Faster WordPress: Need For Speed

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Faster WordPress: Need For Speed

Nothing is more frustrating to an internet user than a slow website. You wait 3 seconds…4 seconds…10 seconds…and your site is still loading. Research has shown if your site takes more than four seconds to load, you could lose up to 25% of your visitors. Sites that take 10 seconds to load lose up to 35-40% of their visitors, according to KISSmetrics.

When building your WordPress site, it is extremely important to observe best practices for coding and website design to help minimize load time. These methods will help you build a solid website with fast load times.

Always Optimize Your ImagesFaster WordPress: Need For Speed

You would be amazed at how many sites I see on a daily basis that still use 100k size images. If you have a WordPress site with 25 posts on the first page with “read more” links, and these images are 150k, you have a home page that is over 2.5 MB in size.

That is horrible for speed.

Website design best practices dictate these images should never go over 15-30K in size.

Luckily, there is a very easy fix in Photoshop. For your image, go to image > image size. Make sure that your resolution is not 300 but 72, and that your width/height is around 220 by 220 (size will very). Click on File > Save for Web, and save it at a level of high (70), this quality is just fine for most websites. Use the optimized setting instead of progressive. I have found that this setting tends to deliver the fastest-loading images at higher quality levels than progressive.

Minimize Your Use of Plugins

Remember, plugins take time to load, too. Don’t give your home page 30 plugins you barely use yourself. Keep three to five of those plugins that are essential and discard the rest. Your site speed will thank you!

Always Use Code in Place of Images Wherever Possible

When creating graphics for your WordPress theme design, try to think where you can replace those graphics with small, repeating images. Aside from still photography, most websites tend to have graphics that can tile themselves horizontally or vertically. Create a thin, repeating background (10 x 3500 pixels, for example). This should only take around 1-2 K in size, less than 500 bytes if done correctly.

Use a Content Delivery Network

Using a content delivery network helps speed up the delivery of, well, your content. Most content delivery networks tend to host non-dynamic resources like video, audio, images, JavaScript, and CSS. A content delivery network tends to pre-cache files, which provides a major speed boost. If someone visits your site on a CDN like the Google CDN, then your files have likely already been downloaded.

Minify External JavaScript and CSS Files in Your WordPress Theme

When you have 10-20 CSS and JavaScript files, this increases the use of HTTP requests back to your server, which increases the load on your server. This, in turn, can result in increased bandwidth use. Lower the risk of this inefficiency by minifying your CSS and JavaScript files. This process combines all external JS and CSS files into one file each, so you’ll have one style.css and perhaps a scripts.js file to house all your scripts.

The minifying process turns 20 files into two files, and greatly decreases the load on your server. It increases site efficiency, which in turn helps to decrease load time. This will be extremely beneficial on mobile devices, where load time is expected to be even slower than desktop load times.

Use an Effective Caching Plugin to Pre-load Images to The User

Remember coding that last totally custom HTML and CSS layout? You even used pre-loader JavaScript to decrease the load time of by pre-loading them in the user’s cache before the website was fully downloaded. That’s the equivalent of caching plugins for WordPress. It helps pre-cache images that would normally take longer to load by normal delivery methods. One plugin I recommend for this is W3 Total Cache.

Use an Excellent Host

If your host is bad, your website speed will be bad. If you have addressed many of the issues above and are still struggling with slow website speed, it may be time to find a new host. Or, it may be time to upgrade your hosting equipment. Either way, if you don’t have a solid host with a solid website hosting infrastructure, then you will experience slow load times of your WordPress site. Make sure your web host or hosting equipment is top-notch.

Working on these items will help decrease your website’s load time so you can enjoy an increased conversion rate. Plus, you will enjoy better ranking in the search engines. The easier you can make it for your users to download your content, the more users you will have. It may seem superfluous, but spending the time necessary to find that sweet spot in your site’s site load time is a must. Your users will thank you!


Image Credits

Featured Image: Olivier Le Moal via Shutterstock
Image #1: Oleksiy Mark via Shutterstock

Brian Harnish

Brian Harnish

SEO Specialist at ymarketing
Since 1998, Brian Harnish has been developing websites using a thorough foundation of knowledge gained through a solid education and practical experience solving problems on many websites. Brian has been doing SEO professionally for over 8 years now, and has acquired in-depth web design and web development skills. He now works with ymarketing as an SEO Specialist in Newport Beach, CA.
Brian Harnish
Brian Harnish

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  • Jean-Baptiste

    For image optimisation, I suggest you to use Image Optim : (Mac Only).
    You can use a Lazy Load plugin too, it’s a great solution 🙂

    And for Caching Plugin I recommend WP Rocket : (disclaimer I’m the cofounder) which include all the best webperformance practice

    • Brian Harnish

      Great recommendations, Jean! I like using external image optimization plug-ins as well when possible, since this can reduce load time while keeping images at high quality. Thank you for the disclaimer as well 🙂 I will have to check out wp-rocket when I have the chance and compare it with W3 Total Cache.

      • Jean-Baptiste

        Hi Brian,
        Can you give me your email?

      • Cynthia

        I am using that W3 Cache which help to speed my site. The only trouble i am having is that since I have woo commerce cause i am doing poetry ebooks that i have trouble with _wc_session_ to the Ignored Query Strings. Check the plugin questions that they were kind of confusing. I am just stuck on this.

