Make Your WordPress Site Fast, Lean, and Swift

by Brittany Horton on June 9, 2011

As part of our series about how we developed Tererai Trent’s website prior to her May 20 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, we turn now to considerations we made to ensure her site was fast, lean, and swift.

At Content Solutions, we build the majority of our websites using the popular content management system, WordPress. WordPress is already built with speed in mind. We use this open source software as our base and use themes and plugins to make the website include features and functionality to exactly match what the client needs.

One of the biggest complaints we hear about WordPress sites centers around slow load times. In fact, when we work with people with existing WordPress sites/blogs, 95+% of them indicate speed is the first thing they want to improve on their site.

Your Website’s Speed Matters

How to Improve Website SpeedSpeed (your website load time, which includes your weight and size) is one of the most important factors of your website. Speed is such a factor that search engines even include how quickly your site loads in their search ranking algorithms.

Bottom line: If your website is not fast, you are hurting your search engine ranking.

A main reason search engines are starting to ding you for a slow website is that people rarely will wait around for a page to load. Users will give up before you have even gotten the chance to share your message when your page loads slowly. The folks over at Which Browser? provide some good data about how quickly users will abandon your site if it takes too long to load.

Why Load Time Matters

The slower your website loads, the higher your abandonment rate.

Another important aspect of having a fast website is that it also helps keep down your bandwidth and compute cycles. The faster and leaner your website is, the lower your bandwidth and compute cycles will be. As Chris let us know in Preparing for the Oprah Effect, an IT Tale, keeping your bandwidth and compute cycles in check is important when preparing for high traffic on your website.

Speed up Your Website’s Load Time

Laying the Foundation

When you’re designing your website, we recommend you consult with someone who has experience in designing and developing WordPress sites. The reason you’ll want to go with an experienced professional, whether it be us or someone else, is that, while WordPress is a free download and many plugins are free, they don’t always like to play well together. What looks good on the front end doesn’t always run smoothly on the back end. Ultimately a seasoned design and development team will save you money and will ensure your website is as lean, and therefore as fast, as possible.

You also want to ensure that your website is hosted by a reputable hosting provider, we use and recommend Rackspace Hosting. Chris will go into the importance of your hosting company in detail in a future post.

Helpful Tips to Improve your WordPress Website Speed

For Tererai’s website, we first installed WordPress, and built a child theme based off their default theme, Twenty Ten. We kept it simple because this allowed us to keep the website lean by not adding any un-needed theme files. We only added two files for the theme, and 3 theme images (This does not include the images within the pages of the website, only the theme images). We made  sure to use images optimized for web, like we talked about in our post, The Basics of Preparing an Image for the Web. When your images are small and do not have to be re-sized by the browser, it helps to keep your site at a faster load time.

Keep it simple. That is the best tip we can ever provide to keeping a website lean, simplicity is the key. Simple content, simple images, and simple requests. First, you don’t want to overload your users, along with not wanting to overload the servers. The more complicated your website, the slower it will load. A website that has 5 basic pages, one to three sidebar widgets, and one photo gallery is going to take less time to load than a website that has 80 something pages, tons of image galleries, and multiple sidebar widgets chock full of loadable content.

Helpful Plugins to Improve your WordPress Website Speed

One of the things you want to always make sure to include on your WordPress website to help improve your speed and lean-ness, is a cache plugin. We prefer Quick Cache, we have run into fewer loading errors when using this cache plugin compared to WP Super Cache. A cache plugin is going to compress your websites files and images to help improve your page load time. This plugin helps to make your site very lean and swift. A good tip on cache plugins, or any caching, is to make sure you only turn cache on after development on your site is complete. If you have cache on and are making developmental changes, you may not see your changes take effect, as you may be looking at a cache version of your site. In this case, you can go into your control panel and in most cases, clear your cache, you will then be able to see your most recent changes. A proper cache plugin can sometimes improve a website’s speed by 4-6 seconds.

Another great and useful tip for improving your page load time, is to combine your javascript and css files. If you used a high quality theme to build onto your WordPress site, these two factors have already been addressed within the theme. Don’t forget about your other plugins that each have their own javascript and css files. We like to use the WP Minify plugin to help with this part of site improvement, this plugin combines and compresses your javascript and css files to improve your page load time. When used on the Tinogona website alone, it improved the site by 1.2 seconds, making it 3.2 seconds rather than 4.4 seconds.

How do you Know What Your Website Speed is?

After you ensure that you have a simple website, optimized images, caching enabled, and compression and combining of javascript and css files, you will want to go test your website to ensure that it really is as fast as possible. There are a few tools that we use to do this. The first is a Firefox add-on called YSlow which you can use to extend the popular web developer tools add-on called Firebug.  Another great page load tool is Google’s Google Page Speed.

We also use a popular website tool, Pingdom, which will test the load time of each element on your page, and you will be able to see what elements on your website are slowing you down.

Pingdom Page Load Time Test Tool

Pingdom.com Page Load Time Test Tool

Tinogona Page Load test from Pingdom.com

Tinogona Page Load Test Results from Pingdom.com

Google also has some web performances best practice tips that you can read to make sure that your website is following the latest standards in web performance.

We made sure that the Tinogona website was not only user friendly, but also lean and fast, while making sure to keep bandwidth and compute cycles down to keep costs at bay. When this website was launched we had a score of 82/100 from Google’s Page Speed, and a 3.2 from Pingdom.com. To get more information on how we can help you achieve your wildest dreams, and keep your website fast and lean, please contact us.

What are your favorite WordPress plugins and/or tactics for keeping your site fast, lean, and swift? Let us know in the comments.

Stay tuned for more on this topic. Published and upcoming posts include

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