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WordPress - Speed Up Guide

Wordpress websites running slowly can unfortunately be a common occurrence. The main strength of a Wordpress site is in its flexibility and modularity, but this often trades away the ability to optimise effectively. In saying that, there are a few basic things you can do to make sure your Wordpress site is running as fast as possible.

Please note that the information in this guide is provided as a suggestion, and we can't provide detailed support for modifications to a Content Management System. If you require assistance with this, we'd recommend speaking to your website developer to ensure relevance and compatibility with your site.

In general, a website that is loading slowly can be caused by a few main things:
  • The server itself being under high load. We keep our clients spread out between our shared servers, but we do rarely see issues where someone's site is attacked or has extreme traffic. This can temporarily slow down other sites on the server - However our operations team is always monitoring for this, and they generally rectify any issue in short order. That said, if you'd like to confirm if there are any current issues you can check our Status page or ask us directly via our support line.
  • The site itself could be trying to use more resources than are available to it. Especially for high intensity eCommerce sites, the CPU / RAM resources our shared plans allow may not be sufficient. If you see your cPanel account is constantly maxing out its resource usage limits when you log into cPanel, this is an indication that you need to either work with your developer to make your site more efficient or upgrade your plan to assign more resources. We'd recommend speaking with your developer first, as fixing the issues that cause high load is often much cheaper and easier.
  • The site could be using an old or outdated Wordpress version, or PHP version, plugin or theme. In addition to being greater security risks, older versions of Wordpress tend to run slower. It's especially noticeable where one element of your site is up to date, and others are still using older software. This often creates compatibility errors which manifest as high CPU usage or slow load speeds, as the PHP scripts either don't close correctly or have to time out to proceed.

Before you start: You should test your site before and after completing each step. The easiest way to do this is to use a site like GTMetrix, Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom Tools. These will give a detailed breakdown of how your site loads. Note that Pingdom allows you to test from a server in Australia, which will give the most accurate and relevant results. You can also test your site in a more manual way by loading your main/index page, then open every link on the front page at the same time. This will give a more accurate representation of how long the site may take to load for your clients, although it is limited by your internet connection as well.

1 - Updating Wordpress, Plugins and Themes
Wordpress updates regularly contain updates to not only speed your website up but also plug security holes. It's a good idea to make sure that Wordpress, its plugins and folders are all kept up to date. Click here for a guide on doing this.

Remove all unneeded plugins. We have found the most common cause of slow load times to be unused plugins that have not been kept updated. They perform their associated check or function each time a page loads, even when unnecessary.

2 - Install Caching software
Caching speeds up your website generation, often making a night and day difference. WordPress uses many small programs (called PHP scripts) to generate each page of your site. This happens every time a user visits any page. A Cache runs these scripts and saves the result that is generated after the scripts have finished. After a page has been visited once, the Cache will be able to return this result to other users as well, so the scripts don't have to run for each user.

While there are multiple caching plugins for Wordpress (W3 Total Cache, Jetpack, etc.) we find that Litespeed Cache works better than other cache plugins, as it's the only one that works on a server level.
Click here for detailed instructions for setting up Litespeed Cache. Alternatively, click here for instructions on setting up Super Cache.

Consider using a Content Delivery Network. A CDN caches your site data in multiple places around the world. This is mostly useful when you have a global customer base, so clients in America can take information from an American server rather than our Australian-based servers.

Finally, reduce the size of images on your site. If your site is over 2-3 M, you will find it loads significantly slower due to the time it takes to download the site files to your browser.

3 - Updating Wordpress Cron Job
There are some PHP files that Wordpress needs to run on a regular basis. By default, it will only check if these files need to be run when a user visits the site, which slows down the load for that particular user. You can alternatively configure these processes to run every few minutes, so when someone visits the site they have already run and the visitor doesn't have to wait for the site to load.

Click here for instructions on setting up the Wordpress cron job

4 - Updating PHP Version
Updating PHP can, in many cases, be the easiest change to make and will give the largest improvement to speeding your Wordpress site up.
Click here for a guide on updating PHP

5 - Cleaning and Optimising the Database
When your website has been running a while, and has accumulated a large number of plugins, the database can get bloated. Cleaning it up can speed up the database queries that WordPress makes and help each page load faster.
Click here for our guide on cleaning up and optimising the WordPress database.

For more tutorials on website development and Wordpress troubleshooting, view our List of Wordpress Guides.