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How to optimize WordPress for better performance

Recently I came across a question on WordPress Development StackExchange where someone was asking for steps to optimize WordPress with regard to server load. Here’s a link to the question if you’d like to see it for yourself. Most of the answers written under that question were technical. So I decided to write this article to help the common folk understand how to optimize WordPress performance.

Enable caching in WordPress

Install & activate the W3 Total Cache plugin for enabling caching functionality in your WordPress site. Activate page caching, database caching, object caching & browser caching feature from the plugin’s Settings page. Make sure you choose Alternative PHP Cache (APC / APCu) as the caching mechanism ‘if available’. Do NOT enable any minification in W3 Total Cache as there are many chances for you to break your site’s appearance and/or functionality. We’ll leave it to Cloudflare.

Use a Content Delivery Network

Once you’re done with configuring the rest of the plugin functionalities, set up Cloudflare for your website. Make sure you enable Cloudflare in W3 Total Cache settings too, under the Extensions menu.

Cloudflare is a Content Delivery Network that caches all the static contents (image files, CSS, JS, documents, etc.,) from your site and serves it to your visitors from their global servers. This can help speed up page load times and reduce the load on your server. For a list of file types that are cached by Cloudflare, check out this list. Moreover, Cloudflare has a free plan too.

In Cloudflare, set the caching level to standard and set browser cache expiration to something at least greater than 20 hours. Enable Always Online™ so that even if your server goes down, Cloudflare will serve your website’s static pages from their cache. Also, enable their auto-minify feature (remember why I asked you to not enable minification is W3 Total Cache? Because Cloudflare does it better!) Then set Rocket Loader™ to automatic.

Here’s an excerpt of what Rocket Loader does :

  • Decreases the number of network requests by bundling JavaScript files, even third-party resources, to avoid slowing down page rendering.
  • Asynchronously loads scripts (including third-party scripts) so
    that they do not block the content of your page from loading
    immediately.
  • Caches scripts locally (using LocalStorage, available on most
    browsers and smartphones) so they aren’t re-fetched unless
    necessary.

More information can be found here.

Also Read: Redirect non-www URLs to www using Cloudflare

Use Genesis Framework for WordPress

If possible switch to the Genesis Framework by StudioPress for WordPress because their themes are clean, without any bloat. Genesis framework and their child themes are built with speed, security, and SEO in mind. I myself have tested it out around a few times and my Google PageSpeed scores were pretty damn good. Also if you’re using Genesis, then don’t forget to enable the ‘fragment cache’ extension in W3 Total Cache settings.

Since the Genesis Framework and all its child themes fall under the premium WordPress themes category (paid themes), not everyone can afford to buy them. So, I’ve got an excellent free Genesis theme alternative for you – GeneratePress, the new kid on the block whose performance can easily be compared to that of Genesis. Moreover, it is clean, simple, and weighs less than 1 MB. GeneratePress is just a single theme but it offers all the best features of the Genesis framework – it is lightweight and fast, fully mobile responsive, secure and stable yet developer-friendly with full microdata integration.

Bonus Reading –

Compress images

Since now you’re using Cloudflare as a CDN, you can make use of a plugin like Smush, EWWW Image Optimizer, or ShortPixel Image Optimizer to compress your images. All three of them are free plugins available in the WordPress.org plugin repository. Also, Smush and ShortPixel support the powerful lossy compression algorithm.

Remove query strings

You should remove the query strings from static resources like CSS & JavaScript files using a plugin like Autoptimize, Swift Performance Lite, or W3 Total Cache. This is because resources with queries in the URL (“?” or “&”) are not cached by proxy caching servers like Cloudflare and make it redundant.

Note: You can also do this via Cloudflare without installing any plugin.

Use a good web hosting platform

By hosting your WordPress site on a good web hosting platform like Bluehost or DreamHost (that are officially recommended by WordPress), you can make sure that your site has all the resources at all times. This ensures that your site visitors don’t notice any degradation in service whenever they access your website.

Some of the key benefits of choosing a good web hosting platform are –

  • More resources for WordPress to run in optimal condition
  • Can manage sudden spikes in site traffic
  • Can help you grow for some time peacefully without having to upgrade your plan immediately or find a new host
  • Less chances of site going down due to unavailability of resources
  • Very less to zero downtime due to server issues
  • SSDs can greatly improve site speed all time round
  • Proper backups to restore from in case something goes wrong

Optimize WordPress Database

Last but not least, use the ‘WP-Optimize‘ plugin to clean and optimize your database so that it runs more efficiently. You can also consider limiting and disabling post revisions in WordPress. If you don’t know how to do that, I’ve got you covered. Click here to read how to limit or disable WordPress post revisions.

Hope this article helped you in learning how to optimize WordPress to reduce server load and improve your site performance.

Also Read: How to make WordPress site HackProof

9 thoughts on “How to optimize WordPress for better performance”

  1. Hey. Nice guide you wrote here. I would add two other recommendations for image optimization. I used with good results ShortPixel, and Kraken.

    Reply
    • Howdy,

      Thanks for the recommendations Andy. I’ve tried ShortPixel earlier and found Imagify to offer better compression rates than ShortPixel. Haven’t tried Kraken Image Optimizer yet. Will give it a try and maybe I’ll post the results in a separate blog post.

      Reply
  2. Hey, love your posts man! Good content. But I was wondering if you, or anyone reading this, could expand on Cloudflare’s HSTS function and expand a little on it’s “Preload” & “Include Subdomains” Rules.

    I had a 7-Day long ticket support ticket with SiteGround over this because apparently the the “www” that you’re required to have with Cloudflare through SiteGround screws up the redirect that’s required for this function. So I was just wondering if anyone knew more about it.

    THANKS
    Jordan

    Reply
  3. Good to know your recommendation that Imagify works better than ShortPixel which is what I’ve been using. Thanks for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop! Roseann from thisautoimmunelife.com

    Reply
    • Hey Roseann, it’s not that Imagify is better than ShortPixel or something. Both are good and nearly offer the same levels of compression. You can also checkout WP Smush image compression and optimization plugin by WPMU Dev.

      Reply
    • You’re welcome Linda. Oh yes, this post is still relevant in 2018 and the advice is still as good as it was in 2017. Should I rename this post to ‘How To Optimize WordPress Site Performance In 2018’ to gain your trust? Just kidding. This post falls under the evergreen content category. That is, it will always remain relevant to the audience no matter what time it is.

      Reply
    • Hey James, thank you for adding more value to this post with your WordPress image compression plugin recommendation.

      UPDATE: This plugin was closed on November 22, 2018 and is no longer available for download.

      Reply

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