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In this article, we are going to look at how to speed up your WordPress site. There are many areas to look at when improving page speed. It can be quite difficult to know where to start. With the help of this guide, we will cover:

  • How to track your site’s speed
  • Ensuring the page is fast on mobile
  • Picking a fast theme
  • Checking plugins don’t slow down your site
  • Consider a CDN
  • How to optimize images
  • How to add lazy loading
  • Minify and compress

There is a lot to cover, let’s get started.

Monitoring

Before we dive into Page Speed we need a way to measure the performance of your site. After all, without tracking the performance we don’t know if the changes have had a positive affect.

The best way to do this is to use the free performance tools from Google. They have a tool called PageSpeed Insights that will allow you to test a page. All you need to do is visit the PageSpeed Insights website and add the URL of the page you want to test.

Once Google analyzes the page you will see a results page with a score at the top:

Page Speed Insights 100 Points.

After a test, you will see a score out of 100, with 100 being fast and 0 being slow. Google will then categorize the page, slow, average and fast. When Google classifies your page as slow it will affect the search ranking. This is because page speed is a ranking factor.

Before you make any changes do a test and write down the score. It is best to do three tests and take the average.

PageSpeed Insights also has an API that you can use to track pages in a Google Sheet over time.

Now we have a baseline score you may notice that you can test for both Desktop and Mobile. Let’s look at why you should be monitoring Mobile.

Mobile 

When monitoring the performance we have a choice to look at Desktop or Mobile traffic. I recommend that you look at using mobile traffic for two reasons:

  1. Mobiles will have a slower experience because their connection speed is slower. You want to make sure that users on a slow connection have a great experience.
  2. Mobile search traffic makes up the majority of traffic on the web and this is set to keep growing.

A great mobile experience will translate to improvements when using a desktop. Desktop users have better connections so the pages will load even faster.

The goal is to make your pages fast on Mobile.

With that in mind let’s look at themes.

Themes

When choosing a theme for your site you might think that the only decision is to find one that you like the look of. Yet, there are also page speed considerations. 

If you choose a slow theme it can be hard to build a fast page.

I did a PageSpeed Insights speed test on some of the top themes and here are my findings:

In this test, the Astra theme was the fastest. What does this highlight? Well before choosing the theme make sure that you test it for speed. You want to start with a solid base and build from there.

Plugins

Each time you add a plugin to your site it has the potential to slow down the page. This is because of the way plugins on WordPress work. They register hooks that run when the content of the page is about to load.

If you have many plugins (more than 10) then each will run their code on every single page view. The more plugins you have, the longer this will take to process. And the slower the page will take to load.

Plugins can also slow down your page in other ways. Many plugins will add assets such as JavaScript and CSS to your page. If these files are not optimized then they will slow the page down.

The best strategy to identify the slow plugins is to disable all the plugins on your site and do a page speed test. Then one by one, add the plugins back in and measure the change.

If you see a decline in page speed then you know the plugin is causing issues. 

When you find a slow plugin you may need to swap it for a faster alternative. If there are no other options then work with the plugin developer to improve performance.

CDN

A CDN (Content Delivery Network) takes a copy of your web pages including the assets and puts them in a cache. This cache makes your site fast for two reasons:

  1. The page is pre-built so there is no processing to create the page
  2. The cache stores the files all over the world making it closer to the user resulting in it faster to download
  3. You can enable compression for all text files such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript files. This makes them faster to download

A CDN is an extra monthly cost but can make a huge difference to your page speed scores. A good CDN to start with is Cloudflare as it has a free tier and is straight forward to setup.

If you use a CDN, make sure that you add a cache plugin this will ensure that your files get added to the CDN.

Images

Images are getting bigger according to the HTTPArchive who track the size of images in bytes.   

Image size growth from 2011 to 2020

The bigger these images are the slower your site will be. For example, take this image:

This image is a PNG and comes in at 478kb.

Cat picture compressed as PNG

If we use a tool to optimize it the same image as a JPG will come in at 22kb 95% smaller!

Cat picture compressed as JPG

To optimize all your images within WordPress you can install a plugin like ReSmushIt.  This plugin will take all the images on your site and optimize them in bulk. Very handy when you have many images to improve.

Lazy Loading

Native lazy loading is a technique used by browsers such as Chrome, Opera, Edge, and Android. Lazy loading will only load images and iframes as they come into view.

This means that images that are lower down the page do not load until the user scrolls down to see them. Then before the images appear on the page, the browser loads the image.

This can make a huge difference to the page load speed. To try this on your site Google has made a plugin for WordPress you can install. 

As with any plugin do a test on an image-heavy page so you have a baseline. Then install the plugin and run the test again. If you see a page speed boost then keep the plugin, if not then consider another option.

Minify

There are two types of files that you can minify, CSS and JavaScript. What this means is we can remove all the unwanted characters from the file. This makes the file smaller and quicker to download.

To minify the files in WordPress I recommend the plugin Autoptimize. This will take care of the minification for you.

Wrapping Up, How to Speed up a WordPress Site

We have looked at many ways to speed up your WordPress site. We have covered:

  • Monitoring the page speed
  • Focusing on mobile-first
  • Choosing a fast theme
  • Disabling plugins and testing
  • Using a CDN
  • Optimizing images
  • Adding lazy loading
  • Minify

With each of these improvements, it is important to track them.  Don’t make too many changes at once as you will not know what has worked. 

  • Measure 
  • Make a change
  • Measure again
  • Repeat

By making these modifications you will improve your page speed and your site’s Google search ranking.

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