New Year’s Resolution: Speed Up Your WordPress Site through CDN and Optimization

The year is coming to an end, and as a website owner, it is quite exciting to anticipate what’s in store for WordPress and your own site for the coming year.

The folks from WordPress has been kind enough to gift us with a new version (4.7 Vaughan), and with the new Twenty Seventeen default theme to boot just before the year ended. The update boasts features like non-destructive live previews, video headers, custom CSS, and better menu building. Twenty Seventeen has been optimized for mobile and customization and should make building responsive blogs and websites a breeze.

Image credit: Pixabay

This is very timely, since speed and user experience (UX) are being pushed front-and-center in content and design strategy. If there’s one New Year’s resolution you can have for your website, it’s this: Optimize for mobile speed.

Why speed matters

Better UX makes your website significantly more pleasant to use and navigate, and it helps improve profitability, as well. Our design, code, and content, should all be geared towards providing the best browsing experience to visitors.

One of the critical elements here is speed.

Worldwide, internet use has shifted from desktops and laptops to mobile phones. The pervasiveness of mobile has therefore intensified the “right-now” and on-the-go attitudes of most users. Google found out that 53 percent of users leave mobile sites that load longer than 3 seconds. This leaves you with no choice but to keep up with the speed demand.

There is also increased pressure from key traffic sources like Google (for search) and Facebook (for social), which have both mandated that websites should be optimized for speedy mobile browsing. Google has already included mobile-friendliness as a factor in ranking and is now considering including mobile speed in a coming update. Facebook also announced that it will be penalizing advertisers with sites that load slowly and encouraged site owners to improve mobile site performance.

Look under the hood

Optimizing your WordPress site should be easy, right? Well, it depends. Elegant and easy-to-use as our favorite CMS is, there can be problems that can arise for us website owners.

For example, WordPress’ extensibility has created a whole ecosystem of plugins and themes that can affect site performance. Often, we simply view themes and plugins as means to deliver a certain look or functionality. But have you taken the time to take a peek under the hood of these add-ons?

Unfortunately, some of these themes and plugins can be bloated and slow down your site’s performance. While there are other factors, these add-ons can actually slow down your site, and, in effect, your site’s potential traffic.

To check how well your site is doing as it is, you can head over to Google’s PageSpeed Insights page and get your site’s score.

Optimize your WordPress site

If you’re like most people who never really bothered with these things, you may be disappointed or surprised that your score isn’t as good as you had hoped. (If it were, then good for you!) If your site got a poor score, there are plenty of things that can be done to get those scores up.

Here are some ways you can speed up your WordPress site.

Choose a good host.One of the key factors to page load speed isn’t exactly with WordPress but with where your WordPress site is hosted. Many sites like personal blogs and small-scale businesses are hosted in shared servers. Speed comes with a price. Depending on your provider, response times from those servers may not be too good. Dedicated resources aren’t necessarily cheap, but some hosts can provide better performance at a reasonable price.

Use a CDN. On top of a good web host, you should also be looking at minimizing the lag between your visitor’s computer and your server. This can be done by putting your site on a content delivery network or CDN. A CDN is essentially a network of globally-distributed servers that stores cached copies of your content. When a visitor accesses your website, elements like images, scripts and other media will be fetched from the nearest server rather than just your web host.

It does not necessarily have to be costly. In fact, Incapsula’s content delivery network provides a free service that can do wonders in speeding up your WordPress site. It also includes a bot mitigation service to help fight against network-based attacks. Implementing CDN can instantly boost your PageSpeed score by as much as 20 points.

Optimize images. With how visual people are, you can’t get away with a website that doesn’t include pictures. However, including high-resolution images will add to page load times. You can manually tweak your images’ quality and size prior to uploading to your WordPress site using image editors like Photoshop or GIMP. Or, you can use a plugin like ShortPixel Image Optimizer.

Minify JavaScript and CSS. JavaScript and CSS are codes that provide your site with extra functionality and design. Many themes would include additional JavaScript and CSS to create the needed effects. Unfortunately, these additional lines of code put additional load to your host and has to be downloaded by your visitors’ browsers.

One way to save bandwidth is to minify the code – essentially compressing them without losing any of their functions. This can be done on the developers’ end. A highly-rated minimizer plugin is Autoptimize.

Use caching plugins. By default, WordPress loads content dynamically. If you load a page, WordPress has to process the PHP code, connect to the database and retrieve information, before rendering the content back to your server as HTML.

Caching improves performance by keeping static copies of your content so that WordPress doesn’t have to go through the whole process every time a visitor loads a page. There are a variety of plugins that enable caching with W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache being the popular ones.

New year, new opportunities

Just like any New Year’s resolution, it takes some effort to give your WordPress site the care it deserves. The new year offers many opportunities to improve. Speed is just one of those things you should not overlook. It only takes some know-how and a bit of elbow grease to make sure your site works just fine for another year online.