Internet users are getting more and more impatient. In this age of information where there’s so much content out there to grab our attention, there’s high competition to keep it. In terms of organic traffic and search engine optimisation (SEO), if a user has searched for an answer to a question and you’ve got a webpage that perfectly answers that question, you’ll likely be high up the search rankings. But, if users click your link and the page takes ten seconds to load, they’re likely to abort their session and hit that dastardly back button before the page even opens. You’ve lost them before you ever really had them.

Good page speeds are even more important for ecommerce websites, as research has shown that 53% of online shoppers expect ecommerce pages to load in 3 seconds or less, and 19% will bounce after 2-3 seconds of loading time. That’s why it’s so important to keep the page load time of your website as low as possible. There’s also the fact that good page load speeds are a Google ranking factor, and a slow website is punished in the search rankings.

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system, and is used by 62.9% of all the websites whose content management system we know. If you’re running a WordPress website, here are some tips on how to improve page load speed. Plus, for more information on improving page load speeds for all types of websites, you can read our previous blog post on optimising on-page content to improve page load times.

How to speed up a slow WordPress site

1. Test page speed 

The first thing you should do when optimising page speed is to check the current loading times of your main web pages, including your homepage and any pages that experience high traffic. This will give you a starting point to work from, helping you identify what your website needs to reach an acceptable speed for the majority of consumers.

Free performance measuring tools like Website Grader provide speed suggestions in addition to key performance metrics. This will help you implement simple changes that can have a huge impact on your page loading speeds and your overall bounce rate. Make sure you test your page speed regularly to stay on top of this vital metric, and always test your website after you’ve implemented any changes to ensure they haven’t had an adverse effect on loading times.

2. Choose a lightweight theme

WordPress is popular because of how easy it is to customise a theme to build the website that you want. There are over 10,000 official WordPress themes to choose from, and countless others available from bespoke vendors. Although themes that include features like sliders, carousels, parallax scrolling and animations might look cool, it’s worth considering what these extra features are doing to your page load times.

Themes with dynamic content give the web browser more to load, and more requests need to be made to your server. This will cause page load times to slow. So, although they may look pretty, they may end up being damaging to your website’s performance and you should consider this when choosing a theme.

3. Optimise your plugins

Like themes, there’s a wide range of official and unofficial plugins and widgets that give increased functionality to a WordPress website. Again, these plugins can be useful, but all of the extra files that come with plugins can bloat the size of the website and have a drain on page load speeds. Be sure to deactivate and uninstall any plugins that you aren’t using, as they can be consuming resources in the background even if you aren’t actively using them.

There are some plugins out there that can actually optimise your WordPress content and speed your site up. Plugins like WP Super Cache use caching to help serve content to users faster, and WP Clean Up removes redundant data from the WordPress database. Read our overview of plugins that can improve page load times.

Before installing a plugin, always read user reviews to ensure that people aren’t complaining about decreased performance. High-quality plugins are resource-efficient, light on code and regularly updated, and you should only install plugins that are trustworthy and positively reviewed by the community. It’s also a good idea to test page speed after installing any new plugins to check that there hasn’t been a sudden increase in load times.

4. Cache me if you can

Caching is a temporary storage location for copies of data, including files, code, scripts and images. By storing copies of frequently accessed data in a cache, you can improve page load times by taking away server-side processing. Data won’t have to be requested and downloaded again from the primary database (e.g., the server), so it can be retrieved much more quickly.

You’ve likely encountered browser caching or client-side caching before. This is when copies of web pages are temporarily stored or cached in your web browser, so you can load a web page much more quickly when you visit it again in the future. To ensure that certain files on your web pages are cached in each user’s web browser, you need to set cache-control HTTP headers to define browser caching policies, which you can learn more about in our article on VPS caching.

Another type of caching is server-side caching, which is when you install caching software on your server to enable it to store frequently accessed data in a cache. For those who’ve built their website using WordPress, you can install WordPress caching plugins such as WP Super Cache, Cache Enabler and W3 Total Cache to automatically cache pages as static files and turn on recommended caching settings like GZIP compression.

