Make WordPress Faster: 20 Easy Ways – No Code Necessary

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How fast does your WordPress website load? That’s an extremely important question, and you should know the answer.

At this point, you’re probably aware that Google uses load times as a part of their ranking algorithm. That’s important if you want to get people to visit your website.

That being said, load times have a far-reaching impact on your ability to run any sort of successful web-based enterprise. They have a direct influence on bounce rates, conversion rates, visitor satisfaction and how likely visitors are to return.

WordPress page load speed optimization can very quickly turn into a world of wp-config.php, robots.txt, server architecture and the like. Unless you’re a WordPress developer or some sort of technical wizard, that can be very intimidating.

Fortunately, there is quite a bit you can do without writing any code at all.

Here is a simple process you can follow:

  1. Start with a hosting package that is specifically built for WordPress
  2. Leverage third party services for caching and delivery of your site
  3. Choose an efficient theme that is built for speed
  4. Optimize WordPress settings for speed
  5. Avoid plugins that slow down your site while leveraging plugins that reduce your page load and speed up your site
  6. Perform ongoing maintenance

Getting Started

Before we do anything else, we need to make sure that your website is set up for success.

1. Choose a Quality Hosting Provider

The quality of your hosting provider has a greater impact on your page load times than anything else on this list. There’s no scenario where a website that is hosted on a typical, bargain-basement, $5/month shared hosting plan will load faster than the same website hosted on a dedicated server that is optimized specifically for WordPress.

Most website owners can’t justify the expense of a dedicated server. Fortunately, there are quite a few options in between that provide the ability to run a fast website while also offering WordPress specific services.

For example, WP Engine offers hosting that is built specifically to optimize WordPress, built-in caching to keep your site fast as your traffic scales up and a dedicated page speed analysis tool to help you make your website faster. SiteGround is another solid option and recommended by WordPress for their expertise and optimized servers.

2. Create a Staging Environment for Testing Purposes

Whatever host you choose, make sure you’re able to set up a duplicate of your live website – whether your host offers this specific ability or you need to set one up on another domain or sub-domain – for testing purposes.

This will allow you to test different themes, plugins, WordPress settings and other strategies in order to see how they affect your load times – all without the need to impact your live website while testing.

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Rare image of Leonardo Da Vinci’s plan for his WordPress site.  (Image courtesy of TNS Sofres under CC-BY 2.0.)

Building a Solid Foundation

With a proper hosting plan selected, there are a couple of other easy wins you can engage to immediately make a sizable impact on load times.

3. Use a Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of datacenters all over the world that takes all of the media (images, videos, PDFs, downloadable content, scripts, stylesheets, etc.) that would normally be loaded from your server and distributes them from the datacenter in that network that is closest to the end user who is visiting your website and generating the request for said media.

In short, your content is being delivered from a datacenter that is relatively local to the end user rather than end users receiving your content from one datacenter no matter where they are.

In general, the closer the end user is to the datacenter, the faster the load time will be. The effect this has can mean as much as several seconds of reduced load time in extreme cases.

4. Leverage Cloudflare

For the average WordPress user, Cloudflare may be the easiest way to dramatically reduce page load times without any financial commitment.

Cloudflare is a free service (Note: there are premium plans available) that, amongst a host of other vital services, provides caching and CDN services for your website.

Setting up Cloudflare is very simple. Typically, when you register a domain, you set the DNS to point to your hosting account. With Cloudflare, you set the DNS for your domain to point to Cloudflare. You then use the DNS provided in Cloudflare to point to your hosting account.

Once your DNS is set up through Cloudflare, Cloudflare will serve your site through their DNS and will cache your media, stylesheets, scripts and even your HTML document if you allow it to.

Because Cloudflare caches everything, your website doesn’t have to wait for your server to respond to requests for all of those items. This can result in a drastic reduction in page load time.

 

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If he optimized his dog, he’d be able to run faster. Just like your WordPress site. (Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the public domain.)

Optimize WordPress Settings for Speed

WordPress has a plethora of built-in settings. Some of those settings allow you to choose options that will reduce page load times.

5. Turn Off Link Notifications

WordPress is able to be notified by other websites when your website is linked to – and, by extension, to send notifications when you link to another site.

Without getting too far into the weeds on this, these notifications were traditionally known as trackbacks and were sent manually. In a modern context, they are known as pingbacks and can be sent automatically.

While these can be useful in some contexts, at this point there are far better ways (i.e., Google Alerts) to be notified when someone links to your website.

Trackbacks and pingbacks won’t significantly slow down your website, but it does take some server resources to deal with them. You’re likely to experience more of a delay in the WordPress dashboard than on the front end of your site, but there’s really no reason to have them turned on and any page load speed you can gain is a good thing, right?

To ensure that link notifications are turned off:

  1. Visit the Discussion Settings page in the WordPress dashboard at Settings -> Discussion.
  2. Find the checkbox that says “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new articles” and ensure that it is unchecked.