      • Brian Harnish

        Cynthia – I did some research and it looks like W3TC and Woo Commerce are compatible with each other but tend to have some problems working things out in terms of pr. I found this thread which should help point you in the right direction and get you in touch with people who can help resolve your issue:

        One of the discussions in that thread point to database caching being an issue causing weird problems with the shopping cart. I’d recommend taking some time to go through the entire thread in detail and if your issue is not mentioned I would suggest getting some discussion started. Perhaps someone has had a similar issue.

      • Brian Harnish

        I apologize, Cynthia! When I said “working things out in terms of pr” I meant “working things out in terms of programming/interfacing with each other.” That’s it. 🙂

  • Brandon Seymour

    I’ve heard that minification plugins can actually hurt page load time, more than help it. If that’s the case, do you know of a *reputable* service that will minify CSS and JS files for you?

    • Brian Harnish

      Brandon – I typically do not recommend using minification plug-ins. I recommend doing this manually if you are able to or hiring someone to do it manually for you. You don’t have control over how the minification process works and if the plug-ins do not actually optimize but just string everything together, then yes that can hurt rather than help. Since my experience with minifying CSS and JS files is on a manual basis – I am not in a position to effectively recommend a service that will be able to do this. Plus, I don’t offer services in that area, either. I wish I could be of more help beyond that.

  • Marty Rogers

    Super post, Brian – I like to Minify all my HTML, Style Sheets and Scripts as well as using a caching plugin with some of my larger WordPress sites, although as you suggest I do prefer to Minify by hand as the plugins usually make a mess of it. I know a solution such as CloudFlare is great for this, too, but I prefer to keep control.

    I usually use W3 Total Cache for WordPress. It does the job!

    • Brian Harnish

      Thank you for the feedback, Marty! I’m glad you liked the article. I prefer keeping control as well and yep – W3 Total Cache does the job well!

  • Michael Thomas

    Thanks for the WordPress tips. Your article is very useful. Some of my blogs are slow loading, but I’m running 7 or more plugins, so I will deactivate the ones I don’t need. I’m looking into the Caching as well.
    Thanks Again

    • Brian Harnish

      Michael – You’re welcome! I’m glad you found my article useful. Definitely work on removing the plug-ins you don’t use, but I would also recommend investigating the images in your theme and see if they don’t need some optimization as well. And definitely look into the caching.

  • Cynthia

    Thanks Brian I will definitely play with this as soon as I get home from work

  • Brian Jackson

    Great post! I am giving a +1 for WP Rocket. Once you use it you will never go back. Blows W3 Total Cache and Supercache out of the water. Don’t believe me, check out my blog review… Their lazy loading of images makes pages almost appear to load instantly. Highly recommend them. And no I don’t work for them 🙂 Just a very happy customer.

  • Mitchell Alexander

    Great post Brian, image optimization is very important, and W3 Total Cache is great plugins recomendations. But for page optimation, I think HTTP Compression and cloudflare is a needed too.

    On a hosting with Apache, use mod_deflate.
    Nginx use ngx_http_gzip_module.
    Read more here:

    I do a test on my website, Uncompressed Page Size: 97 KB
    and after compression, Page Size: 13.3 KB
    Savings: 86.3%

    I was do a research for page optimization with Google Developers, WordPress and Cloudflare.
    And it works perfectly, like a charm 🙂

    • Steffan Carrington

      Couldn’t agree more Mitchell, I enabled Gzip compression on some client sites and seen some positive results in terms of Page Speed Performance.

      I found a number of tutorials online that discussed how to enable Gzip compression via the .htaccess file, it was pretty straightforward.

      Haven’t looked too much into CloudFlare, what sort of results are you getting from that?


  • Rank Watch

    WordPress is one of the best CMS that is available. Given the hundreds of plugins you have, you can easily optimize your speed. This is a perfect list of how webmasters can optimize their site load time.

  • Sierra Prescott

    W3 Total Cache is awesome. My site speed increase from 66 to 89 (Pagespeed Insights) 😀

  • Espen Høgli

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your great article. I have just installed wordpress locally in order to move from a free blogger site to having my own server. I’m still a learner and hope you can help me improve my knowledge further.

    Site speed is important for me and I’m trying to do what I can to make my new site as fast as possible.

    As you might understand, wordpress and the long range of plugins is an entire new field for me. So I have some questions in regard to plugins and speed.

    I’ve downloaded the W3 Total Cache pluss some other plugins – all with their different images, css and js code. You mention in the point: “Minify External JavaScript and CSS Files in Your WordPress Theme” to minify css and js by converting all files into one.

    1.a) Is the W3 Total cache option for minimizing enough or should I add all codes into an external file and upload it to the server – renaming the path for the files?
    1.b) Wouldn’t this “break” the plugins update option making it static rather than dynamic?
    2. What should I do with the functions.php file which register scripts and/or enqueue them?
    3.a) How would be the correct way of minimizing the amount of scripts/css? My theme comes with a whole range of css files – from admin area to responsive css.
    3.b) Will site loading speed take into account plugins for admin area – for example user roles plugin and WordPress SEO by Yoast or will plugins which affects content be the only plugins which affects user’s experienced speed?

    Looking forward to your reply. As you might see, I could need a mentor to teach me more..

  • Anuj

    Thanks Brian for putting up a crisp and precise checklist.

    I use ewww image optimizer and that really helped. What do you think about it?
    Also, in terms of hosts do you think VPS is a better option for small sites?

    Best wishes, Anuj