If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the hundreds of WordPress sites I’ve worked with, it’s that most of them are slow as hell. But they don’t have to be. Here are some of my personal favorite tips to keeping your WordPress sites running smoothly.
1. Choose the Right Host
I know, I know. This is on every single list. But this really is the single most important aspect to running a zippy site. There are plenty of fantastic hosts out there, but they’re not the ones you see at the top of Google. Many of the world’s biggest hosting companies found success through manipulation and cutting corners.
You’ve got to dig a little bit to find the diamonds in the rough. Be wary of articles called “Top 5 WordPress Hosts” (or something along those lines) heaping praise on companies like SiteGround and HostGator. Oftentimes, these are paid advertisements cleverly disguised as a helpful article. Keep a watchful eye for affiliate links or deals – those are often red flags that something is amiss. ?
Here’s the kicker, though: this list isn’t sponsored. Guaranteed. I’ll tell you right now, these are the hosts to avoid:
- Bluehost: the most popular WordPress host, but not for good reason. My experiences with Bluehost have ranged from 10-second load times to incompetent support to total site lockouts. This company is known for subpar performance and lackluster results. As a general rule of thumb, try your best to avoid any host owned by Endurance International Group (EIG). Even the name sounds insidious.
- GoDaddy: oh man, this one might be my least favorite. I’ve been dealing with GoDaddy for years, and it’s only gotten worse over time. For starters, the company has run some…questionably misogynistic ads over the years. Plus, their former CEO kills elephants for sport. And they kept him on. Yikes. I’ve dealt with 15+ second loading times, manipulative practices, and hidden charges. Avoid this company at all costs.
- Hostinger: it’s that cheap for a reason. Enough said.
All that being said, there are some great hosts out there. Dreamhost is a great company with stellar support and a user-friendly interface, and Flywheel is outstanding if you’re looking to spend a little more. I’ve also heard great things about WPEngine and Kinsta.
I’m not by any means the foremost authority on hosting services. Ultimately, this comes down to your own research. Good luck finding something great! You got this.
2. Use CloudFlare
CloudFlare is a godsend in the world of web design. It’s a free tool that does a bunch of cool techy stuff to make your site run faster. The exact inner workings of this behemoth would take far too long to explain, but the bottom line is this: it makes your site faster through a process known as caching – saving bits and pieces of your webpage in a preformatted file and serving that to your visitors, instead of generating the page from scratch every time.
They do a whole lot more, but their free caching service is plenty for almost everybody.
CloudFlare is free and very easy to set up. There’s plenty of great articles out there showing how you can do it yourself!
3. Use Performance Plugins
There’s some great plugins out there to help speed up your site. And the best part? The vast majority are totally free. Here’s a few of my personal favorites:
- Autoptimize: works in the backend to shorten your code and condense your files. This means less file size for your visitors and a smoother site! Very easy to set up, too.
- WP Super Cache: this is as easy as it gets. Turn it on and watch the magic.
- Asset CleanUp: an advanced plugin for advanced users with advanced results. Enter at your own risk, but the benefits are huge!
- EWWW Image Optimizer: does what it says on the tin! Optimizes and crunches your images on the fly to serve your users smaller files and speed up their experience.
Note: if your host already provides caching, using WP Super Cache or another caching plugin might cause issues.
Now speaking of images…
4. Squash Your Images
One of the biggest speed-killers often I see is that the images are too damn big!
Images take up the majority of many website page sizes. Sending your users a 3MB image is just mean! Don’t do that to their poor, poor computers. That’s where you get that spy-movie trope of the image slowly loading from top to bottom. You know the one I mean.
It’s generally best practice to keep your images below 150kB, and as small a resolution as possible. For example, the picture for this article is 800px wide. There’s no reason to use a 2000×3000 image on your site if you’re only going to display it in a small space!
There’s a fantastic website you can use to squash your photos called Bulk Resize Photos. It’s what I use on a regular basis. Just upload the photo, select a size, and viola!
5. Keep Your Site Fresh
Updating your site is important for many more reasons than just speed. Leaving your site outdated can open it up to countless security vulnerabilities, create incompatibilities with modern browsers, riddle your site with pesky glitches, and ultimately add up to just a really bad time.
But this article is about speed, right? Well, outdated stuff can be detrimental to your site’s speed as well. Plugin and theme updates are generally focused on providing your visitors with a better experience, and oftentimes that means – say it with me – speed boosts. WordPress allows you to set your plugins and themes to auto-update, and I recommend those who don’t check in on their site often turn this feature on. For those who do check in often, make sure you’re keeping an eye on that red number next to the Updates button!
6. Use a Speedy Theme
There are thousands of bloated, poorly-written, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad WordPress themes out there. The trick is to sift through this sea of mediocrity to find those gems.
About two years ago, I switched themes on a client’s site and watched their load time go from 3+ seconds to 500 milliseconds. It really can make that big of a difference. Here’s a few great themes I recommend:
- GeneratePress: a dead simple, lightweight theme that doesn’t get in your way. Extremely popular for news sites and other content-heavy services.
- Hello Elementor: this one’s basically a white screen. The idea with this theme is that it’s made to be a blank canvas for our Elementor Page Builder artists out there. You can customize this theme to your exact liking with little to no code. And it’s hella fast, too. Definitely recommend this one.
WordPress is an art. Part of what I love about it is the flexibility – you are entirely in control of the quality of your site, from the speed to the content to the design. The fun part is figuring out how to do all that stuff well.
If you’re looking for someone to help put together an awesome WordPress site for you that follows all these tips, I know a guy. Hint: it’s me.