Chances are that if you are managing a website, you’ve got WordPress running behind the scenes. The platform is now powering over 40% of web pages on the internet. However, not all run as well as they should!
An optimized WordPress website can yield a whole host of benefits for your visitors – and ultimately, traffic conversions. This article will explain how you can optimize your site, increase your page speed, and improve your web presence.
Why Optimize Your WordPress Website?
The core premise of optimizing your WordPress website is so your server resources are more efficiently used. It will create a better user experience for the visitor and build a more trusted web presence for your brand.
Is There Anything to Know Before Getting Started on WordPress Optimization?
You’ll need to understand the basic functionality of the WordPress platform. Note that this website optimization process only applies to websites that use WordPress.
Why is WordPress Website Optimization and Page Speed Important?
Even a few seconds in page load times make a difference. Your bounce rate potentially increases by 90% with a little longer load times. Of course, you’ll want as many people to visit your website as possible without them moving away because your website is taking too long to load.
Sites that use WordPress can be optimized to increase page speed without investing in more server infrastructure. Keeping more users on your website means higher chances of conversion on your products and services.
Beginning the WordPress Optimization Process
Before we begin optimizing your WordPress website, you’ll probably want to know the foundations of the process. The frequently asked questions about WordPress optimizations are answered below.
Where Do You Optimize Your WordPress Website?
There are multiple places where you can carry out your WordPress website optimization. This article uses three tools – the WordPress Admin Panel, Pingdom.com, and the Google Chrome browser.
When Do You Perform the Optimization Process?
Pages will always need to be optimized when page load speeds are high. Your website will need a performance check regularly to make sure it’s running at optimum efficiency.
Who is Responsible for WordPress Optimization?
Whoever manages your website is responsible for optimizing the site. The developer behind the page can also be delegated the task.
Let's Get Setup!
There’s not a whole lot to do before performing your WordPress optimizations. However, it is highly recommended that you back up your website before initiating any of these processes.
The optimization procedures will not likely affect anything on your website – but best backup just in case. Sometimes plugins, themes, and server settings are incompatible with your pages and cause unavailability.
If you need to recap how to backup your WordPress website, there’s a guide here. Once that’s done, let’s get ready to optimize!
Start Optimizing by Checking Your Website's Performance
The groundwork is laid by checking how your website fairs in the context of the world wide web. You’ll check its performance metrics through a few accessible tools.
1. If you are testing your website using Pingdom, follow the below process.
Using Pingdom allows users to check their websites using third-party servers. This means that you can check how each page functions from a different part of the world. This will help isolate problems with page speeds such as connectivity, devices, or locations.
To use Pingdom, follow these steps:
- Log on to https://tools.pingdom.com/
- Copy the website URL you would like to test and insert it into the URL field. Then click ‘Start Test.’
- Prioritize checking all the pages most essential to your revenue. These could be your homepage, checkout, product, or sales pages.
- The results will return a table highlighting the key performance metrics of the website you are testing. Those include:
- Performance Grade – This is your Google Page Speed Score, where a higher mark means better performance.
- Page Size – The size of your page indicating the amount of data required for a user to download. Here, a lower number is better for your website.
- Load Time – How long it takes a user to log on to your page under decent network conditions – naturally, less time means better performance. Remember, your page setup may skew this number to be lower than it actually is. Consider it takes a bit longer than suggested.
- Bookmark or save the URL of the results page – you will use this as a reference for website performance later!
2. If you are using a local tool like Chrome’s Performance Audit to test website performance, here’s how to do it.
The local resource helps users get real-time data of your website’s performance on your connection. It can also emulate different devices and connectivity to test your page speeds against user habits.
Using Chrome’s Performance Audit entails the following process:
- Open up Google Chrome using ‘Incognito Mode’ (CTRL + Shift + N), and punch the URL of the website you’re looking to test.
- Once loaded, give the page a right-click anywhere and select ‘Inspect’ from the menu.
- Select ‘Audits’ – if you can’t see this tab, make sure your Chrome browser is the most up-to-date version.
- You are given options to emulate viewing the page from a specific device, as shown below. Choose any presented to you, or if you are unsure, select ‘Emulation Desktop, No Throttling, Clear Storage.’
- After your options are set, click ‘Perform an Audit.’
- You’ll be presented with audit options. Here you’ll only want to tick off ‘Performance’ and then click ‘Run Audit.’
