6 steps to speed up WordPress websites

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Why do you need to speed up WordPress and why do you need a fast website in general? Well, if you’re a human being in this day and age, you’ve already noticed that people don’t like to wait. You’ve also heard from marketers that our attention span is something like 6 to 9 seconds, which is quite scary1.

In short, when someone lands on your website, the chances they’ll just close the window and never come back are growing exponentially with each passing second they have to wait. So by improving your website speed, people will be more likely to read and navigate through your site. They’ll in turn be more likely to sign up to your newsletter, register for your course or buy your products or services. Now that you’re probably convinced, how do you actually speed up WordPress?

Measure your speed before and after

Runner in starting block - ready to speed up WordPress!
Get ready to speed up WordPress the right way.

First things first, you’ll want to measure your site’s speed before and after taking steps to improve it. This will tell you where you stand on the speed scale and help you check which of the changes you make have an impact and which haven’t. It’s always best to use at the very least two different apps or websites and combine their results because, as you’ll see, there are significant discrepancies between them.

So go ahead and enter your website url in: GTmetrix, Web Page Test, Pingdom Website Speed Test and PageSpeed Insights. That last Google tool won’t give you specific times but it’ll let you know what to target in order to improve your load times. It’ll also give you your Google score when it comes to performance. It’s very hard to say with certainty if this will improve your SEO ranking on Google, but it could (and it certainly won’t hurt it). You can download your checklist below and mark down your times there.

1. Reduce images size

Elephant mom and baby

This is probably the one thing you can do that’s going to give you the biggest bank for your buck. Indeed, heavy images are one of the major culprits when it comes to slow websites. On the websites I create, I have a general rule to try and aim for images that are 100kB or less. And here’s how you can do the same.

The software solution

The best way to reduce images’ weight is a photo editing software like Photoshop (paid) or GIMP (free). If you have one of these, you can go to File > Export > Export As in Photoshop2 and File > Export and then select your format in GIMP. You’ll want to use .jpg or .jpeg format except for images that have transparency that you can save as .png format. If you don’t want to install one of these softwares on your computer, you can still do two things.

The online solution

Firstly, resize your images to the exact dimensions you need. Say you want to use an image in a blog post and that image is 1920 x 1280 pixels. That is quite large and you most likely don’t need such a large image in a blog post. You can use PicResize to resize your pictures to the appropriate dimensions. This will already lower the weight of your images.

Secondly, you can compress your images to further reduce their weight. You’ll find a bunch of different free tools online, but I’ll give you one recommendation that I like. With Compressor.io, you can drag and drop your file and the tool compresses it almost instantly.

And if you want to do both in only one place, you can use a tool like Image Optimizer which has an online version but also a software version. The advantage of the software is that you can optimize your images in bulk.

The plugin solution

There are also plugins that’ll help reduce your images size. This shouldn’t prevent you from resizing and compressing your images before uploading them to your media library. I repeat: do not just upload non optimized images to WordPress because you have a plugin.

The plugin should further enhance your image optimization but shouldn’t be used to do the heavy lifting. One of the most popular plugins, and rightly so, to tackle image optimization is WP Smush. Once installed, you’ll be able to optimize images in bulk (50 at a time with the free plan) and any new image you upload will be automatically optimized.

2. Keep your plugins to a strict minimum

Stack of tools - Too many plugins won't help you speed up WordPress

Disclaimer: I am recommending you use certain plugins to improve your speed in this article and I also recommend you keep your plugins to a minimum. You will have to make choices if you want to speed up WordPress.

I can already hear you scream that you absolutely need all the plugins on your site. But are you 100% sure of this? A WordPress best practice is to have a maximum of 15 to 20 plugins. Over this number, your website might start to load like a snail on Xanax.

There are plugins that you almost definitely don’t need. One excellent example is the infamous « Hello Dolly » that comes with every WordPress install. You can safely deactivate and delete this plugin. For the rest, it’s up to you to check your plugin list and exercise your good decision making skills. Maybe you have plugins serving the same or a very similar purpose. Maybe you can find redundant features.

By running the speed tests I mentioned above before and after activating or deactivating a plugin you’ll see if one or more particular plugin/s is/are slowing down your site. The time differences might be the push you need to say goodbye to some of your beloved plugins.

Can you find another way?

