Find out how to configure your WordPress website to ensure quick loading and improve performance. Learn about CDN, image optimization, plugins and other useful techniques.

Internet users are becoming more and more impatient, and when it comes to page loading, human attention span has reduced dramatically: a modern user expects a website to open within 2-3 seconds. What does it mean for you as a website owner? You have not so much time to show your users the content and make them stay on your pages. A slow website means that users can simply abandon it before it even loads.

According to researchers and case studies that involved Amazon, Google and some other huge websites, a 1-second delay in page loading can cause about 7% loss in conversions, 16% reduction in customer satisfaction and 11% fewer page reviews. Therefore, having a slow website means losing potential customers and revenue. Besides, search engines started penalizing slow websites by keeping them down in search results, which means even lower traffic for such projects.

In order to enjoy high traffic, numerous subscribers and huge revenue from your website, you should make your WordPress blog rapid. How to do that? In this guide, you will discover the most efficient WordPress optimization methods to increase website performance and speed it up.

How to Test WordPress Website Speed?

Sometimes starters suppose that their website is quick because it loads normally on their computers. This is a big mistake. As far as you often visit your own website, modern browsers store the content of your website in the cache and automatically prefetch the website as soon as you start typing the address. Of course, your website starts loading instantly.

But a usual user who visits your website for the first time may have completely different experience: it may take an eternity for your pages to open up without you even suspecting that. Besides, users from various geographical locations may have a completely different experience. Therefore, you should check your website’s speed with the help of third-party tools, for instance, Pingdom. It’s a free online instrument that allows checking website speed in various locations.

Ideally, a page load time should be under 2-3 seconds. The faster you make your website, the better. Even a few milliseconds of loading here and there can shave off up to a second of loading time.

What Can Slow Down My WordPress Website?

Although your speed test report will give the minutest details about loading time and consider recommendations for improvement, as a newcomer, you may find it hard to comprehend. However, it’s crucial to understand what slows down your website, because it’s the key to improving performance and making wise long-term decisions.

The main reasons for slow WordPress website loading are the following:

  1. Improper configuration of web hosting server, or a weak server with insufficient power and resources.
  2. Wrong WordPress configuration. If your website does not cache pages, you will overload your server, which can cause slow loading or a total crash.
  3. Huge page size (when pages are full of images and media content).
  4. Poorly coded plugins, or several plugins contradicting with each other causing slow loading.
  5. External scripts (for font loaders, ads, and so on).

Let’s get down to business: read the main recommendations concerning WordPress configuration.

Install a WordPress Caching Plugin

Probably, you didn’t know that, but WordPress pages are ‘dynamic’, e.g. they are built up every time someone visits a page on your website. In order to do that, WordPress processes the requested information puts it all together and shows to the users. This is a multi-step process that can really slow your website down when many people visit your website all at once. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended to use a caching plugin: caching of WordPress website can make it 2-5x times quicker.

How does it work? Caching allows skipping the long process of retrieving information (images, scripts, PHP, MySQL database, etc). Instead of generating pages every time, your caching plugin makes a copy of page after first load and serves it to all subsequent visitors.

There are many decent plugins for WordPress, so you can easily find a suitable one. WP Super Cache plugin is one of the most widespread: it’s already being used by millions of web-developers. WordPress caching plugins are easy to install (step-by-step guides are often provided), and users will see loading speed difference right away. Please, note that if your work with a managed WordPress hosting provider, you don’t need a caching plugin.

Leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Remember that we discussed that visitors from different geographical locations can experience different loading times on your pages? This is due to the fact that the location of web hosting servers can greatly influence website speed. For instance, if your website is hosted in a server that’s in the USA, a visitor from New York will experience faster page loading than a visitor from China.

With the help of a CDN solution, you can boost website loading for all of your visitors. A CDN is a network of servers spread over the world or several key regions. Each server stores static files from your website (images, CSS, JavaScript, stylesheets, etc), and every time a visitor opens your website, he or she is served those static files from a server that is geographically closer. Your own original server also becomes faster, because CDN takes the largest part of the load. Besides, a content delivery network ensures 100% uptime and better security. Installation of CDN for WordPress websites is pretty simple, and there are many guides in the Net.

Keep Your Website Up To Date

Being a well-developed open source project, WordPress is updated often. Every update not only provides new features but also fixes various bugs and issues. Don’t forget to update plugins and WordPress theme, as well. Otherwise, your website can become slow and unreliable, without mentioning a higher security threat.

Use Excerpts on Homepage and Archives

By default, WordPress shows the entire content of every article in your homepage and archives. That slows down your homepages, tags, categories and other archive pages. Another drawback of showing full articles on pages is that users lose interest to visiting the article. That can reduce pageviews and time spent on your website.

In order to boost loading times for archive pages, you should set your WordPress website to display excerpts instead of full content. Go to “Settings” >> “Reading”, and choose showing Summary for each article in a feed instead of full text.