- The audit report will return with significant metrics about your page speed and performance. They include:
- First Meaningful Paint – This statistic shows how long in milliseconds it takes to show ‘meaningful’ content on your website. Lower times mean better performance.
- First Interactive – This is the time it takes for your page to render the minimal functionality. It will identify how long it takes for your buttons, links, and others to become active.
- Consistently Interactive – How long it takes for your website to become fully functional and display all interactive features. Again, lower times are better.
Now We'll Evaluate Your Website's Performance
We’ve tested all your pages, now it’s time to take action if you see that performance could be better. If you are running a low-traffic website, optimizations may not be as noticeable as high-traffic ones.
That’s not to say that an evaluation shouldn’t be performed, though. All websites can use some performance optimizations! So let’s begin evaluating.
1. Reopen your saved URL from the Pingdom results.
Open up the results page that you bookmarked or saved from our initial foray into Pingdom.
2. Check your page’s performance metrics against ideal ones.
The ideal performance metrics for your website are:
- Your load time is less than 3-seconds
- Each page size is less than 3MB
- Performance grades are higher than C
3. Look at the website performance of some of your competitors, and compare metrics.
Are your competitors’ websites running with significantly better performance? You’ll definitely want to take optimization action to at least be on par with them.
4. Review your core performance metrics against recommended numbers and the competition.
If your metrics are significantly off in comparison, or your results are not near the recommended performance numbers – this article will benefit you. Should your website fall within a good performance category, there may not be much else to learn here (though a recap never hurts!)
Continuing to Audit Your Website's Performance Reports
Continue the audit of your website’s performance by reopening your Pingdom results. Here, you’ll make use of some of the metrics presented to isolate and action any areas hindering your page speeds.
First, Locate Your Site's Largest Content
Media like images and videos can be the burden that drags your website down to a glacial load speed. Start by investigating which content is weighing up your pages.
1. Find ‘Content Size by Content Type’ on the results page.
Scroll down to see the files sizes of the different media on your website.
2. Next, scroll to the ‘File Requests’ area and sort the data by ‘File Size.’
Here, you’ll see the individual files that are rendered on your web pages. Sorting them will show which ones cause the most weight.
3. Time to consult your team about the content on your page!
Once you’ve got your list, talk to your team about whether the bloated content is necessary. Ask the questions:
- Do we absolutely need this content?
- Is the content optimized as far as possible?
4. Remove any sizeable content that isn’t imperative to the page.
Can your website do without the content, or can you add something more optimized? If yes – get rid of it. Your page speeds will be better off without the weight
Isolate Tools and Scripts on Your Website That Aren't Being Used
Next, we’ll discover the tools and scripts that are daunting on server resources and judge if they are necessary to our website.
1. Head down to the ‘File Requests’ section and browse around for any files and domains you think are no longer used.
An example of this would be a file request called ‘http://load.sumo.com,’ and you happen to know that your website no longer uses this asset. Remove this, not only for performance reasons but for security ones too!
2. Create a list of potential irrelevant scripts, and consult with your developer about removing them.
List every script and request that you think could be removed from your website. Talk to your developer about removing them, making sure that they aren’t required before action.
If you use Google Tag Manager to run your Tool’s scripts, this task is inherently easier to perform. Not using Google Tag Manager? You can learn about adding it to your WordPress website here.
Find Your Website's Bad Response Codes
The name ‘Bad Response Code’ doesn’t sound fantastic for your website, and that is because it isn’t. A Bad Response Code is a return of a website element that can’t process due to an error. We must find these to optimize performance.
1. Scroll down the section that reads ‘Response Codes,’ and investigate the metrics on the report.
Check over the metrics in the ‘Response Codes’ section. Anything that is not listed under ‘200 OK’ is a potential issue for your website. If all response codes are ‘200 OK,’ there’s no further action required, and you can skip this section.
2. Action any problemed response codes by scrolling to ‘File Requests’ and looking for files with exclamation marks.
If there are some other listed response codes, check the ‘File Requests’ section and find the files highlighted with exclamation mark graphics.
3. List any issues with these file requests, and consult your developer about the following:
- 301/302/307 Redirects – Ask if it’s possible to link these file requests to the final destination and avoid redirects.
- 404 Not Found – Investigate whether the file still exists. There may also be a typo in the file name. Fix if the resource is necessary, or remove the request if not.
