Optimising WordPress Websites for speed and loading performance is a Big Deal in 2021.
Why? In May last year, Google announced their next major algorithm update, known as the Page Experience Update. The update will include new page experience signals which will become a part of their ranking systems, now scheduled to roll-out from mid June 2021. We thought now would be a great time to offer some WordPress Speed Optimisation Tips from fellow SEO Experts.
- Page Experience Signals
- Causes of Slow WordPress Sites
- WordPress Speed Optimisation Tips from 20 SEO Experts
- WordPress Optimisation Plugins
Google are very conscious of how user friendly websites are, and obviously want to offer their users the best experience possible when using their search engine.
A significant part of a great user experience is how fast a web page loads. Nobody likes to wait for 4,5,6 seconds or longer for a web page to fully load. Research by Google found that bounce rate increases up to 90% for a website loading in 5 seconds, compared to a website loading in 1 second.
Therefore, speed matters!
Why send users to a site with a poor user experience, when Google can prioritise another website with an excellent user experience! This is where the new page experience signals come in…
Page Experience Signals
“Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.”Google
The page experience signals include Google’s Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics which measure the real world loading performance of a web page.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Google’s Core Web Vitals are made up of three metrics; Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift.
Needless to say, the new metrics aren’t self-explanatory!
Here’s a quick summary of what the metrics measure:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the loading performance of a web page. LCP is the time taken for the web page to render the largest image or text block visible, from when the page begins to load.
First Input Delay (FID): Measures the interactivity of a web page. FID is the time taken from when a user first interacts with a web page, ie. clicks a button, until the browser can begin processing a response to the request.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures the visual stability of a web page. CLS measures the total layout shift of page elements throughout the lifespan of a page.
Cumulative Layout Shift is arguably the most difficult to explain. The image above shows the shift of a text block as a page loads. Usually caused by the delayed loading of another element or advert, shifting the position of the text you are reading, or the button you were about to click!
These metrics add to existing web vital metrics, which are already in use; mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
Causes of Slow WordPress Sites
The popularity of WordPress comes from its infinite customisability and user friendliness for creating websites. It’s a robust and generally secure platform with endless possibilities.
The thousands of themes and plugins allow millions of combinations, to create the perfect website. However, not all themes or plugins are built with speed in mind, or can have compatibility issues with certain plugins; which can cause any number of page performance related issues.
The content of a web page also plays a huge part in affecting page speed performance. For example, a homepage filled with high quality images or videos, would take significantly longer to load than a homepage with a handful of illustrations and text blocks.
Aside from WordPress itself, hosting is an important factor. It doesn’t matter how efficient and well-coded a WordPress theme is; if the hosting is poor, the entire website will be affected. Hosting is a big factor to consider for WordPress websites.
WordPress Speed Optimisation Tips from 20 SEO Experts
We invited 20 fellow SEO Experts to share their thoughts and WordPress speed optimisation tips with you.
An SEO Agency today may cover all aspects of optimisation, or have a specialised area when it comes to improving a WordPress website’s speed and loading performance.
Adam Gingery is the Chief Operating and Paid Advertising Officer at Majux, and offers the following advice:
“First off, get the NitroPack.io plugin for WordPress. It’s better than other caching options (even WP Rocket), and it will instantly give you a Core Web Vitals boost.
Secondly, it’s time to upgrade your hosting if you haven’t already done that. Linode requires a more technical setup, but it also instantly increases page speed for our clients. A CDN, like CloudFlare, is another non-negotiable if you are in a competitive niche.
If you are using Divi on your WordPress site, I recommend using a plugin called PerfMatters to identify CSS that doesn’t need to load on every page of your site. You can disable the CSS in PerfMatters’ script manager – this matters because Divi tends to load a good bit of CSS that you don’t need across your entire site.”
Echoing Adam’s comments on the Perfmatters plugin; we find this to be extremely effective in applying those extra performance tweaks along with the popular WP Rocket caching plugin.
Elliot Olson, founder of Studio Anansi, focuses on some of the major culprits including, plugins, themes, images and videos; with her WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“If your website is loading slowly, start by looking at the WordPress admin console. How many plugins and themes do you really need? WordPress sites oftentimes easily accumulate plugins — maybe you installed a plugin to test a new feature, but now you don’t need it anymore! And are there extra themes? WordPress will often include annual default themes, but there’s no need to keep these on your site if they’re not in use. Removing unused plugins and extra themes will improve your website speed.
Next, look at your images and videos. Large media files can easily slow website loading times. Plus, your online visitors may have slow internet connections. Forcing visitors to wait for images or videos means a higher bounce rate and lower SEO rankings. Improve your load time by reducing file sizes. Use tools like tinypng.com <http://tinypng.com> and plugins like Enable Media Replace.
