Five tips to improve your Wordpress page speed score

Are you struggling to improve your business’ Wordpress page speed score? Worried about the impact your Wordpress page speed is having on your Google search rankings and browsing experience for your customers, particularly those on mobile devices?

If you answered yes to the above read on to find out our five top tips that can help you to speed up your Wordpress site. Make sure you read all the way through our top recommendations as we also present a final bonus tip, which has proven to be highly successful for us and our clients!

1. Images

We’ll kick off our tips with images. Whilst images may be the most obvious culprit leading to larger file size and higher Wordpress page speed times, we regularly speak with website owners who are confused by the best practice recommendations that tools like Google’s page speed insights give for images and how to go about implementing it in their own site, particularly when the most common recommendations are to optimise file size and use next gen image formats like the webp image format.

However the good news is it is fairly simple to reduce image size and use next gen image formats with Wordpress now. Since version 5.8, Wordpress now supports the webp image file format natively, without needing to use an additional plugin. So it’s possible to upload webp images directly to the media library, allowing you to replace old images with optimised webp versions throughout your page layouts and posts. Modern browser support is also very good for the webp format, so for most sites it’s now a lot safer to use them directly without a plugin to swap normal images with webp which was necessary when browser support was lacking. If you are just looking to improve certain pages with a handful of images uploading webp directly can be a great way to go and can quickly improve Wordpress page speed scores. Well known image editors such as Photoshop now also support saving/export as webp files too, so it has become a lot easier to update/convert old image files without special conversion tools.

If you have a site with a lot of images, there are also a whole bunch of optimisation plugins that can convert standard image formats like jpg, png, gif etc to webp automatically. However depending on the theme, website page builder or hosting platform used they don’t always work out of the box unfortunately and require some tinkering and experimenting.

If you want to try a decent free option, we’ve found the webp converter plugin to work very well for our own purposes. On many hosting environments this plugin will just work, but for others it does require some configuration options to be available. Some hosts kindly make this setting available in your control panel. We use Cloudways for all our clients and uder the site/application settings it has the option to toggle on webp redirection which allows the webp converter plugin to work correctly. If your host doesn’t have a similar option for redirecting to webp then you should be able to reach out to the support and ask them if it can be enabled.

A final tip for images is regardless of the format, always try to upload and use a correctly sized image for where it will appear on the site. For instance you should avoid using a huge banner sized image in a smaller space where the physical image will be displayed much smaller. Creating different sized crops for different usages before uploading can help lots and allows you to select an appropriate size for the layout/space available and minimise loading unncessarily large image files into smaller spaces.

2. Reducing & simplifying elements

With the emergence of page builders and the Wordpres Block Editor we now have lots of visual / no code tools at our disposal to create layouts for web pages quickly and to get them looking exactly how we want. A major downside with this ease of use and freedom, particularly with certain page builders in mind, is they often come with lots of one dimensional bell and whistle widgets which can easily be added to a page without understanding the consequences they might have on our overall Wordpress page speed. The fact is less technical savvy content creators can fill up a page with lots of these elements without much of a thought about the bloat that so many elements might create behind the scenes.

A simple solution to this is to try and reduce the amount of elements to the bare minimum. This might be simpler said than done on some website layouts, but reviewing what’s necessary and adding value, over what is just superficial and just done for effect with no value is a great place to start and can help you zone in on what is really important for the end user to complete a goal or convert.

Also the majority of popular page builders like Divi and Elementor are often known to create lots of unnecessary markup when using certain widgets or grid structures continuously which can lead to something called divception. For search engines like Google to understand your page you want the resulting page markup to be as clean and lean as possible, so you don’t want simple heading and paragraph tags wrapped deep in a handful of div tags if it can be avoided as this can create lots of extra bloat in the page markup and makes the page less easy for search engines to crawl and interpret correctly.

For page builders like Divi and Elementor we’d recommend looking at the overall page structure first. Can the amount of sections, rows and columns be reduced whilst still making it visually pleasing to the end user? Can the amount of single purpose widgets/elements be reduced on the page? Things like sliders, carousels and social media feeds are popular with website owners but often add a lot of weight to a page and don’t provide much value to the end user. In the case of sliders, mulitple slides are hidden and often never seen. It’s been proven in tests users have become somewhat blind to rotating style banners and it is a fact they rarely convert as well as marketing people expect them to. Replacing sliders and carousels with simpler images and targeted banner messages will usually have a postive impact on Wordpress page speed whilst still allowing you to create a similar level of visual interest with a much clearer message or call to action for the user.

3. Hosting

There’s an age old saying “you get what you pay for” which is true in most industries and it is no different with hosting. Yes you can get cheap commodity shared hosting (meaning you share the resources with lots of other sites) and pay peanuts for it, and if you are just starting out on the web or just testing the water these might be fine for a while.

However for any business serious about their online presence it is best not to cut corners and instead use a quality cloud hosting platform. Choosing a good host ensures you get a more reliable level of hosting service which has good stability and security to keep your website online and free of issues as well as usually providing faster loading times. For Wordpress based sites there’s luckily lots of great hosts which specialise in optimising their platforms specifically for the Wordpress platform, Cloudways and Kinsta being two of the top Wordpresss hosting companies we’ve found.

As an example, we used to host all our clients with Siteground which have a fairly good name in the Wordpress space, but the platform is the shared type of hosting and we started to reach some limitations as a result. After hearing good things about Cloudways from industry peers we decided to move all our clients over, and we were glad we did, we saw Wordpress page speed increases of between 1 – 2 seconds for most sites which is a huge improvement, particularly when thinking about mobile users and what a difference that kind of increase can make on slower data connections.

