Common Sense Tips to Speed Up Your WordPress Blog

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Page load speed has always mattered, but it’s become increasingly important for bloggers to page attention to since Google updated its search engine algorithm to include page load times as a ranking factor.  It’s not a huge component yet, but if you’re blog loads slowly, it will hurt your traffic in more ways than one.

First, if your blog loads slowly, visitors will get frustrated and leave (bounce) before the website finishes loading.  I’m not going to cite any exact statistics, but it’s well established that each increment of time that it takes for your website to load results in a higher percentage of visitors bouncing from your blog.  Secondly, if your website loads slowly, it will rank less well under various search terms in Google.   Don’t take my word for it, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s anti-spam team, announced this in April:  Google incorporating site speed in search rankings.

If you search on Google for ways to speed up your blog, chances are that you’ll either get completely obvious tips such as get better web hosting, use less plugins, or tips that are just complicated/impractical for most of us such as getting dedicated hosting, a content delivery network, or adding memcache (what the heck is that?) to your server.

For those who maintain/host health and fitness blogs, it’s time-consuming enough to stay up-to-date about health and fitness trends.  Who needs to also try to figure out how to speed up their blog with memcache or set up a content delivery network?  Okay, so here’s some simple tips to speed up your WordPress blog (starting with the obvious and continuing with more advanced tips).

Obvious tips

  1. Hosting – Whether they know it or not, most blogs are hosted on shared servers.  Basically, this means that you save money which is good, but the performance of your site may be slowed down by other websites that share resources on your server.  Really, I’ve tried shared hosting from GoDaddy, Host Gator, and Dreamhost, and I haven’t experienced a big difference between them.  Unless your website is getting substantial traffic, you’re probably not going to want to spend the money for a dedicated server or VPS hosting.
  2. Plugins – Yes, the more plugins that you install on your blog, the slower it will run.  The worst offendersare plugins that have active counts (Tweetmeme, Facebook share/like, Digg Digg) since they have to make a call to another website and increase page load times.
    1. Tweetmeme, Facebook share/like, Digg Digg are among the worst offenders, but if you’re blog is fueled by social media, they can be a necessary evil.
    2. Facebook Fan box, Google Friend Connect, or Boxes for MyBloglog, recent Blog Catalog visitors also will slow your site down.  Again, of these only the Facebook Fan Box is probably worth using since it can be a substantial source of traffic for your website if your blog has social media success.
  3. Your theme! This part is really a balance.  On the one hand some themes use an incredible number of background images in their CSS design–for everything from the blog background image, to images for the navigation bar background.  Typically themes that use a ton of images for styling look more appealing, but they will load much slower.  As well, themes with popular functions which use traffic script for cool effects like front page sliders, to tabbed navigation will increase your page load time.
  4. Keeping your WordPress version up-to-date: What more needs to be said?
  5. Optimize your database… If you’re using a plugin like WP-DBManager, make sure to optimize your database once per month.  All that you have to do is click a button.  Simple!
  6. Comments – Yes, comments will slow down your site.  If you’re allowing any spam comment to be visible on your site, you might want to delete the spam comments.

Basic tips to speed up your WordPress website:

  1. Gravatar – Again, this one is a tough call.  Use of Gravatars will slow your site down, but it may also encourage people to comment on your site.
  2. Commentluv – Yet another plugin that will slow your site down, but it also helps some sites with encourage comments and discussion.
  3. Front page settings – If your blog home page loads full posts, it will load slower.  You can easily adjust this down to 5 with your WordPress settings.  As well, you can use the ‘read more’ feature to decrease the content on your blog home page.
  4. Stats – How many stats scripts/plugins do you need?  If you’re using WP-Stats, Google Analytics, Site Meter, and others, just be aware that they collectively will slow your page load time.
  5. Images– If you use a bunch of 200kb images or higher in each post, yes, your site will load very slowly.  You can compress your images with an inexpensive program such as Photoshop Elements or some other free software.  As well, if you’re posting width on your site is 580 px, make sure you adjust the width of your image in your photo editor.  Most bloggers are lazy and they will save an image with a huge size (1000px +) then scale down the image size in WordPress to fit in their blog.  Obviously, saving an image in a larger format takes more memory and will slow down your site.
    1. I haven’t tried it myself, but there is a plugin that will compress images for you from within WordPress called WP SMush it.