Finally, do an audit of any remaining slow-loading pages. Can you remove extra page elements, or change them to less resource-heavy options? For example, replacing sliders with static images can dramatically improve page load speed — making your users and Google happier, ultimately boosting your SEO!”
Some great points! In particular, the advice to replace sliders which are a common cause of slow WordPress page loading.
London-based SEO consultant and trainer Itamar Blauer has found uncompressed images to be a significant factor in page loading speed for SEO:
“What I’ve found in a lot of websites is that uncompressed images significantly reduce their page’s loading speed. The reason why this is so prominent is that many webmasters upload images that are high quality, and therefore, take up a lot of unnecessary space.
The best way to counteract this is by crawling the website and identifying the images with the largest file sizes. Then, using an image compression tool such as TinyPNG will reduce the image file sizes so that you can re-upload them onto WordPress. When you’re doing this, make sure to
delete the uncompressed image from your media library, as this will still use up unwanted space on the database.”
Mladen Maksic, SEO consultant and CEO at Play Media, emphasises the importance of making the right theme and hosting choices to aid WordPress speed performance:
“The choices you make prior to launching the website matter as much as tweaks that you apply later on. Some WordPress themes are simply faster than others, such as the fan-favorite Neve, but I could just as easily recommend Astra. Besides the theme, your choice of a web hosting provider matters just as much. Don’t get shared hosting, other websites will just bottleneck the very limited resources. The best option in my opinion is a Virtual Private Server or VPS. VPS hosting isn’t too expensive, it’s shared by fewer websites, and it’s scalable. Make sure the server is close to your visitors to maximize speed.
Other than that, always make sure your WordPress site is updated. It’s usually small steps such as these that provide the greatest value. Embed videos and audios whenever you can to reduce the pressure on bandwidth instead of uploading files directly to WordPress.
A final word of caution – don’t just install any plugin you come across. They will just hog the resources further.”
At Studio 36 Digital, we also find Neve to be an excellent, lightweight and well-coded theme choice.
Kevin Cook is the Chief Product Owner of SEM Products at On The Map Marketing. The agency has been battling page speed issues for some time, and offer the following WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“1. Set up your own theme and minimize the amount of plugins you use on your website. By custom coding things instead of installing plugins we are able to provide a safer and faster experience.
2. Have a well optimized server is of critical importance these days. There’s tons of cheap options, so it really makes no sense to have a professional website being hosted on a shared VPN server hosted by GoDaddy. Upgrade and watch how fast your website gets from that alone
3. Use a CDN! This one helped a ton with those large images we kept trying to load. Once we found a great CDN we saw huge improvements for some of our best clients who love to have images on their site.
4. We started using Rocket WP as our caching plugin and it has been a lifesaver for us. Upgrading out of the free caching plugins has given our development team the control they need to ensure each website loads as fast as possible.”
Nate Nead is CEO at Seattle based SEO.co. “We do about a half a dozen WordPress site speed optimization projects every month. Each is unique, but with Core Web Vitals becoming a ranking factor in Google, we are pushing more current and would-be clients to clean up the
speed of their sites. In doing so, we implement the following:
– Efficient hosting
– Reduce image size
– Zip and compress files
– Cache content
– Use a global CDN (content delivery network)
– Control and shrink image loads
Any good site scan can typically pinpoint the source of the issue. If that source is derived from something on the site that is not critical, we will often look to first eliminate it entirely. Otherwise, we must find a compression or code work-around.”
Often, through experience in website optimisation, agencies have a go-to strategy for their WordPress optimisation. Jack Shepler, Founder of Ayokay, suggests the following combination of tools.
“I think one of the best ways to work on speeding up your site load time is by using WP Rocket, Cloudflare, and Imagify. Cloudflare and Imagify integrate with the WP Rocket plugin, which makes this whole setup super easy.
With WP Rocket, you take care of caching, minifying, preloading, and lazy loading images and videos. With the Imagify plugin, you optimize images to make them smaller in size and save them in the better webP format. Then, you select for WP Rocket to show images as webP format. Sign up for a free account at Cloudflare and use the settings via WP Rocket and you end up with a site better optimized for speed than most sites on the web. Often, this right here is enough to get you all green in Core Web Vitals.”
Connor Hewson, Managing Director at Assured Marketing, looks at Lazy Loading as a speed optimisation solution for imagery:
“For me the go to plugin to optimise load speeds of your optimised landing pages is a LazyLoader. The use of imagery/infographics on a site is vital to ensuring that new visitors gained from SEO efforts will engage with the content and follow the sales path.
