Speed is a very important yet a quite over-looked factor among many webmasters and bloggers. There are many, who don’t understand the importance of having a fast loading website. If you write quality content and at least do some minimal promotion, then you may face situations when you can get overwhelming amount of traffic within a very short span of time. In these situations, it is quite likely that your website can go down. Moreover, your visitors will never like to browse a slow website. If you really want to enhance user experience then speed should be a matter of primary focus.
Most of the bloggers choose WordPress as their blogging platform, not only because it is fast but also because it gives you unlimited opportunity to customize and speedup your website’s loading time. In this article, I am going to first make you understand the importance of having a fast loading website or blog and will show you, simple yet the most effective techniques to speeding up your site. This article mainly focuses in speeding up blogs or websites powered by WordPress, but these techniques can also be employed in general to speed up any website.
Why Should You Speed Up Your WordPress Site?
Much Better Rankings
Matt Cut’s have officially stated that they count page speed as a metric to rank websites. Search engines don’t like slow webpages. They will never want a slow site to be ranked higher up in the SERPs, as it deteriorates their users experience.
So, if you want to rank higher up in the SERPs, then speed is a very important factor to be taken care of. There are many websites and blogs who pay huge attention to SEO but forget this simple thing, that is, to speed up their site. And therefore even after working so hard with the SEO, they still fail to rank high.
Higher Conversion Rate
This is yet another important factor that can compel any one to get rid of their slow WordPress site. It is quite correlated to the previous point. The better your rankings are, the more targeted visitor’s you get, and more your conversion rates would increase.
No one likes a slow webpage. A study shows that users have a tendency to turn into subscribers more in a fast loading site than in a slower one. There is a much higher tendency to LIKE your site in Facebook, or FOLLOW you in Twitter, or subscribe to your feeds or through email, if you site loads up faster. In simple words, much higher conversion rates.
Now, you can ask me the question, how can a fast website get more traffic? I would tell you to think in the other way. A study conducted by KISSMetrics Analytics have concluded that if your site doesn’t load in 4 seconds then there is an ample scope to loose 25% of the traffic you get. And if your site fails to load within 10 seconds, then there is a scope to loose 33.33% of the total visitors you get.
This simply means that if you can speed up your site, then you will not loose this traffic, or in the other way you would gain 25%-33.33% of traffic.
This is indeed a very important matter to consider. User experience should be of significant importance to any blogger. A simple way to enhance user experience is to speed up your site. Faster your website loads, better is the user experience. Users are more likely to stay longer on a fast loading website than on a slower one. Thus a simple technique of speeding up your site can drastically increase the on-page time of your visitor’s on your blog.
Now you can ask me, why I was trying so hard to make you understand the importance of speeding up your site, rather than directly moving on the main topic. The only reason is that, there are still many bloggers who don’t understand or rather don’t try to understand or realize the importance of reducing the page load time of their site or blog. My entire efforts of teaching you the best possible ways to speed up your site would simply go into waste, if you don’t understand what you are doing and more importantly why you are doing this.
Now as you have understood the vast importance of fast websites, you will probably ask me the question ,” How to speed up my site?” . Simple question, but the answer is not always simple. This entire article is an answer to this question, where I would mainly focus on speeding up sites that use WordPress as their blogging platform. But most of these techniques can also be applied to any other website or blog, as some of the techniques mentioned here are the most general concepts of speeding up any website in the internet.
Check Your Website Speed Now
Before we move on to the details of tweaking our WordPress sites and optimize it for maximum speed, we need test our WordPress sites speed right at this moment. This step will make it clear to us what our current position is with respect to speed. We need to repeat this step again at the end of the optimization process, so that we can know how much have we been successful in optimizing our site.
There are various tools to test your current page speed. You can try Google Page Speed Online which is Google’s official speed testing tool. It will give you a score based on your current page speed and will also tell you the things that need your maximum attention to be optimized for speed. The same objective is performed by a tool provided by Yahoo and named as YSlow.
But I would personally like to recommend, GTMetrix when it comes to speed testing. This tool combines the results fetched from both Google Page Speed and YSlow. It will show you scores and grades based on your current speed and will also recommend you in detail what you need, to optimize and what not.
Note down whatever scores it is showing you right now. And continue reading this article. Apply these techniques into your WordPress site and at the end, test your site’s speed again.Don’t get shocked to see the drastic boost in your sites speed and performance within few minutes.
The Optimization Techniques
1) Choosing The Perfect Theme
This is where most of us generally make a mistake. Due to this reason I have included this technique at the top of this list. This is the first thing that we should consider before we move on to speeding up any WordPress site. There are many bloggers who don’t understand the importance of having a theme that is optimized for speed. You need to choose such a theme which is both good in terms of style and also meant to load up fast. Without a fast loading theme, all your optimization efforts will go into waste.
