How to Speed Up WordPress: Ten Easy Hacks to Optimize Your Site’s Performance

Published on January 25, 2023 by Simon Wright

Have you noticed how your website seems to load slower and slower over time for no apparent reason? Or are you new to WordPress and are just trying to create the fastest website possible? Either way, you’ve arrived at the right article, as today, we’ll be looking at why speed is essential to a website, and we will show you ten ways to help speed up WordPress.

Ready to speed up? Great, let’s dive right in!

Why is Speed Important?

Modern life is fast, and it seems to get faster with each passing year. Remember the old days of dial-up internet, where webpages took a month of Sundays to load? It was frustrating back then, but can you imagine people tolerating such speeds nowadays? Of course not!

As the internet has developed, so have people’s expectations. And to ensure those expectations are met, search engines such as Google and Bing place great emphasis on page loading speeds when ranking sites. So, even if you have the best content in the world, Google isn’t interested if it cannot be served up to viewers instantly.

Moreover, plenty of research exists that demonstrates how low people’s tolerance for poor page speed is. In fact, the slower the loading speed, the more people are likely to move on. This is called ‘bounce rate,’ and to put some context to it, this is how the likelihood of visitors leaving a site due to poor speed looks:

Page Load Time Increased Probability of the User Leaving the Page
1 to 3 seconds 32%
1 to 5 seconds 90%
1 to 6 seconds 106%
1 to 10 seconds 123%

That’s depressing reading, right? Thankfully, there are plenty of easy ways to speed up your WordPress website to ensure visitors stay happy and engaged.

Our Ten Suggested Ways to Speed Up WordPress

We’ll now show you ten quick and easy ways to help speed up your WordPress page loading times. Mercifully, all are super-simple to implement, requiring little to no specialist knowledge.

Before starting, we strongly advise you to run a speed check on your site to see its current performance. That will give you a benchmark for determining which speed optimization methods work best and allow you to focus your efforts where needed.

We recommend using a free tool such as Pingdom or GTmetrix, where you simply enter your URL and hit the ‘start test’ button. Shortly after, you will get a detailed report containing all you need to know about the speed of your site, for example:

Now you have your baseline site performance, you can start focusing on making improvements.

1. Ensure You Have Good Quality Hosting

Web hosting is competitive, with plenty of providers vying for your business with deals that seem too good to be true. Going with the cheapest provider may be tempting, but it generally entails shared hosting, where thousands of other websites use the same server bandwidth and resources. That not only means the server will be at full capacity but also your (and everyone else’s) website could be seriously impacted by just one rogue neighbor hogging the resources.

A better option is virtual private server, or VPS, hosting. This is an excellent compromise between the price of regular shared hosting and the abundance of available resources offered by private hosting. With VPS hosting, you get your own dedicated server space and resources, which keeps things as fast and secure as possible. WP Bolt offers excellent WordPress VPS hosting with plans to suit every budget.

2. Shed Unnecessary Plugins

Plugins are great for WordPress users with no coding experience, allowing you to tailor the platform’s functionality to your precise needs. However, they do come at a cost – they can sap speed. And the more plugins ‘bloating’ your site, the more significant the impact on its performance.

Therefore, only use plugins essential to the website, and remove any you don’t use or need. Moreover, when looking for plugins, search for ones with lightweight code. Also, if you have only used a fraction of a plugin’s available features, consider replacing it with one with just the functions you need. You can also try finding a single plugin to do the job of several existing ones. It’s all somewhat of a balancing act, but well worth it given its positive impact on your WordPress website’s speed.

If you feel brave, you can try replacing your plugins with custom code. The WPTuts YouTube channel has an excellent video called “Goodbye Plugins – 8 Ways To Reduce WordPress Plugin Reliance” explaining how to do this.

3. Use a WordPress Theme Optimized for Speed

Just as plugins can bloat your site with code, so can themes. Theme developers often add tons of features to entice you to purchase, but if half of those features never get used, they will just sit there soaking up bandwidth and speed.

As such, use a theme that has been coded efficiently and not loaded with things you will likely never use. Great examples of lightweight themes include Astra and OceanWP.

4. Ensure You Are Using the Latest PHP Version

The WordPress core software has a scripting language called PHP as its base. When you first install WordPress on your host server, PHP is typically installed simultaneously also.

However, WordPress and PHP continue to evolve independently, each issuing updates to patch security breaches, adding new features, and ensuring everything runs as fast and efficiently as possible. However, updating your WordPress installation usually does not automatically update the PHP on your host server, so it may be that you are not using the most appropriate one.