Optimize Your Homepage Size With Less Blog Posts
Less is more, they say. While it’s certainly not the case with everything on your website, it is relevant with the number of blog posts being displayed on your home page.
More blog posts on the front page of your website can cause a hefty burden on its load times. You’ll want to limit the number displayed where possible.
1. Open your WordPress Admin Panel.
Log in to your website’s WordPress Admin Panel if it’s not open already.
2. On the menu, click ‘Settings,’ then locate ‘Reading.’
On the platform’s sidebar – find the ‘Settings’ tab, then click on ‘Reading.’
3. Find the field that reads ‘Blog Pages Show At Most.’ Change to as least as possible.
Have a think about how many blog posts the front page could have. Less is better, but you’ll also have to consider the user will be forced to click through multiple pages to discover your content.
Lower the number of blog posts to one that both you and your users will get the most out of.
Reviewing Your WordPress Plugins
WordPress plugins can bring near-limitless functionality to your website. They create interactivity, optimizations, and simple ways to upload dynamic content.
However, they can also consume many server resources, causing your website to be significantly slower. Here, you’ll review whether these plugins are necessary to your cause.
It’s noted that reviewing your plugins is an integral part of your performance and optimization reviews. They also pose security risks, so it’s essential to investigate these every couple of months.
1. Head back to your WordPress Admin Panel.
Open your website’s Admin Panel.
2. You’ll see a ‘Plugins’ tab on the sidebar – click on that.
Back on the sidebar menu, click on ‘Plugins,’
3. Highlight all the active website plugins by clicking the ‘Active’ tab at the top.
By clicking ‘Active’ at the top, you’ll see all the plugins your website is currently running.
4. Review the active plugins and see if there are any your website no longer uses or is irrelevant.
It’s easy to install a plugin then forget it ever existed. Scroll through the plugins the site is using and check their purpose. If they serve no purpose, it might be time to remove them.
5. Tick the boxes of the plugins you no longer use and click ‘Bulk Actions,’ then ‘Deactivate,’ and ‘Apply.’
Tick the boxes of the plugins you can afford to lose. Bomb them all in one go by deactivating through the ‘Bulk Actions’ option.
6. For the remaining active plugins, make sure you update them all.
You will have some plugins that you want to keep running on your website. Most of their updates include performance improvements, so you’ll want to update the remaining ones.
7. Log on to your website to ensure everything is still working as intended!
Everything should be running as expected after your plugin audit. It’s good practice to double-check that there are no issues, though. Log back on to your website and check all the pages are doing what they should be doing.
Using the WordPress W3 Total Cache Plugin to Optimize Performance
The WordPress W3 Total Cache plugin is a powerful tool that can holistically optimize your website. However, it can also cause a host of problems if the environment is not set up correctly.
Before installing this plugin, ensure you are working from a local development environment (staging website, not the live version). Also, backup your website once again anything malfunctions – learn how to backup your WordPress website here.
This section covers everything that would work for standard website settings, but every environment is different. There may be some compatibility issues. Should you face problems with this plugin, contact your developer about installing it.
Finally, if you have any active cache plugins, the W3 Total Cache will struggle to work. Return to the ‘Reviewing Your WordPress Plugins’ section, and look out for any that mention ‘cache,’ removing them in the process.
Now we’ve got that covered, let’s proceed with harnessing the power of the W3 Total Cache plugin.
1. Open your WordPress Admin Panel.
Log in to your website’s Admin Panel.
2. Return to the ‘Plugins’ section, but this time click ‘Add New.’
Where we’ve clicked the section to view plugins before, this time, we’ll be adding a new one.
3. Search for the plugin ‘W3 Total Cache.’
In the search bar at the top of the page, search for ‘W3 Total Cache.’ It should be the first result.
4. Once the plugin returns, click ‘Install Now’ and then ‘Activate’ when the process is complete.
Install and activate ‘W3 Total Cache’ to get it set up on your website.
5. The installed plugin will appear as ‘Performance’ on your sidebar. Click that, and then on ‘Dashboard.’
Once it’s all set up, mosey on over to the dashboard of the newly installed plugin.
6. On the screen, you’ll want to click ‘Compatibility Check’ found on top.
You’ll want to make sure that the plugin is entirely compatible with your current web hosting setup.
7. Be aware of any incompatibilities with your server settings!
Should there be any notification of incompatibilities, contact your service manager or web hosting company for a solution.
