Top Tips for Speeding Up WordPress Sites
Published: Sunday 04 October 2015 | Last updated: Tuesday 04 September 2018
A marketing manager’s job is never dull and these days, often requires you to wear several different hats. It’s now necessary to have a working knowledge of SEO, social media, PPC and much more. Google’s Mobile Friendly update has also forced many marketing managers to understand how a site’s performance can impact on leads and conversions.
And this impact can be significant. A site that’s slow and offers poor UX (User Experience) can negatively impact its bottom line.
“A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.”
Further to this,
“If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 a day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.”
Lost sales mean that budgets get cut and the job of the marketing manager is made that much more difficult.
Performance then has become increasingly important. Many businesses turned to responsive design when mobile began to rise, as it provided a neat solution to the problem of having multiple sites designed. Responsive design was, in its early years, found to be potentially heavy in terms of speed. This was due to the way that many sites were constructed, which was as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that often meant a full desktop site was delivered to mobile devices.
Now, this has for the most part been remedied. There are lots of design techniques and frameworks available to ensure that the right files are delivered to the correct device. Site owners that are familiar with Google’s Mobile Friendly update now too mostly understand that if they want to compete online, then they will need to ensure that their sites perform accordingly.
As a marketing manager, you should familiarise yourself with common issues that affect site performance in order to be able to confidently discuss what needs to be done with web designers and developers. When it comes to WordPress, it could be that you have the skills to carry out some of the optimisation work yourself, it’s just a case of knowing how.
Before you go ahead and worry about the speed of the company website, you have to understand what might be wrong. In this instance, your first port of call will be Google Mobile Friendly Test tool, which will tell you if the site is deemed to be mobile ready.
Your next step should be to go to a performance testing site – I would recommend GT Metrix, which also has a WordPress plugin. You should use the latter in conjunction with the plugins WP Total Cache (or WP Super Cache if the former isn’t compatible) and WP Performance Score Booster.
You can find full instructions for using the GT Metrix plugin here. First though, you should familiarise yourself with common performance issues. You might be surprised to find that with a little tweaking of web publishing procedures, you can iron out many speed issues yourself and pretty quickly.
One of the most important choices that will be made will be in the web host that your company chooses. Good quality hosts offer better uptime, faster browsing and more. For WordPress, you can’t go far wrong with WP Engine, a speciality host that offers managed WordPress hosting and has a great reputation.
Shared hosting isn’t the best choice for a WordPress site, but unless you have a large site, it’s usually the most cost effective. Using managed hosting will ensure that all essential maintenance is carried out and the host knows that speed is a consideration.
Images slow sites down if they’re not properly optimised and served. Resize images and reduce the file size before they are uploaded to the site, where they can then be further optimised using a plugin such as EWWW Optimizer or Smush.it.
To reduce file sizes, images should be optimised using GIMP or Photoshop, using the ‘save for web’ or ‘export’ functions.
You can find further information about optimising images for performance on the Google Developer’s site.
The home page of a site is pretty much the shop window and should always seek to leave the best impression. With this in mind, look carefully at how the front page can be optimised to improve performance.
- Social icons/sharing buttons – these take up more page weight than you would think. Social sharing buttons should not appear on the front page, there’s little reason that someone will want to share it as it won’t be content heavy. Save social sharing for blog posts and landing pages for whitepapers, etc.
Social follow us icons that come from plugins also tend to be heavy. Instead, ask your web designer to use web fonts and link to your social pages, as this will improve performance.
- Minimise posts – instead of placing posts on the front page, provide excerpts that link to the full post.
- Social feeds – is it really necessary to having a rolling Twitter and Facebook feed on your front page? A follow button will often be more than enough to encourage people to find you on social if they’re interested in the brand.
I mentioned GZIP compression above and for the most part, the majority of hosts provide it automatically. If it’s not been enabled, then this will be flagged up in your GT Metrix report and you simply need to create a ticket in the hosting account and ask for it to be enabled.
If you have a lot of static images – ones that remain in the same location on the site – then you should also consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network). These work to cache images and other static content at servers close to where the user is based, so that when images are called, they get there quickly.
When choosing a CDN, look for one that has PoPs (Points of Presence) in the geographical areas where most of your customers are based. The number of PoPs vary quite wildly from provider to provider so look for one that has a fairly large network of its own.
You should also consider optimising your WordPress database, something which again can be carried out using a plugin.
- WP-Optimize – allows you to optimise all spam comments, post revisions, drafts, etc. to reduce the overall size of the database.
- WP-DB Manager – allows you to schedule database optimisation for times when the site is not busy.
A Word About Plugins
Plugins are wonderful things that add functionality without the user needing to have a great deal of technical knowledge. However, they can cause problems and when they do, it can be a pain to track them down. A simple plugin install can cause your site to run like a dream, or it can take the whole site down.
What this means?
Always take a site backup before installing, or updating plugins to ensure site continuity.
You should also regularly review the installed plugins in a site audit (or add it to the to-do list of the web designer/developer). Plugins that are out-of-date, unsupported or buggy should be uninstalled and replacements found.
- Is the plugin inactive? – if so, delete it. The more inactive plugins you have, the less secure the site is.
- Is the plugin regularly updated by the developer? – to ensure that it addresses bugs and potential vulnerabilities. If not, consider using a replacement.
- Is the plugin supported? – those that are not are usually not updated either, so you should avoid.
- Has there been any reported vulnerabilities about the plugin?
- Do you still use the plugin? If not, delete it.
- Are there plugins available that are better than the ones you’re using? – developers are constantly coming up with improvements and new ideas, so keep current.
- Is the plugin causing performance issues? – this is not always easy to determine and if you suspect it is, then ask your developer to look into it for you.
Remember, plugins are often a trade-off. They add functionality but can also reduce performance. You will have to decide which are necessary and ensure that a regular audit is carried out in order to get the most from your site’s plugins.
Your Performance Report
Performance reports are often quite daunting for the initiated as they tend to contain a lot of terms that the average, none designer/developer doesn’t understand. For many, it’s simply a case of passing the report to the web guy and letting them work their magic. But for those working in a smaller business, that requires much of the admin to be carried out by core members of staff, it’s a little more difficult.
I would always recommend using a web professional who understands what the terms mean and what needs to be done above learning to do it yourself. Learning takes trial and error and it also requires understanding how to access the site and alter by SFTP, as well as the WordPress backend. This is because if anything goes wrong – such as a conflict that takes the site down when you’ve made changes – then you need to still be able to access the site through more than the browser login.
It’s really easy to make changes that cause huge issues, but for the inexperienced, often not so easy to put it right.
With that in mind, for those parts of the performance report that you don’t understand, leave it to someone who does.
When it comes to site speed, it’s really all about good practices and housekeeping. If you work to optimise content before it goes on the site, you will save yourself a lot of hassle. It is much harder to fix issues after they have gone live than consider them before.
There are lots of things you can do to speed up WordPress installations, but the above will give you a good start. Make sure that you web developer understands that speed is important to you and that you want it to perform as well as it can and they will make any necessary tweaks.
Carry out regular performance checks and discuss with the developer what changes need to be made in areas where the site isn’t performing well. Web designers and developers understand SEO, but it’s not necessarily a part of their job. With this in mind, work collaboratively with them to ensure that you get both the best design, UX and performance.
Published: Sunday 04 October 2015 | Last updated: Tuesday 04 September 2018