One of the most common questions we get from our customers is “How do I speed up my website?”. A large majority of these customers rely on WordPress to power their websites. As many of you are aware, WordPress is an extremely flexible platform, able to power sites ranging from a personal blog to a high traffic e-commerce website. Whether you’re running a hobby site or a business it’s important to keep your site tuned up and performing as fast as possible.
Back to the original question, how exactly does one speed up a WordPress installation? There is no single fool proof method, as each installation is unique, but there are a number of steps you can take to cover your bases and make sure you’re getting the most out of your site.
Caching is your friend. Probably your best friend.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had customers ready to upgrade to a VPS, or even look at a new platform, before they realized what kind of performance gains they could achieve with a single plugin or code modification on their site. The two most common plugins for caching are W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. Both are available for installation through your WP admin console. While there are a number of configuration options available within each plugin, the most important aspect is the page caching. Enabling page caching will *drastically* reduce the number of PHP requests you’re processing (it caches the requests and serves them statically via HTML instead), and as a direct result the less you rely on PHP the faster your site will be.
In addition to WordPress caching plugins, we do also strongly recommend utilizing Litespeeds caching via your .htaccess file. We cover the benefits of our Litespeed cache in this blog post. For those of you who don’t want to read the whole post, the important takeaway is a WordPress installation using Litespeed cache could perform nearly 337 times faster than a stock WordPress install. And no, that’s not a typo, the numbers are that astounding.
Another optimization you can make is to your actual database. For this, we suggest looking at the WP-Optimize plugin. This plugin focuses on optimizing and cleaning every aspect of your database, and it can be set to run automatically so it’s constantly working to improve your sites performance.
Keep your plugins in check.
The last thing you want to do is load up on plugins. I know it’s tempting, and all those extra features do seem nice (at first), but every plugin you install takes its toll on your overall performance. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely recommend you look around at plugins you may want to use and evaluate the benefits/downsides of each. But at the end of the day if you’re not using a plugin, or it seems to provide little to no benefit, it’s best to do away with the plugin and make it ancient history.
Once you’ve got your plugins installed and you’re confident the site is ready, you’ll want to take a minute and install P3 (plugin performance profiler). What this plugin will do is analyze each of your installed plugins and give you a report about which of them are using the most resources. This is a great tool for identifying what exactly could be slowing down your site, or it may point out a glaring issue with a plugin you didn’t really use in the first place.
Use a CDN and compress, compress, compress.
Compression is another big component to improving pagespeed and load times. By default our webserver (Litespeed) will do gzip compression on most file types automatically, and should you choose to use CloudFlare they’ll also add in their own compression. This results in files being served at a fraction of the size compared to their uncompressed versions, again further enhancing your sites performance.
Choosing the right hosting platform
You can take all the steps in the world to optimize your sites and sometimes it’s just not enough. Sometimes you need more power under the hood, and that’s where an upgrade to a higher tier hosting package comes in. With our hosting, that would be either a semi-dedicated plan or a VPS. Both options offer you more resources (CPU, RAM/memory, disk IO, etc) compared to a regular shared hosting plan, and that may just be the boost your site needs to reach its peak potential. Looking at this another way, if you’ve already optimized your site the best you can and you still need more resources, that means you’re running a very busy and popular website. That’s your ultimate goal, so good work!
Following these steps is a great way to get started with a high performance and scalable WordPress site. Don’t forget though, everyone’s needs are different, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what combination of enhancements and upgrades works best for you.