Is your WordPress website slow?
Are you looking for an easy to follow guide to help you make it faster?
Then you’re in the right place. In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to speed up your WordPress website, step-by-step.
After following the steps, you will have a WordPress website that loads in under 3 seconds on desktop and mobile devices, just like my website does now.
Why Website Speed is Important
Have you ever visited a website that takes what feels like forever to load?
You just sit there staring at the screen watching it go round, and round, and round. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
So in the end you get fed up of waiting and hit the back button to go find another website that has what you’re looking for.
Well, that’s exactly how visitors to your website feel when it takes longer than expected to load.
I say longer than expected because studies show that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
If your site doesn’t load before those three seconds are up, they will go somewhere else.
And that’s not all!
Did you know that just a 1 second delay in load time can lead to a 7% loss in conversions? (think email subscribers and sales)
And, site speed is a top Google ranking factor. It doesn’t matter how good your content is. If your site loads slow, it gets ranked lower in the search results.
So basically, if you want more traffic, more subscribers, and more sales, which lets face it, we all do … your website needs to be blazing fast.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Backup Your Website
Before making any changes to your website you should back it up. That way if it unexpectedly breaks, you can restore it.
If you don’t already have a website backup, watch the video below where I show you how to backup your site.
Alternatively, if your site is already backed up, you can skip ahead to step 2.
Step 2: Check Your Website Speed
With your site backed up, next, we will run a site speed test to measure website performance – load time and performance scores.
We will use a free tool called GTMetrix. Watch the video below.
Step 3: Update Plugins, Themes, & WordPress
Plugin, theme, and WordPress developers regularly release updates to improve website performance amongst other things including bug fixes, and security patches.
When you don’t apply those updates, your site can start to load slowly.
Before you move on to the next step, make sure all the plugins, themes, and WordPress files on your site are up to date. This is also important to prepare for the next step.
Note: Before you update anything, make sure you backed up your site in step 1 of this guide. Updates can break a site. More so if it’s not been updated for quite some time.
Step 4: Update to the Lastest PHP Version
Without getting too technical, plugins, themes, and WordPress are written in PHP code. It’s a programming language.
And just like plugins, themes, and WordPress, PHP updates are regularly released. Each release of PHP is faster than the previous version, so updating it will give your website a performance boost.
To see which version is running on your Website, from the WordPress admin dashboard go to Tools >> Site Health >> Info. Scroll down to the server section and click it to open.
As you can see, my demo site is running on PHP 7.0 so it needs updating and so does yours if it’s below PHP 7.4 – let’s go do that now …
But first a warning!
- Make sure plugins, themes, and WordPress are all updated
- Make sure you have backed up your site and database
If you update PHP whilst running an older version of plugins, themes, and WordPress, there’s a good chance your site will break.
Step 5: Install a Caching Plugin
In my experience, on a WordPress website that is poorly optimized, installing a good caching plugin can reduce load time by 50% or more.
Before we talk about the best caching plugins to install, here’s a quick explanation of how caching works to speed up a website.
So. When a WordPress site is not cached, every single time someone visits a page or post, the browser sends a request for information to the website’s server.
The server then has to go searching through the WordPress database looking for all the information it needs to create a HTML file to give to the browser.
Then, the browser downloads the file for the website visitor. It’s a long process that can really slow down your website, and it is unnecessary …
When you install a caching plugin, the plugin creates a copy of the HTML file and serves that to the browser instead, significantly speeding up the process.
There are a lot of caching plugins to choose from, free and paid, but I like to use WP Rocket because it’s not just a caching plugin – it’s a complete kit of site speed tools.
I have used WP Rocket to achieve load times of under 3 seconds my own website (The Blog Mechanic) and websites belonging to clients that I work with.
Watch the demonstration video below to see how fast and easy it is to speed up your WordPress website using WP Rocket.
By the way, the links above are affiliate links so I will get a small commission if you do end up purchasing. It’s at no extra cost to you, and please if you have any questions about WP Rocket, let me know. I’d be happy to answer them for you.
