You need to optimize WordPress if you want your website to rank well in search engines and your visitors not to abandon their navigation. In the name of user experience, Google places a crucial importance on the loading time of web pages, which has a direct impact on the ranking in search results of your website. To check the performance of your website, there are several parameters to take into account: the response time of the server, the resources blocking the rendering, the unused code resources, the weight of the page and the weight of the images.
How to measure the performance of your WordPress site?
To measure these parameters and improve the SEO of your website, several free tools are available, the most popular being PageSpeed because it is developed by Google and has the particularity to measure both the performance on desktop computers and the loading speed of a site from a mobile device. For my part, I prefer to use GTmetrix because it gives a lot of very precise and easy to follow indications to get faster loading times.
Core Web Vitals
All these sites allow to measure the performance of websites, but especially to give useful advices and indications to improve the loading speed of pages, especially by comparing them to the Core Web Vitals: it is a set of measures established by Google. Core Web Vitals are used to evaluate the user experience on a web page, and are related to the loading time, responsiveness and interactivity of a website. These Core Web Vitals are divided into 3 main metrics:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures the loading performance of a web page. To provide a good user experience, the LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of the start of the page load.
- First Input Delay (FID): measures the user’s first impression of the interactivity and responsiveness of your site. This is the time between a user’s first interaction with a page element (e.g., clicking on a link) and the time when processing begins in response to the user’s action. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a first entry delay of 100 milliseconds or less.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. Google says that different objects and elements should not move on a page while it is rendering and/or loading for a user. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a CLS of 0.1 or less.
Important: back up your website
It is strongly recommended to backup your website before performing the following optimizations. You can use for this:
- UpdraftPlus plugin (see our detailed article on UpdraftPlus here),
- WPvivid plugin (see our detailed article on WPvivid here).
1/ Install a WordPress caching and preloading plugin
A well-known solution to speed up WordPress is to install a cache plugin to cache your pages and posts. Caching allows you to create static copies of your web pages and display them to visitors. This solution will reduce the number of HTTP requests and improve web page loading times.
– The WP Rocket plugin
WP Rocket is without a doubt one of the most popular optimization and caching plugins on the market. There is no free version, and its basic paid version costs $49 per year and allows the optimization of 1 website.
– The WP-Optimize plugin
WP-Optimize is an all-in-one solution to speed up a WordPress site and go from slow to fast, in just a few clicks: this plugin will help you clean up your database by deleting dozens, even hundreds or thousands of files that have become useless. Wp-Optimize can also compress your images and cache your web pages. Remember to make a backup of your website beforehand!
2/ Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
A CDN is a system of distributed servers that delivers web pages and other web content to users based on their geographic location. The goal of a CDN is to improve performance by delivering content from locations closer to the user.
One can imagine a CDN as a giant cache that stores copies of content in multiple locations around the globe. When a user requests content cached by the CDN, the CDN responds to the request from the location closest to the user, which improves the load time of your wordpress site.
The most popular CDN is Cloudflare, and this one offers a quite satisfactory free plan for most websites. It is possible to optimize the cache for your website by using the plugin developed specifically to complement the Cloudflare CDN: the Super Page Cache For Cloudflare plugin.
3/ Optimize images and activate Lazy Loading
You can optimize your images by reducing the file size. But it is also possible to reduce the size of your images before they are displayed on the screen, so that the visitor’s browser does not need to resize them. These simple measures will increase the display speed of your website.
– Image optimization plugins
There are of course many online tools that allow us to upload our images online and then to WordPress. But then it is a double effort that can take a lot of time if we work with a lot of image files.
A WordPress image optimizer such as Imagify or Optimole or ShortPixel, not only compresses our images when uploading, but can also perform a bulk optimization for all files already in the WordPress media library.
Other advantages, these plugins offer their own optional CDN, and can work in synergy with WP Rocket. It is then particularly effective to use the Lazy Loading feature.
– Activate the Lazy Loading of your images
This is a simple and effective technique to delay the loading of images by leaving them off screen until users need to view them. This same principle allows you to defer the display of video iframes. This technique is particularly useful to speed up page loading on a mobile device. The WordPress image optimization plugins just mentioned take this feature into account.
4/ Choose the type of web hosting that suits you best
How can you speed up your WordPress site if you are already using a CDN and a caching plugin, and you have taken care to optimize your images? The majority of web hosting is shared hosting. But there are other types, Hostinger offers Cloud hosting, VPS hosting, or even managed WordPress web hosting.
The web hosting company Cloudways specializes, as its name suggests, in Cloud hosting while offering services similar to a managed WordPress web hosting.
Another solution is to use Elementor Cloud. The Elementor page builder is indeed built on the Google Cloud Platform, which is a guarantee of speed and reliability. The Cloud offer is an all-in-one service that takes care of not only the web hosting but also the technical aspects of creating a website:
- Web hosting fully managed by Elementor,
- Elementor Cloud allows you to manage your website from a single platform,
- You benefit from the Elementor Pro license,
- A free domain with a free SSL certificate,
- WordPress and Elementor pre-installed,
- WordPress Hello theme activated,
- Daily and automatic backups of your website,
- Optimization by Cloudflare CDN,
- Excellent support service.
