How To Make Your WordPress Site Run Faster

Nobody likes a slow site. It ruins the visitor experience and can hamper your rankings for search engines. If you are running on WordPress, it can be tricky to get your site to run fast without consciously working on it. Poorly written plugins, bloated themes, and massive images are common culprits. We’ll tackle these and far more in covering how to make your WordPress site run faster!

Practice What You Preach

When we redesigned our own site, it was initially testing at over 5 seconds before any optimization. After going through the following list, I was able to shave that down less than a second. Here is the speed test from GTmetrix:


How To Make Your WordPress Site Run Faster

WordPress Speed Optimization Checklist

  1. Website Speed Tests
  2. Website Backup
  3. Hosting Options
  4. Caching Files
  5. Content Delivery Network
  6. Minify Files
  7. Premium DNS Lookup
  8. Vet Plugins
  9. Pick a Lightweight Theme
  10. Optimize Images
  11. Remove Query Strings From Static Content
  12. Add Expires Headers
  13. Remove Render-Blocking Javascript
  14. Lazy Load Pages
  15. Delete Unused Themes and Plugins
  16. Selective Plugin Loading
  17. Reduce Sidebar Size
  18. Common Problems
  19. Specific Page Speed Tests
  20. Ongoing WordPress Speed Maintenance

1. Website Speed Tests

Before optimizing anything it is important to have an analysis of your site from a cloud-based tool. Anyone of the following will do the trick.


2. Backup Website

Before making a bunch of changes to your site, it is a good idea to take a backup. It is possible during the meddling something could get messed up. I recommend Updraft Plus Backup and Restoration. It is easy and effective. Be sure to save a copy of your site’s backup locally.


3. WordPress Optimized Hosting

A great host isn’t going to solve all the speed problems but it is impossible to have a blazing fast site without one. Aside from speed, a managed host doesn’t have the security vulnerabilities and bandwidth restrictions as a shared version.

Here are a few great options:

  • Flywheel – $15/month for the tiny plan and $29/month for the personal plan
  • WP Engine – $30/month for the personal plan
  • GoDaddy – $7/month for the basic plan

Flywheel is my favorite. There are a lot of goodies included, like caching, daily backups, malware protection, and staging. Having security included helps on speed, too. It means you don’t have to install a resource-hungry security plugin.

GoDaddy works as a fallback if you can’t afford a premiere host.


4. Caching Files

Processing files on the server ahead of time, or caching, will make a massive difference. If you switch to a managed host, chances are caching is included and installing a caching plugin will cause problems. However, if you remaining on a shard or VPS plan, W3 Total Cache is a great option to add this feature. Just be sure to set it up correctly by following their instructions. It can be a bit tricky.


5. Content Delivery Network

A CDN (Content Delivery Network) stores copies of your website files across a network of data centers and serves the site from the closest physical location to the visitor. This feature depends a lot on your audience. If you draw visitors from all over the country or world, a CDN is a must. Good options:

CDN Map

6. Minify Files

Developers always use white space in files to help organize code. It is visually appealing. The bummer is that white space actually adds to a files size. Utilizing minification, all that extra space will be concatenated and shrink the files size. Try the plugin Autoptimize or turning on this feature with your CloudFlare account. Be careful when minifying javascript files as it can sometimes break functionality.


7. Premium DNS

When someone punches in a URL into a browser, the DNS (Domain Name System) translates it into an IP where the website server is located. A premium DNS will reduce this lookup time and add some extra security while reducing “website not found” errors. Here a few options:


8. Vet Plugins

Plugins are one of the most powerful aspects of WordPress. The problem is one bad plugin can take down your whole site. To vet plugins, try the P3 Plugin Profiler. It won’t tell you the whole story for every plugin, but it can help you identify a lot of the bad ones.


9. Pick a Lightweight Theme

Bloated themes are so often the problem with a slow site. There are many premium themes that have too much functionality built-in. As designers, we love all the features. Unfortunately, all of those widgets, shortcodes, and scripts add up. The worst part about this step is the fact themes are tough to evaluate until being installed. I personally love to use the Astra theme. It has consistently proven to be one of the fastest and most reliable themes.


10. Optimize Images

Large photos are the bane of speed. There are many sites with huge page sizes due to photos alone. I generally say that 1 MB should be the ceiling for an individual page. The goal is 500 kb or less. Try the following to compress photos:

Also worth noting, try saving the same image as a jpeg and as a png. Graphics, logos, and charts tend to be smaller in png format while photos are smaller as jpegs.


11. Remove Query Strings From Static Content

A lot of queries can bog things down and there is no need for queries when it comes to static content. Luckily, this is an easy fix. Install WP Performance Score Booster and simply tick the relevant option.


12. Add Expires Headers

The expires header tells the browser when to grab a specific file from the server and when to utilize the local cache. The same plugin from the previous step can take care of this for you in a snap!


13. Remove Render-Blocking Javascript

Going back to the speed test, check out the waterfall view and look for javascript before the page loads. These “render-blocking” scripts have to fully load before the visual elements of your page load. Try to remove unnecessary plugins with a lot of scripts, Google Maps that load on every page, or move the scripts to the footer that load after the visual content.

If you’re wanting to take this to the next level, WP Rocket has an excellent new feature that allows you to defer the execution of Javascript files. It allows you to enter keywords unique to specific plugins to delay when the corresponding Javascript files run. This shaved a lot of requests and weight off of the website which in turn helped increase speed.


14. Lazy Load Pages

Images loading below the fold are not nearly as important when compared to what is in the viewport. Install the Lazy Load plugin and you should be set here!


15. Delete Unused Themes and Plugins

There are few reasons to keep inactive themes and plugins. They are just clutter and can leave you susceptible to security issues.


16. Selective Plugin Loading

Many plugins load scripts on every page whether it is needed or not. The Plugin Organizer gives you the power to disable plugins site-wide except for a specific page or only allow loading for specific post types. It can be very powerful.


Sidebars load on lots of pages and posts. Placing social widgets and interactive maps on a sidebar can slow down all of these pages. Be very selective in placing widgets within these common space areas.


18. Common Problems

There a few popular plugin and WP specific problems should be addressed:

Yoast SEO – Leave the “Force Rewrite Titles” option unchecked. Yoast specifically mentions in their support that this feature can slow things down.

Gravatar – Reduce DNS lookups and http requests by caching Gravatar on your server. The other option is to disable Gravatar photos all together.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks – It is nice to get notified of links from other WP sites but it takes extra resources. You’re better off disabling these features.

Social Sharing – Utilize a lightweight social plugin like Simple Share (Genesis only) or WP Social Sharing.


19. Specific Page Tests

While the home page is often the most important, try running speed tests on at least one page, one blog post, the blog index, and any important pages. There are often different elements and scripts for different page types.


20. Ongoing WordPress Speed Maintenance

Unfortunately, just going through this checklist won’t solve everything. It’ll get you a long ways but it is also important to properly maintain your site. Here is a good checklist for ongoing maintenance:

  • Optimize and clean up the database (WP Optimize)
  • Always keep WordPress core up to date
  • Update themes and plugins
  • Keep the site secure and free of malware

Did you make your WordPress site run faster?

Run the speed tests multiple times to hone in what is working. And don’t pay attention to the “grades” handed out by the tests. All that matters is the load time for the visitor. Even total load time isn’t a major deal as long as the visitor experience is fast. Best of luck and I hope you have learned how to make your WordPress site faster!

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I love writing about web design that inspires, figuring out Google's black box, and speaking to lively audiences. In my spare time, I enjoy reading Game of Thrones (waiting on Winds of Winter) and touring the lakes on my paddleboard.

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