There are few things that you must consider before choosing a theme for your WordPress site. Your theme must have a minimum number of images used in for design. The less is the number of images, the faster your theme will load. Also the front page of the theme should be as small in size as possible. Also consider choosing such a theme that has the least number of CSS and JS based designs implemented in it.
It is also a good idea to check the speed of your theme before buying it, by using tools like Google Page Speed Online, YSLow, GTMetrix and more.
2) Designing a Custom Theme Or Buying a Premium
It is always a good idea to buy a premium theme for your site, but a much better idea to design a custom one. There are many bloggers who never take the importance of theme seriously. Maximum of the victims of slow sites, are the ones who are using free themes in their sites.
But it is always a good idea to spend few bucks on buying a good theme for your site. Theme is the backbone of any website and it one of the most important factor that is responsible for either slowing down or speeding up a site. So there are enough reasons to spend some money on it.
But if you have some knowledge on HTML, CSS and JS, then the best idea is to design your own custom theme. When you are designing your own custom theme, then you know exactly what you are doing, and what you want to accomplish. You can customize each and every single corner of your site and optimize your site for maximum speed.
3) Using Scaled Images
This is so far one of the most important yet one of the most neglected factor. No one, understands or tries to understand the importance of using scaled images in their blog. Is there any need to compromise speed for just high resolution images?
The best solution is to scale down the images properly. I think the best way to maintain quality and still not compromise speed is by scaling down the images to 30%. And also ensure that the images are not more than 50kb in size. A good argument in support of scaling down images, is to make it fit properly in the content area of your blog too.
So definitely consider scaling down unnecessarily large images in your blog.
4) Reducing Image Size
This is one of the biggest reasons behind slowing down any WordPress site. Everyone generally have a tendency to use images that are completely un-optimized. To overcome this problem, Yahoo has a nifty tool for you, named as “Smush.it”. This tool has the capability of compressing images without any loss in quality.
There is also a WordPress plugin, “WP Smush.it” available for your use, which can drastically reduce your workload of compressing each and every single image individually. There is also an option termed, “Bulk Smush.it” which can optimize all images in your site in just a single click.
5) Using Fewer Images
It is a very healthy blogging habit to use fewer images in your blog. The less number of images you use, the faster your site will load up. While writing articles, always consider using as few images as possible. There is also a saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words“, but better forget it completely, if you want a fast loading site.
Images are the biggest enemies of speed. In this entire process of speeding up your WordPress site, you should give maximum priority in optimizing images by scaling them down, compressing them or even by avoiding the use of too many images, as much as possible.
6) Lazy Loading Images
Though not mandatory, yet a very effective solution in decreasing the page load time of any WordPress site. It is specially useful for those websites which provide huge lists of images, like ” 60 Creative Wallpapers of Christmas 2011″, ” 100 Minimal Themes For Your Blog”, etc. This plugin loads only those images that are currently in the visitors view and temporarily suspends the loading of the rest of the images.
Lazy Loading saves a lot of bandwidth, specially for those blogs and websites that mainly feature images on them. There are many lazy loading plugin available in the WordPress Plugin Directory but some notable plugin to throw light on are jQuery Lazy Load Plugin, Advanced Image Lazy Loader, Lazy Load, and many more.
7) Using CSS Sprites
This is a simple yet fantastic technique of combining multiple images into a single file containing all information of all the graphical elements in it. CSS Sprites have a lot of advantages like loading a single file instead of multiple images, saving bandwidth and many more.
Every WordPress sites must have a header, sidebar and a footer, and there are many small or big images that are used to design these elements. To understand CSS Sprites better, let us take an example. Suppose we have a subscription box for our readers in our blog’s sidebar, where there are 5 buttons that links to five different sites. So quite simple, we need 5 images to design it, but instead of using 5 different images we can combine them into a single file. The size of a single file will be lesser than 5 different images and moreover only a single file needs to be loaded when a visitor visits your site and not 5, thereby speeding up your site and saving bandwidth.
This technique can sound a bit confusing to many reader’s who don’t bear any idea or knowledge about coding, but I can recommend you an easy tool “Sprite Me”. It can make your job a lot easier if you are not confident about coding.
8) Choosing The Perfect Image Format
Though not a very important factor, yet a healthy habit one must follow. You must know why you are choosing what format. Images which have rich and complicated colors (like photographs) needs to be saved in JPG while images that mainly contain text, lines and much less complicated colors can be saved in either GIF or PNG.
One must also know that JPG is a lossy format which means that you can compress a JPG image but there will be noticeable loss in quality, whereas GIF and PNG are both lossless formats, which means that you can compress these images without any loss in quality.
Now you must be able to judge which image format should be good for your site. When you put a rich colored photograph, do use JPG as your format but if you are using images that mainly contain texts or simple graphics then definitely save it in GIF or PNG formats.
