Increasing the speed of your WordPress website is an important ranking and usability factor. There are a lot of great optimization plugins available that can greatly increase your sites speed. However, some can be tricky to use and can result in websites that don’t work as you had intended. It is very possible to “break” your site while optimizing without a plugin but, since you’re more in control of what is going on, plugin-free optimizations can be a bit safer (if not as effective).
Why are WordPress sites so slow?
Before we go into the optimization process lets first consider why WordPress sites are perceived to be slow. First, Wordpess is a CMS, that means the website, the content and the settings are stored in a database. To render each page WordPress has to generate a number database queries. Database queries can be very slow and will render a website much slower then a website that was build purely in HTML. However, there is a trade off. The “slowness” of the WordPress site means that what you can do with the site and how you can your content (posts and pages) is streamlined and doesn’t require you to write or even know any code. Plus, there is an anecdote to all those database queries, I’ll get to that in a bit.
WordPress speed test
Anyway, before you start optimizing your site, it’s crucial to know what your starting point is. I start every optimizing session with a page speed test. I like GTMetrix for this but there are a number of other good page testers out there as well. Google page insights is excellent as well but I find it tends to be a bit more complicated to use. So, your first order of business is to get your starting benchmark, that way you can judge how effective your optimization process is.
While this post is about optimization without using a plugin, there is one plugin that I believe is crucial to any WordPress site and that is a caching plugin. Caching will greatly speed up your site by cutting down on those annoyingly slow database queries we discussed above. With caching your pages are saved as HTML and served up to your visitors without requiring a lot of database overhead. You cache is periodically regenerated to ensure your visitors are always seeing the current version of your site. Quick note, some better hosting companies (like WPEngine) will handle all caching for you and won’t require a separate plugin.
Here are some things you can do (without having to rely on a plugin) to optimize your site:
- Reduce the size of your images! If you don’t want to use a plugin (like shortpixel) you can download any number of image optimization tools and do the optimizations on your computer. While I much prefer using the plugin route, I realize some people want to keep their sites as plugin-free as possible. So if you’re not using a plugin for this, you will need to download all of your images (use FTP for this), save them to your computer keeping the same directory structure and run your optimization app against the images. The app will reduce the size of your images by removing any redundant data, it works, the changes will be imperceptible to the human eye but will reduces the size of the images meaning they will download faster when your page is being rendered.
- You should also ensure your images are sized correctly. An over-sized image needs to first be downloaded then it must be resized by the browser. All this takes time and slows the whole page rendering process down. Your GTMetrix report will show you which images are effected here and what their actual size should be. Opening these images in a photo editor and simply resizing them to something smaller can prove to be a huge savings in space and in load time.
- Lastly, Don’t go too far with with animations and other special effects on your pages. Make sure to use any of these special effects sparingly and only to highlight special messages or images. A little goes a long way and showing restraint here can really help to speed up your website.
Lastly, while I believe most sites would benefit from using an optimization plugin, these simple steps should help you to speed up your WordPress website without a plugin.