Lowering Load Time: 4 Pillars to Site Speed Optimization with WordPress

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Your site needs to be fast, or you can lose potential customers. These 4 considerations can bring big speed boosts for Wordpress sites.

Wordpress is a great tool for publishing, managing and sharing your content. The fact that you can extend it with a range of plugins and themes makes it extremely easy to customize your site.

Unfortunately, custom modifications don't always promote the smoothest possible user experience. When it comes to site speed, your WordPress configuration may be holding you back, and if it does, you're going to drive your audience away. Fortunately, you don't have to give up WordPress to imbue your site with some much-needed vitality.

Here are a few tips that could make all the difference.

Related Article: Move It or Lose It: Tricks for Increasing Your Website’s Speed

Why Is Speed So Critical?

Internet users have better things to do than wait around. If they have to sit on their hands while your blogs, images or videos take forever to load, they're going to click away to other tabs, open up their email or close the browser in sheer frustration.

Sites that are more responsive rank higher on Google search result pages which increases your visibility. They also work better on mobile devices, and with an increasingly greater percentage of users accessing the Web via smartphones and tablets, you can't afford to ignore this market segment. Ask yourself the following four questions:

1. Is That Theme or Plugin Strictly Necessary?

Even if you're looking for a highly-specialized Wordpress style, a quick Google search will reveal that there are probably at least three or four themes to pick from. While many of the themes you'll encounter are visually similar, the underlying code, images and other assets that give them their particular appearance make a big difference in how functional they are.

The same goes for plugins. Some social media widgets are notorious for increasing load times while they send data back to Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms. Alternatives like social media buttons are just as effective if all you want to do is provide a +1, Like or Tweet link and they're not nearly as data-intensive.

Always test your themes and plugins out by trying their demos to gauge how they feel. If you're using free themes, you can take this a step further by applying each option in turn to see how it works with your existing content. As a general rule, bells and whistles are great in theory, but they might slow things down drastically.

2. Can I Lighten My User's Browser Workload?

When a reader accesses your WordPress site, their browser has to load various files. In addition to the content itself, there are usually JavaScript files and CSS themes for each plugin or add-on. Every request the end user's browser makes to your host server represents more time they spend in loading limbo.

Compressing files like images and page templates reduces the amount of bandwidth needed to transfer such resources and thus minimizes loading delays. If you're not sure how best to convert your images or zip your files, you can find a number of plugins that do the job for you.

CSS sprite tools provide similar advantages by joining your site's many small images into a single image that gets loaded all at once instead of in multiple time-consuming requests. The tool then injects CSS into your site's main stylesheet and renders appropriate sections of the unified image as necessary.

When it comes to loading helper files, like scripts and stylesheets, remember that dead space counts. The comments, extra spaces and newlines in your CSS and Javascript files may not do anything, but they add up to additional overhead in each request. Make sure to minify these files using an appropriate plugin that automatically eliminates free data while leaving your original source code untouched. As with CSS sprite techniques, combining your stylesheets and scripts into a single file is a good way to lessen the number of requests your user makes and increase responsiveness.

Browsers also incorporate an important technique called caching, and you should take advantage of it. Caching lets the browser store files it previously retrieved in local memory, so the user doesn't have to download the entire page from scratch if they decide to refresh or navigate elsewhere. You can set caching settings manually for certain file types or use a plugin to help.

3. Is My Server Running Smoothly?

Page loading time isn't just up to the user's machine. Your choice of hosting service impacts how quickly HTTP requests receive responses, so it's important to select a fast, reliable host. Different services have unique strengths and weaknesses. Yours may be great when your site is just starting off, but it could fail to keep up with demand when you eventually go viral. Be choosy about your plan and provider, and don't feel obligated to stick with them when it's time to expand.

You can also reduce server overhead by making use of a CDN, or Content Delivery Network. These are essentially networks of fast hosts that only serve unchanging content. Because they're geographically distributed around the world, they're great for hosting images, JavaScript and CSS themes, like jQuery and Bootstrap, without much distance-driven latency.

Related Article: How to Make Your Website 50% Faster with a Content Delivery Network

4. Have I Stress-Tested the Results?

Some plugins are specifically designed for quantifying your user experience. Installing a profiler plugin in a test setting, for instance, lets you see which of your other plugins are causing numerous HTTP requests or running time-consuming scripts.

After all is said and done, no exercise in Wordpress optimization is complete unless you've actually tried things out under real-life conditions. In addition to using a profiler, try your site on different devices and under different conditions to get a feel for what the typical user might experience. For more tips, check out our other blogs, or get in touch via social media.

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