When users make a request, that request has to travel all the way to your server and return back with the information that was requested. The longer it takes to get that information, the worse the user experience and the lower your ranking will drop on Google. Maintaining fast server response times on WordPress can get tricky, because while WordPress makes it really easy to build a website, it’s also really easy to lose track of your resources and build a really heavy website.
Basically, building a WordPress website is like being an amateur airplane builder who is given an extremely powerful engine. You’re not necessarily going to have the skills to build the best possible airplane. You will end up something super heavy, but the power of your engine allows you to swallow that extra weight and still fly.
In this post, let’s look at how to get the weight on your plane down.
01Good Hosting, Caching, and a CDN
There’s a reason that every single list you could ever read on getting a good server response time begins by saying that you need good hosting. It’s because someone with a bad host could do all the other optimization techniques on this page, or any other page, and still end up with a site that is slower than someone who has a good host. Need to find that perfect host? You can compare plans with our hosting comparison tool.
Many hosting packages will give you free or cheap access to a CDN, which you should take advantage of. A CDN, or content delivery network, sets up cached versions of your site in strategic geographical locations so that users who are far away from your originating server can still get a quick response time.
02Have Enough CPUs
CPUs are the amount of information processing that your server can handle at the same time. The more cores and the more powerful your cores, the bigger chunks of data you can process at the same time. Because WordPress makes it really easy to scale and build a huge website, it’s really easy to overshoot your CPU capacity and slow your site down.
03Reduce Plugin and Theme Size
One of the fun parts of running a WordPress site is browsing endless aisles of plugins and themes that you can apply to your site. There are tens of thousands of completely free plugins and themes, all of which promise to make your site cooler and more powerful than it was before.
First, let’s talk about themes. Themes are the designs on the backend that allow you to piece together super cool blocks and designs on the front end. They give you massive amounts of control and graphics power by streamlining the design process. However, while themes have a ton of benefits to them, they also suck power and speed from your website. This is a good thing to keep in mind. Themes are the really pretty part of your site, but the aesthetics of your site comes as the opportunity cost of the speed and functionality of your site. Aesthetics are all about a beautiful user experience, but it’s hard to have a beautiful user experience if everything takes way too long to load. Honestly, your user will resent your fancy graphics packages if it means that engagement with the site drops.
Second, let’s talk about plugins. Plugins are like the power-ups, upgrades, and accessories that your site can put on to become even cooler and more functional than before. But just like themes, there is an opportunity cost to putting plugins on your site. Every plugin is more data and weight that your engines are going to have to pull. While many WordPress beginners gobble up a dozen plugins right away during their first trip around plugin markets, this is a great way to hamstring your site and lose altitude quickly on the search results. Keep your plugin installations to a minimum, and only install things that will have an immediate, actual impact on your site.
04Upgrade Your PHP and WordPress
PHP is the server side language, and the version of PHP that you’re running refers to the interpretation of PHP scripture. The more recent the version of PHP that you run, the faster that your PHP scripts can be read and interpreted. PHP 7.4.1 has just been released. If you are running anything prior to PHP 7 you need to upgrade things immediately. While you don’t need to be upgrading your PHP every time there is a new sub-version released, you need to make sure that the main number (the 7, in this case) remains consistent with the most recent version of PHP.
Additionally, keep your WordPress software updated. This is not only important for security issues, but ensures that things stay optimized and run as quickly as they can. You may not want to set up automatic updates, but just like PHP, you should make sure that the main number remains consistent over the life of your WordPress site.
05Block Crawlers and Bots (Wordfrence)
When Google wants to determine the relevance of search results and to figure out your page ranking, they use bots that crawl through the information on your site. This is helpful, because it makes your site show up high on Google’s rankings. But over time other bots can find your site and crawl it for a variety of unrelated purposes. You can use a plugin like Wordfence to add security to your site, but also to prevent unwanted crawling, which can speed up your site.
06Clean Up Your Database
One of the most time consuming actions that you can undertake when loading a website is a database call, where your server has to search the database for information to load onto the page. Limiting the number of times that your site dips into the database can help speed things up–but so can cleaning up your WordPress databases. Over time, depending on how the database is run, your database can pick up a bunch of extra information that it doesn’t need to store. All that extra information is sorted when your site is calling information from a database.