However, when landing pages are image heavy (as they should be for good readability) it can increase load times to a point where bounce rates can skyrocket. Therefore turning to a LazyLoader plugin in order to compress images and even show lower quality images until fully loaded is a great way to keep a professional look throughout the site without sacrificing the great imagery that deserves to be showcased on these pages.”
Isaac Bullen is the Asia Pacific Director at 3 White Hats, and offers the following WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“I think a lot of website owners don’t realize that they have a lot of unnecessary bloat that they can get rid of. Often just deleting unused themes and plugins helps improve site load time. I also suggest that people go through their list of plugins to see if they have any active plugins that they don’t really need and can delete.
It’s also a good idea to switch to a fast loading theme that doesn’t have a lot of bloat, if you’re not already using one. Some good options include Hello, GeneratePress, Astra, and Kadence.
If you’re using a page builder, like Elementor, then it’s a good idea to replace that with something like GenerateBlocks. Not only can you accomplish the same page designs, but you end up with a faster site by removing the slow loading Elementor pages.”
Mark Coster, Co-Founder and SEO Specialist at FairyDigital, suggests the removal of page builders as a major factor in slowing WordPress websites:
“Since Google appears to be determined to slash the rankings of slow and inert websites, the first major intervention that yields instant results is to get rid of page builders, if you use any. I had Thrive and WP Page Builder installed on all of my websites. After I uninstalled them and
changed to super fast Kadence theme which works very smoothly with Gutenberg, the page loading speed skyrocketed across all of my websites. The thing is, even the best page builders utilise ready-made code that ultimately ends up choking the site.
You should also do your best not to upload full-size PNG images – I always resize them to 600×400 and JPG. Enough of a quality not to affect my sites’ visual appeal, and lightweight enough not to cause any jams.
Finally, the third easy intervention is: plugins. Over the past couple of months, I decided to really go minimalistic with my plugins and only keep the ones that are absolutely essential.”
Michael Steele is the CEO of Flywheel Digital, looks at properly optimising image sizes as quick win WordPress optimisation tip:
“A quick win for speed optimisations on WordPress websites is to properly size and optimize the images. The images should be no larger than two times the size of their container (to accommodate retina screens), which will automatically help bring the file size down. Beyond properly sizing them, image files should ideally be 100KB or less in size. This can be done when
saving the file in a program like Photoshop, through third-party tools like TinyPNG or after they’re uploaded to the site with WordPress plugins like Smush.it and ShortPixel.
John Locke is an SEO Consultant at Lockedown Design & SEO, advises the use of his following WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“Some things I am doing to reduce loading time in WordPress site builds include: using system fonts whenever possible, to eliminate external font loading. Using the Autoptimize plugin to inline critical CSS, while loading the rest normally. I also use the functions file to conditionally load CSS that is specific to custom post types and page templates. I no longer use background images, because the browser loads those each time. Instead, I am using the picture element, with WebP at the front of the stack, and the img element as a fallback. These can be cached by the browser. I use CSS to simulate a background image using background-size: cover.
Kevin Miller, Co-Founder & CEO at GR0, offers advice on caching to reduce page loading times:
“WordPress pages are considered “dynamic”, meaning the page is created the moment a visitor visits a post or page on your website. This process involves a fair amount of intricacy, which can really hinder your website speed when multiple users visit simultaneously. To mitigate this, install a caching plugin which can increase your site speed. Instead of repeating the whole page generation process every time a user visits the page, your caching plugin makes a copy of the page after the first load, and then provides that cached version to future repeat visitors.”
Tom Shivers of Capture Commerce, recommends attention to plugins and caching, also advising the correct procedure for removing caching plugins:
“First, remove unused and no longer used plugins from the server, then clear the database and then clear the cache.
If hosted on an Apache server, WP-Optimize works well by itself.
Before deactivating a caching plugin, you must disable the caching first, then you can deactivate the plugin and delete it from the server.
Patrick Carver is the CEO of Constellation Marketing, who focus on three main areas of speed optimisation:
“At our agency, we focus on three core areas of speed optimization. It all starts with an amazing hosting provider with a built-in CDN to deliver a great experience anywhere in the world. The second part of our work consists of making each page as lean as possible. Image compression,
element reduction, and code optimizations are all covered. Finally, we rely on a couple of WordPress plugins that help optimize the overall site and help deliver a lighting fast experience.”
Company Director & SEO Specialist at Digital Funnel, Ian Carroll; offers these easy WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“Having a lightning fast WordPress site is essential when it comes to SEO. If you’re not completely comfortable in the coding domain, here’s some easy tips to get started on improving your speed.
