Article by WHSR Guest
This article was written by a guest contributor. The author's views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of WHSR.
Website speed can have a huge impact on visitor experience. If your webpages load slowly, visitors will leave or read fewer pages. More to the point, research shows that a 1 second decrease in page load speed can reduce your conversion rates by 7%.
Source: Tagman Blog.
WHSR has already reviewed some great ways to speed up your website here. But many of these solutions may be beyond the technical skill of everyday website owners.
So we thought we’d revisit the topic and look for simple steps that everyday website users can implement with limited investments of time and energy.
First, if you haven’t done so, check your site’s loading speed for free using a great loading speed tool from Pingom. This tool will show you if there’s a problem by comparing your site speed to others they’ve tested. If you do have a problem, it will point to where the specific issue may be. Finally, it will give you a baseline to judge any improvements.
The WordPress theme you use can have an impact on speed. Themes differ dramatically in the amount of code they include, how well organized and executed the code is, the number and quantity of images they use, and other factors that affect load speed.
Look for themes that are relatively new or frequently updated, and themes by well-established WordPress developers. If you are open to spending a few bucks, consider investing in a premium theme, especially those build on prominent frameworks like Thesis, Genesis, or Hybrid.
It’s so easy to add WordPress plugins. That’s great. But means most of us end up with dozens of plugins installed on our sites, half of which we’re not really using. Yet, each of the active plugins add more code and scripts that slow down your site.
Your goal should be to keep it as light as possible. Go through your plugin list and deactivate and delete any plugins you are no longer using, and even those you are using but can get along without.
Both spam comments and post revisions can accumulate at incredible rates. Once they do, they slow down database response times for your site.
For post revisions, install and run the Better Delete Revision plugin. This plugin will allow you to delete hundreds, possibly thousands of revisions across your website quickly and easily.
For spam comments, you can delete them manually, or if you have accumulated an unmanageable number of them, you can use a bulk delete plugin like Bulk Comment Remove.
This one is obvious, but oh-so-often overlooked. It’s surprisingly common for website owners to upload images from their hard drives as-is. They’re usually way larger than they need to be.
Before uploading images, optimize them for the web by resizing them to the smallest resolution you need – definitely less than 1000px in the longest dimension. You should also save them as compressed JPEGs at a medium quality level.
If you are a photographer or designer, or have a habit of writing round-up posts, you should also consider reducing the number images you load on any given page.
Finally, once images are uploaded, you can optimize them even further by using WordPress plugins like WP Smush.it.
One of the biggest steps you can take to improve loading speeds is to install a solid caching plugin like WP Total Cache.
This plugin speeds up your site in a few ways. It loads saved ‘copies’ of pages on your site, including all their various elements, rather than running to the database to ask for needed page elements each time the page is loaded. It minifies code and files on your site for faster retrieval. And it helps browsers cache the right site elements locally on your visitors computers so they don’t have to be resent.
While there are a lot of ways you can tweak caching plugins, if you just install WP Total Cache and use default settings, you’ll already be well set.
WP-Optimize and several other similar plugins allow you to easily clean up your databases. As you add content, posts, pages, images, plugins, new themes, and more to your WordPress site, all of these elements at content to your databases that hangs around even it’s no longer used.
This plugin will cleaning out unused and unneeded content. Above I mentioned reducing the number of plugins you use. This is the kind of plugin you can install and run periodically and then deactivate and remove.
WordPress is notoriously susceptible to hacks and malicious code. In addition to creating a huge headache that needs to be cleaned up, malicious code can also cause dramatic speed and performance problems.
Fortunately, there are some great and simple security plugins out there like Bulletproof and WordFence that will protect your site as well as periodically scan it and let you know if any suspicious problems.
Most likely, you’ve added snippets of code for things like Google Analytics or possibly some advertising networks to your site. You can add this directly to your WordPress theme’s header or footer files files, but most WordPress themes now include an easy box for such scripts in their options panels.
If you have the choice, add these scripts to the footer area of your theme (just before the close of the body tag) rather than the header. Since these scripts aren’t needed to view the page content, placing them in the footer allows critical content to load before browsers execute the scripts.
Many articles on website speed mention using a CDN or content delivery network. In simple terms, a CDN is global array of servers that stores your information in various places, and then serves your website content from the server closest to your visitor. Because the server is geographically closer, it’s faster.
Great stuff. The main problem is that setting up and using a CDN generally requires advanced technical skills.
Enter Jetpack and Photon. Photon is relatively new feature of Jetpack that makes using CDN possible for the rest of us. With Photon enabled, your media files will be copied to the same server platform used by WordPress.com, and served to your visitors via WordPress.com’s CDN. Amazingly, they don’t even charge you for the storage or bandwidth you consume.
To get set up, you just need to install and enable the Jetpack plugin. By default, Jetpack comes with lots functionality. Be sure to go through and deactivate or disable any functionality you don’t specifically want. Then just enable Photon.
You will need to have an account with WordPress.com, but that’s also free. Otherwise, this is by far the simplest way to get on the CDN train.
OK, this one is not so quick or simple, but it needs to be said. Most smaller websites are on shared hosting plans. And if you still have a smaller site, shared hosting is a great place to start. It’s both simple and inexpensive.
But if your site is getting more than, say, 10,000 visitors per month, you need to consider more advanced web hosting. The most likely candidates are VPS or cloud hosting.
If you’re in this boat, WHSR has some great articles covering shared, VPS, and cloud hosting. Check them out in this awesome one-page guide.
Have more tips on low-tech ways to improve loading speed? Let us know in the comments.