8. Now we’ll check the ‘General Settings.’
Under the same ‘Performance’ tab on the sidebar, find ‘General Settings.’
9. Tick off the following settings in this section:
- Page Cache – Enable
- Page Cache Method – Disk: Enhanced
- Should you find your server incompatible with no palatable solution offered by your host, try changing this option to ‘Disk: Basic.’ There’s a chance that the server read the compatibility check as a false flag.
- Minify – Enable -> ‘I understand the risks.’
- A couple things to be noted when enabling ‘Minify.’ This feature works for most websites but again carries a risk of causing your website to malfunction. Furthermore, if you are running any other minification plugins, disable this feature.
- Database Cache – Enable
10. Now save your settings, and purge your caches.
If you are asked to empty the cache, as seen below, you’re free to do that.
11. Again, double-check your website to make sure everything is working as intended.
Naturally, we’ll want to make sure that the plugin is running swimmingly. Check all your core pages to make sure they are functioning. If you find something not working, try disabling some plugin features or the entire plugin. Discuss options for solutions with your web developer.
As a final note for the W3 Total Cache plugin, you’ll want to make sure that caches are purged every time changes are made. There’s an option under the ‘Performance’ tab to ‘Purge All Caches.’ Click that regularly to ensure a better user experience.
Next, We'll Use The Shortpixel Image Optimizer Plugin for Image-Based Content
Considering that image content makes up a significant portion of our websites, it’s in our interest to optimize it. You’ll use the Shortpixel Image Optimizer to ensure your media isn’t weighing down your pages too much.
1. Head back to the WordPress Admin Panel.
Log back on to your WordPress Admin Panel.
2. Add another plugin by going to ‘Plugins,’ then ‘Add New.’
You’ll add another plugin as before.
3. Search for the ‘ShortPixel’ plugin.
In the search bar, you’ll type in ‘ShortPixel.’
4. Install and Activate it when it returns on the results page.
Integrate ‘ShortPixel’ on your WordPress website.
5. Once installed, click ‘Settings’ on the sidebar, then select ‘ShortPixel.’
Head over to the ‘ShortPixel’ options to complete the setup of the plugin.
6. The plugin will then ask you to add an API key or request one. Enter your email address if you don’t have one yet.
If you don’t already have an API key, no problem. Simply input your email address, accept the TOS and PP, then hit ‘Request Key.’
7. After your key has been requested, you should see the ‘Your API Key is Valid’ message.
You’ll see the message below.
8. Select the desired compression settings for content on your website.
Three options are pending on your desired image output – lossy, glossy, and lossless. If you aren’t sure which setting does what, there is a description underneath each selection. ‘Lossy’ is the option that optimizes the best while maintaining quality images.
9. After selecting, click ‘Save and Go To Bulk Process.’
The plugin will now set up to tackle all images on your website.
10. Get the process going by clicking ‘Start Optimizing.’
If you are on the free version of the plugin, you’ll be able to optimize up to 100 images a month. If you are a heavy image user, you may want to select a one-time plan to handle the requests.
Remember, thumbnails are included in the optimization process. Deselect them from the options if you don’t want them actioned.
11. Keep the page open while your images are optimized – it could take a few minutes to complete!
This is the part where you’ll sit back, relax, and watch ShortPixel work its magic. It shouldn’t take too long to complete.
12. After completion, the plugin will present a statistic with an optimization percentage.
After the optimization process is complete, you’ll be given a number showing how much fat was cut off your website. Now your WordPress website is refreshed and faster.
Finally, Re-Test All Your Pages
The last part of your WordPress optimization process is to test all our pages to ensure everything is working. Now, you can check your performance results against your competitors to see the difference you’ve made.
Again, run performance checks and measure the results. Remember, keep your server locations the same when performing a new test to make sure your results are accurate.
With all these optimizations in place, your website’s performance should be noticeably better. Should you still feel that your page speeds aren’t improving – there are a couple things that can be done.
- Implement a CDN – either yourself or a developer can do this
- Change your web hosting plan to a faster one
- Change to a lighter WordPress theme, or design a new one around optimizations
- Hire a web developer to take charge of website optimization
All considered, this article should help with bettering your web presence through WordPress optimization. You can trust that websites that load faster and function quicker will increase traffic and conversion.
Just keep those optimization protocols up!