If you own a WordPress website, chances are at some point in time you may have noticed it loads a little slow.
Ok, maybe a lot slow.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a really common problem with WordPress websites. Probably one of the most common questions I’m asked, which is why I thought I’d share a resource on how to fix it!
Hang on – does my website load slowly?
Great question. If you’re not sure if you even have a problem with your website speed, then have a read of this article about how to speed test your website. Then, come check back in here if you need to!
Carrying out speed testing will give you a few pointers as to why your website is loading slowly, but there is generally a common thread for all, which I will explain shortly.
How to speed up my WordPress website
If you know you’ve got a slow loading website, then you’re in the right place. Let’s walk though, in very simple terms, how we can correct this problem.
Have a read through the steps that follow and if you feel like it might be a little bit out of your comfort zone, please contact your developer for help! At least by carrying out the speed testing and having an understanding of the problem, you can direct them easily.
If you are doing this sort of work on your live website, make sure it’s at a time when the site isn’t going to be busy (or right near the launch of something big, for example!).
Step One: Make sure you have a backup on hand
Before we proceed, I’m going to give you a little warning – when you start fiddling with your website, there is the possibility you might break it. So, what I am going to politely ask you to do, is to make sure you have a recent back up handy.
This is an absolute must before you go any further. I’m not just talking some random backups your website host runs, I mean a backup you can get your hands on and restore quickly, should we need to.
If your website host allows you to create a staging copy of your website, that is the best case scenario (as you can then test everything off your live site), but not all hosts provide this option. Ones that do include WP Engine, Crazy Domains and GoDaddy. If you’re unsure how to set this up, comment below and I’ll walk you through it!
Step Two: Make sure you know how to restore the backup
How you do this will depend on how you’re running the backup, but for instance let’s say you’re using Updraft Plus. To restore a backup, you go into the plugin and navigate to Updraft Plus > Backup/Restore > Existing Backups and you’ll find the “restore” option:
For other backup methods, feel free to comment below with questions!
Sidenote: if you’re using my favourite website host, WP Engine then you can very easily run a “back up point” and restore from within your WP Engine dashboard. Hooray!
If at any point during the process you get lost or your site goes nuts, you can restore the back-up to return to the previous state.
Step Three: Have a look at your website images
If you’ve speed tested your website, you might have a list of things contributing to the issues. If I’m diagnosing the reason for it being slow, I’ll start digging into plugins and performing some detailed tests. But, given this is a low-tech tutorial, I’ll let you know the number one reason most WordPress websites load slowly – MASSIVE IMAGES!
The majority of us load full size images into our WordPress websites, which causes pages to load very slowly (as each time someone visits the page, the image must be loaded). Images can in fact, account for up to 50% of the page loading time.
What to do about it? Well as always, you have a couple of options. The best way to proceed is going to depend on how many images you have and at what size you have been loading them onto your website.
Manually have a look at your images – any that are over 1MB will need to be compressed outside of WordPress, then reloaded onto your website. This means they then need to be reselected on whichever page or post they appear on.
Once you have done that, you can run a plugin to compress the rest. I recommend either Smush or Imagify. You can utilise their free plan to get everything compressed. Install the plugin and follow the prompts.
Install a plugin such as Smush or Imagify and utilise one of their paid plans to compress all your images quickly, without having to reload them. Once you have done everything you need, you can downgrade back to the free plugin version.
As a sidenote, I’ve always worked with Smush but have recently started using Imagify. Their pricing plans are very reasonable and the plugin super easy to follow, so if you’re going to pay for something, I would recommend their plugin.
Step Four: Speed test again
After you have made the changes above, you can now retest your website to see if the speed has improved. If you have any caching active on your website, make sure you clear the cache first before speed testing.
Also be sure to do a couple of tests, so you can obtain an average load speed.
At this point, if your load time has improved– tick – you’re done! If you have one of the plugins installed, it will continue to compress the images each time you load them but do be sure to manually compress them prior to uploading to WordPress.
Hmmm…my load time hasn’t improved? What now?
That’s ok, it’s not always just the images. It just means we have to dig a little deeper. This is where it can start to get trickier, but I’m going to walk you through some easy ways to diagnose the issue.
Step Five: Plugin Review
The wonderful thing about WordPress is we can install plugins to do all sorts of things for our website. The bad news about this is, it can really slow your site down and cause all sorts of problems.
So now is probably a good time to do a little check-up. This can be tricky, as it’s not always the number of plugins that matters, it’s what they do – and what other plugins you have on the website.
But let’s keep it simple.
Take a look at your plugins by navigating to “Plugins” on the left-hand side. Have a look at how many you have. If your numbers are over 20, you might need to do a clean-up. Are there any you know of that you don’t use, that you could remove?
If a plugin is outdated, or poorly coded, it could cause a problem. Some other plugins that can contribute to slow loading include “related post” style plugins and Jetpack. For a more detailed list of plugins that could impact your performance, check out that article.
Before deleting any plugins, please be sure your site doesn’t actually need them! You can deactivate the plugin to make sure the functionality isn’t required, prior to completely removing.
This subject could be a post on its own, as it’s quite complex – so do an initial review and see how you go, I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions!
Step Six: Speed test again
If we still don’t see an improvement, it’s time to call in the big guns.
Step Seven: Install a caching plugin
Or rather, add some caching onto the website.
It’s at this point a lot of people might start to look confused or leave the page – but don’t – stay with me. There is a really great plugin you can install which is generally quick and simple to set up. Promise.
It’s called WP Rocket – it’s a paid plugin, but the $49 per year is worth the hassle saved, I think.
How to Set up WP Rocket
The one thing we need to check before proceeding, is whether there is already any caching on your website. If you’re unsure that’s cool, have a look at your plugins and see if there are any that mention the words “cache”. Some examples might be:
W3 Total Cache
WP Super Cache
WP Fastest Cache
OR if you utilise the Cloudflare platform, this includes caching too
If any of those names appear in your plugin list (or for Cloudflare you know you’ve got it in play), then please don’t follow the next steps. It’s probably best to have your developer look over your set up, just in case.
If you have an ecommerce store, it’s also recommended to have someone more experienced to look into it, as some caching can interfere with the shop checkout.
Here’s what to do:
1. Purchase the plugin.
2. Install and activate it on your website.
3. Navigate to Settings > WP Rocket
Now we can update the settings that will make your website quicker! But, as some of these settings can break the website – start small and test, test, test!
I recommend starting with these settings on the basic tab:
4. Then clear the site cache in Tools > Site Cache
5. Then have a look at the front end of your website. Make sure everything looks ok, that the forms still work and most importantly if you have a shop – that you can progress to checkout.
If everything looks ok, now you can speed test your website and see if it has improved!
If some styling has gone a little astray, don’t panic – untick some of the options above (especially the ones in red that give you the warning), clear the cache and check again.
If not, you may have to tweak the settings a little more to get the optimum result for your website.
As you can see, this can be a bit of a process to complete, but thankfully for a lot of people the images are the main issue and you can correct that and carry on! I’d love to hear below, whether this worked for you or not.
Note: some links in this post are affiliate in nature, however I only recommend products that I have tried and tested!
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Hey, I’m Kristy
Kristy Morton is a mother, multiple business owner and numbers gal. She runs a web development consultancy, specialising in WordPress websites. Kristy combines her excellent technical knowledge with her ability to translate this into ways that are understandable to the average person, so her clients feel informed and in control of how their websites are developed and managed. She is also the Co-Founder of B Directory where the team is supercharging small business growth.
Despite seeming like an overachiever, Kristy admits to always be chasing the sun, a simple life and one more homemade chocolate.