It’s no secret that we love WordPress. We enjoy developing websites with it, it allows us to create great functionality for our clients and they love how simple it is for them to manage their content.
WordPress is not perfect though, no system is, and one of it’s main criticisms is it’s speed. However, I don’t believe this to be an inherent problem with WordPress itself, in fact a fresh install with a bit of content is very fast indeed. Instead, through creating a rich and active ecosystem for themes and plugins, WordPress is subject to bloat, poor optimisation and, for those with little experience, an expectation that combining a theme with a bunch of plugins is ‘just going to work’.
It has been proven a number of times, in a number of studies that the loading speed of a website affects a user’s engagement with it and the amount of time they spend navigating it before they decide to leave and go somewhere else. With any kind of marketing it is important to grab the user’s attention and keep it. A slow site can hurt this concept very easily.
Search engines have taken note of this and have started working site speed into their algorithms, with Google announcing back in 2010 that it would be factoring it into their rankings.
The first step to achieving optimal performance for any site, not just WordPress, is to ensure that you have appropriate hosting. I say appropriate as there is no one ‘right’ solution. Many hosts will offer different packages, with different specs and allowances. Putting a large, feature rich website with a high volume of traffic on low spec hosting is going to produce an unresponsive website almost instantly. By contrast, putting a small, simple site on a dedicated server with everything turned up to 11 is not going to speed up the site, it’s only going to reduce your bank balance quicker.
We will always recommend a hosting package that we feel is appropriate for a project when quoting so there are no hidden cost additions after setting the site live.
The next step is to ensure that the hosting and site are set up to serve content as quickly as possible. We make sure that our WordPress sites use Gzip to compress files when they are sent to the browser, not only speeding up the loading speed of the website, but also reducing the amount of bandwidth used on your hosting. We also make sure that our WordPress sites tell browsers to cache certain resources (such as images for example) so that they are not repeatedly requested from the server, again, speeding up the website (as the resources already exist on the user’s computer) and saving hosting bandwidth.
As I mentioned above, the WordPress ecosystem of themes and plugins is rich and active. While this has an array of benefits for site owners and developers (amateur and professional alike) it is also conducive in allowing those with little or no experience to set up a site using an off-the-shelf theme and a list of plugins as long as your arm.
On it’s own this concept is neither worrying nor damaging, in fact I would encourage anyone to get hold of some hosting and attempt to set up a WordPress site themselves, it is an extremely valuable lesson in how to manage a site from top to bottom and in appreciating the value that we as an agency can offer.
The problem, in terms of site speed, is that many themes and plugins are bloated and combining them without research or experience can be damaging to the performance of a website.
If you do choose to use a pre-built theme, give it a test first. Most theme vendors will have a demo site where you can explore the theme and all of it’s options, so check if that demo is running well.
Following on from the previous point, many themes and plugins will add their own styles and scripts to your website, and if these are not kept in check they can have a big impact on performance.
Combine this theory with compression and browser caching and all of the resources used by your website will be loading as quickly as they can possibly be, speeding up your website, improving user experience and going some of the way to helping your search engine rankings.