Site Speed: Where to Start When Your WordPress Site is Slow
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This post was originally written by Teresa Ott from AFearlessVenture.com.
How amazing is it that you can start a blog with almost nothing and really quickly find yourself in the company of giants?
I’m not there yet. But I know people who are.
Who you are, how you get started — none of that matters to your blog’s visitors.
All they want is content that delivers on the promise you made when they clicked on your link.
That, and they’d like you to do it in two seconds or less, thanks.
Readers love small blogs… until they don’t.
Readers 100% do not care if, instead of a writing team and 20-person tech department, it’s just you on the other side of the computer screen.
In your PJs at your kitchen table even.
Readers value authenticity. Real people behind a blog. Connection. Relatability.
I could be biased, but I think small, independent bloggers pull off what readers really value way more often than giant blogging teams can.
Where small bloggers struggle, though, is with tech.
And the first place tech struggles manifest themselves? Site speed.
Do all bloggers have to care about this?
No. Not if you blog only as a hobby and don’t care about growing an audience or earning real money.
Otherwise, you must.
Because while visitors couldn’t care less about how you create content, they are both merciless and oblivious when it comes to how quickly you deliver it.
Why is site speed even a thing for small bloggers?
The site your visitor just came from loaded up in only a second. When yours doesn’t, they don’t think “Aw, bless her heart.”
It’s more like, “WTH is wrong with this site?”
Almost no one understands or cares about the technical differences between your blog and a mega-blog. That cluelessness means you have a lot of the same opportunities, which is great.
But it also creates the expectation that you’ll deliver just like the big guys.
Every extra second that it takes for your page to load costs you a chunk of your potential audience. Especially if they’re using a mobile device.
Just look at what load times do to bounce rates in the diagram below.
Even if they don’t hit the back button on that first slow-loading page, they tend to visit fewer pages overall.
So whether they’re bailing outright, or after only a couple of clicks, slower site performance means fewer page views.
The bottom line when it comes to speed is this:
If you want to grow your blog into something that provides quit-your-day-job money, you cannot let site speed stand in the way.
Are you a typical blogger?
Most bloggers don’t start with an ideal setup.
I don’t know how anyone could. Writing blog posts isn’t that big of a stretch for most people, but the technical decisions behind setting up a blog are 100% not everyday things.
When you go looking for info, it’s hard to sort the good from the bad.
The net result is that a lot of bloggers wind up with site speed that sucks. And, often, no clue how to fix it.
Well, I’m not going to lie. One blog post isn’t going to fix everything that slows a site.
But what we can do in this blog post is:
- Give you a crash course so you’ll understand what hurts speed.
- Offer suggestions for avoiding those things.
- Tell you what to do if you need big/quick wins now.
- Show you where to get help if the basics aren’t enough.
Let’s get to it.
Speed 101: How to Speed Up WordPress Performance
If you didn’t load any extra things into your blog’s pages, they’d be super plain.
Brilliant content alone might be enough for some people. But the reality is, without visual interest, it’s hard to keep most readers engaged.
On top of holding visual interest, there are things you might want to load into your pages to help grow your blog. Opt-in forms, for example.
Speed isn’t always about doing (or not doing) a thing. The best way to look at it is as a series of tradeoffs. If you add an image to a post, it adds a little loading time. But it also adds visual interest and maybe explains the content a bit.
The basics are pretty simple. Whenever you can do something on the list below, you’ll make your site a little faster:
- Use fewer things
- Use smaller things
- Load things from a fast server
- Load things from nearby
Yes, everything you load into your blog’s pages decreases speed at least a little. But when you’re smart about your choices, you’ll only add things that are worth it for both you and your visitors.
Tips for Using Fewer Things
- Use fewer plugins. Every plugin loads at least one additional file, usually more. Make sure every plugin on your site is a net positive for you and your visitors.
- Avoid using page builders. They load many extra files and nixing them is one of the easiest ways to speed up WordPress.