Intermediate tips to speed up your WordPress blog:

  1. Install caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Personally, I’ve tried both and I prefer W3 total Cache.   I once tried the Webo Site speedup plugin and it caused numerous problems on my site, so that’s one that I wouldn’t recommend.
  2. Compress your CSS files – Whether you try to Gzip and compress your CSS files with W3 Total Cache or WP minify, you will often run into conflicts.  One alternative is to edit your CSS files with a free online tool:  CSS Dive Gallery.
  3. Add expiring headers to your .htaccess file – Click this link for more info (scroll down) – Warning–don’t play around with your .htaccess file if you don’t know what you’re doing.  It can cause your entire site to crash.  Header expire.

Advanced Tips to speed up your blog?

  1. Upgrade to a VPS hosting package.  It’s an easy fix, but adds significantly to your monthly hosting bill.  Currently, we’re using Hostgator VPS, but might switch over to VPS dot net.
  2. Add a CDN – W3 Total Cache makes it easy to integrate a CDN to significantly speed up your blog’s performance.

Find the balance between a fast theme and not too many plugins…

cubric - the original wordpress blog theme

Okay, no one wants a blog that looks like the old default Kubric theme for WordPress.  Nothing says ‘spam website’  like a blog that uses this theme (though there are exceptions).  As well, no one wants a site that doesn’t use social media plugins to promote traffic.  Really, you have to find a balance.  It’s useful to use Google Analytics/common sense to achieve this balance.

For example, if your site is 80% search traffic/20% direct traffic (non-bloggers), then having a tweetmeme plugin, digg button, comment luv, and Gravatar enabled might not be a good idea.  Basically, if you’re the only one tweeting your posts and no one is commenting on your blog, then you’re not getting good mileage from the resources that these plugins use at this time.  However, if you’re site runs like Mashable and you’re getting 1300 retweets and 500 facebook shares, you’d be crazy to remove these plugins.

Free tools to check your website speed:

  1. Google WebmasterGoogle Webmaster will provide you with their information on your page load time if you sign up for a free account.
  2. Pingdom – this Pingdom tool is useful to find out what plugins/images are slowing down your website/blog.

Well, that’s it for now…

2 thoughts on “Common Sense Tips to Speed Up Your WordPress Blog

  • June 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Many thanks for the mention. You’ve compiled a great list here.

    Can I add one tip to the Images note. Be pedantic about file size on post images. It’s great to find images on flickr creative commons because they’re free as long as you give a link, but they are often taken with high resolution digital SLR cameras.

    If you have access to Photoshop or GIMP (free), consider re-saving at a lower quality level that you’re happy with (Photoshop can save JPG at an extremely satisfactory level around 80% compression). Add to that cropping out sections of the image you don’t want and you can really bring the size down. Images make the most difference to loading times more often than not.

    Great post.
    .-= Josh Kohlbach´s last blog ..Figure Out Dozens Of Cheapskate Marketing Ideas In Less Than 10 Minutes =-.

  • June 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Hey Josh,

    Images make a very big difference for sure. I have to admit that when I started blogging, I would either hotlink an image from another site (didn’t know about the etiquette at the time), or I would just find an image on-line and download it, then import it to my blog. Haha, it didn’t matter if the image was 2000 pixels x2000 pixels and I only wanted a thumbnail sized image. I would re-size the image with WordPress and I wouldn’t think twice. :)

    Really, I found that one of my sites was slower than 99% of sites on the web by Google Webmaster which was largely due to all of the non-compressed images in the posts.

    Now, I use Photoshop Elements for editing blog images. Elements has a ‘save for web’ feature which probably does get about 80% compression as you note. I did try GIMP before I bought Photoshop. It looks like it will get the job done, but the interface isn’t very intuitive.

    One other point is that for people with themes with CSS that is heavy on images, they can use CSS Sprites to speed things up. I’ve tried plugins that do this automatically, but it always causes conflicts and display problems.

    There’s a cool, free online tool that people can use to create CSS Sprites manually if they know how to edit CSS: SpriteMe

    Thanks for your thoughts, Josh


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