If your WordPress pages load slowly, you’re losing traffic and conversions before users even see your site.

According to an A/B test run by mega-site Shopzilla in which speed was the only variable, faster pages delivered 7-12% more conversions than their slow counterparts. Google and Microsoft ran a similar test, discovering that a delay of only two seconds decreased user satisfaction by 4%. Not only that, Google’s algorithm gives preference to websites with faster page speed.

Here’s the long and short of it: Fast-loading pages and websites both rank and convert better.
So how do you make sure your WordPress site’s pages are light, speedy, and sending good signals to Google? Our web design experts have compiled some tips and free WordPress plugins to keep load times quick.

Free WordPress Plugins for Improving Site Speed

W3 Total Cache

Make sure your caching plugin is top shelf. We recommend W3 Total Cache for caching the most recent version of your pages and displaying them quickly for users. This significantly increases page load times, as your server doesn’t have to construct the individual components that make up the web page every time someone requests that page on your site.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If your user is in Raleigh, North Carolina, you don’t want to connect them with a server in San Diego, California. Using a content delivery network (CDN) like Amazon Cloudfront ensures your pages and their components (javascript, images, etc.) are served from the closest location based on the user’s location. This reduces “hops,” which lowers latency and results in faster page loads.

WP-Optimize

Keeping your site well-maintained is vital to having a fast page speed. WP-Optimize cleans up unnecessary data that’s dragging your site down, such as spam comments, post revisions and drafts, pingbacks, trackbacks, and unapproved content. It’ll also defrag MySQL and schedule weekly optimizations.

BJ Lazy Load

By default, all images are loaded when a user requests a page. This slows down the critical first few seconds of a page’s load time, at the very time most users will abandon a page due to page load performance. This plugin speeds load times by only loading images above the fold. As the viewer scrolls down, the images begin to load just before coming into view. Images typically make up the heaviest components of a webpage, so performance gains can be quite impressive with this plugin.

Smush.it

Never rely on your WordPress to decrease image weight for you. While an image may appear small on your screen, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s footprint (actual data size) is! Even If you are able to reduce an images weight through Photoshop optimizations, this WordPress plugin can help squeeze that final image weight reduction out for you, and it’s automatic! Always Smush.it!

Revision Control

WordPress is awesome because it saves all your post revisions, ensuring you never face the painful loss of hours of hard work. However, all those revisions, or saved drafts, are still sitting in your database, potentially dragging your site speed. Revision Control allows you to manually set a maximum number of saved revisions. Hint: You seldom need more than four or five.

Plugins: Word to the wise

Be VERY selective. All plugins are not created equal! Also, be sure to deactivate and uninstall older plugins you no longer use. Many plugins add css and javascript files to your web pages. They commonly query your WordPress database on every page load. No longer using that plugin? Deactivate and uninstall it!

Other Ways to Increase Your WordPress Site’s Speed

Choose a Good Host

It may seem cheaper and easier to use shared hosting, but hosting isn’t something to skate by on. A poor host can weigh your site down and even make your site go offline for hours at a time. If you’re interested in getting the maximum performance out of your website, we suggest WP Engine, which is optimized for WordPress installations. If your site was built by a web design company, they may offer hosting as part of a package deal.

Choose a Lightweight Theme

All those flashy extra features and widgets may seem trendy, but a minimalist style yields faster page load times and easier navigation. When working with a web design agency like us, they will likely recommend keeping flashing features to a minimum not because they don’t want to do the work, but because it will negatively impact your website’s performance and slow and even stop your website from ranking in search engine results.

Optimize Home Page for Quick Loading

Home pages tend to be the heaviest and slowest pages on a website. Try keeping a minimalist, clean style. If your theme added plugins that are inactive, remove them. Also, just because your theme came with a large number of widgets, that doesn’t mean you should use them all. Keep the user experience uncluttered, and improve the user’s overall experience by giving them a page that loads quickly. Reduce the number of posts on your homepage, and always show excerpts instead of full posts. A precise, focused home page will increase ease of navigation, speed your load times, and decrease your bounce rate.

Disable Hotlinking

Hotlinking allows other sites to link directly to your images and use them on their own sites. As your site becomes more popular, more people will hotlink to images, leeching your bandwidth and slowing your speed. Here’s the code for disabling hotlinking. Copy and paste the following into your sites .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)example.com/.*$ [NC] RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|jpeg|bmp|zip|rar|mp3|flv|swf|xml|php|png|css|pdf)$ - [F]

Disable Pingbacks and Trackbacks

Having other websites backlink to your site is great for your SEO, and building internal links throughout your own site is important, too. However, all those pingbacks can slow your site down. Don’t worry – a pingback is just there to let you know someone linked to your site. Disabling the pingbacks and trackbacks won’t shut down backlinks, just your notification system. Note – some themes visually display pingbacks and trackbacks in a fashion similar to an articles comments. If this is the case with your selected theme, you may consider leaving this enabled.

