Why Your WordPress Website is Slow (and How to Fix it Fast)

Slow websites lead to lost traffic and revenue. According to Pingdom, load times are directly correlated with bounce rate — the percentage of people who leave your website without visiting more than one page.

More and more people browse the internet on mobile devices, which often have less-reliable internet connections. And not everyone lives in an area with good connectivity. If your website’s load time is long, you’re inaccessible to them.

Regardless of how people find you and what devices they’re using, there’s no downside to keeping your website load time as low as possible. We’re going to explore why your WordPress site may be slow along with some possible remedies.

Speed testing

Since there are so many factors that impact load time, start by running tests to pinpoint the biggest contributors. One popular tool is GTmetrix, which runs two simultaneous tests — Google’s PageSpeed and Yahoo’s Yslow. Each gives you a letter grade and a percentage grade. The GTmetrix summary typically looks like this:

speed-testing.png

Start by checking the “Page Details” section, shown above, which provides important information about your site. The “Fully Loaded Time” indicates the amount of time it takes for a page to completely load in a user’s browser. While there isn’t an official benchmark, you should strive for a load time that’s under two seconds.

Because the proximity of your webserver to your visitors can impact load time, you want your site to be hosted as close as possible to the majority of them. It’s worth noting that the test server, in this case, was in Canada. If your web server is in Europe, then the Fully Loaded Time may not be particularly accurate or representative of what European users experience.

The “Total Page Size” is an excellent initial indicator of performance. According to GTmetrix, the average total page size is 3.25MB. If yours is significantly higher, it could indicate problems. However, every website is different, so consider this in the context of your site purpose and page content.

The “Requests” value is the number of HTTP requests made from the client (you) to the server (your website). In reality, each request is a file to be downloaded — HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or image. Each request takes time to process so, generally speaking, you want this number to be as low as possible; the average number of requests per page according to GTmetrix is 91.

If you’d like to reduce the number of site requests, you can combine CSS and JS files. The WordPress.org repository offers a variety of plugin options that can take care of this for you.

Pagespeed and Yslow results offer lots of useful details, but can also become quite technical. We’ll walk you through simple ways to speed up your site that provide the biggest gains with the least effort.

Start with images

With any performance optimization work, start with the basics. Images are often the largest contributor to a slow website. If you have any images on your website, there are probably improvements you can make to decrease file sizes:

  • Compress your images. Images can either be “losslessly compressed” (so there’s no reduction in image quality) or “lossy compressed” (which reduces image quality). You may be surprised at how much you can compress an image without noticing a significant loss in clarity.
  • Don’t upload an image file that’s larger than you need. If your layout uses an image is that’s 300px wide, don’t upload one that’s 1200px.
  • Use the correct format. Simple icons should be SVGs, anything that requires transparency should be PNGs, and other photos should be JPEGs.
  • Add lazy loading to your site. If you display all your images when your site loads, your website will inevitably serve up pictures that many users won’t even see — for example, images at the bottom of a page that require scrolling to find. Lazy loading means that if an image isn’t on the user’s screen, it doesn’t load. This can have a major impact on your site’s speed. Lazy loading can be a little tricky to set up but, luckily, this functionality is included with Jetpack.

If you want to dive deeper, WooCommerce has a great article on image optimization.

Video and audio

Video and audio are great ways to engage website visitors. Unfortunately, they come at a cost: the files are larger and take longer to load. Unless you want advanced control over your media, consider hosting video and audio externally. There are a variety of services available, with different features and pricing. Hosting video and audio off-site also saves bandwidth consumption, which may lower your site’s hosting costs.

Jetpack provides the most seamless solution for a WordPress site and is completely ad-free. It integrates directly with your media library and post editor, and is optimized specifically for WordPress. Learn more about how Jetpack helps with video hosting for WordPress sites.

