WordPress is a well-engineered platform for hosting and managing websites, and it’s deservedly become the world’s leading content management system. And yet, while some of its many descendant websites have become bloated and inefficient over time, many others were poorly designed to begin with.
Speedy? Not exactly…
A slow website is detrimental to everyone. It forces consumers to wait before they can view a site’s contents, while the host company’s servers get bogged down with numerous data requests. Worse still, visitors will gradually abandon a site as each second passes without a completely downloaded page. From a client retention perspective that’s pretty catastrophic – sites abandoned in anger are rarely revisited.
The average human attention span has almost halved since the Millennium, which means it’s imperative for websites to display as quickly as possible. Search engines also calculate loading times within their page ranking algorithms, so WordPress performance has a significant impact on a site’s SEO. This means a single second delay in loading times can cost a company 7% of possible conversions.
What, why and how
It’s clearly vital to optimise WordPress performance, but it might not be obvious what to do first. Your own browser will already have cached certain contents of your website, creating a false illusion of speed; foreign or first-time visitors may have very different experiences. Standard WordPress templates are fairly rigid constructs, and it’s often tempting to assume plugins are indispensable.
These are some of the most common causes of WordPress sites running slowly, together with practical solutions to each issue…
Problem: A complex theme has been chosen.
WordPress has numerous website themes, or skins. These are often visually arresting, but their aesthetics may require code that takes time to download and display. There’s rarely a need for a theme to be more than 2MB in size.
Solution: More advanced WordPress users might feel confident streamlining the code to shave off unnecessary data. However, an easier alternative is to reskin the site with a theme that makes fewer HTTP requests to the host server. WordPress has a number of frameworks designed to be as streamlined as possible, including Jannah, Avada and Schema.
Problem: The homepage is cluttered.
Webmasters and administrators often regard a homepage as the primary area of a website. It ends up hosting contact details, product or service information, company profiles and other information better suited to subpages.
Solution: Don’t adopt a single-page website template. Create pertinent subpages rather than cramming every last morsel of information onto the homepage, which should also contain elements like excerpts and previews. Spread information across clearly labelled subpage menus, ensuring inbound links drive traffic here as well as the primary page.
Problem: Desktop sites are prioritised.
It’s a well-known fact that most web traffic is now handled by smartphones and tablets, rather than desktop or laptop computers. Yet some sites still focus on the desktop experience, making them clumsy or hard to use on smaller screens.
Solution: Use a responsive template for mobile-friendly WordPress performance. Replace non-essential elements like cinemagraphs or parallax scrolling with plain backgrounds. Add large and clear menu buttons, avoid outdated elements like Flash, ensure that the most important content appears at the top of each page, and boost readability with a crisp font like Arial.
Problem: Code has become messy and inefficient.
This frequently happens if a team of people developed the site, or if you’ve subsequently tinkered with it. Tracking down the cause of sluggish performance can be challenging.
Solution: Review the code in detail, looking for dead ends. The absence of a canonical URL complicates matters if different versions of the same domain address are used (such as with or without a / symbol at the end). Restricting existing computer code (known as refactoring) means servers and browsers have to do less work to display a web page.
Problem: Caching isn’t supported.
Many websites lack caching support, where a web browser stores elements of a web page in memory for future visits. Rather than manually requesting every element of every page on every visit, cached elements are instantly accessible.
Solution: There are plenty of WordPress plugins designed to support caching. Three of the most common ones are WP Super Cache, WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache. While it’s possible to use these on their default settings, experimenting with advanced options may further boost loading times.
Problem: Too many plugins are running.
In isolation, a plugin performs a valuable function to complement and enhance the standard WordPress platform. Multiple plugins take longer to download and affect overall site performance, often without delivering intended benefits.
Solution: Step one involves investigating which plugins are installed, and ruthlessly purging any obsolete or redundant ones. Then examine existing plugins for unnecessary functionalities, such as social buttons for defunct platforms like Google+. Finally, investigate whether newer alternatives with more efficient code could replace older plugins.
Problem: External scripts are affecting the site.
Like plugins, these gradually multiply over time. Examples of external scripts include font tools and display adverts, neither of which are pivotal to the operation of your website.
Solution: Unless website advertising is keeping your company solvent, consider abolishing it. Static banner ads are reasonably efficient, but GIFs may significantly affect performance. Streaming media should always be paused by default, and never allow a video to autoplay. It can hugely extend loading times, as well as embarrass audiences and encourage site abandonment.
Problem: Large images.
Uncompressed images may be the single biggest cause of slow WordPress performance since every last kilobyte has to be downloaded before the page is complete. For ecommerce or visually oriented sites, this soon becomes a serious burden on user bandwidth.
Solution: Delete unnecessary graphics, and compress photos as far as possible without causing pixellation on high-res monitors. Use batch processing tools like Smush.it to save time, store files as JPGs rather than PNGs or BMPs, and deploy expandable thumbnails. Finally, lazy loading ensures images within scrolling pages only download when needed.
Problem: Untidy databases.
Ecommerce websites are powered by databases that store records and can be interrogated by browsers. However, inefficient databases lead to various issues in terms of response times, and how long it takes to display results.
Solution: Ironically, a number of WordPress plugins can be used to tidy and streamline databases. For example, WP-Optimize removes unnecessary data and cleanses the database while compacting tables on a daily or weekly basis. It also reports on the efficiency (or otherwise) of individual database tables, performing automated clean-ups at scheduled points.
Problem: Inadequate web hosting.
Perhaps your site is hosted by a small company, with limited resources. They might not have servers in different regions to cope with overseas traffic, and they could have an overloaded shared server split between you and other firms.
Solution: At UK2, we ensure your hosting package accurately reflects your needs. Shared hosting is great for small businesses with low traffic requirements, but we will also upgrade you to a virtual private server or even a dedicated server as your company evolves. A VPS is endlessly scalable in response to traffic spikes, and also impressively affordable.