-> turn it all off in WP-Admin -> Settings -> Discussion. Just deselect “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks).”

Minimize HTTP Requests

Pictures and charts can increase engagement, but they can also slow down your speed. Don’t overload your page with unnecessary images. If you want to create an image-heavy page, be sure to optimize all images by using Smush.it and BJ Lazy Load to mitigate the initial page load time.

Replace Navigation Images

Speaking of HTTP requests, many themes use images to represent things, such as its RSS feed, navigation points, or links to social venues. Remember, every image on a web page represents a HTTP request (round trip to the server), which increases load times and server loads. Consider replacing theme and navigation images with icons from Font Awesome, which uses vector icons to display these image artifacts. Bonus points, use a service like Fontello to further reduce the footprint of your vector icons.

Minify

For the same reasons you want to crush your page images to a minimal weight, you will want to do the same to your pages javascript and css files. There are many tools online to do this, such as JSCompress and CSS Minifier.

Configure Your .htaccess File

Leverage the browser’s cache for common page artifacts. For those parts of your site that are common and typically don’t change often (css, javascript, jpeg, etc), consider telling the user’s web browser to store these artifacts in its local cache. This way, as a user navigates from one of your pages to the next, or returns to one of your web sites pages, these common page components will be loaded locally from the user’s web browser instead of being requested across the network from your server or CDN. Disclaimer: If you do not have an in-depth understanding of web development, please leave this to the professionals.

You can configure your sites .htaccess file to accomplish this:

ExpiresActive on
ExpiresDefault “access plus 1 month”

# CSS
ExpiresByType text/css “access plus 1 year”

# Data interchange
ExpiresByType application/json “access plus 0 seconds”
ExpiresByType application/ld+json “access plus 0 seconds”
ExpiresByType application/vnd.geo+json “access plus 0 seconds”
ExpiresByType application/xml “access plus 0 seconds”
ExpiresByType text/xml “access plus 0 seconds”

# Favicon (cannot be renamed!) and cursor images
ExpiresByType image/x-icon “access plus 1 week”

# HTML components (HTCs)
ExpiresByType text/x-component “access plus 1 month”

# HTML
ExpiresByType text/html “access plus 0 seconds”

# JavaScript
ExpiresByType application/javascript “access plus 1 year”

# Manifest files
ExpiresByType application/manifest+json “access plus 1 year”
ExpiresByType application/x-web-app-manifest+json “access plus 0 seconds”
ExpiresByType text/cache-manifest “access plus 0 seconds”

# Media
ExpiresByType audio/ogg “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/gif “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/jpeg “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/png “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType video/mp4 “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType video/ogg “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType video/webm “access plus 1 month”

# Web feeds
ExpiresByType application/atom+xml “access plus 1 hour”
ExpiresByType application/rss+xml “access plus 1 hour”

# Web fonts
ExpiresByType application/font-woff “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/font-woff2 “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/vnd.ms-fontobject “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/x-font-ttf “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType font/opentype “access plus 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/svg+xml “access plus 1 month”

Delete Zombie Crons

WordPress uses Cron (a time-based job scheduler) to run many common tasks–for example, saving a revision of a post you are editing. Your theme and many of your plugins are also creating cron jobs that run at different intervals during the day. A common issue is that old theme and out of date plugins may have created cron jobs that are still running today. These need to be cleaned up to prevent them from utilizing valuable and often times expensive database calls. There have been instances where sites with 5-15 second long page loads were the direct result of hundreds of “zombie” cron jobs running, many during peak website hours. We recommend using a good plugin such as WP Crontrol, which lets you analyze what is happening in your WordPress cron system by viewing, controlling, and deleting cron jobs.

Are you ready to check your site speed?

The first step towards developing a faster page load time is to check your current site speed.

You can do that here.

Now, what does your site speed mean? To put it into comparison terminology, Moz states:

If your site loads in 5 seconds it is faster than approximately 25% of the web
If your site loads in 2.9 seconds it is faster than approximately 50% of the web
If your site loads in 1.7 seconds it is faster than approximately 75% of the web
If your site loads in 0.8 seconds it is faster than approximately 94% of the web

Let Our Raleigh Web Design Experts Help

At the end of the day, page load speed impacts search ranking and influences conversion rates. Now that we’ve given you the scoop on crafting a fast website, let us help you make it happen! Our digital marketing and SEO team is standing by, so give us a call at 919-341-8901 or schedule a consultation.