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The Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Performance Speed

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Considering 47% of customers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, you can imagine how fast your visitors will hit the “back” button if your website takes much longer than that to load. 

Think about it: Would you stay on a site with slow loading webpages? Exactly.

Contrarily, fast websites only bring good news. Better user experience, improved website conversions, higher customer retention, and reduced bounce rates—you can expect it all. Let’s also not forget better search engine ranking and more traffic. 

In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look into how you can speed up your WordPress performance speed by taking both short-term and long-term measures.

Let’s dig in.

Why WordPress Performance Speed Is So Important

Let’s start answering this question by looking at a few statistics:

  • Sites that load in 5 seconds have 70% longer average sessions compared to websites that load in 19 seconds.
  • 46% of people say waiting for pages to load is what they dislike most about browsing the web on mobile phones.
  • A 1-second delay can cause conversions to drop by 7%.
  • 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again.
  • Pages that load within two seconds have an average bounce rate of 9%, while pages having a 5-second loading time have a bounce rate of 38%.

Quite an eye-opener, right?

A good user experience isn’t only about efficient customer service or website aesthetics, it’s also about overall performance, which includes page speed and responsiveness. People don’t have the patience or the attention span to wait seconds (let alone minutes) for a website to load.  

You have to go further than creating and publishing high-quality content. If your website is slow, your potential customers might leave before it even loads fully. Plus, an optimized website influences your search engine ranking and increases spider crawling in search engines.

Let’s take a look at a few specific reasons your WordPress performance speed is so crucial today:

Making a Positive First Impression

First impressions are always crucial. For your website, this indicates how users perceive your company and brand. More so since customers instantly judge a business based on their experience with the website.

Faster loading websites ensure your impression is a positive one. It’s simple psychology. Users associate faster websites with professionalism and reliability since they relate speed with efficiency. 

On the other hand, slow websites are deemed unsafe and trustworthy. They end up making a negative impression on your visitors, which may become difficult to change down the line.

Higher Google Ranking

As mentioned before, your website speed affects your Google search engine ranking. 

Google has been using website speed as one of the key ranking factors in the algorithm nearly a decade ago. It wants to make the internet super-fast, easily accessible, and highly useful— something that slow loading websites create obstacles for. Precisely why if you have a faster WordPress website, your content will rank higher on Google. 

Improved Conversion and Bounce Rates

WordPress website performance speed has a direct effect on conversion and bounce rates. It’s why marketers are always working on improving site speed.

There are several real-life examples to back this claim too. For instance, Mobify saw a 1.11% increase in their session-based conversion after they decreased the loading time by one second. Similarly, Walmart ended up having a 2% increase in their conversion by improving their page time by one second.

As for bounce rates, BBC revealed that they ended up losing 10% of the total users for every second taken by their pages to load.

Therefore, speed matters, especially when it comes to WordPress websites. 

A good rule of thumb is to have a website that loads in 3 to 4 seconds, maximum. Keep reading as we explain how you can achieve this.

Quick Tips to Improve WordPress Performance Speed Today

In this section, we’ll cover some of the best techniques to improve your WordPress performance speed right away. 

Invest in High-Quality Hosting 

The very first thing to improve WordPress performance speed is selecting a good host to house your site. You’ll find several cheap offers out there, but it’s best to stick to quality when it comes to hosting.

Avoid shared hosting if you own medium- to large-sized websites. This will eliminate any risk of having bad neighbors on your server that could potentially slow your website. You also don’t have to invest in expensive dedicated hosting as not everyone has the budget or manpower to run their own server.

We highly recommend VPS as it assures fantastic speeds, comfort, and comfort. You can also opt for WordPress-specific hosting, which will allow your sites to run on servers especially optimized for the platform. 

Install and Activate a WordPress Caching Plugin

WordPress web pages are dynamic.

The platform runs a process to find the required information, assembles it together, and then displays it to your visitor. This process can be very time-consuming, which, in turn, can slow down your website considerably when you experience high traffic at once. 

It’s to handle this excessive load that you should consider installing a WordPress caching plugin. The direct benefit? 2x to 5x faster websites!

But how does caching work?

Caching eliminates the page generation process. The cache plugin creates a copy of your page after the first upload and then serves that cached version to every subsequent user. Whenever a user visits your WordPress site, your server retrieves information from a MySQL database and your PHP files and then puts it all together into HTML content, which is then served to the user.

The following is a list of the three best caching plugins for WordPress sites:

WP Rocket

WP Rocket is an easy-to-use and beginner-friendly caching plugin that has a straightforward interface. In addition to the one-click caching facility, the tool is also a crawler that automatically fetches your website pages to build up the cache.

Moreover, it can turn on recommended WordPress caching settings like gzip compression, cache pre-loading, and page cache by default. It also includes optional features to boost your site performance, such as lazy loading images, DNS prefetching, minification, and CDN support.

Sucuri Firewall

Although Sucuri is more renowned as a firewall and security plugin, it also has a built-in option to cache your website, along with a one-click gzip compression facility.