6. Turn Off Gravatar Images in Comments

By default, WordPress adds Gravatar images to comments. When a visitor comments on a post, WordPress checks to see if they have an image associated with their email address in Gravatar. If so, it displays the image with the comment.

If your site receives a high volume of comments, this can be problematic. If you have 50 comments on a post, that’s potentially 50 additional images that your site has to load from Gravatar. That can significantly slow down your site.

Now, imagine that you have a post that goes viral. What happens when you have 500 or 1,000 Gravatar images to wait for? You get the idea.

Fortunately, WordPress allows you to turn off Gravatar images:

  1. You’ll find the option near the bottom of the Discussion Settings page in the WordPress dashboard at Settings -> Discussion.
  2. Find the “Avatars” section and uncheck the box that says “Show Avatar.”

7. Split Comments Into Pages

If you have a WordPress website that receives a large volume of comments and you don’t want to turn off Gravatar images, there is a simple alternative.

WordPress allows you to paginate comments. That is to say that you can separate your comments into pages. Again, on the Discussion Settings page you’ll look for the checkbox that says “Break comments into pages…”

This option also allows you to decide whether the first or last page of comments should be displayed first. It also allows you to set the number of top-level comments that should be displayed on each page. The default is 50, but keep in mind this does not include nested comments, so the actual number of comments (and Gravatar images) displayed per page can be substantially higher depending on how much nested discussion takes place in your comments section.

 

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Plugins like WP Smushit crush bloated image files, and can help your site load faster. (Image via Pixabay under a CC0 license.)

WordPress Software

Choosing WordPress software is an important part of optimizing your website’s page load speed. You can break this down into two basic categories – themes and plugins.

Using the right theme for your needs can make a huge difference. We’ll talk more about that in just a second.

Plugins are a bit more complicated. While many WordPress plugins will add scripts and stylesheets to your website’s pages and slow load times, there are plugins that will get rid of some extemporaneous WordPress features should you decide that you don’t need them. There are also plugins that will aid with caching, image optimization and database management. All of which will contribute to lower page load times.

8. Use a Theme Framework

As stated above, choosing the right theme for your needs can go a long way to speeding up page load times.

While not universally true, for most average WordPress users, a theme framework that is built to be fast is a great starting point. Frameworks like Genesis and Thesis provide speed while also offering a wide variety of child themes (or skins if you’re a Thesis user).

Of course, if you have the resources and can justify the expense, having a custom theme built for your specific needs may provide the best experience in terms of page load times as well as any number of other issues related to your specific website. Of course, that also depends on finding the right developer to do the job.

9. Disable Emojis

Since August of 2015 (version 4.2), WordPress has natively supported a limited set of emojis. Of course, in order to do this, WordPress adds a script and a stylesheet to your page load. If you use emojis or you want visitors to be able to use them in comments, this is great!

However, if you don’t use them and don’t need them in your comments, the extra assets you have to load every time someone visits your site slows down page load and uses more server resources.

Fortunately, it’s easy to disable this feature. There is a plugin that’s called – yes, you guessed it – “Disable Emojis” that allows you to disable emojis. It does so by removing the script and stylesheet from your page load.

10. Disable Embeds

WordPress allows you to easily embed videos, images, tweets, audio, and miscellaneous other content. This feature was added in December of 2009 (version 2.9). Of course, WordPress does add a script to your page load in order to accomplish this.

If you don’t need this feature or you feel comfortable with the HTML required to embed content from other sites (iframes, third-party scripts, etc.), there is a plugin that will allow you to disable this feature and remove the script from your page load.

Its called Disable Embeds, and its pretty simple to manage. If you want to disable embeds, just activate the plugin. If you want to enable them later, just deactivate the plugin.

11. WP Smushit

WP Smushit enables you to re-size, optimize and compress your images. It automatically compresses images when you upload them to the WordPress media library.

This significantly reduces file sizes while also ensuring that your images are sized appropriately when you place them in your content.

Obviously, smaller image files means faster load times.

12. Lazy Load Plugin Of Your Choice

Lazy load has become quite the rage. Essentially, in most cases it just means you won’t load an image until it is either near or actually in the viewport of the device a visitor is using to view your website. This can benefit just about any website under the right circumstances, but its especially useful for sites that are particularly image heavy.

There are a wide variety of lazy load plugins available. It’s up to you to do your research and choose the one that best suits your needs.

13. Autoptimize

We looked at CDNs and Cloudflare earlier. Those are great resources for delivering your website to your visitors as quickly as possible. That’s vital to fast page load times, but it’s also important to make your page load as small as possible before you being the delivery process.

Autoptimize is a caching, aggregation and minification plugin that can significantly reduce the size of your page load.

It works by combining your scripts and stylesheets in order to reduce server calls. Then, it compresses those resources as well as your HTML document in order to make the size of your page load as small as possible.

