Our top 10 tips for a fast WordPress website

We’ve all been there; you whip out your phone do a quick Google search and click the search result that jumps out at you. Then. You wait. Depending on how much time you have (I’m guessing it’s not much) you wait a little longer, get progressively more frustrated, potentially wait a smidge more, then eventually hit the ‘back’ button to hunt down a better, faster website.

Does this scenario sound familiar? It always seems to happen at the worst possible time too! All we want is to find what we are looking for in the least possible amount of time. We effectively have zero patience for slow websites and Google knows this.

Why do you need a fast website in 2019?

Now more than ever, it’s super important to have a fast loading ‘zippy’ website. Not only because we want people to stay on our website and to have a good look around, but to also keep the Google algorithm happy. Here’s a secret, as a website owner, Google has very little loyalty to you. It’s all about servicing the person browsing the internet and giving them the best experience. It’s a simple business equation; the more satisfied you are with the results Google shows you, the more likely you are to continue using them. The more you use their services, the more dollars they make from showing you ads. 

So, this is a long way of showing the two key reasons you need a fast website, more so in 2019 than ever. Firstly, for a better user experience and secondly to help with your search engine optimisation and to help you outrank your competition.

How fast should our website be?

We are going to give you our top 10 tips for a fast website in 2019. But first, you need to know if your site is indeed slow. Head over to Pingdom, add in your web address and check the speed. Ideally you will want you site to load in less than 2-3 seconds. However, having optimised 100’s of WordPress websites, we know there is always room for improvement in, so we suggest you keep reading.

How can you speed up your website?

Ok here, we go, this is a decent list of tips to speed up your site. We suggest you treat it like a checklist, the quick/easy wins are up first and then as we progress through the list it’s going to involve more skills and time, but the results will be well worth it.

Tip #1 Spring clean (remove unused themes and plugins)

Themes are essentially little ‘apps’ that change the way your website looks. Likewise, plugins are little apps, but they add functionality, such as contact forms to your website. They are amazingly powerful to get you almost instant results, but they are not all built to the same standards. Every plugin and theme has the potential to increase your load times and to create security issues. So our advice is simple here, firstly, only install the themes and plugins that are vital to your websites success. Any that you aren’t using, delete. We also recommend opting for themes and plugins that have plenty of downloads (generally this is an indication of quality) or that are paid (they will be maintained more frequently).

Tip #2 Compress your images (they may be carrying a little winter weight)

This simple step will do wonders for your speed! Firstly, install an image compression plugin, our go-to’s are Imagify (paid) or Smush (free). You then configure a few settings and let the plugins work its way through each of your images. It will reduce the file size of your images by removing any extra redundant code and by sizing them correctly. You will be surprised at the results and the smaller the image, the quicker the page that it sits on will load.

You may also see the option for ‘lossless’ or ‘lossy’ compression. Lossless means the image will look identical to the human eye, lossy compression on the other hand will reduce the quality of the image slightly in order to reduce the file size even further. We recommend lossless, but you can give both a try. Sometimes any images design or lack of visual importance means lossy could a good solution.

Tip #3 Offload your videos (let someone else to the heavy lifting)

If you have videos on your site, well done, they are a great way to engage your visitors and increase their amount of dwell time. This dwell time is a strong indicator to Google that your visitors are enjoying what they see on your site. Google in turn will send more people with similar interests to your site. Now, if these videos are on hosted on your own web server, you may experience a little lag. It’s better to share the load by uploading them to a service like YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia. This way, when someone visits your website, they video provider can load the video, freeing up your website to look after everything else.

Many hands make light work, and this is definitely the case when it comes to embedding videos on your website .

Tip #4 Get lazy (it’s ok in this instance)

Lazy loading is a something that you will regularly experience whilst surfing the web. Have you ever scrolled down a page and noticed the images appearing on the page just as the come into your field of view? Well, this is lazy loading. It’s way of reducing the initial load time required when someone opens a page on your website.

The theory is simple, why waste time loading an image that is a good way down the page that you don’t need to see (just yet). There are special scripts that tell the website to only load these images on-demand. You can set this up with a myriad of plugins, which will handle all of the details for you. Pro tip: You may want to handle this as part of a caching plugin setup, see tip #7.

Tip #5 Say no to sliders and carousels (they are so early 2000’s)

You know the type, they are that ‘interactive’ element that sits at the top of the web page with a sequence of photos and text that slides through. They were super trending about 6 or 7 years ago, but like most fashionable things in life, they have seen better days. There is a heap of research that reveals that we don’t pay any attention to them anymore. Our subconscious mind just puts them in the ‘spammy’ or ‘advertising’ bucket and we glaze over when then appear. But how does this affect speed? It’s simple. Imagine you have 5 images and text loading in your slider. That effectively increases your pages load time by a factor of 5! Again, it’s simple maths.

Whenever a client asks us to add one to their shiny new website, I do two things, firstly up I tell them if something is so important to be the most key real estate position of their website, then why would you hide it behind 4 other slides? Secondly, I send them to this link. It’s a bit of fun, with a lot of truths.

Tip #6 Tighten up that code (with caution)

Ok now we are upping the game and getting a little more technical, I promise not to geek out, so stay with me. Compressing the code, in simplest terms, once again reduces file sizes. A common theme you would have noticed by now. We target 3 different types of files on your website; HTML, the building blocks of your site, JavaScript, the functional code of your site and CSS how your website looks. By essentially removing blank spaces in these files and loading them in a compressed file format, you will speed your site up and reduce load times. Sounds complex, but it doesn’t have to be.

