Website visitors are not known for their patience, if you make them wait for more than a few seconds they will leave your website and go somewhere else – possibly to a competitor website. Fix your WordPress slow loading issues to improve user engagement, help your ranking position and boost traffic to your site.
You may be thinking why is WordPress so slow? Well, any website can be slow unless you spend time optimizing, maintaining and finding/fixing any issues you find.
So, to stay ahead of the competition, boost your SEO and improve your ranking potential let’s dive into the causes for a slow loading WordPress website.
Table of Contents
- Slow website troubleshooting
- How to Improve WordPress Performance
- Final Thoughts
Slow website troubleshooting
There are some common issues that slow down websites, some are common to all websites and some are specific to WordPress.
Let’s take a look at each issue and later in the article I’ll explain how to fix them.
Your web hosting service may be the cause of slowness for your website.
This could include one or more of the following:
- web server is slow (hardware or limited network bandwidth)
- shared hosting plan (many other websites are hosted on the same physical server)
- slow database
- not enough memory
- quotas on CPU execution, database queries, network traffic
Your hosting plan could be the problem. Some hosting providers cut corners by putting large numbers of websites on the same physical server. This makes the plan cheap but your website will be slow to load (because the server is handling 100’s of other requests at the same time).
The more traffic you expect on your website the more resources your web server will need. You may need to look at your hosting plan and upgrade to a higher spec plan if necessary.
Ensure your hosting plan is appropriate for the expected traffic to your website
Images loading slowly
Images are a major cause of slowness for websites. The more images, and specifically, the more high quality images you use the slower the web page will be to load.
Of course, images are good to use, they make your website visually appealing and can be useful for readers.
Fortunately there are many ways of improving the loading times of images which I will explain later.
Too many plugins or slow loading plugins
Plugins add files to each web page loaded, typically these files will be:
- CSS (files that affect the styling and visual layout of the page)
- HTML (content of the page, e.g. header, footer, sidebar etc)
- API calls (calls to other websites, e.g. social media networks, ad servers)
- loading files from a third-party site
In addition each plugin will likely make database queries and change information in the database.
The more you rely on third-party websites the slower your website will be. In the worst case, when a third-party site is down it will break your website too.
One or two plugins won’t make a big difference but many website owners add large numbers of plugins to their website which will significantly slow down each page.
Store images and files locally rather than loading from third-party sites
Keep all of your software up to date. Don’t provide weak links for hackers to exploit your system.
The following software will need to be updated frequently:
- Programming language on the web server – PHP for WordPress websites
- Blogging software – WordPress
- All plugins and themes installed on your blog – even “inactive” themes or plugins
The fewer plugins you have installed the smaller the attack surface hackers have to attack you.
Poorly coded theme
Not all themes are coded to the highest standards. Some may even be malicious, deliberately written to have backdoors that hackers can exploit.
Only use themes from high quality sources. Check the ratings and comments from users before installing a theme.
You get what you pay for so expect free themes to not be of the highest quality or get updated as quickly as you would like.
If a website is important to you it’s worth investing in a high quality paid theme.
I use GeneratePress, it’s lightweight and fast.
You can read my review of this theme here: GeneratePress review: Fast WordPress theme in free and premium versions
How to Improve WordPress Performance
Choosing a fast, lightweight theme
Your WordPress theme will make a big difference to whether your website is fast or not. Even if you optimize your server, images and plugins your website performance can still be held back by a bloated theme.
Many of the most popular themes advertise large number of features such as “60+ features – our theme does everything!”. The problem is you will likely only use a few of those features but pay for them by poor website performance.
Every feature supported by a theme adds bloat to your website. Typically:
- extra code that needs to execute
- more database requests
- CSS files
- third-party website requests
- API calls
Don’t use a theme with lots of built in features.
In addition to all of the code bloat your website will be at higher risk from hackers. Every new feature potentially has poorly written code that will leave your exposed to getting hacked.
Less is better. Prefer minimal, lightweight themes.
I use GeneratePress theme for this website, it has a free version and a premium version. If you are looking for a WordPress theme I can recommend it.
Optimizing Images to load faster
I’ve written about optimizing images before: Is Imagify the best compressor plugin for websites?
I recommend reading that article for a more in-depth discussion but here is the summary:
1. Choosing the right image format
Choosing the right format for your image can reduce the file size greatly. Newer formats like WEBP give the best compression without loss of quality.
2. Compressing images
This is a must. Images are large, especially high quality photos – you need to compress them otherwise your website is guaranteed to be slow.
It’s easy to start using image compression. You can do this for free by using an image compression service like Imagify. Once you sign up you can drag and drop image files onto the website to have them compressed for you.
Even better, for WordPress websites, they have a plugin to automatically compress your images for you. Check it out below:
3. Reducing image size
In addition to compression you can reduce the dimensions of your image. By dimensions I mean the width and height of the image.
Your images are likely to be viewed on a mobile device so the maximum width on a typical smartphone is only 400-500 pixels. Any more than that will result in wasted bandwidth as the browser will have to resize the image anyway.
4. Lazy load images
This technique only loads images when they scroll into view in the browser. This means the web page will load faster and your web server will be able to handle more traffic.
I use the SiteGround Optimizer plugin, it’s free and has a lazy load option. Just turn on the lazy load option and that’s it, all your images will be lazily loaded. If you host your account on SiteGround it will also do image compression and supports the WEBP format.
Cleaning Up Your Database
WordPress websites rely on a database to store all the content. Articles, revisions, comments, attachment information are all stored in a database.
If your don’t maintain your database then, over time, it will slowly degrade causing your website to get slower.