Of course, there are a large number of WordPress caching and minification plugins out there and you may find that a different option works best for you.

14. WP Revision Master

WordPress runs on a MYSQL database. You may have already known that, but most WordPress users aren’t aware of the way that database interacts with WordPress users, stores data and populates content on your website.

We’ll get further into database management and maintenance in just a moment, but it’s sufficient to say that a bloated database slows down page load speed and can even bring your site to its knees during peak traffic times if neglected.

One of the biggest culprits of database bloat in WordPress is post revisions. Every time you update a page, post or custom post type item, WordPress stores that particular version of the page or post in that database. You can actually revert to old versions of pages at any time. This is a very useful feature.

With that being said, it’s conceivable that a post or page that you update on a regular basis may end up having hundreds of post revisions stored in the database. This is completely unnecessary and can greatly increase the amount of data stored in your database.

There’s a plugin called “WP Revision Master” that allows you to precisely manage the number of post revisions stored for posts, pages, and custom post types. Its simple to use, it solves a common problem.

Note: There are some hosts that will automatically limit the number of post revisions they allow you to store. If your host does this, you won’t need this plugin.

 

ongoing-maintenance
Keeping your WordPress site maintained ensures it will stay fast. (Image via Fancycrave under a CC0 license.)

Ongoing Maintenance

There are several things you should be doing on a regular basis – whether that’s weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly – to maintain a technically healthy website that loads as quickly as possible.

15. Manage Your Database

A standard WordPress installation will accumulate a massive amount of unused information over time. We just discussed post revisions, but you also have to consider that things like spam, unapproved, and trashed comments as well as auto-saved post drafts, trashed posts and pages and a wide variety of other items.

WP Optimize is a plugin that allows you to manage all of this. You can delete any or all of these unused and unnecessary items with one click.

Along with getting rid of database bloat, you can also compress and optimize your site’s database with one click.

Perhaps the best part of this plugin is that you can automate any or all of these tasks.

16. Review Plugins and Remove Any You Do Not Need

One of the easiest wins on this list is to simply trim the fat from the list of software that you use to run your website. Many WordPress plugins will run scripts and stylesheets that are forced to load in the head of every page of your website – whether you’re actually using them or not – and those assets will often be forced to load before your content.

It’s a good idea to review the plugins that you’re using on a monthly basis and deactivate and delete anything you might not be using. The fewer elements you have to load, that faster your website will be.

17. Keep Your Software Updated

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of updating software. This is an article about page speed, but it has to be mentioned that keeping WordPress, your theme and all of the plugins you install up to date is the single most vital piece of security maintenance you can routinely perform on your site. Out of date software is by far the largest reason that sites get hacked.

Along with the security concern, it’s important to update your WordPress software for the sake of page load speed as well. Developers are constantly making software more efficient. This can mean trimmed down code, fewer scripts and stylesheets in your page load and fewer database calls. All of these things contribute to faster page load speeds.

18. Use Appropriate Image Formats

Along with using WP Smushit to compress and optimize images, it’s important to use an image format that will generate smaller image file sizes before you upload them to the WordPress media library.

Over time you will add content to your website. You’ll likely also review your existing content. As you do, you should use optimized images in the best format where ever possible. Not sure which image formats are best, see this infographic JPG, PNG, GIFs – How to Use each

Of course, with smaller image file sizes, you will have faster load times.

19. Limit Third Party Add-Ons

Any time you add a Youtube video, Facebook like button, ads from an ad network or any other third party script or iframe to your website, you create calls to the third party servers that load all of those respective items. Each additional one that you add slows down your page load time.

Obviously, most websites are going to use some items from third-party services, but it’s a good idea to regularly audit the third party resources you’re using on your website and weigh the value they provide against the increase in page load time that they cause.

20. Test Load Times Regularly

You’ve got quite a few ways to speed up your website’s page load times. How do you measure your progress? How do you know what’s working for your particular situation?

Luckily, there are a wide variety of services you can use to test your load times. Pingdom is the most commonly used page load speed test, but some hosts also provide services for this purpose (i.e., the WP Engine tool mentioned at the top of this article).

You can use these services to test your progress as you try to speed up load times. They also break down your page load on an item-by-item basis and tell you when each item begins loading and how long each item takes to load. This is extremely valuable as it allows you to isolate individual elements that may be slowing down your website.

Wrapping Up

Out of the box, WordPress isn’t the fastest platform to build a website on, but you can certainly speed upload times without having to write any code.

Its difficult to overstate the importance of starting with a quality hosting package and setting up lightning fast delivery with Cloudflare. If you only do those two things, you’ll be well on your way.

From there, it’s up to you to leverage the other items on this list as you see fit for your particular website in order to maximize the speed with which your WordPress website loads.

Adam has a decade of experience as a WordPress designer, developer and one of the original contributors to “ArtofBlog” — the forerunner of Blogging.com
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