Whatever you’ve read in the past about why your WordPress website is slow, throw it away. If you have books, burn them. Because they are all beating around the bush.
Take a look at the following chart. What we’ve done here is highlighted the main areas which affect website load times.
Website Load Times – Importance of Various Factors
Take a look at that, and let it really sink in. 75% of a website’s load times are determined by the website hosting.
So all of that fine-tuning of your caching plugin you’ve been doing? Worthless, if your host is garbage.
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Here is a table version of the same data.
What are the contributing factors to making a WordPress website fast or slow?
|3%||Minify, Caching, Etc.|
So let’s discuss what each of these means a bit more.
Website hosting is the service you use to keep your website online. Somewhere, there is a physical server that has all of your website’s files on it.
Since you’re on this page, odds are your WordPress website is loading very slowly. I suspect, then, that you are hosting with a crappy host like Godaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, Lunar Pages, or one of any number of budget hosts.
It’s not that they necessarily provide bad service, and they may indeed be highly rated. But look at what you are paying. $5/month? How can you expect to power a complex WordPress website for that price?
These cheap shared-hosting plans put hundreds of websites on the same, underpowered server. And think about it… WordPress runs dozens or even hundreds of calculations and operations every single time a page is loaded. How could this poor server ever hope to keep up?
Bad hosting is the #1 factor, but a huge margin, to why WordPress website are sluggish.
We’ve all been there. We need to add some random functionality to our site, so we find a plugin that does it. That’s part of what makes WordPress great, right?
But that one plugin soon turns in to 30, and before you know it, your website is a Frankenstein’s monster with no legs; crawling slowly across the ground, contemplating its purpose and praying for death.
And while we love the WordPress community and its ability to submit its own plugins (we have one in the repository!), the truth is that not all of them are built to the same standards as WordPress itself. Coding can be sloppy and not done with performance in mind.
And when all is said and done, these plugins can really slow your site down.
The good news is, that proper hosting can greatly diminish or eliminate the problems caused by these plugins!
And even well-coded plugins like WooCommerce can significantly slow your site down if you don’t have good hosting.
Bad WordPress themes can also contribute significantly to slowing your site down. And just because a theme is popular, doesn’t mean it’s not bad! In our experience, Avada (the #1 theme on ThemeForest) is one of the slowest around.
We like to stick with X Theme, which is fairly well optimized. It still takes some power to run but you aren’t going to see the slowdowns like you would with other themes. Especially if you avoid behemoth plugins like Slider Revolution.
And again, if you have good hosting, the effects of even a badly coded theme are still minimized.
Minify, Caching, Etc.
There are lots of little things you can tweak to get extra performance out of your website, but in our experience, they do almost nothing to provide tangible improvements, often cause more problems then they’re worth, and pale in comparison to the effects of improved website hosting.
Odds are, you are using lots of images and other rich media on your website. Minify will slightly reduce the size of the files which need to load before the site does, but it’s negligible compared to everything else. And that’s ignoring the fact that most of the time, the long load times are due to an overloaded server trying to render your site, not the actual bandwidth.
And if you’ve ever attempted to set up a CDN, you know how many problems can come out of that. And in my experience, unless you have an expert setting it up for you, your load times will actually be worse. The load on the server may be marginally improved but if your site loads slower, what’s the point?
Generally I recommend just ignoring these things, as they are not worth your time. A simple caching plugin with fairly stock settings may be all you need.
But What About Google’s Recommendations?
If you’ve run Google’s PageSpeed Tools Insights, you probably came back to your web developer with a list of 100 things you need to “fix” on your site to make it load faster.
Don’t bother. In the right hands, there can be valuable insight gleaned from this tool. But most of the time, it’s just incredibly misleading information there to waste your time.
Consider the following scenario: you’ve developed a checklist to determine which car will win in a drag race. On it, you’re looking to make sure the car includes the following things:
- Carbon fiber body
- Aluminum frame
- Nitrous Oxide
- Racing Slicks
Seems like good things to look for right? The problem is, you could have a 150 Horsepower Honda Civic with those specifications. But if a 1,200 Horsepower Bugatti Veyron Super Sport rolls up, it’s going to absolutely crush the puny Civic. With or without those things being checked off.
Why did our checklist fail? Because it doesn’t take into account actual performance; it’s just an arbitrary list of things that can potentially improve performance.
And neither does Google’s PageSpeed Insights. The score is based on a checklist, not performance. I’d rather have a website that loads in 2 seconds and scores a 10 than a site that loads in 4 seconds and scores a 100.
Test WordPress Website Load Times
Of course, you may want to test your site to find out if it really is slow. What you consider slow might be very different from what other people consider slow.
With that in mind, here are some tools you can use to actually find out!
Pingdom is a great all-around tool to test speed. You can try different servers and it gives recommendations.
I caution you to take the recommendations with a grain of salt, however. Again: I believe that website hosting is by far the most important thing you can do.
