Website speed is important. It not only matters for user experience, it matters for SEO. A slow website is a signal to Google that your site is not good. This can result in lower search rankings.
As part of our Performance and Speed Optimization Analysis Service, customers contact us with their website speed issues and ask for our help.
Recently, we received a message from someone who wanted to optimize their page load time from 5 seconds to 3 seconds or less. The website in question has about 2,500 sessions and 6,000 page views per day.
We were able to significantly speed up this website and ended up with a very happy customer.
Here’s the optimization process we use to cut page load times in half:
WordPress Performance Optimization in 9 Steps
Here’s the process CreativeMinds goes through when helping customers improve their WordPress website performance:
The first step to optimization is to run several analytics tools to understand what is happening with the site. The standard tools we use are Google Page Speed and GTMetrix. WebPageTest is another handy analytic test for website performance we often use when optimizing WordPress sites.
In this case study, we also checked Google Analytics page speed report which pointed out that some of the problems are coming from a frontend script that causes load issues. This was not appearing clear on the GTmetrix and Google Speed Page report but was clearly visible on the Google Analytics report.
This is why it is important to try several different analytics tools.
2. Monitor mySQL Database
The next step is to install a database monitoring plugin to check the database connection and number of requests. This is another important step to troubleshooting a slow WordPress website.
One such database monitoring plugin is Query Monitor, which shows all database queries on the current request, and other useful information.
3. Check the Web Server Error Log and WordPress Debug log
After running analytics reports and monitoring the database, the next step is to check the web server error log.
Checking the server error log can allow you to discover errors due to your theme, files, and plugins. Fixing an error can sometimes solve the speed issue, point out problematic plugins, and improve overall site performance.
On some pages, the issue may also be present in the WordPress debug log file, so checking both files is needed.
4. Review Website by Browsing
While using analytics tools which give quantitative measurements, we also did our own subjective review of the site by browsing to gain some qualitative feedback and understand where the problem might be coming from.
We believe that this qualitative review is important and adds another dimension to information collected before starting to optimize the site.
5. First Fix Issues Which are Easier to Fix and Produce High Impact
The website optimization process can sometime take as much as 20 hours or more to complete. It all depends on the way the site was built, the number of components involved (plugin, css files, js files) and overall changes which are needed.
We always start by implementing the changes which have the highest impact and are easier to implement. In some cases, optimizing a WordPress website is also a research process in which you make a change and check the impact before continuing to make more changes.
6. Run Analysis Again
It’s important to run the analysis again after each change is made so you can know where the biggest change in site speed comes from. Optimization is a learning process, so each time you run analysis after making changes, new insights will be revealed.
7. Address Plugin Issues
Plugins can significantly impact your website speed. Slow speed is a very common issue for plugins which are not built well or don’t use any internal caching mechanism, or use the WordPress cache system. Often a problem results from the high number of database calls a plugin requires.
Our goal in the optimization process is to identify problematic plugins and offer replacements. In addition, some plugins are redundant and you can easily add a short code snippet to replace their functionality into the theme JS or CSS file.
8. Configure the Caching Plugin for WordPress Optimization
A caching plugin is one of the most important components in making sure a WordPress site runs fast. It is not enough to just install a caching plugin, for example, W3 Total Cache. It is also very important to understand how the plugin works and configure it properly.
There are many ways to configure and adjust a cache plugin to run on your WordPress site. Part of this involves testing to see the impact and results of different available caching methods the plugin offers.
There are many caching methods available on such plugins which may not be available on the shared hosting, so configuring the caching plugin also depends on the server’s software/infrastructure.
9. Suggest External Services or Tools
Making your site run faster can also mean using external services to cache the contents of your site outside of your server and using very high speed and diverse CDN solutions.
Using such solutions of course adds cost to your overall infrastructure, but it provides a way to remove part of the load from your servers and improve your overall website availability and speed.
When it Comes to Optimization, Analytics is (Almost) Everything
WordPress optimization involves a repeated cycle of analysis and fixes. To figure out what the problems are, and learn important clues about how to solve them, we first take the time to run extensive analytics reports. Different tools produce different clues, so it’s important to check multiple pieces, such as plugins, database, specific pages, etc., to produce a complete picture of what is happening.
While some might jump into trying different tips and tricks, we think it’s important to diagnose the issue first. This not only potentially saves a lot of work, it can help make sure the actual issue causing a slow website is fixed.
After making changes to optimize the website, it’s important to again run analytic tests to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.
It’s important to note that the speed of your WordPress website also depends on the server hardware – speed of the server itself, server processor, amount of RAM, etc. These play a big role in determining how fast your website can be.
With this in mind, and the same process used in this case study, WordPress users are able to work toward a faster (possibly cutting load time in half) and better performing website.