WordPress pages are dynamic which basically means they are constructed from scratch every time someone visits a page. To build these pages, WordPress essentially has to run a process, find your info, build it and then present it. This can easily bottleneck and cripple your sites speed.
Simple solution is to avail of a caching plugin, this can in some cases increase your speed by 5x the previous rate. WP Super Cache is a free plugin that works a treat.
Another classic fault people make when constructing a WordPress site is loading it up with images. Yes they look good, but they need to be optimized. Some photo files can be huge so you need to compress. Best practice is to use PNG and JPEG file types. When you compress an image it loses some quality, so generally an uncompressed image will be a larger file size but with better detail. PNGs are uncompressed, whereas JPEGs are. Its best to use JPEGs for images with a lot of different colours and use a PNG file for simple, text based images.”
Sam Orchard is the Creative Director at Edge of the Web, and suggests the use of specific plugins as part of his WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“Because WordPress is so powerful and offers a wide range of features, it uses a lot of code overhead which can ultimately slow a website down. This can have an impact on your SEO and user experience, so it’s important to keep your website and code as streamlined as possible.
One of the biggest things that can slow a website down is a lot of images, but there are a couple of handy plug-ins which can help with this. We like Smush for compressing images without affecting the quality and WebP Converter, which converts images from the traditional JPEG, Gif or PNG formats to WebP, a new lighter, faster loading format. WP Fastest Cache is another free plugin that is essential for speed optimisation. This cache system can help improve your TTFB (time to first byte) and server load, for optimum website performance.”
Juan Pineda, Managing Director at Agile Digital Agency, offers advice on some technical aspects of WordPress speed performance:
“If, like 35% of all websites on the internet, you are using WordPress on your website, you may perceive that your website performance decreases over time. This might happen for a number of reasons.
The first thing you need to review is that you are using the latest version of WordPress and plugins. Also review that your server is running the recommended versions of PHP and MySQL that your WordPress version recommends.
The next thing you can review is your hosting provider and see how it performs. You can use tools such as Pingdom to evaluate how your server responds when your website is called.
Some hosting providers offer performance tools that you may have not activated, so login to your control panel and see whether you have some server cache mechanisms that can be activated, for example Redis. Sign up with Cloudflare for an extra push in security and performance and add their plugin to your site. Then look to add a good performance plugin such as Autoptimize and move your images to the cloud with Cloudimage.”
Jessica Rhoades, Owner and Designer at Create IT Web Designs, focuses on hosting and image quantity for her WordPress speed optimisation tips:
“The best advice I have is to choose a good solid hosting provider. The hosting provider is the foundation of how quickly you can run your website. Avoid the shared hosting providers if your budget allows.
When designing your website, keep in mind how long your pages are and what images you are placing on your website. Images account for 50% of a website’s page size. Limit yourself from going too crazy with photos as it can significantly impact the website’s speed. Optimize those
images–meaning compress them to the smallest possible size without losing image quality using tools such as the free tool TinyPng.com.”
Christian Velitchkov, Co-Founder of Twiz, offers the following 5 effective tips for WordPress speed optimisation:
“1. Choose a website hosting provider that provides cloud hosting services
like SiteGround, Amazon Web, Digital Ocean, etc.
2. WordPress themes with a lot of design elements, widgets, social icons,
etc look very nice to the eyes, but that longing for the page to load.
Ensure using lightweight themes for the page so it loads faster.
3. Optimise the image sizes for the webpage. Many software like Chrome
PageSpeed and Photoshop allow you to reduce the image size without reducing
the quality of images.
4. Use advanced and efficient caching mechanisms and caching plugins
5. Remove any unwanted items/plugins etc from the page to make the page
WordPress Optimisation Plugins
Many of the WordPress speed optimisation tips above include advice on caching plugins to assist in increasing loading speed.
At Studio 36 Digital, we recently carried out a survey of over 350 SEO professionals; asking their preference from four of the most popular WordPress caching plugins.
Here’s the results:
While there are many more caching plugins available, in both free and paid versions; these four are widely used, with WP Rocket leading the way in popularity.
We’ve had some great WordPress speed optimisation tips from our fellow SEO experts. It’s worth considering these tips and advice and applying these to your own website, ideally in advance of the Google Page Experience Update.
While it’s unclear currently to what degree the update will affect ranking positions; it’s certainly worth ensuring your website meets these standards, to take advantage of any potential ranking gains post update.
It’s worth noting that page loading performance is only a small portion of the 200+ ranking factors that Google users to determine SERP positions. It’s always good practice to focus on good quality, fresh content and a solid backlink profile as starting points for SEO.
Feel free to discuss and add any of your own WordPress speed optimisation tips in the comments.