Improving Website Speed – Part 1

Improving WordPress website speed

Let’s face it. Have you been to a website where it takes forever to load? You click on different pages to browse or get information you’re looking for and each page takes 5 to 10 seconds to load. Unless it is the only website where I can get information on something, then I simply leave the site and move onto the next one that will give me a better browsing experience.

If there is one thing that the technologies such as fast internet and mobile phone has impacted us negatively, it is that they made us more impatient. In my previous post on website optimization, I mentioned how our average attention span went from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015 based on a study.

This article is broken into two parts: in the first part, I will talk about very high-level actions you can take. It is meant for non-technical folks and if you follow them, your website should be in a good shape at about 90% of optimal speed. The second part will be for more technical folks who want to achieve that extra 10% to get to 100%.

Premium Hosting Provider

I’ve developed, deployed and managed hundreds of websites for companies I worked for, my clients, and myself and, in the process, worked with many different hosting providers. And which provider you use makes a huge difference with how fast your site loads. Many small businesses typically go for low cost, shared server plans at a widely known hosting companies such as GoDaddy. Yes, those are much cheaper but you get what you pay for. There is a reason why some hosting companies are more expensive – they have better hardware and do not place too many sites onto a single server.

If you have a WordPress website, my recommendation is to go with a premium, WordPress-specific provider such as WP Engine or Pantheon. Yes, they are a bit more expensive – $29/mo for a single website at WP Engine and $25/mo at Pantheon. (It looks like Pantheon dropped their price to be competitive with WP Engine) These hosting companies will give you better hardware and faster websites, not to mention better customer support and security.

Choose a Lightweight Theme

As WordPress dominates the website platform market with ease of use and more and more people are learning to use the platform, theme developers are making the themes easier to use. In doing so, they pack so many features into the themes that can be turned off or on and easily customized by beginner WordPress users. One side effect of such trend is that themes are getting bigger and slowing down the website.

I worked on a client website and was trying to figure out why it takes 5-8 seconds for each page to load. I started disabling plugins one by one and, even after disabling all 20 or so plugins, the site was still loading slow! Then I changed the theme to a new one and the site started loading instantly. The theme she was using was the culprit. Unfortunately, the client had already paid a vendor to design her website on top of that theme so changing it and re-doing the design work was out of option.

My recommendation is to choose a theme that is light-weight and well-built. We are using a theme from Colorlib for this website – but heavily customized – and we love it! Bootstrap is another good one but it is a barebone theme and not recommended for beginners.

Remove Unnecessary Plugins

I can’t stress enough how important this is. In platforms like WordPress or Drupal, many people fall into the trap of installing plugins after plugins for additional features, boosting marketing, and fending off spam bots. For example, on one project I worked on, the client had 4 different plugins just to prevent getting spam registrations and comments. I uninstalled all of them and installed Akismet plugin which does the job. The client also had two plugins for integrating with Google Analytics, and other many plugins that were installed and activated, but not being used!

My recommendation is take some time to go through the plugins and think carefully about which plugins you are using and which ones you really need. These plugins, when not carefully managed, will add additional CSS and JavaScript files and will slow down your website.

Choose the Right Plugins

If you didn’t know, some plugins are not designed well and they may add additional overhead to your website. But there are so many plugins out there – for example, if you want to integrate with Google Analytics, there are over 10 different plugins for achieving that. How do you know which one to choose? The best way is to reach out to your colleagues who know WordPress in and out and ask for recommendation. If that’s not possible, try following tips:

  • Look at the plugin’s ratings and reviews
  • Look at when the plugin was last updated – you want to use a plugin that’s updated often
  • Look at the plugin developer’s website.  Is it a company or individual?  Do they have a website for providing documentation and support for the plugin?  Are they active in responding to questions and issues?

Bad plugins will not only slow down your website but they also pose security threats.  If you are not sure about which ones to use, leave comments here or reach out to us and we’ll be glad to help.


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