But if you don’t want to use WP Rocket, that’s okay. You can still speed up your WordPress website using free WordPress plugins. It’s not as easy as using WP Rocket and it takes longer, but it’s not impossible.
The free plugins I recommend are:
- HummingBird: for caching, gzip, and cache preloading
- Autoptimize: for minifying and combining JS & CSS files
- a3 Lazy Load: for lazy loading YouTube videos
- Heartbeat Control: to manage the WordPress heartbeat frequency
- WP Optimize: to optimize your WordPress database
Step 6: Optimize Your Images
Unoptimized images are one of the main causes of a slow WordPress website, and it’s likely that you add a lot of them to your content.
If you find that installing WP Rocket didn’t make much difference to the load time or Google Pagespeed score of your website, in my experience, that’s usually because:
- You need to optimize your images and/or
- You need to resize scaled images
If that’s the case for you, you’ll see the recommendations in your GTMetrix results, like this …
We’ll talk more about resizing scaled images in the next step. Right now, if needed, you should optimize your images.
To do that, you can use a photo editing tool like Photoshop, but most people find it easier to use a plugin instead. I recommend a free plugin called Smush.
To get started, install and activate the plugin. See my guide on how to install a WordPress plugin for more information.
Once activated, a new tab named Smush will be added to the bottom of the WordPress dashboard menu.
Go to Smush >> Dashboard and follow the prompts, one of which will be to automatically optimize new image uploads. Turn that on.
Turn Lazy Load off. You don’t need it because we are using WP Rockets Lazy Load feature instead. It’s better.
Upon completion of the setup wizard, Smush will scan your site for images that need optimizing. Click the Bulk Smush Now button to optimize them.
After optimizing your images, run your website through GTMetrix again. Chances are your Google PageSpeed score has improved, and possibly the load time too.
Here’s what happened when I optimized images on the demo site I setup for this tutorial on how to speed up your WordPress website.
Before optimizing images
After optimizing images
As you can see, on this specific website, optimizing images has not improved load time, but it has …
- Improved PageSpeed Score from a C(77%) to a B(86%)
- Reduced total page size by 251KB
On some sites though, sites that have a lot of images to optimize, you’ll likely also see an improvement in load time, too.
Step 7: Resize Scaled Images
When you upload images to your website that are bigger than they need to be, the browser has to download and resize them.
This process slows down the load time of your site and negatively effects Google PageSpeed and YSlow performance scores.
If GTmetrix recommends that you serve scaled images, you should resize them to the suggested dimensions. Watch the video below to learn how:
Need More Website Speed?
So far, we have:
- Backed up your website
- Updated plugins, themes, and WordPress
- Upgraded to the latest PHP version
- Installed the best caching plugin
- Minified and combined CSS and JS files
- Eliminated render-blocking resources
- Lazy loaded images and videos
- Preloaded your site cache and links
- Optimized your database
- Reduced heartbeat activity
- Optimized your images
- Resized scaled images
In most cases, your site will now be loading in under 3 seconds on desktop and mobile devices, with perfect Grade A performance scores.
But if that’s not the case for you … or you just want your website to be the fastest it can possibly be … you should consider moving your site to a web host that’s optimized for speed.
Step 8: Use a Faster Web Host
It doesn’t matter how well optimized your website is. If it’s hosted on an overcrowded server that’s not configured for optimal speed, your site will still load slowly.
Shared servers at a2Hosting are up to 20x faster than competing web hosting providers including Bluehost and SiteGround.
After moving my own WordPress website from SiteGround (a host already optimized for speed) to a2Hosting, my site loads 2.1 seconds faster as seen in the screenshots below.
On SiteGround it loaded in 3.3 seconds:
On a2Hosting it loads in 1.1 seconds:
If you want a web host that’s fast and affordable, with top-notch customer support, I can highly recommend a2 Hosting. And they do free website migrations.
By the way, the links above are affiliate links so I will get a small commission if you do end up purchasing WP Rocket or a2Hosting. The commission is at no extra cost to you, and please if you have any questions about either of them, let me know in the comments box below. I’d be happy to answer them for you.
I hoped you found this guide on how to speed up your WordPress website helpful.