WebPageTest has a variety of tests you can run, and does multiple requests. You can even use different browsers.
I use UptimeRobot to monitor my WordPress websites and make sure they don’t go offline. But it also tracks response times of servers over time, which is a nice bonus. It is only one measure of speed, but high times here can tell you that the hosting server can’t keep up with WordPress!
But how slow is too slow?
This is somewhat of a difficult question to answer. I would say that if you are running WordPress, and your server’s response time is greater than about a second on average, you may want to look into upgrading.
Total load time can vary wildly, but should be viewed in context. For example, if you have a very long page with lots of images, you can be forgiven for having a page whose total load time is 8-10 seconds.
But if you’re looking at 30 seconds total load time, something has got to change.
I’m looking at you, every major newspaper and publication website ever.
Bottom line, I would say that if you have a very basic website with limited media, the page should begin coming up within about the first second, and should fully load within probably 4-5 seconds with a broadband.
If you have a more complicated website, such as an e-commerce website running WooCommerce, other additional complex plugins, or lots of media and images, the pages should start coming up still within about 2 seconds and should fully load within about 10.
Those figures can vary wildly depending on the site, however. The most important part is making sure the above-the-fold content comes up relatively quickly.
How to Fix WordPress Slow Issues
Based on the information presented here, I think it’s pretty clear that you need to invest in higher-quality WordPress hosting. If you’ve been going cheap with Godaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, or any of the other budget shared hosts, that’s probably the reason you’re site is so slow.
These hosts just cannot keep up with WordPress. They might excel at static HTML websites (and if that’s what you have, by all means: go for it!), but they can’t keep up with the plugins and PHP scripting that WordPress uses.
In some cases, if your website is ordinarily very fast but is newly slow, it is possible that you have some other issue going on. Issues range from temporary hosting blips to plugin and theme conflicts. These can be quite a bit harder to diagnose, so we recommend working with an expert who has experience troubleshooting WordPress websites.
How to Make WordPress Really Fast
Since you’ve seen the graph at the beginning of this post, you already know that hosting is the most important barrier to great WordPress load speeds, but it’s not the only one!
Your theme and plugins can have a major impact on your overall page speed. Poor code can bring your site to a crawl, even on the best hosting.
Here are just a few tips to avoid plugins and themes that will slow down your site:
- Avoid free themes generally, or themes that are obscure or have very few ratings.
- Look for metrics and reviews about your theme that compare efficiency. Even some popular themes tend to be quite slow (Avada…), while others tend to be quite a bit faster, despite their power (We love X Theme!)
- I would always avoid really obscure plugins, especially if they aren’t even in the WordPress repository. If all they do is slow down your site, you may be lucky!
- Try to limit the number of plugins you use, and focus on functionality that’s really important. Don’t just install things on a whim.
- Delete old and inactive plugins. Even a deactivated plugin can slow your site down (and make it insecure)
- Really question any new plugin, especially heavy ones that add major functionality. Do you really need a forum? Social networking capabilities? E-Commerce? Use only what you need and forget the rest.
- Social media sharing button plugins tend to be the worst. Not sure why.
- Slider plugins are also notorious for performance. Here’s a good roundup of which are the fastest and slowest.
- Keep all of your WordPress themes and plugins updated, even the inactive ones.
- Consult with an expert to audit your current plugins. Years of experience working with hundreds of WordPress sites tends to bring valuable insight even at a glance.
Generally, the better your hosting is, the less of an impact legitimate themes and plugins will have. I’ve found that sites with lots of plugins (30+ in many cases) actually had the greatest advantage when switching over to a premium host like what we offer.
WordPress Performance Tuning
With some work and some serious patience, it is possible to fine-tune everything about your WordPress installation and get the maximum possible speed.
All-in-all, the best you can do is keep your site extremely simple and use great hosting. But not all sites can stay simple, and for those, there are things you can do.
Here are just a handful that tend to have some positive impact, depending on your current setup:
- Compressing images before you upload them. (There are also plugins that can resize them after they’ve been uploaded)
- Only using smaller images. Never upload images straight from a camera for use on your website.
- Use a caching plugin. These can provide some benefit, though are often difficult to configure and can cause other problems.
There are myriad other ways you can improve your website’s performance marginally, but there are plenty of tutorials on all of those methods, so I won’t go into them here.
For most business owners in Minnesota, you should be able to get great website load times by simply having quality hosting with a decent theme and plugins. Your time would be better spent elsewhere than fine-tuning these aspects.
Conclusion: Your Site is Slow Because Your Hosting is Bad
Pretty much across the board, WordPress sites that are running slow are doing so because the hosting that powers them is poor quality.
Premium site hosting is really not all that expensive, and absolutely pays itself off with improved search engine rankings, longer site visits, and higher conversion rates. Can you really afford to have a sluggish website because you cheaped out on hosting?