WordPress is one of the most popular options available for modern webmasters, in part because of its easy usability and nearly limitless options. But if you want to get the most out of your WordPress site, you’ll have to take a few extra actions to improve its functionality and position yourself for hosting a great user experience. In that vein, you’ll need to regularly check on your site loading times, and do everything you can to improve them.
Having a site with fast load times is becoming increasingly important for two reasons: user experience and SEO.
Your visitors have nearly limitless options, and with the instant gratification available to most Internet users, they won’t tolerate sites that make them wait. Waiting an extra few seconds for a page to load could lead to frustration, and ultimately cause your visitors to bounce. If slow load times are a consistent experience, customers might avoid your site altogether.
Site speed is also a ranking signal for Google. While it’s not as important as having a solid content marketing strategy and offsite link building, site speed is still an important component that can affect whether or not you move up in rank over time.
The faster your site is, the higher you’ll rank and the happier your customers will be—so you might as well make it as fast as possible.
The first and easiest step to take is optimizing your site’s images for speed. You should have ample images on your site if you have any kind of content marketing program, and downloading those images can put a serious strain on your download times—if those images aren’t optimized for speed. Fortunately, there are several ways you can make your images load faster and significantly reduce your WordPress site’s loading times.
Resize Your Images
Images are composed of data, and the more data that’s found in an image, the longer it will take for that image to “download” and transfer that data. The higher the resolution of the image, the more data will be present, but it’s possible to reduce the size of your images without sacrificing the quality of them. You can use Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, or some similar kind of photo editing program to decrease your images’ dimensions—just keep the height to width ratio the same. You could also use an automated tool, such as the one found at Picresize.com, to resize your image automatically.
Make sure none of your images are wider than the width of your given page, and aim for a quality between 60 and 70 percent. Keep a copy of the full-size version of your images, too, and never increase the size—it can lead to blurriness and significantly reduced quality.
Use an Appropriate Format
JPGs are one of the most popular types of image files, mostly because of their high quality. But that quality comes with a cost—higher file sizes and slower load times. If you’re interested in reducing that size, and therefore the load speed of your website, try using GIF images instead.
Eliminate the Meta Data
Most images also come with a small store of meta data—superfluous information that’s stored within the image, such as the date the photo was taken or the original author. Unless you’re a professional photographer, this meta data is probably unimportant. You can clear it completely by clicking into “Properties” and clicking “Remove Properties and Personal Information.” This won’t cut your file size by much, but it’s significant enough to be worth the effort.
Another option is to find a better host. Most webmasters, especially new ones, select a web host almost randomly, but the type of web hosting provider you choose can have a major impact on your load times. Some hosting providers offer a feature called “shared hosting,” which splits a dedicated host among multiple recipients in exchange for a lower price point, but pursuing this will result in dramatically slower load times, especially during peak traffic times. Instead, do some research and find a hosting provider that can give you the most for your money. It’s worth the extra monthly cost to get a dedicated host.
WordPress themes come in all shapes and sizes, so much so that choosing a theme can be overwhelming for a new webmaster. You might pick a theme based on instinct, or choose the one that looks the best, but you also need to consider the efficiency of your theme if you’re worried about the load times of your site. The better choices for load times tend to be the themes with simple, undecorated designs. It may not be flashy, but it will reduce your load times significantly—if you’re worried about the design, try and find a framework that meets the two extremes in the middle.
Plugins are what make WordPress so universally admired; there are countless options that can improve your site’s performance and enhance your users’ experience. But having too many plugins can be a nightmare for your site loading times. Do a thorough review of all the plugins currently on your WordPress site, and simply delete any that aren’t essential to your site. You can use the P3 tool, also known as the Plugin Performance Profiler, to quickly determine how each individual plugin affects your overall load time. From there, you should be able to easily decide which plugins are worth keeping and which are not.
Caching plugins are great for site load times because they’re easy to use, but it’s important to understand how they work and to set them up properly. A caching plugin will instruct user browsers to store certain pieces of data of your site in a cache, which will remain for quick retrieval the next time a user visits. This process saves significantly on load times, and streamlines your users’ experience. Don’t spend too much time fiddling around with the advanced settings—the default settings are usually the best option for ordinary sites.
Pingbacks and trackbacks are two sides of the same coin—both are types of notifications that come from external sources that let your site know it’s been mentioned. Both pingbacks and trackbacks immediately update the information in whichever post or page was mentioned, and thus increases the amount of data users need to pull in order to access that post or page (increasing load times along with it). Fortunately, getting rid of pingbacks and trackbacks is a simple process. Head to the Options > Discussion panel on the back end of your site and uncheck the box for “Allow link notifications from other Weblogs (pingbacks and trackbacks).” It’s really that simple! You can also manually delete trackbacks under the “Comments” section of your site’s back end.
With these strategies in place, your site speed should dramatically improve. However, you’ll need to regularly maintain your site with best practices for speed if you want to continue enjoying the benefits of fast load times.