9) Compressing CSS, JS and HTML
Compressing CSS, JS and HTML codes are a very important factor and can make you witness drastic increase in your sites speed if your site uses considerably large amount of these codes. You can minify your CSS files quite easily with your text editor. Simply remove the extra spaces and line breaks. You should also remove any unnecessary comments from your CSS files.
Minification is a very important step in speeding up your site. You can also install any WordPress Plugin to minify CSS, JS and HTML files with a single click of a button.
10) Using a Content Delivery Network
Content Delivery Network’s drastically boost any website’s speed and performance by serving static files from the closest possible place. A few years ago, CDN was only meant for the big sites as they were very costly, but now-a-days even ordinarily sites and blogs get their hands on CDNs.
This is a very important matter that you must consider if you want to really boost your sites performance and speed. Especially, a CDN, stores all the static files of your site and distributes it to its wide network spread through out the world. Whenever a visitor loads your site, it serves these stored static files from the closest possible place, thereby ensuring fastest site load speed.
There are many paid as well as free CDNs like MaxCDN, WPCDN, CloudFlare, etc. But I would personally recommend you to try CloudFlare. It is free yet it provides features that are nothing less than a paid service.
11) Installing Caching Plugins
Caching is an excellent way to speed up your WordPress site. Caching, simply means to store the static content (content that does not change frequently) of your site so that it doesn’t need to be loaded every time an user visits your site. The effect of caching becomes more prominent for returning visitors and for those who browse many pages in your site.
There are many caching plugins available for WordPress users like W3 Total Cache, Hyper Cache, WP Super Cache and many more. I personally recommend W3 Total Cache as after testing several caching plugins myself, I have found this to be the most complete caching plugin available.
12) Choosing The Right Hosting
This is yet an important step that you must not forget unless you are using any CDN, like CloudFlare, MaxCDN, etc. If you are using any CDN then you probably should not worry too much about the hosting. At least a descent host with unmetered bandwidth and sufficient disk space will be enough or more than enough for a new blog or site.
But due to some reason if you are unable to avail even a free CDN service, then you must concentrate in buying a good webhost, as it really matter’s a lot in speeding up website. If the web host that you are using is slow in serving the files to your visitors, then even after doing all possible optimizations for your site, you will never be able to speed up your site.
13) Optimizing Databases
Repairing, Optimizing, and Backing up databases regularly can help you increase the speed of your WordPress sites. There are many unused old tables in the databases that remain as it is after old plugins are removed. Also every time you edit a post and click on the “Save Draft” button, WordPress stores an another version of the post in the databases. There is no need to dump your databases with too many revisions. These can slow down sites, so it is highly recommended to repair and optimize the databases at a regular basis.
There are many good database management plugins, like WP-DBManager, WP-DB-Backup, etc that can manage all database problems automatically. You can also use WP-Optimize to clean up your databases by removing the unnecessary post revisions, spam comments, etc.
14) Reducing External Calls
It is very essential to reduce the number of external calls or requests that your site makes, as much as possible. There are a number of plugins that make requests to external websites. This usually takes a few millisecond, but if there are hundreds of such requests then this can become a significant reason to slow down your site. So if you want to speed up your site, try cutting down these unnecessary external requests as much as possible.
Suppose, you add a plugin that will display a “Like Box” of Facebook. Every time your site loads up, it will make a request to Facebook’s server and fetch some data. But suppose Facebook’s server is down for the some time then your site will also not be load completely at that time. So, it is always a good idea to remove those plugins that make unnecessary external calls thereby slowing down your site.
15) Removing Unnecessary Plugins
WordPress has a huge directory of nifty and addictive plugins, and there are many who can’t restrict this addiction and go on installing several plugins in their site without thinking about speed. But remember one thing that whenever a WordPress site is loaded, all plugins associated with it are also loaded. So, obviously the less number of plugins you use, the faster your site will load.
So, if you really want to speed up your site, then you must cut down some of the unused or even some of the used plugins from your site. There are many plugins that you use, but they don’t add much value to your site. So, just open your Plugin Manager and simply delete them.
Check Your Website Speed Again!
Now after reading and implementing all these techniques in your blog, you must think that now you are having a much faster WordPress site than others. So let’s check it. Go to GTMetrix and type in your URL address. You might be shocked to see the huge increase in your sites loading speed.
You will definitely see the Grades and Scores from both Google Page Speed and YSlow increase dramatically. You will also notice that those optimization factors (like Scaled Images, Caching, Database Optimization, etc) that reported a very poor grade or score, has now improved. You can also use the “Compare Sites” option, to compare your speed with other popular websites. You can also check the “Timeline” tab to see the increase in your site’s speed from your previous check. But remember one thing that the scores and grades are generated for a single page and not for the entire website. So it is a good idea to check the scores of several pages of your site, mainly those pages that are large in size or are very popular.