We all hate to wait: in traffic, on the phone, in line–and online. The age of modern technology has made impatience a virtue. Yet the speed of a website’s performance is a basic issue often overlooked by businesses new to the online marketplace. After all, how much can shaving a few milliseconds off your load time really matter, anyway?
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about improving your site’s speed, including factors that can slow down your WordPress site, making your business suffer as a result.
Why Focus on Speed?
There are plenty of ways to draw visitors to your website, including content marketing and SEO. Speed is often overlooked, which is a shame since it has a significant impact on user experience.
People just don’t have the patience to wait for slow websites, so much so that 40% of people abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. Slow page load speeds are especially crippling for eCommerce sites. Nearly 80% of shoppers who were dissatisfied with a site’s performance said they are less likely to buy from the same website again.
According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, a small delay can massively impact user experience. “A 1-second delay in page load time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions.”
Think about that: in the time it just took you to read the first three words of this sentence, you could be decreasing your customer satisfaction by 16%. There’s a very small window of time to convince users to stay on your site. Google uses overall page loading time as a ranking factor, so using the example of two pages with identical content, the faster one gets ranked higher.
Matt Schmitz, Web Performance Engineer at Dotcom-Monitor, points out why you should care about your sites loading times:
Speed is incredibly important with respect to conversions, as most people are beginning to realize. We’re living in such different times from the 1990s/early 2000s when waiting for a website to load was the norm. With so many people having LTE smartphones in their pockets and broadband internet at home, 75% of users will typically bounce as page load times pass the three-second mark.
As you can see, site speed matters more than you might think. Fast-loading pages improve user experience, increase page views, and have a huge influence on conversion metrics. Slow loading times affect your chances of repeat visitors and will cause you to lose subscribers and customers.
How Do I Check My Site Speed?
People new to website design often make the same mistake: if their website doesn’t feel slow from their computer, they think its speed is fine. The problem, of course, is that since you frequently visit your own website, your browser stores the content in the cache, thereby making it more quickly. Unless they are repeat visitors, anyone visiting your site for the first time won’t experience the same speed.
To check your site speed, try using a tool such as Pingdom. You can test your sites speed from different geographical locations, since they may not have the same network or connection type you do. Ideally, pages on your site should load in under two seconds (though the faster, the better).
Here’s where taking steps to improve site speed can shave a few milliseconds off your load times, which can really add up.
What Slows Down a WordPress Website?
Once you understand what affects your site speed, you’ll be able to make smarter long-term decisions to improve your site performance.
Let’s take a look at the primary causes for a slow WordPress website:
- Web Hosting – A poorly configured host can hurt your website speed.
- WordPress Configuration – If your site is not delivering cached pages; it will overload your server which can diminish your website’s speed, or worse, crash it entirely.
- Page Size – Images that aren’t optimized for the web are a prime cause of page lag.
- Bad Plugins – Poorly coded plugins can slow down your website.
- External scripts – Ads and font loaders, for example, can impact your website performance.
Now we’ve covered the things that slow down WordPress websites, let’s focus on how to speed up your own WordPress site.
1. Get Good Hosting
Your WordPress hosting provider plays a crucial role in your website’s overall performance.
Shared hosting plans shares server resources between many other websites. This means if another site encounters a large volume of traffic, it will impact the entire server capacity, therefore slowing down your site.
Individual and managed hosting providers, however, take measures to optimize websites for better performance.
In particular, managed WordPress hosting services offer optimized server configurations to run CMS faster. Namecheap’s EasyWP managed WordPress hosting provides built-in extras such as automatic backups, WordPress updates, and security protocols to protect your site.
2. Host Video Externally
Not all websites run on super-fast servers with plenty of space, which is why they rely on video hosting sites such as Vimeo and YouTube to host their videos. If you’re posting occasional videos on your site, you should consider hosting them on external platforms like these so as not to hamper your own site’s speed.
External video hosts ease the burden on your server because they host your videos on their platform, absorbing the bandwidth themselves. If your site relies on heavy video content, you should think about increasing your site’s bandwidth or creating a professional YouTube channel.
3. Use a WordPress Caching Plugin
To load website pages, WordPress first has to find the information, assemble it, and then display it to your users. This process can slow down your site, especially when more than one person at a time is accessing your pages.
According to Google Developers,
Fetching something over the network is both slow and expensive: large responses require many round trips between the client and server, which delays when they are available and can be processed by the browser, and also incurs data costs for the visitor. As a result, the ability to cache and reuse previously fetched resources is a critical aspect of optimizing for performance.
An excellent free alternative is W3 Total Cache. Instead of generating the entire page every time visitors land on it, the plugin will make a copy of each page after it’s first loaded, and the cached (saved) version is delivered to subsequent visitors, making the whole process much faster.
Note: because managed WordPress hosting options often include caching in their services, third-party caching plugins may be disabled.
4. Clean Up Your WordPress Database
WordPress stores the data needed to display your content in a MySQL database. As your website grows, so does the information contained within this database. Over time, databases can become bloated with unnecessary data—things like spam comments, blog post revisions, and deleted files. These need to be purged.
Cleaning up your database files will give a much-needed boost to your website’s performance. That’s where the WP-Optimize plugin comes in. This plugin automatically cleans your WordPress database so that it runs at maximum efficiency. With this plugin, you’ll boost your load times and decrease your bounce rate.
5. Optimize Images
All websites need images. They bring life to your pages and boost engagement in the content. The only problem with images is that they can slow down your site if they’re not optimized.
Creating smaller image files is an easy step even beginners can handle. To make sure your site’s images are helping (not hindering) your site, you’ll need to resize, optimize, and compress all of your images.
If you don’t like to the idea of doing all of that manually, you can use an image editing tool such as the free SmushIt plugin to optimize your images for web content. This plugin will significantly reduce the file size of your images (by up to 5x) without losing quality.
6.Optimize Your Homepage
Your homepage is arguably the most important part of your site since the majority of your visitors land there first. Here are some tips to make sure your homepage loads quickly and smoothly:
- Show excerpts – If you have a blog, display excerpts of your content instead of full posts, and reduce the number of posts per page (no more than 7, ideally).
- Remove excess baggage – While they may not seem to be doing any harm, inactive themes and plugins are just extra information your site doesn’t need. For the ones you are using, be sure to keep them updated, as the latest versions likely run quicker.
- Use minimal widgets – Your visitors want information about products and services. Filling your sidebar and footer with unnecessary widgets will slow down your site, as each widget has to load content individually.
A cleaner homepage design is not only aesthetically pleasing, it helps your site load quicker as well.
7. Keep WordPress Up-to-Date
Keeping your WordPress updated with the latest version is the best way to keep things moving along quickly and smoothly. Developers go to great effort to make WordPress run safer and faster with each update. Other benefits of updating regularly include keeping hacker threats at bay, shielding your site from attacks, and giving you the latest features and enhancements made to the CMS. Why mess around with a clunky old version when there’s a new one waiting for you?
To check if you’re running the newest version of the software, simply head to the admin area of your WordPress site. From the dashboard, your At a Glance widget will tell you which version of WordPress you are running. You can also click the Updates tab to check for the latest version and download it from there.
If you’re looking for a way to get your WordPress site up and running quickly, and want to try the most affordable managed WordPress hosting plan on the market, try EasyWP from Namecheap. Right now hosting plans are just $8.88 for a full year.