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What Makes WordPress Slow Down And How To Prevent It

Aaron Warner

Lead Developer

Author Image: Aaron Warner
WordPress Slow Down
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Apart from great design, website speed is arguably the number one reason your online business will fail. 

wordpress website speed

In a world of super-fast internet connections and near-constant Wi-Fi, customers don’t just want fast page loads – they demand them. 

Some of this has to do with how we have developed as a species. Thanks largely to technology and constant external stimulation the average human attention span has dropped from 18 to 12 seconds. 

As a result of this most consumers (47%) expect a website to load in two seconds or less, with a 40% drop off rate if it takes longer than three seconds. 

Data suggests shoppers are far less likely to return if they are not satisfied with the speed of a website (Amazon predicted that a 1% slowdown could cost them a monstrous 1.6 billion dollars in yearly lost sales).

There are also compelling reasons to believe Google and other search engines use page load speed as a major ranking factor. Think of it from their perspective: slow speed = high bounce rate = less value for people searching for a specific term. And if Google thinks you aren’t delivering value to your core audience then, boy, you’re in trouble. 

Clearly, the days when you could get away with a mediocre site that kept your customer waiting and endlessly refreshing are long over. 

So we come to the question you’ve been wanting to ask: Why is my WordPress site so slow and how can I stop it from happening?

Read on to find out. 

The Plugin Problem

WordPress is a great platform and one of the major reasons for its success is its plugin ecosystem. Every day skilled developers are adding features and functions to WordPress that you can download and use in your own business. This, of course, is amazing. But it comes at a price. And the price is maintenance. The plugins you download will need updating regularly to keep them working properly. Any lapses in regular maintenance will cause lags in performance and possible security issues. 

how to download wordpress plugins

If you are currently using or intend to use a lot of plugins one of the best things you can do is keep a spreadsheet of all the ones you have currently downloaded. This way you can keep tabs on what needs updating, what is fine, and what is no longer being used and can be deleted. Keeping your CMS as lean as possible – saving only what is necessary – is key to fast performance over the long-term.

Invest Real Money In Web Hosting

It’s always amazing how many people have big dreams for their businesses and then skimp on web hosting. It doesn’t make any sense, especially considering good web hosting is the literal lifeblood of your website performance. 

importance of web hosting

We get it; there are a lot of cheap deals out there for hosting. It’s easy to think you can get away with a more affordable option until you get bigger. However, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Bluntly speaking, cheap usually means slow and terrible service. 

First off, avoid shared hosting. We know it’s cheap but you have no control over who you share the server with, which is a huge red flag from the beginning. Consider a VPS for a nice balance of performance and price. 

You could also check out managed WordPress hosting, which will put your site on a server specifically optimised for WordPress software. By minimising the technical side you can turn your mind to more creative things like design and marketing. 

Optimise Your Database

Databases are prone to clutter in the form of temporary disk space and unused data, often from uninstalled plugins and post revisions. 

how to optimise your website database

Just like the plugin problem above, it’s imperative that regular database maintenance becomes part of your routine. It is the only way to keep it lean and fast over the long run. Fortunately, there are many tools out there that can help you save time. WP-Optimize is a fan favorite.

Whilst you are in cleaning mode you should also look at the wp_options table, which can easily grow bulky and slow down performance. You can work with a professional to do this or do it yourself, using a plugin like Advanced Database Cleaner.

TIP: Remember to backup your site before making any database changes.

Have you read WordPress Gutenberg: What Does The Future Hold?

Optimise Your Images

Most of the bulk on-page is comprised of images. They require significantly more space than CSS and text and so it is important you learn how to optimise them correctly. 

how to optimise your images

You do this via compression. This means minimising the space an image takes up without compromising its quality. You can do this pre-upload, using a site like TinyPNG, or you can use something like ShortPixel, which will automatically optimise images as you add them to your site. For Mac we recommend ImageOptim.

By investing resources to optimise images properly you are giving your customers the best of both worlds – a fast site and great content – and they are much more likely to give you a sale, click your ads etc. Note that with many of these tools you must specify the image compression rate and image dimensions to optimise correctly. 

Another way to cut down time between customer interest and access to your content is to use a Content Delivery Network, or CDN. This allows you to host static files – such as images – on several different servers at once, thus ensuring people who visit your site will receive it from the closest possible location. Amazon Cloudfront (part of AWS) and Cloudflare are perhaps the best known CDNs, so take a look. 

Keep Your Tech Up To Date

It’s no good having optimised plugins and images if your core tech isn’t up to date. Don’t ignore updates from your tech providers. Often they contain powerful new features, optimisations and overall improvements that can help your website perform better. 

updating wordpress benefits

Often, if you have invested in quality hosting (see above), they will notify you if your PHP version is out of date. In your site back end check your PHP configurations and make sure you are running the latest release. If your WordPress version is out of date make sure that is updated too. Running outdated tech slows down your site and can cause potential security breaches, neither of which are worth risking when you can prevent them so easily.

Minifying JSS + CSS Files

It’s fairly likely you’ve never heard the term “minifying” before. That’s because we just made it up. 

why you should minify your database

Joking – it’s been around for years.

Essentially it means removing unnecessary or redundant data, such as unused code, formatting or comments, from a resource, in this case a CSS style sheet. 

Whilst comments and formatting might make code easier to read for humans it makes no difference to the program executing it. And all of those extra lines take up space. So why not get rid of them?

The effectiveness of minifying can run from the fairly minor to the huge. Over the long run – as you add more and more content – it can make a big difference. As a best practice, from now on, remember to minify all of your code and style sheets so they can run without any fluff. 

NOTE: You can still keep the original file with comments + formatting for development purposes – just use the minified file to serve on the website. 

Implementing a caching system

Page caching is one of the best ways to decrease page load on your site. By enabling it you ensure your site has a finished HTML page of your web content available at all times, cutting out the need for WordPress to create a HTML version whenever a visitor requests it. 

implementing a caching system

Because this cuts out several steps between the server and the user it can have a dramatic effect on website speed. 

The plugin that we recommend for this is WP Rocket. If you have a technical background you can also do it yourself, via .htaccess. Make sure you know what you’re doing before messing with that, however. 

Conclusion

Page load speed is one of the greatest determinants of website success. Fortunately, it’s totally under your control. With the right knowledge and maintenance schedules, as well as strategic investing in the right resources, you can build a lightning quick site that impresses Google and delights your customers. Over to you. 

How do you prevent WordPress slow down?