This is a guest contribution from Tracey Jones.
Have you been reading up on all those facts about how sites with slower page load times (more than 3 seconds) have higher bounce rates? Or how Google ranks slow loading pages lower than those that load fast?
If you are alarmed for the sake of your website and its slowpoke page speeds resulting in bad SERP (Search Engine Results Page) rankings, you are right to do so and you need to take action before even your niche trickle of visitors forget that you (and your website) exist.
How to Improve your SEO by Speeding up Your WordPress Website
Fortunately, speeding up a WordPress website and optimizing it for super fast performance is easy as pie. Here’s a guide to walk you through the steps to ensure your website’s SERP rankings aren’t diminished due to poor speed.
Ready. Set. Go:
Measure your Performance
The tools will test you’re a.) Request to above-the-fold rendering time; and b.) Request to full page rendering time.
Once you get your results (both give you a score out of 100), the tools will tell you the potential causes of problem with your loading times.
Google’s Page Speed Insight Tests User Experience on Mobile and Page load speed on both.
Both reports give you ample suggestions to fix the problem areas of your page.
Note: Those with managed hosting need not worry about performance or security or being able to customize their websites any which way they please.
Now the rest of us on using other types of hosting solutions for our WordPress websites need to check the service providers for one very important thing: legitimacy of their claims of “unlimited data transfers” and “100% uptime”.
Those of you on dirt cheap shared hosting should always check the hosting provider (and their customers’ reviews) to see how whether their claims of unlimited storage space, allowed visitors, bandwidth, and data transfers is backed with truth.
You should also check how good the server capacity is and how many instances of downtime or security crisis there have been.
There are two ways to employ caching on a WordPress website:
The first is to use a caching plugin like WP Super Cache (easy) or WP Total Cache (more comprehensive and therefore difficult). The plugins will take care of database, browser, and object caching (W3TC), general (site-wide) and individual page cache settings, etc. You will need to learn a few things about caching in order to use the plugins well.
Now, those know their way around server side scripting can speed up the backend by adding PHP/MySQL server side database caching scripts like Memcached or Redis to improve performance.
Front-end and Media optimization
There are some caching plugins that come with options and features like lazy load filters (loading up images once the user scrolls up/down to them) to help you optimize performance. You can do your part by installing Lazy Load XT plugin for all your media content like images, videos, and iFrames.
Selective loading done, you can also compress images to reduce your page’s weight (obesity is everywhere). Use plugins like EWWW Image Optimizer or WP Smush.it to do it. Note that WordPress has default settings to let you ‘resize’ the images, but that only resizes the image to given dimensions and doesn’t impact the size.
Developers can reduce the number of HTTP requests a page makes by grouping together a large number of images into one single PNG image through CSS sprites. Tools like Sprite Pad let you drag and drop the images and arrange them before generating the corresponding CSS sprite code.
Consider Content Delivery Networks
WordPress websites with moderate to heavy global traffic should seriously consider using a content delivery network to make data deliver speedier across geographical terrains.
A content delivery network’s (CDN) servers work by hooking up to your original server and creating their individual caches of the data (on the original server). These CDN servers are called PoPs (points of presence) and they deliver these cached versions of the data to users across the globe. For example, if your original server is housed in France, a PoP in Japan can serve the cached content to users accessing your site from Japan.
This dramatically boosts your site speed.
Caching services like MaxCDN, CloudFlare, BootstrapCDN etc. let you sign up and use their globally distributed edge-servers (PoPs) to deliver your content to a world-wide audience.
Whet Themes and Plugins
When it comes to WordPress customization, users love the themes and plugins on offer. In spirit of ‘getting their money’s worth’, a lot of people go for themes that pack bundled plugins and visual customizers, without checking how fast they load.
Clean, standard compliant themes are coded with SEO and performance optimization in mind. If your theme is loaded with bloated code and tons of PHP errors, it’s time to get another theme. The themes on WordPress repository are reviewed for compliance with WordPress coding standards, so they’re good to go. Other trusted sources and marketplaces don’t adhere to theme guidelines as strictly as WordPress theme review team does. Check with your developers before buying a theme.
You will also need to weed out bad plugins and whet them all for performance. Plugins like P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) generate test traffic and analyzes all your plugins for individual load time, along with reports that include number of requests made by individual pages.
A good tip to keep in mind is that less is more when it comes to installing plugins. Select only those themes and plugins that serve your purpose, and try to look for those that are frequently updated and have multiple features so that you don’t need separate plugins for those. You should pick only those plugins and themes which are lightweight and optimized for better performance. For example, some social sharing plugins come with internal caching.
Also remember to uninstall a theme/plugin that you don’t need (or will use in future). This is a good practice for both performance and security.
WordPress runs on MySQL database. Over time that database can get crowded with old, repetitive post revisions, spammed or unapproved comments, duplicated and orphaned metadata, and other useless and unwanted crap. This can increase query processing times and give you a bad performance.
If you are a Windows user, you may remember a tool called Disc Defragmenter. You will find that database optimization works on a similar principle.
You can use a plugin like WP Sweep or WP DB Manager to clean your database of rubbish, and without needing get into server-side codes and scripts.
Note: Always backup your database before cleaning it.
Here’s an ‘express’ version of the entire article:
- Measure performance with free online tools like PageSpeed Insight to see where you stand and what you need to improve.
- Check Hosting provider for server space and bandwidth limits.
- Use Caching plugins.
- Optimize your front-end using lazy load filters, image and media compression, and using CSS sprites.
- Medium or high traffic websites (with global user-base) can consider using a CDN to improve performance and speedy data delivery.
- Analyze plugins using P3 for individual load times and only buy standard compliant themes. Keep the number to a minimum.
- Use WP Sweep or similar plugins to clean up your database and reduce query processing times.
Remember that performance and user experience are closely related, but they are not the only factors that make your SEO efforts successful. You may not see an immediate difference in SERP rankings after optimizing your pages for performance, but you are now providing a better experience to your visitors.
So be patient, even though your visitors aren’t.
You’ll see the results.
Tracey Jones is an expert web developer with over 5 years of experience. Currently, she works at HireWpGeeks Ltd. where she assists her clients to Hire WordPress Developer from the team of 150+ experts to customize their WordPress site. She has been actively writing blogs and articles about web technologies in her free time.