There are many techniques that can help optimise your website performance and speed, from image compression and formatting to eliminating render-blocking resources, caching files and more. However, if your website was built with WordPress, then speed optimisation for your website will require a combination of understanding your webpage speed scores, knowing the suggested fixes needed and implementing the correct speed optimisation strategy using plugins and various other methods.
If you are reading this, it is probably because you have a WordPress website or have some sort of connection to wanting to optimise your WordPress website for speed and performance. The simple answer is plugins; however, the issue is also, plugins. Yes, the irony of using WordPress plugins to help increase speed and performance on your website is also the reason your website may have low or underperforming speed scores.
Sounds confusing? You are right, without the correct steps and knowledge you may be harming your website by installing and activating more plugins than helping it. By following this simple step-by-step checklist, you will learn how to test your webpage speed, uncover underlying issues with your website’s performance and find out how to optimise your WordPress website.
Speed optimisation for WordPress can be understood in 4 key areas:
1. Website Testing
First and foremost, you must test your website in order to understand where your performance and speed issues lie. Before testing, you cannot begin to optimise your WordPress website. Think of it like going food shopping at a supermarket, without knowing what you need, you will not know what to buy, and may end up with the wrong outcome.
When testing a WordPress website, there are hundreds of websites that can check certain factors and criteria. Some popular website performance tests are Google PageSpeed Insights, Google’s Lighthouse test, GT Metrix, Pingdom and a lot more. It is important to be consistent with the test you take, they may use different algorithms and focus on different areas of your website, thereby, cross-testing across different platforms may provide inconclusive results.
Due to the comprehensiveness of Google and being the world’s largest search engine, Absolute Websites focuses on website optimisation testing using Google’s performance tests. These tests are both PageSpeed Insights and the Lighthouse test, PageSpeed Insights uses the Lighthouse test to provide performance results, whereas the Lighthouse test is a lot more thorough and looks at SEO, Accessibility and Best Practices, in addition to Performance.
You can learn more about testing your website with Google’s Lighthouse test here.
Now that you know how to test your WordPress website’s performance you can analyse the results to see where you can improve. Depending on the development of your website, common issues usually lie in images, render-blocking resources, and plugin overuse. Images are one of the biggest performance killers for WordPress websites, simply because it is so easy to upload an image on your website, but without taking the time to understand the importance of your images and that they need to be optimised, you can end up with a slow-performing website, affecting your user experience (UX) and your company’s bottom line.
Luckily, we have an article dedicated to learning about image optimisation that can help you know how to fully utilise your images on WordPress, without damaging effects. Briefly, what you need to look out for is the file size of the images, their format, display size, and if compression is being used (via plugins).
The other common WordPress performance issues such as render-blocking resources can be resolved with a bit more due diligence and testing. But it is important to know what your problems are before you can start optimising them. The best practice would be to test your website for speed or performance-related issues, analyse the response of these tests and then begin optimising using WordPress plugins and other methods for the CMS.
Once you have ran your tests and analysed the results, you will be ready to begin optimising your WordPress website. So, what is the first thing you do? Start installing plugins right. Well, before we get to the plugins, let us see if any issues can be resolved without installing added code (that ironically has the opposite effect of what we are after here).
As previously mentioned, images can be optimised without the use of plugins and may save you having to install and active another plugin. If your images are too heavy, then assess your file sizes and formats. Perhaps you have a 400px x 400px column that has an image in it, but that image is 1.2MB! Well, this is probably because the image dimensions are much larger than the indicated column of 400px x 400px, therefore, by resizing your images to the exact dimensions that they are used in, you will see much-reduced file size. Luckily, there are a million and one ways to optimise your website’s images, paid and free.
- Photoshop (Paid)
- Photopea (Free)
- Resize Image (Free)
- Simple Image Resizer (Free)
- Promo (Free and Paid Versions)
It is finally time to talk about WordPress plugins, yes if your website is built on WordPress, it is important to have speed optimisation plugins that can help in a variety of ways. WordPress plugins can help with caching, minification, image optimisation, database optimisation, eliminate render-blocking resources and a lot more. Luckily, because you have tested and analysed your website, you know what you need to do, it is just about finding the right plugins for that, additionally, many plugins are free to use and have optional paid versions.
WP Rocket is a great all-round WordPress speed optimisation plugin. It helps with
- Page and browser caching,
- Gzip compressions,
- Image optimisation,
- CDN support and more.
Due to the all-purpose nature of this plugin, it makes it convenient to use and the user interface (UI) is very friendly for users. Although, this plugin is premium and comes with a price tag of $49 per year.
This plugin is one of the most convenient, easiest and effective plugins to boost your website’s performance on WordPress, oh and it has great free features. With over 3000 ratings and an average score of 4.9/5, this plugin provides a page caching service with a simple click of a button. WP Fasted Cache can provide the following for free:
- Caching (page and browser),
- Gzip compression,
- HTML and CSS minification,
- CDN integration.
Additionally, if you opt in for their premium version, from $59 you can also have:
- Image optimisation,
- Database optimisation,
- Image lazy loading,
- JS minification,
- Eliminate render-blocking resources,
- Font preloading.
WP Super Cache is 100% free, providing WordPress user with a great go-to website speed optimisation plugin. We definitely recommend this plugin if you are just starting out as a beginner due to its simplicity, all you need to do is check a single box and done, you are good to go. Of course, there are advanced settings that can be tinkered with for more effective results. You are able to configure:
- Browser caching,
- Gzip compression,
- Settings to update cache,
- Preload content into cache,
- Settings on how to cache content.
The final step to completing your WordPress website speed optimisation checklist is to review your changes. After your testing, analysis, due diligence and optimisation you can now re-test to check your results, using the same performance test that you ran at the start of your process. You should see better results, especially if you installed plugins that directly fix issues that were listed on your initial website speed performance test. We typically run a couple of tests to get a good average and understanding of website performance issues. If you still have serious issues that are slowing down your website, you may need to look for other solutions that are beyond the control of WordPress plugins. This may be down to your hosting provider, server location, hosting package, or other factors.
Website performance reviews should be carried out on a weekly or monthly occurrence, to make sure that plugin updates, website changes and other happenings on your web pages do not have any major negative effects.
The WordPress Theme Effect
Many WordPress users use bulky and highly functional themes, either one purchased from websites such as Envato or Codecanyon, or free ones listed on WordPress. While these themes may be great in providing everything, you need for your WordPress website, they may have been poorly built and could result in difficulty to optimise. The best practice would be to use vanilla themes that are very lightweight and build functionality on top of those, this gives you more control over the performance and customisability of your website. Themes such as “Hello Elementor”, “Blocksy”, “Astra” and many more fall into this category.