Now just because you delete a plugin doesn’t mean you have to give up on that specific functionality of your website. Most of the time, you can configure things without resorting to a plugin. I’ll give you two examples.

First, I don’t use a Google Analytics (GA) plugin on this website but I do have GA configured and working properly. I used the simple code GA provides and I copied it in my WordPress theme’s head. This helped me get rid of a whole bunch of code that comes with any Google Analytics plugin. In my case, it was slowing down my site.

One other thing I did is password protect my login page. This prevents a very common WordPress attack, a « brute force attack », that targets this page and tries to force its way into your website using any combinations of usernames and passwords. It’s always a good idea to hide this page but you definitely don’t need a plugin to do it. You can very easily configure this from your hosting account or via FTP.

If you’re worried about deactivating or deleting a plugin and have it cause issues on your site, leave a comment below and I’ll check it out for you.

3. Use a lazy load plugin

The purpose of a lazy load plugin is to load only the content (typically images) that is visible to the user. By now you know that images are heavy resources and can take time to load. So if your visible images load first, your visitors can start consuming your content while the rest of your images load. They don’t have to wait for everything to be loaded, even the part of the page they don’t see yet.

Here’s my plugin recommendation: Lazy Load is one of the simplest plugin out there and it’s been developed by the WordPress.com team among others. Just install it and activate it. Zero configuration needed.

4. Use a caching plugin

Yep, another plugin. But this plugin will help you speed up WordPress in a spectacular way! W3 Total Cache is a powerful caching plugin. This means that once a user has visited your site, their browser keeps a copy of your page. It then displays that copy to the user when they come back instead of loading the page from scratch again. This plugin also minifies your code, making it easier for browsers to read, in turn helping your page load faster.

W3 Total Cache can be quite tricky to set up. It comes with tons of different settings and depending on your website size and number of visitors, you might want to enable some but not all. The guys over at wpmudev have made a terrific job creating this guide that goes super in depth on which settings you’ll want to enable or not.

There are other good caching plugins like WP Super Cache for example but W3 Total Cache is a more complete option in my opinion which is why I use it and recommend it.

5. Clean up your database

Cluttered library

I bet there are a ton of unnecessary things polluting your database. These can range from posts revisions to auto drafts and spammed comments. The easy way to clean all this up is to first and foremost back up your database. Do it! Then you can install WP-Sweep and follow the instructions. Once you’ve cleaned up and optimized your database, you can safely delete this plugin.

Depending on the size of your site, the improvement on your speed could be quite dramatic. One thing I’d suggest after you do this is to limit your posts revisions if they’re not already. I can’t imagine any case where having 40 saved revisions of the same post can be useful.

6. Use a powerful hosting provider

This last step is a big one. Your server is already having a huge impact on your website whether you can see it or not. If you’re with a good host who doesn’t cram their servers, your site will load faster, that’s a fact. And of course, the opposite is also true. If you’ve tried all of the above and your site is still loading slowly, then it’s probably time to change hosts.

It sounds like a huge hassle but in reality, most hosting providers offer to transfer your whole cPanel account for you for free when you sign up with them. You’ll only have to change your nameservers where your domain is registered and that’s that. If you really want to speed up WordPress, here is my recommendation.

MDD Hosting is my favorite hosting company. I’ve tested and approved them for my clients’ websites as well as my own. On top of great service, they have some of the fastest servers on the web for shared hosting at affordable price points. As a result, they also are #1 best-rated host on Hostjury (where people leave reviews of hosting companies, TripAdvisor style) at the time of this writing.

Other steps to speed up WordPress

There are other things on top of these 6 tips that’ll help you speed up WordPress. You could use a CDN such as Cloudflare, MaxCDN or CloudFront. Or optimize your site’s content layout. You could even change your WordPress theme and use one that’s specifically built for speed. But my intention was to help you just get started without feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities.


If you need a final push to start speed up WordPress, I’ve prepared a simple checklist you can download by signing up below. You’ll find all the steps described in this article in one easy place as well as a way to keep track of your time improvements.


[1] This is something we can work against by simply turning off the screen we’re glued to and reading a book, for example. Also, as Jerry Seinfeld’s put it, « People have infinite attention if you are entertaining them » which is confirmed every time you binge-watch an entire series on Netflix for 12 hours straight.

[2] In Photoshop, you can still do File > Export > Save for Web but this feature might disappear in future versions of the software and the new recommended workflow is the one described here.

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