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The Top 10 Ways to Make WordPress Websites Load Faster

Jul 15, 2021

If you’re a website owner, you’re probably also an internet user — which means you’ve probably had the annoying experience of a website taking too long to load. When faced with an endlessly spinning indicator, how long do you wait before giving up and navigating to a different app or site? Chances are, it’s not very long.

Why is Speed So Important?

Waiting for a website to load isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, and as a website owner, you want to make visiting your website an enjoyable experience for your user base.

Research suggests that the optimal load time for a web page is under 3 seconds. On average, around 25 percent of users will leave a site if it doesn’t load after 3 seconds, and those bounce rates increase with every extra second that ticks by. Even for the users that wait it out, a consistently slow website doesn’t exactly leave a good impression of your business.

Speed can affect whether your site shows up in search results, as well — if your site performs well according to Google’s speed ranking tool, you’ll have a competitive edge over similar sites that may not run as fast, and vice versa.

It’s obvious, then, how a speedy website can translate into more sales conversions and growth opportunities for your business.

Does Speed Affect Your Website Rankings?

You bet it does.

Google recently announced a major update to its algorithm called Core Web Vitals. This was the first major algorithm update of 2021, and one of the biggest changes since Google switched to Mobile-First Indexing (which entails ranking sites primarily on the performance of their mobile versions, rather than desktop). The Core Web Vitals update is taking into consideration three “core” factors when ranking websites:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
  • First Input Delay (FID)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
  • We don’t need to get into the technical details, but these factors together essentially describe the quality of the user experience that the website provides. The first one, LCP, has a lot to do with the average loading times of the given site. Consequently, one of the biggest tasks agencies will be performing through to the end of 2021 is making sure that websites are fully compliant with these new standards, and one aspect of that work will be speed optimization. You can read more about the Core Web Vitals update on Google’s Blog.

    What Can You Do to Speed up Your Website?

    So speed is important, but how do you make your site run faster? While it’s not as easy as hitting the gas pedal in your car, there are a few reliable strategies for improving website speed that your web expert or IT person can implement relatively easily.

    Use a Quality Web Host

    Cheap hosting plans are notorious for having performance issues. This is because cheap hosting companies make money at volume. Their business model forces them to try and squeeze as many websites onto a server as possible. This means that if a single website on a server gets a huge spike in traffic or is using up too much memory or CPU, the other websites on that server could suffer.

    This is a major security concern as well, but that’s a topic for another article. On the subject of speed, it goes without saying that you first need to make sure your website is running on a server managed by a reputable web host with more than enough available resources to support the traffic the site will get. Everything else is a moot point if your server isn’t performing.

    Enable Caching

    Make sure your website is properly configured for browser caching. When you visit a website for the first time, your browser has to query the host server to get the website’s location and data. Your website is uncharted territory for your browser in this situation, so your browser will need a few seconds to read the map.

    Caching makes sure that your browser remembers your website, essentially forcing the browser to store an image of the website even after you’ve navigated away. With this image on hand, your browser can quickly load most of the website data without having to get it all from the host server. This reduces the number of database requests for the server, preventing slowdowns and bottlenecks.

    When users don’t clear their browser caches often, those caches can become outdated. If your website has been updated since the time that a browser last cached the website data, a situation can arise where the browser has trouble loading the site due to a conflict between the server data and the cached data. This is why if a website isn’t loading for you, one of the first suggestions you’ll hear from troubleshooting articles and experts is, “try clearing your cache.”

    Leverage Compression

    Compression is a strategy for reducing file sizes that can be employed in a few different ways. There are two main types of compression that can help speed up your website. The first is compression from the server side, where the data that makes up your website is compressed for transfer and then “unzipped” by the browser when it’s time to display the site.

    The other type is image and video compression – this type of compression is employed by web developers to help reduce the file size of image and video assets. The goal is to minimize the amount of data that has to be transferred to the user. High quality images can make your website visually appealing, but they also represent massive chunks of data that can drag down a website’s performance. An experienced web developer can strategically determine how big image files need to be to balance aesthetics with functionality.

    Use a Content Delivery Network

    The best websites and hosting platforms avoid relying entirely on their servers to do all the work. These days, most good hosting providers also employ a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN is a network of servers housed in data centres around the world. These data centres are situated in densely populated areas, where internet traffic is greatest.

