Over the course of the next five days, you’re going to learn everything that you need to know to speed up your WordPress website. We are giving you a bite-sized action for every day, so that by the end of this week, your website will be faster than ever.
But here’s something important to understand:
You can never outrun your WordPress site’s hosting.
Implementing all of these other tactics will make your site load faster. But if your hosting is slow, your site is never going to load fast unless you move to a faster host.
We know this isn’t a fun thing to hear because changing hosts usually costs time (in the form of migrations) and money (in the form of, well, money).
Don’t worry, though! Faster doesn’t have to mean more expensive — if you shop around well, you can still keep things affordable while using a host that will give you much faster page load times. Plus, your business could benefit from faster loading times and happier visitors. So, shall we?
Which host is the best?
To help you make an educated decision, we ran our own performance tests on a bunch of popular hosts and whittled the list down to just the eight fastest hosts that we could find. If you want to see the full data and check out the rankings, you should browse our full comparison post.
But If you’re in a hurry, we recommend Kinsta or WPX Hosting as the fastest WordPress hosting providers, with Cloudways being an excellent budget option (though it’s a little more technical).
Now, we want to talk about one of the biggest things dragging down WordPress site speed — not using page caching.
In our experience, simply implementing page caching can often speed up sites by 30-40%, especially if you’re starting from cheap shared hosting.
What is page caching?
You might’ve seen this “caching” term before, but it can be tough to understand what it actually means and why it’s so important.
There are different types of caching that WordPress sites can use, but the most important type is called “page caching”.
Normally, when a visitor lands on your WordPress site, your server needs to execute WordPress’ PHP code and query the database for content so that it can “assemble” the finished HTML that it delivers to visitors’ browsers.
However, you don’t really need to understand the technical process of what’s going on behind-the-scenes. All you need to know is that this “assembling” takes time and resources, which makes your site take longer to load.
Page caching lets you skip this whole process by storing the finished HTML for a page in the “cache” and then serving up that finished HTML to each visitor (instead of assembling it each time). The end result is that your site loads a lot faster and uses fewer resources.
Here’s a less technical example to explain how this works:
Let’s say you have a sandwich shop, and you’re getting ready for the lunch rush. With the “regular” WordPress behavior, you need to make each sandwich from scratch. You need to get out the bread, add the meat, add the condiments, etc. That takes time, especially if you have a line of ten people staring at you.
With page caching, you could just grab a pre-made sandwich and hand it to each customer (and the pre-made sandwiches taste just as good in this example!). That’s a lot less work, right? Each customer would get their sandwich faster, and you’d have to do a lot less work.
Page caching offers the biggest return on your investment when it comes to WordPress caching. However, it’s not the only type of caching that you can use on your site.
Another popular option is browser caching. With browser caching, you can “cache” certain static files on a visitor’s local computer so that they don’t need to download them on every single page load.
For example, your site’s logo is going to be the same on every single page, so it doesn’t make sense to force visitors to re-download your logo every time they open a new page. Browser caching lets you avoid that situation, which speeds up your site and also reduces how many server resources are needed for each page load.
How to get your caching in place
Now, all this talk of caching might sound like something really difficult, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are some simple WordPress plugins that let you easily implement both page caching and browser caching with just a few clicks — no technical knowledge required.
While there are several great WordPress caching plugins to choose from, we recommend WP Rocket for beginners because it’s the simplest plugin to set up and it also comes with premium support if you run into any issues. Or, WP Fastest Cache is also a great free alternative if you’re on a tight budget.
You literally just activate the WP Rocket plugin and it will automatically implement page caching and browser caching for you — there’s nothing to configure in terms of caching (though WP Rocket does include lots of other useful performance features, which we’ll touch on in later emails).
Once you do that, you should instantly see a huge improvement in your site’s page load times.
That’s it for today’s email! We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about another huge opportunity to speed up your WordPress site — optimizing your site’s images.
Around half of an average website’s file size comes from images — so if you can find ways to reduce the size of your images, that’ll make a large reduction in your site’s file size and make your site load faster.
There are two main ways to reduce image file size on WordPress — you’ll want to employ both tactics for best effect:
- Resize the dimensions of your images.
- Compress your images.
1. Resize images:
Most WordPress sites only have a content area that’s ~800 px wide. If you’re uploading huge images that are 3,000+ px wide, you’re just adding file size without any other benefits. That is, even if the image is 3,000 px, your visitors will still only see the image as 800 px wide (or maybe ~1,600 px if they’re on a Retina screen).
The solution? Resize the dimensions of your site’s images to the minimum size needed. If you’re not sure where to start, 1,500 px is a good reference that will offer file size savings while still providing a great experience to visitors with high-resolution screens.
2. Compress images:
With image compression, you can use algorithms to shrink the file size of an image without changing its dimensions. There are two types of image compression:
- Lossless – a small reduction in file size with no change in image quality.
- Lossy – a much larger reduction in file size, but it might affect the quality of the images.
Basically — first, you want to resize the image. Then, you want to compress it to get even more savings.
Good news: you can automate this!
Is it a lot of work to resize and compress every image on your site? No! Because you can automate it with some simple plugins. Check out our post where we tested and compared the top image optimization plugins, all of which will automatically resize and compress your images.
If you’re in a rush, we recommend ShortPixel as the best image optimization plugin for most WordPress users.
Once you’ve optimized your images, you’re well on your way to a faster WordPress site. However, there’s still one more thing you can do — lazy loading.
With lazy loading, your site will wait to load images that are outside your visitor’s visible screen until the visitor starts scrolling towards them. Because your site no longer needs to load all of your images right away, it will speed up how quickly your site loads.
As of WordPress 5.5, WordPress includes something called native lazy loading, which means that your images will automatically use lazy loading in most browsers. However, some browsers, most notably Safari, don’t support this feature by default.
To make sure all of your visitors get the benefits of lazy loading, you can use a dedicated lazy loading plugin. If you’re using the WP Rocket plugin we mentioned in the last email, it includes a lazy loading feature that you can activate in the Media settings area. Or, you can also install the free Lazy Load plugin.
So here’s your action plan to optimize how your WordPress site uses images:
- Use ShortPixel to automatically resize and compress your images — or pick another image optimization plugin from our list.
- Activate the lazy loading feature in WP Rocket or install the Lazy Load plugin to make sure all your visitors get the benefits of image lazy loading.