It’s well known that slow loading websites annoy people so much that the majority quickly decide to abandon the page they originally intended to visit. Think back to the last time that happened to you. It’s frustrating because you anticipated that the information you required was just one quick click away, yet now your gut tells you that this slow loading resource is no longer reliable.
You’re not alone, research shows that 40% of people click away if a website takes 3 or more seconds to load. Test yours out and if your WordPress based website seems slow, give some of these speed improving suggestions a try:
Use good web hosting
It may seem obvious, but if your hosting package just isn’t up to the job then you’re already fighting a losing battle. Take a look around, read some reviews, or just try and upgrade with your current provider.
Good, fast web hosting doesn’t have to be expensive and you can even find some great WordPress specific web hosts that automatically cache and optimise your site for maximum performance.
I recommend Flywheel to all my clients and I host every personal WordPress project through them. Their hosting is super fast, your site gets backed up every single day and there are a tonne of useful features that make creating and maintaining a WordPress site an absolute breeze.
Try caching plugins
If changing your web host is out of the question, you may be able to speed your site up substantially using one of the popular caching plugins. I prefer using WP Super Cache, as I’ve never had an issue with it, but W3 Total Cache is used just as much in the WordPress community.
Compress your images
Another often overlooked element is the images you place on your website. Yes, WordPress can be set up to resize your media and will give you a few options automatically but compressing first will ensure smaller file sizes. This won’t only be great for your users, but will mean a less clogged-up server; some web hosts give you limited space, or just slower speeds when the size of your site exceeds a certain point.
There are many ways to compress images if you don’t have expensive editing software, such as Photoshop. This can, however, also be done within WordPress via the WP Smush plugin, which will trawl through your site and do the hard work for you.
If you prefer maintaining some level of control, why not try out the useful TinyPNG and its new sister site TinyJPG. You simply drag your files to the page, let go and watch as each file is reduced in size. I’d recommend always comparing to the original file for any difference in quality, but 99% of the time it’s not noticeable. A very handy resource!
More advanced tips
‘Lazy load’ those videos
You may have heard of ‘lazy loading’ in the context of images, but if you use even just one YouTube or Vimeo video on your page it can really add seconds to the total load time.
The reason for this is that you’re forcing the user to download lots of external information that is actually pretty heavy. The Lazy Load for Videos WordPress plugin automatically replaces all videos with a preview image (taken from the video itself) and waits until the user clicks the play button before downloading all of the files.
The developer of this plugin is constantly adding support for more and more video services, with the view to add audio services in the future, so this is a plugin I highly recommend. If your site is also image-intensive, then why not go ahead and lazy load your images too.
Reduce dependencies on external files, APIs and SDKs
The most common example of inadvertently forcing your users to download a whole load of extra data when they visit your site is in the use of social sharing buttons. When you use the code provided by most large social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), it looks small and pretty harmless but the amount of extra stuff going on in the background is unbelievable!
This can easily be avoided by making use of each site’s URL submission methods, allowing for custom and lightweight buttons without all the heavy lifting. A good example of how I’ve made use of this recently is in the creation of blockquote hover social sharing buttons for a large news network relaunch.
Find a new theme or create one from scratch
If you’ve tried all of the common methods for speeding up your website and it’s still slow, it might actually be your WordPress theme holding you back. One way of knowing for sure is by using a website speed test, such as the service provided by Pingdom, and checking out the ‘waterfall’ of requests.
You have a couple of options should you decide to change your theme:
1. Find a new, lightweight theme to switch to; OR
2. Create a new theme from scratch.
When looking for a lightweight theme, it should be noticeably quicker to load and the overall feel of the site when scrolling and navigating around should be responsive to your interactions. You can also use a website speed test on the theme’s demo site to make sure.
Creating a new theme yourself is time consuming, but at least you know exactly what has been put into it. If this is a realistic option for you, then I’d recommend giving it a go.
Use a Content Delivery Network
In short, Content Delivery Networks are servers around the world that constantly save copies of your website and then automatically assign the closest server to a user for optimum speed.
CDNs are common practice nowadays and are more accessible than ever, thanks to the likes of CloudFlare providing a free service and one of the easiest set-up experiences. They reduce the strain on your own web server and increase speeds dramatically for your audience around the world.
Speeding Up Your Site, an infographic
Thanks to Matt Banner and the guys over at On Blast Blog, here’s a little guest post and a really useful infographic:
Website speed is incredibly important. If your website doesn’t load within four seconds, most people will leave and never come back. The advice that most will give often involves minimising your site, but is that truly the answer? Do we have to sacrifice high quality design in order to load our pages faster?
The answer is no. You can have beautiful custom web designs and still run a website that loads with blazing speeds. Here’s our infographic to show you the facts, how to measure your website’s speed and how to improve it in ways that don’t involve cutting out your design elements.