So, whilst this tip is probably the one which could provide the most uphevel, it can really pay off when you are struggling to improve your site with cheaper shared hosting platforms. Also whilst the prospect of moving hosts might seem daunting to you, it can actually be a pretty straightforward process these days. A lot of the top Wordpress platforms now offer free migrations where they will take care of the whole process for you or they can provide a free migration plugin to make it easy to migrate your existing site and all the content across at the press of a button, making the migration process as painless as possible so you can start benefiting from increased Wordpress page speed with minimum fuss.

4. Caching

Caching is a term that gets banded around a lot in the hosting and Wordpress page speed space. Also it can be a slightly confusing term to website owners because there are also two main types of caching which relate to websites.

The first type of caching is local browser caching which is when the browser on your device caches the website to keep it in its memory for subsequent visits you make using the browser.

The second type of caching is server side caching. This is when the web server (or a caching plugin if your host doesn’t have server level caching) is cached on the server side as a static HTML file when a user first visits. When subesquent visits take place the static HTML file is served instead to speed up loading and reduce dynamic database queries and load on the site in general.

The latter type of caching is most important when thinking about improving Wordpress page speed scores and you should definitely be using a server/website level caching solution with Wordpress if you want to make improvements and be loading your content as fast as you possiblly can.

If your hosting provider has a solution for server side caching we’d recommend going with this as it is most efficient when it is handled on the server directly. Some dedicated Wordpress hosts also provide a plugin to make it easier to manage the server’s caching setup through the Wordpress dashboard. As an example, our own hosting platform Cloudways offers a dedicated plugin called Breeze for efficiently managing the caching of sites as well as other performance related settings.

If your hosting provider doesn’t have a caching feature/plugin then the next best option is using a third party plugin. If you search the Wordpress plugin repository you will find lots of free plugins for caching. Two simple and lightweight solutions are WP Fastest Cache and WP Super Cache. If you’d prefer a premium/paid solution with more features WP Rocket can work really well in our experience too.

5. Theme and Plugins

One of the strengths of Wordpress can also have a negative impact on Page speed. The theme and plugins you choose to install on your site can be one of the most important choices for ensuring your website can be as performant as possible.

In the case of themes, not all themes are created equal and unfortunately not all theme developers focus on performance with some cramming in more and more features just to increase installs and sales without regard for the impact this feature bloat has on the end website’s page loading.

We always recommend using a lightweight and performance focused theme as this will give you the best foundation for scoring well. We personally use and recommend the Generatepress theme. We love it because it is developed with great performance in mind, it is really lightweight with a minimal file size and is highly flexible for creating all sorts of sites. It’s so good on the performance front it scores a perfect 100 in Google’s page speed tests on a base/default install with no other plugins. It also pairs well with most page builders, so whilst the page builder might be adding it’s own things on top, you can easily have a great foundation to work from in the theme.

For plugins, it is a good practice to review your installed and activated plugins regularly and deactivate and remove any which might be causing issues with page speed, just aren’t being used or not adding any value. Rather like themes there’s good and bad plugin developers out there and blindly installing lots of plugins can have a negative impact on page speed if some of the particular plugins you install have not been coded with performance in mind.

When running page speed tests most of these tools will give you details of files which are contributing to the page load. By looking at the full URLS provided for the files you can work out which ones belong to plugins. If any plugins are not essential for your site you can experiment by deactivating them to see if it yields any improvements. If testing this don’t forgot if you have caching turned on, purge the cache after decactivating each plugin to make sure its files are not still being cached.

We tend to work with a particular stack of plugins on most projects which we know come from well regarded plugin developers in the industry. If we must seek a specific plugin for a particular project we usually compare and weigh up a plugin’s details like how many installs it has, the average review score and whether it is supported and updated regularly. If these all look positive it normally indicates there’s a better chance of the plugin being reliable and well supported.

We’ll also normally opt for a mature premium/paid solution over a free plugin as this again normally indicates the plugin developer has a business model to support the plugin’s ongoing development and they should have a more polished and performant product as a result.

However, that’s not to discount all free plugins as there’s some really decent, well supported plugin options out there, we even have a few in our own regular tool stack, but generally for very specific use cases we’ve found sourcing specialist premium plugins is normally the better way to go.

6. Bonus tip

You made it! Hopefully the above tips we presented provided you with some useful insights and gave you some ideas on things you could look into to improve your own Wordpress page speed scores. As promised and a thank you for reading all the way through, we’ll offer a final bonus tip. This tip is one we’ve found to be highly effective for our own clients over the last year, but does come with some effort attached, but we think it is worth it!

If your site uses one of the popular current page builders it is fairly safe to say it is probably adding a lot of unneccessary bloat which is harming your Wordpress page speed. We’d therefore recommend ditching the page builder in favour of the native Wordpress block editor sooner rather than later as we believe this is the future of Wordpress. Using the native editor in Wordpress not only provides a more streamlined editng experience, but we’ve found it to massively improve our page speed scores when coupled with a performance focused theme like Generatepress.

Obviously if your site is using a page builder then switching everything over to use the default Wordpress block editor might seem like a daunting prospect to you, or simply just too much work. However, I can tell you it’s possible and not as bad as you might be thinking. By learning the block editor and choosing the right block editor tools it’s easily possible to replace your current page builder and see positive results.

But if that’s not something you are comfortable with or have the time to master then we’ve recently launched our page builder to blocks conversion service where we’ll convert your page builder based website over to a full block editor based version. Where we’ve done this for clients we’ve been able to improve Wordpress page speed scores simply by switching page layouts over to blocks and removing the bloated page builder.

If this is something you’d like to discuss please get in contact as we’ll be happy to help advise you further on your website and the conversion service and process.

We are creative web design studio based in Exeter, Devon specialising in Wordpress and Woocomerce development, performance optimisation, hosting and support.

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