on the server, using cPanel, etc, or by contacting your hosting provider.
These are some of several techniques, plugins, and improvements that I use and found worth sharing so you can make your website load faster as well. All these then factors in to help speed up your websites, boost SEO rankings and keep them up to date and secure.
Emaad Paracha operates Abstract Hub, a digital agency with offices in Toronto and Karachi that handles everything from web design to AI.