Slow loading sites are a pain! Your users don’t like it and Google doesn’t either. If you want to improve your WordPress site speed, you're in the right place.
Why your site speed matters
There are two reasons why your blog needs to load fast.
First and most importantly, user experience. You will lose a lot of traffic because people just don't want to wait longer than 2 seconds for any page to load.
Here is a graph (source) to illustrate how the bounce rate (people leaving) jumps up at the 2 second mark and continues to increase after that.
The speed of your blog is a ranking factor in Google search results. We've known this since 2010 when it was first announced by Google (source).
Then in 2018, another site speed update for mobile sites was announced (source).
And to serve as proof Google uses site speed as a ranking factor, Neil Patel analyzed the data on 143,827 URLs to see if site speed really matters.
In the chart below, we see how the pages at the top of the search results load faster than the others. (source).
So, it is imperative to have a fast-loading blog because slow sites just won't get their share of valuable Google search traffic.
How to test your website speed
When you run a test, use a blog post (not the homepage) to test your site speed - since those will be the major entry points into your website.
How does your blog stack up? Here are a few tools to test your site speed.
Use these tools for what they are: tools to help you identify problems with your site speed. Don't waste your time trying to get a good letter grade score.
You can really lose days of productivity trying to get a better score (while not really improving site speed).
These two are visual metrics that are important to providing a good user experience.
Why your WordPress blog is so slow
So, how did your site fare? If your blog is slow, we need to identify the problem first and then fix it.
Your blog could be slow for a few different reasons. Each of them will need to be addressed if you want to have a fast loading blog.
Here are the most common causes of a slow WordPress blog.
If you are using a host that overloads their shared servers with too many sites, your blog is going to be slow.
While WPXHosting is still shared hosting, they keep far less websites on each server to ensure your site is fast. As of 2020, they are who I use.
I put together a list of the best hosts for blogs here if you want to take a look.
If you have too many resource-heavy WordPress plugins that are not well optimized, your blog speed is going to suffer.
Only use plugins you actually need an make sure they are highly rated and recently updated.
I put together my list of the best WordPress plugins for blogs here (that won't slow down your site).
Many free WordPress themes are not properly coded. For example, there may be too may PHP calls and sloppy code which slows down your site.
The solution is to get a WordPress theme that is optimized for speed.
Unfortunately, this means paying for a blog theme, instead of using a free theme.
When you pay for a theme, you are paying for the developers to constantly improve both the speed and features of the theme.
Here are the blog themes I recommend for improved site speed:
The reason I chose these 3 plugins is because they are updated often and have made strides to improve site speed.
Uploaded full size images to your blog is only going to cause the weight of your pages to be heavy.
One of the biggest ways you can improve your site speed is by displaying optimized images.
Best plugins to speed up your WordPress blog
While choosing a fast web host and blog theme are important, there are further optimizations you can do to improve site speed.
I've compiled a list of the best WordPress plugins (many of which I use) to speed up your website.
The faster your images load, the faster your website will load. The answer isn't having small, bad quality images but rather having images that are well optimized.
With the ShortPixel WordPress plugin your images will be reduced in size anywhere by 40-80% from the original while maintaining the visual quality of the image.
When you sign up using this link, you can optimize an additional 100 images per month on their free plan (on top of the 100 per month you already get).
Cloudflare is a free Content Delivery Network (CDN). This means they have a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide faster delivery of websites.
So basically, if a user in the east coast goes on your blog (and your server is on the west coast), they can be routed to Cloudflare's east coast server. This alone makes your page load faster (source).
They also have additional features like blocking spammers and bad bots from entering your blog in the first place.
Bottom line, use Cloudflare and your blog loads faster.
When we talk about page speed, we're really talking about the time it takes for meaningful content to appear on the screen. The overall time it takes for the entire page to load is less important.
So to get that "above the fold" section to load faster, there's a few optimizations that are needed.
Here are a few optimizations this plugin can perform:
The W3 Total Cache plugin has been installed in over a million WordPress blogs. It's popular because it works.
The plugin generates static html files of your blog posts, which are PHP heavy. This lightweight html is then served to your visitors. Loading a static html page rather than a dynamic PHP page reduces calls to the server and instead spits out your content incredibly fast.
If you use (and implement fully) the features of this plugin, you may not need many of the others on this list since this app does a lot of the same things.
5. WP Optimize
We've talked a lot about optimizing your images and files in order to improve your WordPress blog speed.
But what about the database?
Your WordPress blog calls on the database to display your posts, comments and your theme's settings, to name a few. Is your database fully optimized?
With this plugin your database will be automatically cleaned so that it runs at maximum efficiency. Cleaning consists of removing unnecessary data such as trashed and spam comments, pingbacks and trackbacks.
This plugin also cleans up post revisions. When you edit your blog posts, revisions are created as you continue writing your post, sometimes dozens of them!
I currently have 50 revisions of this blog post as I continue to add/remove/update plugins from this list. Trimming just the revisions alone can remove thousands of entries from your database.
My site speed results
This is the result of this very blog post on Google Pagespeed Insights.
I achieved this with only the following:
WordPress blog speed: The bottom line
Don't go crazy trying to score an A grade on any website speed test!
While having a fast blog is important, there are better uses of your time than trying to shave off a few milliseconds of your page load time.
Optimizing your blog for speed can be a set it and forget it type of thing. Take the time to set up your blog for maximum efficiency right now - then let the plugins do their job after that.
Which of these plugins do you use? Are there any I missed that should be included in the list? Let me know in the comments below!