1. Deleting unnecessary data
Certain plugins can store a lot of information in the database. Especially security plugins that log all visits and requests to your website.
It’s a good idea to check the settings for these plugins to regularly clean and remove old data frequently. You will need to check the settings for each plugin you have installed.
This is another reason to minimize the number of plugins you use. Each one will likely store and retrieve data from the database and slow down your website.
2. Removing old post revisions
If you spend a lot of time revising and editing your content then each draft is stored in the database. This can quickly add up to a lot of data, multiple by all your articles and you can expect your website to slow down.
Use a plugin to handle database maintenance. The SiteGround Optimizer plugin will do this task for you.
Reducing the Number of Plugins
Do you really need that plugin? It can be tempting to add a plugin to your website, especially if it’s free.
But it isn’t really free, not if you take into account how much it will slow down your website and the extra files added to each web page.
Free plugins can be very expensive.
Try to only use the minimum number of plugins you need for your website.
Identifying and removing unnecessary plugins
Look at all your plugins, do you use them all? One quick way is to disable a plugin and check your website still works – does it look any different? If not you probably don’t need that plugin.
Essential plugins types for a WordPress website:
- Performance / optimizer plugin
- Security plugin
- SEO plugin
Other plugins you need to think carefully about.
Finding lightweight plugins
Some plugins can be expensive in terms of server resources such as:
- CPU (the server processor)
- network bandwidth
- disk space
- database access (requests or writing to the database)
For instance, plugins that make API calls to third-party websites can be expensive. Typically these will be plugins that access share counts for your social media sharing buttons.
Plugins, such as related posts plugins, may make heavy use of your database and CPU to generate related posts. This can slow your every post article on your website.
Minimise use of plugins that make API calls or load files from third-party websites
Caching content can greatly speed up your website. The idea is that content that doesn’t change, or changes slowly, can be “cached” by the server for an hour, or day. This saves the web server having to generate the content each time greatly reducing the amount of resources needed to serve each visitor.
Caching can be done at one or more places from the browser on the user’s machine to the web server to intermediate places such as CDN (Content Delivery Network).
The quickest method of caching is for the browser on the user’s machine to store a cached version of files from your website. Browsers can cache:
- CSS files
What server caching options are available depends on your hosting provider. I’ll list below the caching options available from SiteGround as I’m familiar with these options. Installing the SiteGround Optimizer plugin gives easy access from your website to these caching options.
SiteGround Optimizer Caching Options
SiteGround has crafted these caching solutions to boost the speed of WordPress websites.
Every visit to your site will be faster with the SiteGround Optimizer plugin option for file-based caching. Our plugin will generate a static HTML version of your website and store it in the browser memory, significantly boosting your loading speed.
Store your content in the server’s memory for a faster access with full-page caching solution powered by NGINX. Having Dynamic Cache is essential for speeding up your website.
Powerful object caching for your site. Memcached stores frequently executed queries to your databases and then reuses them for better performance.
Content delivery network (CDN)
Visitors to your website can come from anywhere in the world. Ideally you want to serve your visitors content close to their location as possible.
That’s what a Content Delivery Network does.
You can use a third-party CDN service with your website or perhaps your hosting provider also includes a CDN service. Using the CDN provided by your hosting provider is the simplest method and may even by free with your hosting plans.
Turning on a CDN networtk for your website is easy. No changes to the website are needed. See the screenshot below:
Check your hosting plans to see if you can use a CDN. The above screenshot is from the site tools area on SiteGround, the hosting plan has a free CDN service and a Premium service is also available.
A CDN reduces the strain on your web server meaning you can service more visitors without slowing down your website.
Use a CDN to speed up page loading by off-loading most of your static content to CDN servers resulting in higher user engagement and a boost to your site ranking potential in search engines.
High traffic sites, image heavy sites and websites for a global audience benefit the most from using a CDN
Choose a Fast Hosting Service
Your hosting service provider owns the physical machine that runs your website. You pay for the service that let’s you put your blogging software on one of those machines.
The hosting provider is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the hardware and software to keep your website running, including backups and checking for viruses.
You have two main options when deciding what kind of hosting you want.
Shared vs. dedicated hosting
Multiple websites are hosted on a single server.
Each website shares server resources:
- disk space
- network bandwidth
The advantages of shared hosting
Shared hosting is less expensive than dedicated hosting and is suitable for smaller websites that do not require a lot of resources.
The website has the server to itself.
The website owner has complete control over all the server’s resources.
The advantages of dedicated hosting
Dedicated hosting is suitable for larger websites that require a lot of resources and need more control over the server environment.
Dedicated hosting is also more secure. Any unsecure website on a shared host could potential expose that server to hackers and spammers. Hacked websites will drain resources from all websites hosted on that server.
Choosing the right hosting service
Shared hosting is a cost-effective option for smaller websites that do not require a lot of resources, while dedicated hosting is more expensive but provides more control and better performance for larger websites with high resource demands.
If you are not sure then choose the shared hosting plan. When you are starting out your website and traffic will be small. You can always change over to dedicated hosting later on once your website has grown.
It’s important to find and fix and performance issues on your website to boost user engagement and search engine ranking positions.
Here is a quick summary of recommendations for WordPress websites to fix performance problems:
- Pick a fast, minimal WordPress theme ( Recommended: GeneratePress theme )
- Don’t use too many plugins
- Use an optimizer plugin ( Recommended: Imagify for images, SiteGround Optimizer plugin for lazy loading )
- Consider using a CDN especially if you are targeting visitors from other countries
- Security plugin to block hackers that can slow down your website ( SiteGround Security plugin )
If you are looking for a WordPress hosting service I recommend SiteGround:
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