    A CDN caches portions of your website data in servers across this global network, distributing the data and thus reducing the burden on individual servers. CDNs can be especially useful for businesses and websites that serve a lot of international customers. If a huge chunk of your user base is located in Korea, for example, you don’t want all your customers to have to query a server in Chicago, as that has the potential to create a data bottleneck, and slow down loading times. A CDN can direct the Korean queries to a data centre in Seoul, ensuring the data is more evenly distributed.

    Keep Your Resources Up-to-Date

    A good web host will make sure that the technology supporting their website is up to date, and it’s important that website owners do the same. Updating to the latest version of PHP, for example, can have a huge impact on your website’s speed — just make sure you do so in a staging environment.

    Setting up website monitoring will ensure that your web expert always knows when a new update is available, and can push it through as soon as possible, avoiding potential speed drags caused by outdated resources.

    Use Strategic Loading Options

    A really big website can sometimes start chugging simply because there is so much information for the browser to sort through. If you have a website with a lot of pages or a lot of images — for example, if you sell a wide range of products on your site — a browser can easily get overwhelmed.

    One strategy to mitigate this is to configure your website to load strategically. For example, a “lazy loading” configuration tells the browser to hold off on loading images and visual data until it becomes visible on the user’s display. For example, if you have a main page that scrolls a lot, lazy loading tells the browser not to start loading images at the bottom of the page until the user scrolls to the point where the images are in the display frame.

    Asynchronous loading can also help when you have things like social media feeds or external videos embedded on pages. These external widgets can take longer to load since the browser has to draw that information from a different location. With an asynchronous loading setup, the browser will load and display the webpage before it finishes loading the embedded displays, producing a faster response time for the user.

    De-Clutter Your Dashboard

    When you’re setting up and maintaining a website, it’s easy for your backend to get a little bit cluttered. This often happens when a business’ website backend is accessible by many different employees or when you have a variety of people posting content, adding images, and saving drafts.

    Common clutter culprits include:

    • Obsolete or duplicate image files in your media library
    • Old plugins that are disabled but still installed
    • Draft or test posts that were abandoned, but never deleted

    To avoid the clutter in the first place, it’s always a good idea to limit access to your website backend. Put a cap on the number of revisions that are saved for given posts, and ensure that anyone who does have access is adequately trained on the correct protocols for adding and removing content.

    Reduce the Number of Plugins

    WordPress websites can sometimes become a bit like Frankenstien’s monster — slow, hulking organisms cobbled together from mismatched bits and pieces. We’ve seen websites where various admins over a number of years have installed a wide range of plugins and extensions: some good, some bad; some in use, some totally neglected. It makes intuitive sense that excess “stuff” in your website will slow it down, the same way having a load of junk in the trunk of your car will reduce your speed and fuel efficiency. The good news is that a lot of WordPress plugins perform fairly rudimentary functions, meaning they can often be removed and replaced with more efficient options. A lot of plugin functions can also be recreated using CSS3 and HTML5, along with some clever development practices.

    Clean Up Your Code

    Bad code can slow down your website. Inelegant plugins, themes, and custom code may send too many requests to the server. A final strategy for fine-tuning your website is to look for ways to reduce and streamline the code itself. Minification is a strategy employed by web developers to trim out excess space and junk data in lines of code. This is analogous to the way streaming services cut theme songs, fade-outs, and commercial breaks from your favourite TV shows, compressing an hour-long cable program into 40 minutes. Javascript codes can also be compressed to give browsers a helping hand. Developers that want to really get into the nuts and bolts of speed optimization may even re-code websites, stripping out unnecessary elements, like tracking codes, that may affect performance.

    Address Your Core Web Vitals Issues

    As mentioned above, this particular change to Google’s algorithm is a big deal. You’re going to want to run your website through one or two tools to check how well the site is complying with the Core Web Vitals update. A quick search can give you an idea of the tools available to measure Core Web Vitals, and an experienced development team will know how to address any issues that may be found in your site.

    Summary

    Speed optimization starts with choosing a web host that maintains up-to-date technology and employs strategic resources like a CDN. But just because you have a strong web hosting provider doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to make your own website run smoother. Employing some or all of the above strategies will help make sure your website runs fast and without any hiccups — creating a smooth, enjoyable experience for every single customer.

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