We recommend installing a plugin such as Autoptimize to do the heaving lifting for you. Once installed and activated, you can toggle the different compression settings on and off. The idea is to work through these options, activating one at a time and checking the front end of the site to see if it breaks anything. If it does, simply disable that option and try the next one. There is no silver bullet with compression, but it can be worth the effort.

Tip #7 Time to cache (it’s a one syllable word by the way)

Second to beefing up your web server, this will get you the best results, but it’s a more advanced move. So proceed with caution. I’m sure you have heard at some point someone to tell you to clear your cache? Ever wondered what it is? Here’s how I like to explain it.

If I was to ask you what it is 52 multiplied by 6, you would ponder, do the sums in your head or reach for the calculator on your smart phone, punch in the numbers and then proudly tell me ‘312!’. That took a little time right? Haha, no offense! Now, for a second time, I’m going to ask you ‘what’s 52 multiplied by 6?’. You will immediately blurt out ‘312!’. This is because you have just done all of the hard number crunching and the number is still present in your short-term memory. This is exactly the way caching works. Instead of running the hard numbers (or code) every time your website pages load, the cache stores a pre-created version of the page.

Caching results in load times that are ‘snappy’ and reduces delays. So now to the how. Our preferred option is to use a high quality hosting company that offers this as part of their server setup. Failing this, you can use a plugin, but be warned, if anything is going to give you grief, it’s going to be a caching plugin. The best we have worked with is WP-Rocket. It’s a paid solution, but worth the spend. It tends to work in most WordPress websites and has the easiest to understand interface. Pro tip: If you install WP-Rocket, it will also handle the compression setup mentioned in the previous tip.

Tip #8 Change your address (time to move to the nice side of town)

Have you ever wondered that in the huge expanse of the internet, a single website is found by a humble domain name? Maybe not… But at the risk of showing my geeky side, it’s pretty interesting. When you buy a domain name, it essentially gives your website an address, with no physical home. Example, if you live at 1 Somewhere Street in The Best Suburb, you have an address. But it’s just an address at this point, there is no house, no streets and definitely no lawn which is overdue for a trim. Once you buy a house, pay your council rates and get some landscaping done, it is now a home where you can live and people can visit.

In the same context, when you buy a domain name it’s just an address, your website is actually located on a server (a computer) somewhere. So your Domain Name Settings or DNS, tell your browser the actual address of your websites server. This ‘lookup’ process can be optimised by using a trusted DNS provider. For WordPress websites, we recommend using CloudFlare. It speeds up your site, makes it more stable and adds a layer of security and the best part, it’s free! Check it out.

Tip #9 Change your theme (It’s painful, yes, but can be powerful)

There’s a good chance your WordPress website is running a paid or free theme. These are great for getting you a half decent looking website, will minimal effort and time. But, there are some themes that are known to really slow your site down. Generally, the more feature rich a theme, the slower things will be. All of the bells and whistles (like sliders!), even if not being used, can still impact your websites speed.

We find it’s often quicker for scrap the old theme and go with a newer model, that’s fast, optimised and known to be stable. You also ideally want a theme that is not 100% dependant on a page builder so you have options down the track. We recommend you search for ‘fast WordPress themes’ and similar, read reviews and test them out before you buy. It’s a case of compromising between the look that you want and the features that you need. Find that balance and you are on a winner. Pro tip: If the demo of the theme is slow, run, run away fast!

Tip #10 Say goodbye to your current website hosting company (it’s not you, it’s me)

Not all website hosting companies are created equal. There is a wide range of options and using the analogy of a car, you might be currently being using the equivalent of a small Hyundai, built in 2005. Yes, it will get you from A to B and was cheap as chips, but when you really think about it, how reliable is it? Would you trust your teenager (or loved one) to take it on a road trip?

Alternatively, you could be getting around in a more recent model car. It’s got all the creature comforts such as electric windows, keyless entry and even airbags in the case of any emergency. It will also get you from A to B and the kicker… You will never have a doubt in your mind about its reliability due to regular servicing and warrantees.

The problem with web hosting is that unless you are a web expert, it’s hard to distinguish if you are ‘driving’ a dud or a pearler. Generally, by the time you realise, it’s too late. Now, I’m unashamedly biased when it comes to hosting for the simple fact, that we have tested and continue to review all that the market has to offer. We recommend and use Google Cloud for all of the websites we manage. And when our clients trust us to manage their site, we on average reduce the load times by half. It still gives me chills every time we run the speed tests and yes I’m fully aware that’s a bit odd.

If you have made it this far and have all of the above checked off then good on you! If you have been inspired to take action, even better! Remember, if you can make these changes in a safe staging environment, hidden away from the public eye this is ideal and always make a backup first. If you absolutely have to work on the live website, try to do so outside of the times when you get most of your website visitors.

This guest post was written by Heath Maguire, the fearless leader over at WP Perk. This Sydney based agency, host, maintain and support WordPress websites in Google Cloud and are our go-to guys for anything WordPress related. We encourage you to check-out their competitive website care plans built for the small-to-medium business market. Their support is quick, efficient and they take the time to really understand your business and website.

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