You can also install caching systems like Memcached, Redis and Varnish to improve page load times significantly. Although they all work in slightly different ways, the systems all act as a middle-point between the server and the user. Data is stored in a cache so that the next time a user wants to access the webpage, it can be retrieved from the cache rather than having to go back to the host server. These tools are easy to set up in WordPress and will improve the performance of your website.

5. Choose the right web hosting

How and where your website is hosted also affects its performance. A low-end shared hosting solution is great for small sites with low traffic volumes, but may struggle under the high load of higher traffic volumes. Cloud hosting is the choice for increased performance. Having your site running on a cloud server means that all of the resources are yours and only yours, unlike shared hosting when you’re competing with other websites on the same server for the same resources.

Cloud hosting like CloudNX from Fasthosts gives you dedicated resources so your performance isn’t impacted by other users, and dynamic resource allocation scales your amounts of CPUs, RAM and SSD storage automatically to cope with increased load. This makes cloud hosting incredibly flexible and scalable, so it’s suitable for a wide range of websites with different traffic loads.

Another option is to choose WordPress Hosting, which is a type of web hosting that’s specifically optimised for WordPress websites. For example, WordPress web hosting can offer tailored features, premium plugins and specialised tools, which can all improve the performance and security of your WordPress website. Therefore, if you want to improve the page load speed of your website, WordPress web hosting could give you the boost you need.

6. Location, location, location

CloudNX gives you the option to choose where you want your data to be hosted. Naturally, the physical distance between your customers and your server can affect the time it takes a page to load. If your customers are primarily in Britain, but your data is hosted in the US, then there is a further distance, increased latency, and ultimately slower page load times.

With CloudNX cloud hosting you can choose between data centres in the UK, US, Spain and Germany. This means you can get the best page load speeds for your customers no matter where they’re located, helping you decrease your website’s bounce rate and increase conversions.

7. Content delivery networks

Another way to improve page load times is through use of a content delivery network (CDN). With content delivery networks, website data is stored on geographically distributed dedicated servers at a range of locations around the globe. Each server location, which is called a point of presence (PoP), stores a cached version of the content that’s being requested.

When a request for web content is made, the CDN works out the location of the request and looks for the closest PoP. So, when a user in the US tries to load the website hosted in the UK, instead of the request having to go all the way to the UK server and back, it can just go to the nearest US server in the content delivery network. Again, this decreases the distance the request has to travel, and will improve page load speeds.

8. Optimise images

Struggling with slow page speeds? If you’re using large images on your WordPress website, this could easily be the culprit. We would recommend reducing your image file sizes if you need to improve page load times, but make sure they’re still large enough for users to see clearly.

You can use image editing software like Photoshop to reduce image file sizes. There are also WordPress image optimisation plugins like Smush, or you can use plugins for GZIP compression to further reduce file sizes.

In addition to reducing and compressing image files, you can implement lazy loading to optimise your page speeds. Lazy loading means that only images in the user’s browser window are loaded, and the rest of the images will only load once the user scrolls down to them. Since not all images will be rendered immediately, this can reduce initial page load times and therefore reduce your bounce rate.

9. Clean up your database

Over time, your WordPress database will accumulate old and unused files like data from unused plugins, comment spam and old media files. All of this extra data can slow down your website and take up storage space you need for new pages and content. Therefore, an essential part of website maintenance is tidying up your database by deleting unnecessary files. You can install plugins like Advanced Database Cleaner to identify and delete these files for you, which will be much faster than doing it manually. Using a plugin also means you’re less likely to accidentally delete files you still need.

10. Stay on top of updates

Your WordPress themes and plugins should be running on the latest versions if you want to optimise website speed, security and performance. Therefore, an important part of managing a WordPress website is checking for updates regularly and implementing them when needed. This will help you avoid bugs, security issues and subpar loading speeds.

In addition to themes and plugins, PHP also releases occasional updates that will improve the overall performance and efficiency of your website. PHP is the scripting language that powers all WordPress sites, so it’s very important that you use the latest version for improved speed and stability.

Looking for more advice on web hosting, website building and creating a fantastic ecommerce site? Visit the Fasthosts blog for more tips and how-to guides, or get in touch today for more information on our WordPress Hosting, Cloud Hosting, Dedicated Hosting and VPS Hosting plans.