6 minute read | This post contains affiliate links | Updated July 2018
Whether you’re new to WordPress or have been using it for years, at some point, you will need to optimize your page speed to make sure you’re hovering somewhere under the magical 3 seconds of loading time.
If you have never checked your page speed before, it’s a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon. You can see how long it takes to load your page, where your problem spots are and what needs to be improved to get that speed a bit lower.
If you like puzzles, this can become a weirdly addictive pass time, and you should absolutely not gush to your friends about the extra 2 seconds you shaved off your load time.
It’s not my intention to get into the nitty-gritty details of page speed, and why it’s important today, so we’ll go ahead with this article with the understanding that you know what page speed is and why it’s essential. Yea, let’s go!
A word of caution about ‘all in one’ optimization plugins
One of the easiest ways to increase your page speed is by adding WordPress Plugins that will help you optimize your website without having to access your back-end code. Some people have alleged success with optimization plugins that do all the heavy lifting for you.
Personally, I’ve never been able to add something like Autoptimize plugin to my site without it breaking the functionality of sections of it. So for the purpose of this tutorial, let’s stay away from the shortcuts.
Not every system is the same.
When you decide to optimize your page speed, remember that every website is different. Your hosting, theme and pre-existing plugins are going to affect how you speed up your site.
I am running a WordPress site on SiteGround which is the best hosting I have found for WordPress websites when it comes to speed and customer service. I am running a larger theme called Divi by Elegant Themes, which I favour for it’s visual page builder.
If you need your server to be inside Canada, this hosting isn’t for you. If you’re looking for the cheapest/okayest hosting, check out BlueHost. But if you want wicked fast load times for a site using a page builder, SiteGround is my choice for my website and my client’s sites.
I am also running the Divi Builder and Theme by Elegant Themes because it’s my preferred theme for not having to fiddle around with code. I like a page builder that I can navigate like Photoshop for the internet, so this is my theme of choice. However, Beaver Builder is a close second if you want a builder that will work with your pre-existing idea.
First, Test your page speed. Maybe it’s already awesome.
Before you spend a lot of time figuring out what plugins you’ll need to get, you should start by checking your current load time. You can use any of the following websites to check what your current metrics are:
There are lots of different tools to test your page speed, I prefer testing on all three of these so I can feel anxious about my page speed on a multitude of platforms.
Yikes. After a round of edits to add a few new pages, I found myself loading at 4.7 seconds!
Back up your website, for heckin’ sake.
Back up your site before you install any new plug-ins, and always install them one at a time, testing your site in between each new installation.
No beating around the bush with this. There is a high chance you could muck up your site by loading in a bunch of plugins. It’s important to know what you’re adding and test between each one.
Install a backup plugin or check with your hosting provider to see if they include backups of your website.
Google like it’s your job
When you first test your WordPress page speed, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the things that you need to fix on your site.
Take a deep breath, this is actually going to be a lot of fun.
In school, I learned one of the most important things that would help me through my career as a Designer. Find a problem; Google the problem.
Being a site designer has more to do with strategic thinking and design know-how than anything else. When I run into an issue, I use google to find a solution. In WordPress, there is always someone who has had the same problem before and written about it online.
Take one of the first issues showing up on your list and copy/paste it into google.
This will usually give you a clue as to what kind of Plug-in you should be using to fix the issue. One of the first links to come up will often be something from WordPress.org, which is absolutely where you should be going to find a solution. To find a workaround for the issue I ran into above, I copied “Expiration not specified” into google to find the plugin that would solve the problem for me.
If you’re not sure what something means, use the ‘what does this mean’ button.
When you find a plugin that looks like it will help, make sure you check the following:
- The rating. Look at the issues that have come up for other users within the past 6 months. Especially if those complaints include the words ‘crashed my site’.
- The latest update. If it hasn’t been updated in the last 6 months, try to find a better plugin for the job.
- Active installs. Are a lot of people using it? Aim for plugins with at least 10k + active installs when you can.
- Benefits or features. Does it say it’s going to do the thing you had a problem with? Does it look like it will be in conflict with something else on your site?
Install plugin. Test page speed. Install a different plugin.
When it comes to working on your site speed, not every plugin will do the trick. Like I said before, all websites are a little different, and you might need to do some trial and error to find the right plugin for you. Make sure you’re testing your website between each plugin to make sure the one you just installed did the trick. And backup your site periodically when you have made some serious progress that you don’t want to lose.
Clear your cache before you test again
A Cache of your site is a saved version that is shown to people who have been to your site before. Read the attached wiki page to find out more!
I like to test my website as if someone is coming to the site for the first time. So I clear my caches to make sure that GTMetrix has no way of picking up a cached version of the website.
My hosting provider SiteGround has caching included in my hosting plan, so it’s easy for me to click a button and clear my cache between each new plugins.
If you don’t have yours included in your hosting, you might need to find a plugin that’s good for you. After re-testing and adding new plugins, I was able to optimize my page speed to 1.7 seconds.
Sometimes you won’t be able to fix something with a plugin
I was really confused when I saw that something called gzip compression was not enabled for my website. This is a more technical trick you might have to talk to your hosting about. For me, it was a quick support ticket to SiteGround, and they did all the work for me. Depending on your hosting, you might have to do this one yourself.
So if you are confused about something, or it looks like you have to open up your “cPanel” (the insides of your hosting), and that’s not something you’re comfortable with, call your hosting provider. Talk to them until they help you fix it that is literally their job.
Understand that it might just be your Hosting
I have two websites on one server that both run on WordPress and use the Theme Divi. I have hosting like most people on a shared server, which means that the resources for that server are shared with a set amount of other people. With SiteGround, I’ve never had an issue.
If you’re hosting with a really big name company who offers extremely cheap hosting that seems like a great deal (and maybe their name sounds kinda like Schmoo-Schmaddy), then you might have to accept a slower page load because of the number of people who are using the same server resources as your site. If someone on your shared hosting gets a million hits on their site in a minute, it will be slowing down all of the other sites on that hosting.
If you’re finding that no amount of plugins are helping your page speed, try googling your hosting company and see what reviews are saying. You can make a decision from there on if you want to stay with them or not.
Finally, test frequently
WordPress is a beautiful open source platform that changes frequently, so make sure you’re taking time to update your page speed at least twice a year.
When you’re done, let me know what your favourite plugin was that you added to your website. Mine was actually a live chat plugin called: WP Live Chat Support, although I don’t remember what prompted me to install it.