First Things First – Do You Even Have a Slow Site?
“Slow” is often a relative experience. How we experience the internet has a lot to do with how eager we are to view the content of a site, how stressed we are, or whether we have an awful internet connection. Thankfully, there are some excellent tools out there that can give us some neutral insight to how a site is really performing.
Step 1 - Test Your Site
Head over to each of these fine speed tools and paste your URL into the address field to run a free test. If needed, select a location that you want to test from. Usually this is where the majority of your visitors live.
- Pingdom Tools is the most useful for seeing how quickly your site loads, and specifically what is holding it back
- GiftOfSpeed is similar to Pingdom Tools, but offers a simplified and lovely review of your site’s performance, complete with a "waterfall" or file list to help you pinpoint problems.
Want to go the extra mile? Test your site on these as well:
These sites will provide you with an overall performance grade, load time and page size, with an option to view detailed results on how the page loaded, but they will be different due to the location the test is run from, and each tool’s unique methods for testing. By weighing the different results, you can get a wider perspective on how well your site is doing across a wide range of locations and scenarios.
Step 2 - Interpreting Results
So, how did you do? The good news is that scoring above a 70 on an eCommerce site, or above an 80 on any other site is a good result for WordPress using a mega-theme like Avada, Bridge or Uncode. If you’re scoring low, you’ll need to combat some of these common slow-site problems:
- Too Many Plugins
- Invisible Errors
- Unoptimized images
- Content loading from other URLs such as videos, scripts, ads or images
- Out of date or unoptimized theme/plugins
You’ll notice the speed test tools give you a summary of what you should do to speed things up. It typically includes a set of ambiguous pointers like these:
- Parallelize downloads across hostnames
- Combine external CSS
- Remove query strings from static resources
- Leverage browser caching
One or more of the factors listed above is usually at the heart of whatever is bogging down your site, while some indicate more complex issues with using a publishing/eCommerce platform in the first place, which we’ll get into later.
Next, we’ll explain what these things mean and what you can do about it:
Step 3 - Evaluate Your Plugins
It is easy to get carried away with plugins, but not all plugins are created equal. The total number of plugins you use is not an obvious sign of trouble, but rather how well the plugins are coded, whether they are up to date and how much memory they use. "Bloated" plugins load duplicate or unnecessary assets, increase the number of requests made to your database and may load code in an inefficient way.
The first thing to check is our Disallowed Plugins list to immediately eliminate known problems.
Next, P3 Plugin Profiler is a very useful plugin for checking out your setup and identifying problems. Once activated, run the Auto Scan under Tools in your WordPress admin. You can ignore the imprint of some plugins, such as JetPack, which ignore logged in users for loading some resources.
Still not sure which ones to get rid of?
- Delete plugins you’re not actively using - your theme will show a notice if any are required
- Do your customers really need that particle animation on your web shop? Probably not.
- Ensure free plugins you do use are up to date and actively developed. To check for updates on free plugins, visit Dashboard > Updates in your WordPress admin. If the plugin has not been tested for the current version of WordPress or has a last-updated date of 2 years ago, replace it with a better one. Keep in mind bundled plugins like Visual Composer, Rev Slider and LayerSlider get updated by your theme - you can ignore update notices for those.
Step 4 - Check Theme Updates
Envato Hosted includes automatic updates to help you keep WordPress updated, but if you see a notification in your WordPress admin to update WordPress or your theme, don’t hesitate! Most updates can be done under Dashboard > Updates in your WordPress Admin.
KEEP YOUR THEME UPDATED
Themes like Avada release frequent patches to continually improve performance and squash bugs that could be loading down your site. Check our docs if you need a step by step for how to keep your theme up to date, or send us a note via Get Help below and we can check for you.
Step 5 - Turn off External Caching
Envato Hosted has some pretty powerful caching enabled to keep your site performing well and up in the event of an outage. 3rd Party caching like WP Super Cache or theme caching such as Avada's caches can conflict with our caching and actually make your site slower as it works through where to load resources. We recommend clearing any enabled caching plugin, then deactivate and delete it.
To better understand what performance measures are already being taken, and whether a caching plugin specifically designed for WordPress would help your site alongside our caching, please get in touch.
Step 6 - Reduce Offsite Content
- Duplicate versions of jQuery scripts – plugins should be using the internal WordPress script libraries and letting WordPress decide when to load them.
- Images loading from somewhere else
While you can only affect content you add directly to your website, you can always contact plugin authors through their support links (Plugins > Add New > View Plugin Site) to ask them if there is anything they can do to reduce response times from using their product – don’t forget to let them know how much you love the plugin and want to keep using it!
To cut down on your own offsite content and plugin choices, be mindful of the following:
- Upload images and other multi-media to your Media Library or web server. Never hotlink it from somewhere else.
- Stop using ad services that cause a slowdown or make sure ads are loaded last.
- Cut down on the number of videos loading on a single page when using an off-site host like Vimeo or YouTube.
- Keep an eye on social media widgets that retrieve feeds or images and try to keep them out of your header.
Step 6 - Optimize Images
Websites with a lot of graphics or photos can really struggle with load times, regardless of how well WordPress manages them. In many cases, the speed savings you gain from optimizing images are marginal and not necessary, but if you see images on your test results taking a long time, you probably need to re-process them and be more careful in the future.
To avoid images causing any problems you want to do two things:
- Optimize images to reduce their file size
- Get WordPress to help carry the load
When preparing images for your website, use software that can optimize for web. In Photoshop, you can find this under the Save for Web option. In most cases, saving as a .jpg at 60 quality will give you enough compression without devestating quality loss. Keep an eye on the image dimensions too – large images really don’t need to exceed 2000px wide.
Google has an excellent guide on image optimization to check out for more in-depth information.
Install Jetpack by going to Plugins > Add New on your WordPress Dashboard and click Install and activate the Jetpack plugin. You’ll need to connect to WordPress.com, so if you don’t have an account, you can create one for free and enjoy the other perks, like free web stats. Activate Photon under Jetpack > Settings.
Photon will host your images from WordPress.com’s content delivery network at a pleasigly fast speed. It will also compress your images on the fly and ensure an appropriately scaled image is displayed on small screens – leading to an immediate improvement on your mobile speed score.
JetPack is helpful when you have a large number of high-quality photos or graphics being displayed at large sizes, where image compression is a concern or not an option. In cases where you have a ton of existing images and don’t necessarily need them to be perectly crisp at high resolutions, the Imsanity plugin will help you re-process your media library, cutting your image file sizes down considerably, and will limit files you upload to the max dimensions you set (typically 2000px for large images is good).
Optional: Verify Server-Side Configurations
If your site still has a terrible score and you have hardly any plugins, optimized content and an active cache, it could indicate a problem that doesn’t have much to do with you at all, but with a configuration problem or malware infection. It is best to get in touch with us to help diagnose and troubleshoot suspected server issues.
If your speed tests complain about extra query strings, install the Remove Query Strings From Static Resources plugin to make Google much happier.
The above steps are a set of timeless, simple measures you can put in place to speed up your pages on most sites. Optimizing your site will make a noticable difference in loading speed, encouraging your visitors to engage with your content more and stick around longer. If you only do one or two things listed, thats already a move in the right direction. Every little bit counts!
Run the tests on your site from time to time to stay on top of issues and see how things are improving.
Here is a quick checklist of what you need to check:
- Test and compare using online speed tools
- Reduce offsite content
- Reduce overhead
- Optimize content