A crucial part of any website design is paying particular attention to the load time of the final product. It’s commonly known in the industry that visitors are particularly fickle and for every second increase in your website’s load time, a scary percentage of users will leave, never to be seen again.
Fortunately there are lots of ways that you can improve the load time of your WordPress website. From optimising your images to taking advantage of caching plugins, it can be quite simple to see big gains. We recommend that before you begin this process you take a baseline load time score from any popular tool. We quite like PingDom, but GTmetrix and Google itself have great options too.
Once you’ve found what your website’s current load time is, it’s time to improve it.
Optimise your images
Out of all website elements, images have the biggest impact on your load time. The amount of images on a page as well as the file size of each image both need attention. It’s good practice to use images sparingly and although an image with 5-10 optimised images probably isn’t going to be the end of the world, having 10-20 will take longer to load. Each image requires your website to make a request to your server and the time it takes for this communication adds to the time your page will take to load.
Reducing the dimensions of your images
It is completely unnecessary to upload an image that is 2000 pixels wide when you are resizing it on your website to 600 pixels. Your file still remains the same size, even if it appears smaller when your visitors view it. Images taken on cameras and phones are generally quite big – ranging from 1000 to 4000 pixels wide – and therefore range above 1mb in file size. This is waaay too big for use on the web. Generally you are able to reduce an image’s file size from 2mb to 150kb just by resizing it to the exact dimensions that it will be displayed on your page and will not reduce the quality. Aiming to reduce your images to under 150kb is good practice.
Changing the file type
Images can come in all sorts of file types, each with a different level of quality and therefore file size. The most common that you’ll see are Jpeg and Png. Generally if you don’t need an image to have a transparent background, a Jpeg image works perfectly for use on the web and is much smaller in size than a Png.
Reducing the file size of your images further
Once you’ve resized your images to fit your website you should already see a vast decrease in the file size. Though you can take this further by utilising a lossless compression plugin. There a loads of good options, like Smush, but our favourite is Imagify. Imagify has provided the biggest file size savings in our tests than all other alternatives and provides a generous free version (although the pay per use options are also really good value). Get one of these installed, get it to start optimising and you’ll see even further file size reductions, leading to improved loading times.
Benefit from caching and minification
Another great way to reduce the load time on your website is to install and configure a caching plugin. This allows you to take advantage of some great features. Caching plugins allow you to store a static version of your site to display to repeat visitors, reducing your load times and minify your code (removing white spaces and other unnecessary content from your CSS and JS files). Some plugins will allow you to preload your website content and in some cases enable lazy loading of images. All of these features improve your load time. We’ve picked a few of the most popular and provided an overview below:
WP Rocket – WP Rocket is, in our opinion, the best caching plugin available. Since it is a paid plugin it may not be as popular as the below alternatives, but it’s ease of use and comprehensive feature list make it our favourite. WP Rocket enables browser caching, lazy loading of images, optimises your website database, reduces the file size of your code and various other tweaks to reduce requests.
W3 Total Cache – Probably the most comprehensive (or complicated) caching available, W3 allows a great deal of control over many many features for free. W3 is great for people that know what they’re doing but really difficult when you’re not technically minded. Although lots of the features will greatly benefit your load time, enabling them in certain combinations will actually hurt your load times.
WP Fastest Cache – WP Fastest Cache is the best all rounder when it comes to caching plugins. You can enable every option in the simple menu with confidence that each will benefit your website’s load time. What’s more, it’s free!
Reduce your plugin use
It’s good practice to keep your use of plugins to an absolute minimum. Do you really need the fancy pop up contact form or the live chat functionality? The easiest way to improve your website’s load time is to delete some plugins that you don’t really need.
If you’re absolutely certain you need to keep the plugins you have, it’s worth doing a little research to see if alternatives are available that don’t have such an impact on your load times. Plugins like Yoast SEO and Jetpack may have some great features but they are very resource intensive and there are other plugins out there that do the same thing with less of an impact.
Unfortunately there is only so much optimisation you can do and ultimately if you are not seeing gains in your load time then your hosting is the culprit. Cheaper hosting providers can be great when you start out but you’ll soon see the limitations as your website and visitor traffic grows. If you can’t get your website to load in an acceptable time frame, you might want to do a little research into alternatives, like this one.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful. As always, if you have any good tips please feel free to leave them in the comments or get in touch if you have any questions.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.