How to improve WordPress site speed

WordPress can often be quite slow if not optimized correctly. Site speed is so important for reader retention, search ranking, and overall usability of your site. In this guide, we'll go over some of our favorite methods for improving site speed in WordPress.

1. Determine your pain points

First, we recommend running your website through GTMetrix. This free test will examine your site and give you a list of recommendations where you can improve site speed. For example – if your results point to "optimize images" as the biggest factor, then you know to focus on that. Here's an example of GTMetix results:

2. Reduce number of plugins

In our experience, once of the biggest culprits of a slow WordPress site is excessive plugin usage. If you notice your website is slow, the first thing you should check is your Plugins page. Are there any you aren't using anymore? If so, remove them. This includes plugins recommended for our themes! You may not need every feature that a 17th Avenue theme comes with, so feel free to delete the plugins you aren't using.

Additionally, some plugins can contain faulty code that can really slow your site. Just one more reason that we recommend keeping your list of plugins as lean as possible. We have a guide here on how to audit your plugins!

3. Keep your site updated

Make sure you are always using the latest versions of WordPress, Genesis or Kadence, and all of your plugins. Get in the habit of updating your site once per week.  Click here for instructions on safely updating your site.

4. Use a caching plugin

If you aren't already using a caching plugin on your site, RUN and go install one! It'll make a huge difference in load time. Caching plugins "save" your website data on the server, making pages load faster. The caching plugins we recommend are W3 Total Cache (free) and WP Rocket (premium). Or if you're using our recommended host, SiteGround, their SiteGround Optimizer plugin is fantastic!

5. Optimize your images

Large image files can significantly affect page load time. There are a few things you can do to make sure your images load as quickly as possible:

  • Resize your images prior to uploading to WordPress. You can resize in any photo editing program (Photoshop, Lightroom, PicMonkey, Pixlr, etc). If the width of your post area is 700px wide, don't upload an image that is 3600px wide.
  • Use the correct file types. JPEG for images of people, places, things. PNG for graphics and screenshots.
  • Use an image optimization plugin. We recommend WP Smush or EWWW Optimizer.
  • If your site is extremely image-heavy (i.e. a photography site), consider using a lazy load plugin like this one.

6. Switch web hosts

If you've tried everything and your site is still lagging, it's time to examine your web hosting situation. Are you on a cheap hosting plan with a shared server? A shared server means that you are sharing your website's server will multiple other websites. If too many websites are on a single server, that server will become overloaded and site speeds will be slow for any sites on that server.  In our experience after installing thousands of themes, Bluehost and HostGator have the slowest servers out of the hosts we've worked with.

Switching to a higher quality host or a Managed WordPress Host can make a big difference in site speed. Here is a great article that goes over the pros and cons of shared hosting and Managed WordPress Hosting.

Our recommendation for a high quality shared host is SiteGround – this is where all of our theme demos are hosted, and they load fast. Our recommendations for Managed WordPress Hosting companies are Flywheel (this is who hosts our 17th Avenue website), Kinsta, and WPEngine.