- Don’t load more fonts than absolutely necessary. Understand that every style (e.g. bold, italic, light, bold italic) requires an additional file.
Tips for Using Smaller Things
- Optimize images. I use and recommend ShortPixel. Not free, but close.
- Use the smallest image size that works.
- Replace resource-intensive plugins and themes with lighter options.
Fast Server Tips
- Pick the best host your budget allows. I use Lightning Base.
- Don’t max out your hosting space. Upgrade before you start having problems.
Tips for Loading Things from Nearby
- Avoid plugins and embed code that interacts with other servers wherever possible (e.g. Instagram embeds, ConvertKit plugin, Facebook boxes).
- Pick a server nearest the majority of your audience. That is, if your host gives you a choice and if you know where your audience lives.
- Put your site on a CDN like Cloudflare, where copies of your site can be stored in locations much closer to visitors wherever in the world they are.
Speed 201: Where to Start If Your WordPress Site is Already Slow
Are you a small blogger doing it all with limited time and money? Start by taking big swings at typical slow-site culprits like the ones that follow.
1. Eliminate domain redirects.
Do you sometimes use the ‘www’ version of your domain, and sometimes not? Do Google search results show your URLs as http when they should be https?
While it’s great you’ve got redirects in place so visitors wind up where they belong, those redirects all add to loading time.
Go to Google Search Console and make sure your URL was added correctly. Check your WordPress site and make sure both the WordPress Address and Site Address use the right version, too.
Use redirects to cover you when people use something other than the preferred version. But do everything you can to make sure people come to your site via your preferred URL.
2. Serve up optimal images.
Because so much about site speed is nerdy and technical, people grossly underestimate the extent to which images can be responsible for a slow site. Here’s an example.
The optimized pin image on the far right is just 5% of the size of the image on the left.
Now can you see how image optimization done right is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to speed up your site?
Be sure to use actually smaller images.
Sometimes you think you’re using a small image, but it turns out you’re loading many more pixels than you’d like. This can happen in a couple of different ways.
Dragging the edges of the image in the WordPress editor, for example. That makes the image look smaller. But it’s still loading all the pixels of the larger image.
Don’t drag to resize; use a smaller image size.
Another problem area I see too often is with a theme or widget that pulls in featured images. They’ll use what looks like a tiny thumbnail but is oftentimes a full-size image.
Check the theme or widget settings to see if there are options for changing them so a smaller image size is used.
Automate image optimization.
Set up your image optimization plugin to automatically resize and compress your images when you upload. This way nothing escapes.
Figure out the largest image size you need, and change the plugin settings so nothing bigger is ever served up.
Use JPEG, not PNG.
As you saw in the example above, the PNG format produces huge files when it’s used incorrectly.
PNG is best used for logos and artwork with only a few colors. Not images with zillions of colors like photographs.
Want a cheatsheet to help you with all of the image optimization tips above?
No signup required, although I’d love to have you join my tribe at A Fearless Venture.
3. Evaluate and eliminate or replace plugins.
Go through your site’s plugins and deactivate any you think you can live without.
If you have speed-sucking plugins that handle important functions, see if there is a more lightweight alternative. If not, try to cut elsewhere to make up for it.
4. Install a caching/optimization plugin.
I recommend this as one of the final steps for two reasons.
First, because turning to a plugin first won’t usually produce the best improvement. Lastly, because a plugin can mask problems you really need to address.
I normally recommend WP Rocket for small blogging operations. What is ultimately the best thing for your site, however, depends on a number of factors, including what other measures you’re taking toward optimization.
Also know that every optimization plugin is a little different. I’ve found some overlap among them, as well as features exclusive to a plugin.
It’s important to weigh out all these factors because optimization plugins often clash.
5. Get your site on a CDN.
Putting your site on a CDN like Cloudflare can provide a performance boost and help you speed up WordPress tremendously. But save it for last. As with a caching/optimization plugin, a CDN might give you enough of a boost to mask issues that need addressing.
Cloudflare’s free plan is more than enough for small blogs.