How to Speed Up a WordPress Site


Website speed is a critical determinant of online success, influencing user satisfaction, search engine rankings, and overall business outcomes. In an era where users expect instant access to information, a swift and responsive website is paramount. Slow-loading sites risk frustrating visitors, leading to higher bounce rates and diminished engagement.

Moreover, search engines like Google prioritize faster sites in their rankings, affecting a website’s visibility. Beyond user experience and SEO, a speedy website positively impacts conversion rates, with studies consistently showing that faster-loading pages contribute to higher customer retention and increased online transactions. There are four areas which offer the most opportunity for improvement on most sites.

Optimize Images

Optimizing images for WordPress sites is often the single biggest performance enhancement you can make. The general areas to concentrate on are:

  • Choose the right image format
  • Choose the best (for your visitors) compromise between image size and quality
  • Implement lazy loading, especially on images that are “below the fold”
  • Specify image dimensions
  • Utilize responsive design practices ensures that images adapt seamlessly to various devices.

Use Caching

There are various types of caching mechanisms employed to optimize loading times. Browser caching allows frequently accessed resources, such as images and stylesheets, to be stored locally on a user’s device, reducing the need for repeated downloads and accelerating subsequent visits.

Server-side caching, which includes techniques like page caching and object caching, involves storing pre-rendered HTML pages or database query results, cutting down on server processing time. Edge caching involves storing copies of website content on servers strategically positioned at the network’s edge, closer to end-users.

Optimize CSS and JavaScript

There are three primary ways to optimize CSS, JavaScript, and HTML

Minification: This is the process of removing unnecessary characters, such as white space and comments, from code without altering its functionality, in order to reduce the file sizes.

Combine files: Consolidating these files means fewer HTTP requests are needed, reducing load times and improving overall page speed.

Remove unused content: Removing CSS and JavaScript that is not used on a specific page (or anywhere in the site) can sometimes make a significant improvement, especially if using a commercially purchased theme.

Defer or delay JavaScript execution: By postponing the execution of non-essential JavaScript until after the initial page render, users experience faster loads of the part of the page they will initially be interacting with.

Utilize a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

CDNs distribute website content across a network of strategically located servers worldwide, reducing the physical distance between users and the server. This proximity minimizes latency, accelerates content delivery, and significantly improves page loading times.

Anything Else?

There are other techniques that can sometimes improve performance. For instance, older sites that have undergone frequent content revisions, had plugins installed and removed, et. Often benefit from optimizing the database. However, the above listed items will provide most websites with by far the greatest improvement.

The Process

OK, so now that you know a little but about optimizing your WordPress site, let’s discuss how to go about it.

Assess Current Site Speed

The first step to optimizing your speed is to determine your current situation. Various online tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix offer valuable insights. These tools analyze factors like page load times, server response times, and overall page structure. Additionally, they provide actionable recommendations for improvements.

However, they generally only check one page at a time, so you will need to check representative sample of the different types of pages on your site. Web developers can also utilize browser developer tools to assess loading times and identify potential bottlenecks.

Implement the Improvements

Enterprise level websites often manually optimize their sites, but this is a painstaking process that requires multiple full-time Web developers. WordPress users almost always turn to a plugin instead. There are of course, many to choose from. Here are two of the best:

WP Rocket is possibly the best known optimization plugin, and one of the most feared due to its tendency to cause conflicts with other plugins and JavaScript used by your theme. It is an excellent choice if you have the time and ability to configure it properly for your site. The improvements can be dramatic, but if left on the default setting you will be missing out on most of them, and may encounter conflicts. It includes a CDN and integrates well with Imagify, available from the same company at an additional cost. This is the combination we use here at AUQ.

Nitropack combines site optimization, image optimization, and a CDN all in one plugin. It is probably the best choice for those who just want to install it and go. Just as with WP Rocket (or almost any similar plugin) you may encounter conflicts, but if not, further configuration is not essential. The performance probably won’t be quite as good as using a correctly configured combination of WP Rocket and Imagify, and it will cost more, but it will be less work.

The Rest of the Pack

There are many other plugins that are worth considering. WP-Optimize, W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, and Autoptimize all have their proponents, and a new plugin from the people behind Cloudflare named Breeze shows promise.

What’s Left?

Website optimization is not a one time process. You will need to check the performance again at regular intervals. How often depends on how many people have access to your site, and how often changes are made to it. We check our site and our customers’ sites once a month.