Elementor Cloud can thus be an excellent choice if you don’t like the technical aspects of a website and want to focus on web page design instead, especially since it costs only $99 per year, which is a very fair price considering the package offered.
5/ Remove unnecessary WordPress plugins and themes
How to optimize the speed of your website for free and simply? Just note the following: the more themes and plugins you have, the more likely they are to slow down your website. Minimize the use of plugins, especially those that add unnecessary code or make extra HTTP requests (unless of course you have an emotional dependency on the Hello Dolly plugin). If you are not sure, start by simply deactivating (temporarily) the plugin that you think is useless.
6/ Update WordPress plugins and themes
You should update your themes and plugins, the easiest way being to activate the automatic update for each WordPress theme and plugin. Finally, keep your WordPress installation up to date with the latest version.
7/ Upgrading the PHP version to speed up WordPress
Just as you update WordPress itself to ensure that you are protected against security vulnerabilities, you should do the same with PHP. This is not only a matter of improving the performance of your server, but also a matter of security. Before upgrading your PHP version, check first if your web host recommends a PHP version.
9/ Using an optimized WordPress theme
– The GeneratePress theme
To improve WordPress performances, the choice of a theme is obviously crucial. GeneratePress is particularly light compared to its competitors, so it focuses on speed and stability, which is a key factor for the performance of your website. This wordpress theme is easy to use and comes with many features that make it perfect for creating any type of website. There is a free version, as well as a premium version with even more customization options ($59 per year or $249 Lifetime).
– The OceanWP theme
OceanWP theme is a beautiful and modern WordPress theme offering more than 200 ready-to-use templates, perfect for any type of website representing a professional activity (trade, small business). This WordPress theme is packed with features and options that will allow you to easily customize and control your website. OceanWP comes with a responsive design that looks great on any device, including tablets and smartphones.
The OceanWP theme is also translation ready, so you can easily create a multilingual website.
The cheapest paid version of the OceanWP theme costs $35 and allows the management of a total of 3 websites. The packages are annual or Lifetime. Thanks to a partnership with the web host Cloudways, it is possible to deploy your OceanWP templates in a few clicks. You can visit the OceanWP website here.
10/ Reduce the number of redirects
One way to reduce the loading time of your pages is to avoid using redirects as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is to use a caching plugin. Such a plugin will cache your pages and articles, and serve the cached version to visitors instead of redirecting them to the original page.
Another way to reduce the number of redirects is to avoid using URL shorteners, also known as link shorteners, such as Bitly, Cuttly or TinyUrl, as these create an additional redirect when a user clicks on a shortened link through these applications.
11/ Using GZIP compression
Enabling gzip compression in WordPress reduces server response time and the amount of data sent from the server to a web browser, enabling excellent performance of your WordPress site.
This solution implies to modify the “.htaccess” file of your web server. This action can be done either manually or by a plugin, for example WP Rocket, Wp-Optimize, W3 Total Cache, or Wp Fastest Cache: on Apache or LiteSpeed web servers, these plugins will automatically add gzip compression rules. The gzip compression is also available on Nginx web servers, following this procedure.
You can check that gzip or Brotli compression is enabled on your site by visiting giftofspeed.com.
12/ Optimize your WordPress database
It is strongly recommended to backup the database before manipulating it. One way to optimize WordPress is to use a plugin like WP-Optimize, Database Cleaner or WP Rocket. In order to increase the performance of your database and thus make your site faster during user requests, these plugins clean up your database by removing unused data, such as old article revisions, trashed comments and transient options. By doing so, you can also reduce the size of your database. For more details, please see our article: 3 plugins to optimize your WordPress database.
Hotlinking is the act of using another website’s bandwidth by showing one of its files (such as an image, video or audio file) on another website through a direct web link.
Hotlinking can be a huge resource consumption for the target server, i.e. it can be for YOUR server. This could take your site from a few hundred requests per hour to a few hundred thousand and could even result in a suspension of your web hosting account.
Most CDN providers such as Cloudflare have excellent protection against hotlinking, even if you have signed up for a free plan. You can also activate the protection against hotlinking on your original server, whether it runs under Apache or NGINX, this solution involves modifying the “.htaccess” file on your web server. There are other solutions such as disabling the right click on your web pages, or installing an ad hoc plugin. You can consult this detailed article from the Kinsta.com blog.
14/ Increase the number of PHP workers
To optimize WordPress, PHP workers have the main function of building pages and handling scheduled background tasks. Since PHP workers are directly responsible for generating HTML pages for your site’s visitors, they determine how many simultaneous uncached requests your site can handle in a given time.
15/ Too many custom fonts
The use of custom fonts in WordPress themes has become commonplace. There are several font libraries, such as Google Fonts, Typekit, or Fonts.com. But these can unfortunately slow down your website considerably. In order not to decrease the performance of the website too much, it is advisable to modify only the font you are interested in, and not all the fonts that might be available for your WordPress theme. More information in this detailed article from GTmetrix to optimize WordPress.
As we have just seen, many different elements can slow down your website. Nobody really likes to visit a slow website. This is why Google takes into account the speed of display of a website as a ranking factor in the search results, which could therefore penalize you against your competitors. Optimizing WordPress and speeding up your website involves many small changes that, when put together, can make a difference.