Checking which PHP version you are currently using is easy. Simply log in to your site’s WordPress admin panel, go to Tools > Site Health, and under the ‘Info’ tab, choose ‘Server’:

WordPress currently recommends using PHP 7.4 or higher, so if yours is lower, you probably should consider updating it. Generally, this is done at the server level, and you should check with your hosting provider how to do it. Thankfully, in most cases, it is a straightforward process. However, before doing so, it is worth reading the ‘How to update your website’s PHP version for a faster, more secure website’ of the WordPress Forums.

5. Use a Caching Plugin

Caching is a method of storing important information in such a way that makes it quick and easy to retrieve whenever it is needed. The most popular method used on WordPress sites is page caching.

In simple terms, without page caching, WordPress must dynamically generate HTML to serve page content to each visitor every time they come to your site, which requires considerable server resources.

However, with page caching, the HTML code is stored in a cache, ready to be delivered whenever needed. That means the HTML only needs to be created once instead of every time a visitor comes to the site.

Your hosting provider may include server-level caching, in which case you won’t need to add anything to your site. However, a plugin such as WP Fastest Cache will do the trick if they don’t.

6. Optimize Images

Images are some of the most resource-hungry elements of a website. Unfortunately, many people just add them to their content without considering how big they are data-wise.

Therefore, it’s prudent to optimize all images, at least for speed, but better still, for screen type also. You can do this with a plugin such as ShortPixel, which can help compress images while keeping quality as high as possible. Moreover, Smush can save time by processing pictures individually or in bulk.

If you don’t want to bloat your site with another plugin, optimizing images before uploading them to WordPress is possible using ShortPixel’s web-based image optimization tool.

7. Lazy Load Your Images

Typically, when a web page is loaded, all its images are loaded in one go, regardless of whether they are currently visible on the screen. However, if the visitor never scrolls down the page, the resources expended loading those unseen images will ultimately be wasted.

Lazy loading defers the loading of images on a page until they are likely to be seen. So as soon as the visitor begins scrolling down the page, the pictures just below the visible screen will start to be loaded. That saves considerable bandwidth and server resources, ultimately reducing in significantly improved page loading speeds.

WordPress automatically does this for you, without a plugin, since version 5.4.

8. Hotlink to External Content Sources

If your site uses many images or videos, save them elsewhere rather than storing them on your WordPress host server and embedding links into your content.

For example, store videos at offsite locations such as YouTube or Vimeo and images on Flickr. This media can then be linked or embedded into your content, and whenever someone views it, YouTube, Vimeo, or Flickr’s server resources are used to display it, not yours.

WordPress Forums has an excellent article describing how to embed images from Flickr into your site content, plus it has guidance on embedding videos from sources like YouTube.

9. Don’t Let Others Hotlink to Yours

While we have recommended you hotlink to external content to reduce the load on your own servers, as unfair as it sounds, we also suggest preventing people from hotlinking to your images (and other media) on their sites.

While backlinks are generally good for SEO purposes, the downside is that if they point to pages with lots of images, your servers will generate HTML to serve them on the linking site. To prevent this, cut and paste the following piece of code into the .htaccess file of your WordPress site:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?yourwebsiteurl.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?google.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?bing.com [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif|svg)$ https://media.giphy.com/media/GG0JtaJSVurGTBo72G/giphy.gif [NC,R,L]

Remember to replace “yourwebsiteurl.com” in the third line with the actual URL of your website. Moreover, the URL in the last line points to whatever image you want displayed on the site trying to hotlink your image. In this case, we have linked to a sticker on the Giphy website:

If you don’t fancy adding code to your WordPress, you can get hotlink protection by using specific content delivery network (CDN) services or a plugin such as Hotlink File Protection.

10. Minify Your Code

Our final WordPress speed hack is to minify your code. This reduces the space taken up by HTML, CSS, and JavaScript while keeping all functionality intact. It works by weeding out all unnecessary characters, such as spaces.

We have already mentioned the WP Fastest Cache plugin in item 5 above. The free version of that includes checkboxes in the settings panel for minifying HTML and CSS, while you can also add JavaScript if you purchase the premium version.

If you are an advanced WordPress user, you can instead use a dedicated minification plugin such as Fast Velocity Minify to help shrink your site’s code.

Some Final Words on Speeding Up WordPress

We’ve shown you ten great ways that will help speed up your WordPress. Of course, there are other methods available, but the ones we have listed are some of the quickest and easiest to implement, requiring little to no specialist knowledge or expertise. Even if you were to implement just a couple of them, you would immediately benefit from improvements in your WordPress page loading times.

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