Split Comments into Pages

Your blog posts attract numerous comments? Good news! It means your audience is truly engaged! There’s one disadvantage, though: loading of all these comments can slow down your project. Don’t despair, because WordPress has a built-in solution for that. Go to “Settings” » “Discussion” and choose option “Break comments into pages”. This way, they’ll be split into several pages, and users who don’t want to read comments won’t need to wait for all of them to load.

Don’t Upload Videos Directly to Your WP Website

Yes, you can upload videos directly to WordPress website, and they will be automatically displayed in HTML5 player, but it’s a BAD idea. Why? Because hosting videos costs you a lot of bandwidth. You can easily exceed bandwidth limits and be charged overage fees by your provider, or even have your website show down, even if your plan claims to offer “unlimited” bandwidth. Moreover, hosting videos adds up to backup size considerably, and makes it more difficult for you to restore a website from backup.

Is there any alternative then? Yes! You can use video hosting services like DailyMotion, Vimeo or YouTube and let them do all the work. All in all, they possess enough bandwidth for that! WordPress has a built-in video embed feature which allows copying and pasting your video’s URL into the post, and it will be displayed automatically.

Use a Theme Optimized For Speed

When choosing a WordPress theme for your website, you need to take optimal loading speed into consideration. In fact, some attractive and catchy themes are actually poorly coded and may decelerate your website. Therefore, it’s better to opt for a simpler theme and embed plugins to provide additional features for you instead of selecting a theme that’s bloated with complicated layouts, animations and other useless stuff.

In Premium WordPress theme shops like Array Themes, Themify, or StudioPress, you can find high-quality themes that are optimized for speed. Before you activate this or that theme, read a guide concerning the right installation to avoid mistakes and failures.

Implement a Faster Slider Plugin

Surprisingly, slider is another web design element that can make your website slower. Even if your images are optimized well, a poorly coded slider plugin means your work is done in vain. Soliloquy is one of the quickest sliders so far. You can try different slider plugins and find out which one functions faster in your case.

Deploy a Faster Gallery Plugin

If your website is dedicated to photography, or it’s your portfolio with numerous photos, you’d like to use an image gallery plugin to display all your photos. That’s very beneficial for speed and performance of your website. One of the best options is Modula Gallery – it’s a pretty popular plugin on the market that allows creating attractive image galleries that load pretty quickly.

Split Long Posts into Pages

Practice shows that readers like longer blog posts: they tend to be ranked higher in search engines. They provide more useful information and tend to be more interesting. But if you publish long articles with many images, it can hurt loading times. Therefore, it makes sense, if you split longer posts into several pages. WordPress provides functionality to do that. Just add the <!––nextpage––> tag in your text where you want to split it into the next page. Do it again, if you want to split the next page, too.

Reduce External HTTP Requests

WordPress themes and plugins load various kinds of files from other websites, including stylesheets, scripts and images from external resources (Facebook, Google, analytics, etc.). It’s normal, if you use just a few of them. Many of such files are optimized to be loaded as quickly as possible. But if your plugins make a lot of requests, your website can become very slow.

You can reduce the amount of these HTTP requests the following way: disable scripts and styles, or merge them into one file. If you’re not sure you can do it on your own, find a tutorial on how to disable CSS files and JavaScript.

Reduce Database Calls

In order to perform this step, you need a bit of technical skills and basic knowledge of PHP and template files. There are many poorly coded WordPress themes that ignore WordPress standard procedures and make direct database calls, or many unnecessary requests to a database, which can slow down your server loading it too much.

But even well-coded themes may have codes that make database calls to get blog’s basic information. It’s not always theme developers fault: they cannot find out what language your website is in. But if you use a simple child theme, you can replace database calls with your specific information to reduce database calls. Check your parent theme for instances like that that can be easily replaced with static data.

Optimize WordPress Database

When you used WordPress for a while, you database has collected a lot of data that you don’t need anymore. To boost performance, you need to optimize your database and remove all unnecessary information. That can be easily done with WP-Sweep plugin: it cleans your WordPress database by deleting such things as trash posts, unused tags, etc. and optimizes database stricture in a click.

Limit Post Revisions

Post revisions are another thing that takes space in your WP database. Some WordPress users suppose that revisions may also affect database queries made by plugins. If plugin doesn’t exclude post revisions, it may truly slow down work of your website. To prevent that, limit the number of revisions for each WordPress article. How it can be done? Add this line of code to your wp-config.php file.

define( 'WP_POST_REVISIONS', 3 );

Such code limits WordPress to save only 3 last revisions of your post or article, and other revisions are deleted automatically.

Deactivate Hotlinking and Leaching of Your Content

If you create high-quality content for your WordPress blog, unfortunately, sooner or later it may be stolen. One way it can be done is when other websites serve your images right from their URLs on your site instead of uploading them on their servers. This way they steal your bandwidth, but you don’t get any traffic for that. To prevent that, add this code to your .htaccess file: it will block hotlinking of images from your WP website.

#disable hotlinking of images with forbidden or custom image option
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

Don’t forget to change with your own domain.

Now you know that there’s much that can be done to improve your WordPress website loading. Go ahead and implement these settings to reach perfection!