For an inexperienced worpdress user or developer, the biggest hurdle seems like it’s getting the site looking the way you want. Once you’ve got all your content setup, and you’re mostly happy with the way it looks, you will probably notice (or your friends will tell you) that the site takes a long time to load. Worse, the long load time may be intermittent – meaning, sometimes it appears to load fast and sometimes it’s very slow.
Slow WordPress Website Load Times are a Common Issue
Google has the Answer, Right?
The next logical step is to Google ‘how to speed up my WordPress website‘ and then you scroll through hundreds of articles that all tell you the same thing: the quickest way to speed up your website is by adding a caching plugin and a file compression / file merging plugin. Some plugins offer both features, others offer only one of the functions.
So you follow the instructions, install & activate the plugin(s), adjust the settings as per the article directions, retest your website load time and voila….. the site is still loading slowly.
There is a common cause of slow website load times that’s being completely overlooked.
Caching, File Compression & Merging: Where It Typically Goes Wrong
What the Google hive mind is missing is that the first step is to investigate if the hosting provider or the installed theme has caching, compression or merging functionality built in! 9 times out of 10 I find that either of those, or both, have this functionality already!
I write often about preventing duplicate functionality with plugins & themes, but in this case, it’s extra problematic because default settings likely will not match expiration time across the different caching services.
Cached or merged files your theme is creating will likely expire (aka delete) at a different interval than the hosting cache setting and / or the 3rd party plugin settings. This creates all sorts of issues.
Before Following the Hive Mind Advice, Start with these Steps
Step 1: Check your WordPress Theme
It’s important to note that many prebuilt themes have caching and file compression built in. Be sure to check both the customizer options and theme options (these don’t always match!) for menu items that say “optimization”, “performance”, “caching”, “compression”, “miscellaneous”, “advanced” or something along those lines.
Remember that many themes try to be everything for everyone – so look for hidden sub-menus or check your theme’s documentation to confirm functionality & location.
Step 2: Check your Hosting Provider
Most hosting providers, especially Worpdress specific plans have server level caching. You’ll likely see a “clear cache” link in your Worpdress dashboard. It might be nested under a company link. You may have the ability to turn it on/off in your hosting account.
Step 3: Check the Plugins
Don’t forget to look at each plugin already installed. You may have more than 1 that has caching, compressing or merging capabilities. For example, you may have installed a plugin to compress images, this plugin may also have file compression. Make sure you know what the full capabilities are of each plugin installed.
Step 4: Remove or Disable Duplicate File Caching, Compression or Merging Functionality
When people struggle with slow load times, a gut reaction is often to install MORE plugins to “fix” the issue. However, WordPress is an ecosystem and adding more plugins is probably making the issue worse or causing other issues. It’s important to take time to understand the elements already at play in your system, cut anything not in use & disable or remove duplicate functionality.
But I’m Afraid to Mess Something Up!
I hear this a lot, and I totally understand. I recommend making a backup of your site before messing with it. I love the All in One WordPress Migration plugin for this, if your hosting provider doesn’t offer automatic backups for you. Updraft is another popular option. Some hosting providers offer a ‘staging’ environment. You can use it to clone your website and experiment with changes without inadvertently destroying your current website.
Step 5: NOW You’re Ready to follow the Hive Mind Advice!
Ok, at this point, you can start applying the hive mind recommendations for speeding up you website. These will typically include:
- Minify & Merge JS & CSS files
- Optimizing Images: size & compression
- Adding a CDN*
- Enabling GZIP compression*
- Cleaning / Optimizing the database
- Deactivating & uninstalling unused plugins
- Disabling pingbacks & trackbacks
- Switching to a lightweight theme
- Switching hosting providers
*Commonly provided by hosting provider – double checking before adding a 3rd party plugin.
Stay tuned for a detailed step by step guide for building your own website and for optimizing your existing WordPress site.
Frustrated that your WordPress Website is Loading Slow?
If your website is experiencing intermittent or unexplainably slow load times, if you’ve tried all sorts of different ‘optimization’ plugins without seeing any gains, it’s time to drop me an email.
Whether you’re a small business with a slow website or a WordPress developer that is stuck in a black hole, I can assist. With 25 year of web design & development experience and over 10 years of WordPress development, I’ve seen it all. Schedule a website assessment today.