The fact that it’s a DNS-level firewall is another plus. This means they can serve cached content to users even before their request reaches your website, giving it an incredible performance boost.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching plugins, with a 4.3 out of 5-star rating.

It’s a comprehensive WordPress tool that offers several features to set up WordPress cache, including page cache, gzip compression, limited minification support, object cache, CDN support, and more. 

All these features may make the plugin slightly intimidating for beginners, but it’ll become easier once you get a hang of it.

Optimize All Website Images

Website images promote engagement and add some eye-candy to otherwise text-only content. They can really help increase your website’s appeal—provided they’re optimized.

Non-optimized images slow down your web pages. It’s why you should use a photo editing software tool to compress them before directly uploading them from your device.

It’s recommended to either use JPEG and PNG image formats for WordPress. While JPEG is best for images that have a lot of different colors, PNG is suitable for simple images or logos.

Use Excerpts on Homepage, Archives, and Blog

WordPress automatically displays the full content of every article on your homepage and archives. This makes your homepage, categories, tags, and other archive pages slower. 

The other issue of showing full articles is that visitors don’t feel the need to visit the actual article, which not only reduces your page views but also the total time spent on your site. 

You can combat this problem by setting your website to display excerpts instead of the full content. Click on Settings followed by Reading on the main admin menu. Then check the Summary option in the For each article in a field, show field.

Update Your WordPress Website Periodically

Every WordPress update brings a host of new features, along with fixed security issues and bugs. And not only the core files but even your themes and plugins have regular updates.

As a website owner, you must keep your WP site, theme, and plugins updated regularly to the latest versions. It’s really the only way to keep your site fast, reliable and keep security issues at bay.

Long-Term Strategies for WordPress Performance Speed

Here, we’ll discuss a few of the more comprehensive strategies that can help you improve WordPress performance speed. 

Optimize Your Background Processes

Background processes in WordPress are scheduled tasks that run in the background of your site. This can include WordPress backup plugin tasks, WordPress Cron jobs to check for updates or publish scheduled posts, or search engines and other crawlers trying to fetch content.

While a few background processes have minimal impact on site performance speed, others can seriously slow down your website, especially backup plugins and excessive crawling by search engines.

Make sure your WordPress backup plugin only runs during low traffic time on your website. You should also adjust your backup frequency, as well as the data that needs to be backed up. For example, if you publish new content only twice a week, there’s no need to have a complete backup daily.

You can install Google Analytics to get more data about your traffic. Using a SaaS solution would be a better bet if you‘re doing real-time backups to prevent extra load on your server.

As for optimizing crawling, you’ll have to keep an eye on your crawl reports in the Google Search console. 

Frequent crawls ending up in errors can slow down your website, and in extreme cases, can even make it unresponsive. Therefore, you should make a point to check your crawl reports regularly.

Reduce Database Calls and External HTTP Requests

You’ll find tons of WordPress themes that ignore standard practices and end up making direct database calls or too many unnecessary requests to the database. The thing is that database calls and database requests give your server too much to do, which, in turn, slows it down.

Even well-coded themes can have code that makes database calls to get your blog’s basic information. Theme developers cannot be blamed for this. After all, they have no way to find out what languages you use.

You can customize your site using a child theme to replace these database calls with your specific information. Review your parent theme, and then replace the unnecessary code with static information. This will then reduce all those database calls.

The same logic applies to external HTTP requests. 

Many WordPress plugins and themes load several files from other websites, like scripts, images, and style sheets. Now, we aren’t asking you to stop using these since most of these files are optimized to load as quickly as possible. However, if your plugins make too many external HTTP requests, it’ll slow down your website. It’s why you should reduce all these external HTTP requests by disabling scripts and styles. You can also merge the files into one.

Keep in mind that reducing database calls is a slightly more technical task, where you require PHP and WordPress template files familiarity. If you aren’t comfortable, it’s better to bring in a professional.

Disable Hotlinking and Leaching, and Enable Lazy Loading

Here’s a surprise: Creating high-quality content can land you in hot water.

When you produce quality content, there’s a greater chance of someone else stealing it. Thinking that it won’t happen to you is just unrealistic. Other websites may serve your images directly from your URLs on your website instead of uploading your images on their own servers. As a result, not only do they end up stealing your web hosting bandwidth, but you also don’t get any traffic to show it.

There is a solution, luckily.

You can block the hotlinking of images from your WordPress website. All you have to do is add this code to your .htaccess file:

#disable hotlinking of images with forbidden or custom image option

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?wpbeginner.com [NC]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?google.com [NC]

RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L] 

While you’re at it, make sure you take the necessary measures to prevent your blog content from scraping in WordPress. 

Next up, you can enable lazy loading if you have lots of images on your website. This is an optimization technique that loads visible content but prevents the elements lower down on your page from being loaded. Your site begins rendering faster when all of your content on your long page doesn’t load at once.

You must consider your website needs when deciding on a specific measure to boost your WordPress performance speed. Irrespective of your choice, you can be sure of having a website that’s faster and smoother.


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