There’s no denying that site speed for your WordPress blog is extremely important. Not too long ago, most people browsed the internet on a desktop computer with a relatively fast connection speed. Things are shifting, and it won’t be long until mobile traffic makes up the majority of website traffic. Typically, the mobile user is working with a slower internet connection than the desktop user.
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Also, Google has flat out said that site speed is an important ranking factor. It makes sense too — if users have a bad experience (slow load time) on your blog, why would Google give the post or page a good position in their search results? If users care about site speed, Google will care about site speed.
Personally, every single day I abandon a loading webpage because it’s taking too long for my liking. What a shame!
Fortunately, if you have a WordPress blog or website, there are a few simple things you can do to dramatically increase your site speed. These aren’t hard, expensive, or overly complicated solutions. With a little effort, you can improve your site speed, user experience, and site traffic. Everyone could use more traffic!
7 Steps for Increasing Your Blog’s Speed
1. Test site speed and load times regularly.
Before we can go about fixing an issue, we have to understand the issue. It’s been helpful for me to create a recurring task to check site speed once per month. I use two free tools for this:
I could get away with using just one, but I feel better not relying on the results of a single tool. Both sites also test from a different server location. For instance, one could be “pinging” your site from Vancouver and another from Stockholm.
Keep track of the results of your monthly site speed tests. I like to use a Google spreadsheet to track results over time. If the speed drops dramatically one month, that will be a clue that something you did to the site recently caused the issue. Without historical records, it’s harder to pinpoint the issue.
2. Choose a reliable host.
A good host is important for site speed, but it’s certainly not the only (or most important) factor. If you have a reliable and reputable host, you can cross this section off of your list.
You can read here to learn why I recommend these specific hosting companies.
I caution you against thinking that all of your site speed issues are related to your current host. I hear over and over from people who think that switching hosts will solve all of their problems when, in reality, they have plugin issues, messed up code, a bad theme, and too many bad requests on their site.
3. Choose a well-coded WordPress theme.
Shortly after Abby started her blog, we moved to the Genesis Framework and a corresponding child theme. I had read too many horror stories from people downloading random free and paid themes from Etsy and other sites. Just because a theme looks pretty doesn’t mean it’s well coded.
The nice thing about the Genesis Framework is that you know your blog is starting with a solid foundation. It really is the standard now in WordPress theme frameworks. Genesis is coded well and is lightning fast if your site doesn’t have other issues.
Another nice thing about using the Genesis Framework is that you can choose to install a custom child theme over top of the framework. For instance, Abby and I only use the Genesis Framework but have used child themes from Restored 316, Pretty Darn Cute, and Shay Bocks. These “child theme creators” all design their themes to work with the Genesis Framework.
Picking and sticking with a solid framework has been one of the better decisions that Abby and I have made related to blogging.
4. Clean up your WordPress database
Over time, your WordPress database that is sitting on your host can get all cluttered up with post revisions, deleted spam comments, and a zillion other useless files that collect over time.
I haven’t found a huge difference in site speed after optimizing my database, but I do it occasionally nonetheless. Unfortunately, the plugin I’ve used hasn’t been updated in nearly a year, so I just can’t recommend it. Messing with your database isn’t something that I would take lightly — things could easily go awry.
My recommendation is to make sure that your site is properly backed up and then ask your web host for their specific recommendation for optimizing and cleaning your database. They should have a good recommendation and instructions for you.
5. Optimize images for speed.
High-quality DSLR images are massive in size! Keep in mind that if you upload a large 30mb .jpeg or .png image, WordPress will automatically try to optimize the size and dimensions. Sometimes this works well, but it’s certainly not the ideal solution for site speed.
The first step is to save your image with the desired dimensions. For example, if your content area on your blog is 600px wide, save your images at 600 pixels wide. This will ensure fantastic clarity in your pictures but without the overkill of 2,400 or larger pixel images. If your site has no sidebar and your content width is larger, save your images to correspond to the correct width.
After your images are saved to the correct dimension, use the free online tool called Compressor.io. You can upload JPEG, PNG, GIF, and SVG image files, and the tool will then strip out unnecessary elements from the image file.
I use this tool all the time and it typically reduces file size by more than 50% with no perceptible difference in quality.
Another good option is TinyPNG.
Once you’ve compressed your correctly sized image, upload it to WordPress and use it in your post. This little extra step will pay off dramatically in the long run for your site speed.
Another popular solution (that I haven’t personally used) to reduce image size load time is the WordPress plugin WP Smush. You can use this plugin to automatically reduce image size as you upload them to WordPress or even go back in time and reduce existing image sizes.
The plugin is routinely updated and it’s made by a reputable developer, but in general I to try and reduce the number of plugins and potential issues. For that reason, I’ve decided to not use the plugin and instead take the extra step of using Compressor.io before I upload anything to WordPress.
6. Set up W3 Total Cache.
We’re getting serious now! W3 Total Cache is a fantastic but complicated WordPress plugin that can dramatically speed up your site.
Caching is complicated stuff, and admittedly, I only understand the very basics, but I do know enough to know that it has made a dramatic difference on our sites. I also know enough to realize that I am not qualified to give you recommended plugin settings and ensure that nothing will break.
I recommend that you email your host and let them know that you are planning on using the W3 Total Cache plugin (they’ll be familiar with it), and ask them if they can send you their recombined settings so that everything plays nice with your server.
Our host, Synthesis, recommends this caching plugin specifically, and they even had a file for us to upload to the plugin to change the various settings automatically. Sweet!
7. Utilize CloudFlare.
CloudFlare is a service that “protects and accelerates” your website. This is honestly one of my favorite tools out there. Abby and I pay $20/month for a professional account, but CloudFlare also offers a very feature-rich free account. I recommend that every WordPress blog use CloudFlare.
On the protection front, you can consider CloudFlare a super smart security guard. They are a cutting edge service as far as blocking hacking attempts and brute force login attempts to your site.
Abby and started using CloudFlare after a bunch of our theme files were filled with malicious code. It was a nightmare, and we ended up having to restore an old version of the site from our backup. Since using Cloudflare, we haven’t had any of these issues.
The best part about CloudFlare is how easy it is to set up. You do have to make some edits to your domain nameservers and point to the CloudFlare IP address. Here’s the article from CloudFlare support on how to change nameservers if using BlueHost. It’s super easy!
Bottom line on site speed
There’s no single magic bullet when it comes to improving site speed. In my experience, it happens in layers. Once some of these suggestions are implemented, the site speed maintenance time each month is greatly reduced, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the speed of your site!