Website visitors want fast loading websites. They don’t have much patience and will leave your website if it takes more than a few seconds to load. This could result in lost user engagement and reduced traffic to your website, which could negatively impact your website’s ranking position. To avoid this, it’s important to fix your slow loading WordPress issues.
If you’re wondering why your WordPress site is slow, the answer is simple. Like any website, WordPress can be slow if not optimized and maintained properly.
Later in this article, I will explain how to identify and fix the issues that cause slow loading WordPress websites.
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 website’s slowness may be caused by your web hosting service.
This could include one or more of the following:
- a slow web server (due to hardware limitations or limited network bandwidth)
- a shared hosting plan (many other websites are hosted on the same physical server)
- a slow database
- insufficient 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).
As the traffic to your website increases, your web server will require more resources. If necessary, consider upgrading to a higher-spec hosting plan.
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.
How to Improve WordPress Performance
Choosing a fast, lightweight theme
It is crucial to choose a fast and lightweight theme for your WordPress website. The theme you use can significantly affect your website’s speed, even if you optimize your server, images, and plugins.
Many popular themes offer numerous features like “60+ features – our theme does everything!” However, this can cause a bloated theme that will slow down your website’s performance. In reality, you may only use a few of these features, and paying for all of them can cause 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 greatly reduce the file size. Newer formats like WEBP offer the best compression without any loss of quality.
2. Compressing images
Image compression is a must since images can be large, especially high-quality photos, and not compressing them will result in slow website performance.
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.
For WordPress websites, there is an even better solution: Imagify has a plugin that automatically compresses your images for you. Check it out below:
3. Reducing image size
To reduce the time it takes for your web page to load, you can also consider reducing the dimensions of your images. By dimensions, I mean the width and height of the image.
Since most of your visitors are likely to access your website through their mobile devices, it is recommended to keep the maximum width of an image for smartphones to 400-500 pixels. Having an image with a width greater than that results in wasted bandwidth, as the browser has to resize the image before displaying it.
4. Lazy load images
This technique only loads images when they scroll into view in the browser. The web page will load faster, and more traffic can be handled by your web server.
I use the free SiteGround Optimizer plugin, which has a lazy load option. Simply turn on the lazy load option, and all your images will be lazily loaded. If your account is hosted on SiteGround, it also supports image compression and the WEBP format.
Cleaning Up Your Database
WordPress websites rely on a database to store all content, including articles, revisions, comments, and attachment information.
If you neglect database maintenance, your website will slowly degrade over time, causing it to slow down.
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 why you should minimize the number of plugins you use, as each one is likely to store and retrieve data from the database, contributing to slow website performance.
2. Removing old post revisions
WordPress stores each draft of your content in the database, which can slow down your website considerably, especially if you spend a lot of time revising and editing.
Handling database maintenance with a plugin is recommended. The SiteGround Optimizer plugin can perform 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 use only the minimum number of plugins necessary 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 require careful consideration.
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)
Plugins that make API calls to third-party websites can be expensive, such as plugins that access share counts for your social media sharing buttons.
Some plugins, like related posts plugins, may extensively use your database and CPU to generate related posts. This can slow down each 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 occur in one or more locations, from the user’s browser to the web server to intermediary locations like a CDN (Content Delivery Network).
The browser on the user’s machine can cache a version of files from your website, this is the quickest method of caching. Browsers can cache:
- CSS files
Your hosting provider determines the server caching options that are available. Below are the caching options offered by SiteGround, which I’m familiar with. You can easily access these caching options by installing the SiteGround Optimizer plugin
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 from anywhere in the world can access your website. Ideally, you should provide them with content that is as close to their location as possible. That’s the function of a Content Delivery Network.
You can use a third-party CDN service with your website, or your hosting provider may also provide a CDN service. The easiest method is to use the CDN provided by your hosting provider, which may even be free with your hosting plans.
Activating a CDN network for your website is simple, and no changes to the website are necessary. See the screenshot below:
Check your hosting plans to determine if you can use a CDN. The screenshot above is from the site tools area on SiteGround, which offers a free CDN service with a premium option also available.
A CDN reduces the strain on your web server, enabling you to serve more visitors without slowing down your website.
To speed up page loading, use a CDN to offload most of your static content to CDN servers. This results in increased user engagement and has the potential to boost your site’s ranking 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
The hosting service provider owns the physical machine that runs your website. You pay for the service that allows you to install 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 performing 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 suits 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 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.
Opt for the shared hosting plan if you’re not sure. Your website and traffic will be small at the beginning. You can upgrade to dedicated hosting later once your website has expanded.
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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