Inadequate hosting

It’s important to choose the right hosting provider for your specific needs. A few factors to consider:

  • Where is your audience located? Your website will load faster for users that are closer to your server. Choose a host with servers near your target audience.
  • Shared, cloud, or dedicated? Shared hosting divides servers among hundreds or thousands of websites, and is often the most economical option. It’s usually fine for sites with low traffic. Cloud hosting has become very popular in the last few years and provides guaranteed resources specific to the plan you choose and the ability to scale up or down with ease. This is great if you have a sudden traffic spike. A dedicated server is all yours, along with all the server resources — HDD, CPU, RAM, bandwidth, and more. This is usually the best option for large sites but is more expensive and less capable of coping with spikes in traffic than cloud hosting.
  • What resources do you need? You may not know this initially, and it will change as your website grows. Some resources are easy to calculate but others, such as CPU and RAM, are more complicated because they depend on so many factors. If you’ve grown beyond the shared server stage but are unsure of exactly what you need, cloud hosting may be an ideal choice because of its ability to scale.
  • What version of PHP does your host offer? PHP is the programming language that WordPress is built on. The most recent versions of PHP not only have the latest language features and security updates but also run much faster and more efficiently. You can usually find out what version of PHP you’re running by looking at your web host control panel or installing a plugin like Display PHP Version. If your host is still running 5.6, you need to push them for an upgrade or look for a new solution. Learn more about WordPress PHP requirements.
  • Are you experiencing downtime? If your site frequently goes down, you may have an unstable host and want to change providers. Jetpack Backup helps you migrate your website and provides free downtime monitoring.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

It’s a good idea to have your server close to your audience. But what if that audience is all over the world?

If that’s the case, a content delivery network might help significantly. A CDN takes assets from your server (images, CSS, JavaScript, videos, audio, etc.) and offloads them to a globally distributed network of servers. This means that your assets can be served from locations closer to your users and your site will load faster.

There are many CDNs, each with varying costs. Some, such as BunnyCDN, offer WordPress plugins, but others require manual setup or a third-party solution. Jetpack includes a free CDN called Site Accelerator, which can be set up in just a few clicks.

Caching

Each WordPress site is powered by a database, and every page load involves retrieving information from that database. This not only strains the server, it also takes time to execute. Page caching is a common way to speed up a website — It reduces the number of times that data needs to be fetched from the database.

Page caching means that a static version of your page is saved and served to each user. Many web hosts now include WordPress page caching at a server level. If yours doesn’t, there are good plugin solutions available like WP Super Cache, but note that they require some knowledge and configuration for optimal results.

Plugins and themes

Plugins have their own PHP, CSS, JavaScript, images, etc., so each one you install has the potential to slow down your site. Choose plugins wisely and pay attention to reviews.

To be sure your plugins aren’t negatively impacting your site speed, scan your site with a tool like GTmetrix after installing new plugins to see if it had a significant impact on your speed. And if you find you’re using lots of plugins, you may be able to consolidate by using one plugin with multiple features, like Jetpack. It offers a CDN, image optimization, backups, security, analytics, and many other tools.

You should be especially careful with themes. Feature-packed themes may sound great, but those features come with a lot of code. If you aren’t using all of them, you’re unnecessarily slowing down your site. Again, a simple way of testing theme performance is to scan the theme demo with GTMetrix. While some of the score will be based on how the demo’s server is configured, the number of requests, load time, and page size may be good indicators of speed.

Speed up your site

There’s usually no single cause of a slow WordPress website. Sometimes the problem is obvious, like a slowdown after installing a plugin, but most of the time it’s hard to track down. This is especially true of busy websites that frequently update content and plugins and receive a good amount of traffic.

To keep your website performing well, stick to best practices: regularly update WordPress, plugins, and themes, and consistently monitor any speed changes. Keeping a website running smoothly also involves educating the site’s contributors. Make sure they aren’t inserting huge images unnecessarily, and only grant them the appropriate level of access so they can’t arbitrarily install plugins.

Overall, you can make big speed gains in a few simple steps. Jetpack provides everything you need to quickly fix a slow website.

Learn more about Jetpack speed tools.

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Comments

  1. Hi Joe,
    Great insightful article.

    I will add that disbabling hotlinking also improve the speed of a lagging website speed.

    One thing I also do often on my sites to help with performance is to clean the database every month and also to make sure that each time a plugin is deleted that all plugin codes left in the database is cleaned as sime plugins steal leave junks in your database even after deleting them.

    Like

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