Improving WordPress Performance: Everything You Need to Know

We want our websites to be fast, but we also want them to be easy to manage. Unfortunately, these two goals are frequently in tension. The fastest website is a static website, where pure HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are stored on the server and can be sent directly to users without any processing. When the web was new, that’s how things were done. As websites became more complex, the overhead of managing static sites became a significant burden. In the modern world, we need sites that can be managed by people without the training of a web developer, which is the motivation behind content management systems like WordPress and Joomla!. While these dynamic applications are significantly easier for the average person to manage, their dynamic nature requires the execution of PHP scripts and large numbers of database calls, which can make them much slower than a static site.

Out-of-the-box WordPress is not particularly slow in comparison to other dynamic platforms, but it is lower than a static site. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-implement techniques for improving the speed of a WordPress site. In this article, we’re going to look at the main strategies for speeding up a WordPress site and show you some straightforward ways to implement them.

Caching

Every time a visitor requests a WordPress page, the site must execute several PHP scripts and make numerous database queries to build the page. Each step incurs a time penalty. By default, WordPress will generate a page on-the-fly for every visitor. However, in many cases, that’s not necessary. If the information on the page hasn’t changed recently, there’s no need to regenerate it. Caching is a process of storing previously generated pages in memory or on disk, so that they can be quickly served to the next visitor.

The two leading WordPress caching plugins are WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache.

WP Super Cache will serve static files to 99% of users, resulting in significantly faster page load times for almost everyone on your site. WP Super Cache is fairly straightforward to use, and if you don’t want to spend a lot of time tinkering with options, it is the best choice.

W3 Total Cache bills itself as a WordPress performance optimization framework and is highly configurable with many additional features such as code minification and HTTP compression. Which of these plugins you choose to use is dependent on the particular needs of your site, but this writer prefers W3 Total Cache because of its extensive set of performance enhancing functionality.

Content Distribution Network

Content distribution networks are similar in principle to caching. But, rather than storing static assets on the server they are distributed to a series of edge nodes around the world. Page requests are diverted these edge nodes, reducing round-trip time by ensuring that assets are served from a location near to the user and also reducing the load on the site server.

Many companies offer a CDN service including MaxCDN and CloudFlare. Once you have selected a CDN provider, the easiest way to hook your WordPress site up to the CDN is with the W3 Total Cache plugin, which includes options for most of the popular content distribution networks.

Lazy Loading Of Images

Usually when a webpage loads, all of its assets are loaded at the same time. For image heavy pages, users can be left waiting while every image on the page loads. Lazy loading loads only those images are currently visible in the browser window. Lazy loading doesn’t actually make a page load any more quickly, but it does decrease the perceived load time from the perspective of the user.

Many popular websites use lazy loading – you’ve probably seen it in action when you quickly scroll down a page and see images loading as they enter the browser window. One of the most popular lazy loading WordPress plugins is BJ Lazy Load, which replaces images with a placeholder until they are required. The plugin will also size optimize images, automatically serving scaled-down images for responsive designs and serving high-DPI images on retina displays.

Hosting

However much you tweak your WordPress site for performance, without the right foundations it will never be as quick as it could be. Hosting has an enormous impact on site performance. The performance impact of a badly optimized hosting platform will overshadow all other speed improvement measures. A good web hosting company will implement performance optimizations such as PHP acceleration, an optimized Web server using SSDs for storage, and an external caching mechanism like memcached, all of which can make a huge difference to WordPress performance.

If you’re going to make the most out of your WordPress hosting and provide users with the best possible experience, these simple additions to a WordPress installation will give you the biggest bang for your buck. All else being equal, improving site performance is an effective way of both improving conversion rates and giving your SEO a boost, so it should be at the top of the priority list for any business webmaster.

About Rachel Gillevet – Rachel is the technical writer for WiredTree, a leader in fully managed dedicated and vps hosting. Follow Rachel and WiredTree on Twitter, @wiredtree, Like them on Facebook and check out more of their articles on their web hosting blog,http://www.wiredtree.com/blog.

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