Last month, we discussed the importance of implementing a CDN to speed up your site content. Sticking with this theme, let’s take a closer look at how you can improve the performance of your WordPress blog or website.
There are nearly 59 million active WordPress blogs, yielding just over 29 million new posts every month. That’s an unbelievable amount of content. How fast that content loads can be a huge driver in your blog’s success. In fact, a 2011 KISSmetrics study showed that you should expect to see about a 25% abandonment rate after a four second page load delay.
For every second you shave off load times, you’ll see significant improvement in page views and conversions. There are a variety of ways to speed WordPress up, and most of them have to do with minimizing the number of external calls. Here are some of the most effective techniques.
Technically, testing isn’t going to help you speed up your blog. But it is essential to have a starting point. Testing current load speeds should be your first step. You should continue testing after each change you make. This way, you can track the results to see what’s most effective. This is an area where New Relic comes in handy. Now that you’ve got a baseline, it’s time to start optimizing.
While tempting, loading up on WordPress plugins and themes is not a good idea. Plugins and themes require extra calls and that can really slow your blog down. Some plugins are extremely valuable and we’ll recommend a few later in this post. But to keep your site speedy, assess what you have and eliminate anything you don’t need. And for those you do keep, be sure to have the latest version installed. Remember, even having plugins that are deactivated can still slow down your site and leave you open to security vulnerabilities.
There is probably a lot of static content on your blog that doesn’t need to initiate new server requests every time a visitor returns to your site. Installing a caching plugin will greatly reduce page load times. One of the most recommended plugins is W3 Total Cache. It provides caching options for any type of site and makes it easy to scale WordPress in any hosting environment. For example, it makes adding a CDN to your website plug and play.
Choosing the right theme or framework is also an important element of blog performance. Going for a more simplistic, minimalist theme makes a big difference. The themes that offer the best performance usually have the fewest images, a limited number of additional features and a CSS-based design. There are plenty of options that fit the bill and still be visually appealing, so you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for simplicity.
Optimizing your database is another easy, but effective, way to ramp up performance. The first step is regularly deleting spam comments and post revisions. WordPress saves each change as a separate revision in your database. This is great if you need to revert to a previous version, but it can also really slow you down. This is another area where plugins are helpful. Try installing Revision Control, or if you need more comprehensive database optimization, try the WP-DBManager plugin as well.
There are several ways to speed up your blog by optimizing images. Start with the avatars. Most blogs use Gravatar to automatically display avatars in the comments — but a lot of users stick with the default silhouette avatar. Set these to “blank” and you won’t need to make pointless external calls for all those default avatars.
Next, make sure you choose the right format for your images. Simpler images that don’t use a wide spectrum of colors should generally be saved as PNG files, which are smaller and load faster. For photographs or more complex images, stick with JPEG. You can also automatically reduce the size of your images as you upload them with the WP-Smush.it plugin. Regardless of the formats you use, two of the best desktop / web tools to use to make your images as small as possible are ImageOptim and JPEGmini. They will typically do an even better job than most plugins. Also note that WordPress 3.5 now supports ImageMagick. If your host has it installed, that means that the thumbnail images that your theme may generate will look better and have smaller file sizes. Talk to your host about how to get the most of this new functionality.
If you use a lot of images in your posts, try the lazy load technique. With the the Lazy Load plugin, images don’t load until they are actually viewable to the user. This can save a ton on loading time for longer posts or instances where the user doesn’t scroll all the way down.
If you’re still not getting the performance you like after trying these tips, it might be time to consider a new hosting provider. Even if you’re just starting out, it’s always a good idea to plan for the traffic ahead. There are plenty of reliable shared hosting options out there. Spend some time looking for a premium hosting service that’s dedicated to optimizing WordPress sites. Don’t just look for storage space. Make sure to factor in other important criteria like bandwidth, processor speed, number of databases, and which version of PHP / MySQL they’re using.
Ultimately, it doesn’t take a lot of effort or technical knowhow to speed up your WordPress blog. Give these techniques a try and don’t forget to test your site’s performance as you go. Have any WordPress optimization tips of your own? Share yours in the comments below.