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3 Development Tips to Speed Up Your WordPress Site

Corey Pensky - August 31, 2020

When a user visits your website, it is important for the page that they land on to load as quickly and efficiently as possible to provide your user the best experience possible. This can have great benefits for user experience, SEO, advertising efforts, and conversion rates. According to a Google Web.dev post on the importance of page speed, sites such as Pinterest have seen search engine traffic increases of 15% by reducing page wait times. While this case study may be from 2017, all of their major points still hold true today.  Based on the above statistics, as well as our own experience, speeding your website up by even just a couple of seconds could mean the difference between a positive user experience, and a negative one.

When it comes to sites built with WordPress, it may only require a conversation with your developer, installing a few plugins or making sure your host supports specific features, to improve your site speed. To help get you started, I have outlined three tips and techniques below which often have a large impact on improving page speed.

Compress and aggregate your website’s plugin and theme resources

WordPress websites are built with the help of plugins and themes. Most of these add-ons consist of multiple files that are required for the site to work and display the proper information. However, loading a large amount of these files can also slow your site down.

To speed up your website, I recommend combining these separate files into one file, as well as applying a process known as ’minification’. This process removes unnecessary or redundant data from the code, without affecting the functionality of your website. It is important to note that not all files should be included in this process.

I also recommend to rigorously test your website after making these changes and to make sure all aspects of your site are working properly. If any issues do arise, make sure to have your developer on hand to fix the broken files. It is possible that your developer may need to exclude some files from being aggregated and minified.

By utilizing aggregation and minification you are removing bits of unused code, therefore optimizing the speed at which the browser can read the information. WordPress has a large selection of plugins that can help your developer implement the features above. Some website hosts even have WordPress features built in that help manage this automatically without any extra work or plugin installation needed. If you work with your developer to apply these recommendations, you may be able to cut down on the number of files that are required to load the website.

Compress images and apply proper sizing techniques

Images are used on almost all webpages and most of the time they are the largest assets on the entire website. Since they can be the largest assets on the site, it is critical that the images being loaded are well optimized to load quickly. There are two key factors to this.

The first key factor is the size of the image. It is important that the image you are uploading is not oversized for area that it will be used in. We want to ensure the image size is as small as possible, while still fitting the area that it will be used for and maintaining a high resolution. If the area for a given image is 600px wide, then we should only upload an image of that width. If were to upload an image that was, for example 1080px wide. It would no doubt be almost double the file size, yet the image would still only be shown at 600px wide. This would make the page load slower and would not bring any added benefits. Once you have the image sized properly, you now must make sure it is compressed properly for the web.

Image compression is the second key factor. Image compression minimizes the size of the graphic file without degrading the quality of an image to a noticeable degree. There are many tools made specifically to help with this process. Some can be installed as plugins on WordPress, while others can be executed via Adobe Photoshop or a Command Line Interface. These tools will help you compress images automatically and with minimal effort. The goal of this process is to get the image’s file size as small as possible without reducing the image quality. The smaller the image, the more quickly it will load.

As a bonus, most of the WordPress plugins that help with image compression also introduce other speed features such as ‘lazy loading’ and ‘next-gen image formats.’ Lazy loading is the process of delaying the loading of an image until the user scrolls to the area where the image appears. This means the image is not included in the initial loading the website, therefore reducing load times significantly. Next-gen image formats often provide better compression and smaller file sizes then PNG or JPGs. However, one issue is that many web browsers cannot properly load and display these next gen formats. To make sure your website is accessible as possible, it is important to support all browsers by serving standard image formats alongside next gen formats. The good news is that there are several WordPress plugins you can use to solve these issues.

Utilize proper browser caching techniques

When a frequent visitor returns to your site, you don’t want the site to have to load core elements from scratch each time. It can be redundant for the user’s browser to have to load the core elements from the site each time they visit. By leveraging browser caching, your website can automatically store specific elements for a set amount of time on the user’s computer. With this browser caching enabled, the next time the user visits your website, their browser can access those assets much quickly by loading them from the user’s computer rather than over the internet.

The easiest way to implement browser caching on a WordPress site is to use a caching plugin. Alternatively, some hosts have caching features set up by default that require no additional site resources, though most hosts will provide recommendations of plugins that work best within their platforms. Speak with your developer to find out which would be the best solution for you.

By implementing the 3 tips above you should see an improvement in page load times which can have great benefits for SEO, user experience, advertising, and conversion rate as well as other metrics. It is also important to realize that these implementations are quite technical and could have adverse effects to your website if not configured correctly, so it is always important to test new plugins and features on a staging or development environment and well as make sure all changes are performed by a knowledgeable developer. If you need help with your WordPress website, reach out to us at [email protected].

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