WordPress Optimization – Getting Started in 8 Steps

This blog looks at eight practical ways to optimize a WordPress site to improve its overall performance.

by Ryan Sullivan

WordPress

| 5 min

A fast and well-designed WordPress site makes all the difference. Your client’s web pages represent their business and brand. They need an optimized site that improves their SEO ranking, total organic traffic, and, most importantly, their own customer’s digital experience. Considering that positive online experiences can improve conversion rates by 83%, WordPress site maintenance is crucial. 

But optimizing a WordPress website can turn into a complex task. With the vast amount of offered tools and the wealth of technical information available on the subject, finding simple, effective, and routine WordPress maintenance methods can feel overwhelming. 

This blog looks at some of the routine optimizations, tools, and techniques we use at SiteCare to help improve website performance.

1. Optimize the WordPress Database

As you use, update, and add elements to a website, old or leftover pieces of data can build up on the site’s database. This “cruft” (a software term for redundant code) comes from stored revisions, spam comments, or other WordPress programs. 

A good cleanup will result in a smaller database that is easier to backup, carries less load on a server, and increases the speed of a website. You can use a plugin to clean up your database, and WP-CLI is also an excellent tool for this. It’s a good idea to add a code to WP-Config that limits stored site revisions to four:

  • Define ( ‘WP_POST_REVISIONS’, 4 );

2. Set up a DNS Level Proxy or Firewall

The Domain Name System (DNS) connects users to the server that hosts a website, allowing them to access any web pages. It functions as a map of the internet. Since every device logged into the internet uses DNS, it’s a common target for hackers and requires protection. Installing a DNS Level Proxy or Firewall offer a series of benefits: 

  • A Firewall can prevent and filter malicious traffic and bots (no one wants to get hacked!)
  • Many DNS-level security solutions also include performance enhancements that can serve up your static web assets (e.g., large pictures) faster. 
  • Many solutions create a layer between you and your site host, meaning less server load for faster site performance and better security. 

Cloudflare is a great option that provides built-in global, DNS, Content Delivery Network (CDN), DDoS protection, and SSL (see below) – all for free and with minimal effort.

3. Fix mixed content errors

Well-run websites have security certificates (SSL) that allow for a secure connection (HTTPS) and protect the visiting user. Sometimes, elements of a secure WordPress page will attempt to locate and use unsecured resources. The result is a mixed content error. 

Mixed content opens site visitors to attacks by bad actors, can call up warning signals that deter entrances to a webpage, and lowers SEO rankings. 

You can use audit tools like LightHouse and Why No Padlock to locate any mixed content on a site and migrate it from HTTP (unsecured) to HTTPS or HTTP2 (Secured). Since most browsers only accept secured site access, you will experience a performance gain. 

4. Set up and configure WordPress page caching

Cached pages are static versions of a webpage served up by search engines or browsers (even if the pages are outdated). Compared to information pulled from a site database, cached pages function as a quick snapshot and operate with better load times and enhanced convenience. 

WP Rocket is an ideal tool that can increase your site speed with page caching. It offers features such as:

  • Lazy loading, which only loads pictures immediately visible to users as they browse
  • Google Font Optimization, to adjust fonts for faster loading based on platform needs
  • And XML Sitemap preloading, where certain pages of your sitemap are preloaded for optimized times.  

5. Set up and configure WordPress object caching

Object caching refers to storing common database requests in a cache. The more often a request happens, the more likely a visitor wants to access that object. Storing such highly-used site info makes it easier to serve up priority web page elements, creating an ideal user experience. 

Some server hosts do not allow for object caching, but here is a shortlist of quick-enable object caching hosts:   

6. Optimize front end code

Front-end code optimization is the process of updating your site’s content and code so that it performs better. You can achieve front end code optimization in several ways: 

  • Combining, Minifying, or Concatenating Files: By combining or minimizing the size of a file, you can achieve faster load times.
  • Creating and adding critical CSS: Your site consists of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Essential extracts of CSS and renders the immediate or above-the-fold CSS content a site visitor sees. Better Critical CSS means a better user experience.
  • Lazy Loading: As referenced above, lazy loading refers to a site loading only the critical, must-see elements first, deferring resources from hidden elements for later (i.e., when the user scrolls down). 
  • External Scripts: Parts of a website that use a third party are considered external scripts (e.g., ads). External scripts adjustments are out of your control, but WP Rocket can help minimize slow loading effects. 

You can use several WordPress Plugins for your front end code optimization:

7. Image optimization

Images and graphics contain a lot of data that can slow a website’s performance. To improve the speed and capabilities of a WordPress site, it is a good idea to compress media for faster retrieval. Ensure that all compression is lossless so that quality does not suffer. There are several tools you can use for image optimization:

8. Advanced troubleshooting and debugging

There are several advanced troubleshooting options available if a website still operates poorly beyond the first seven steps. For example, debugging tools can help you locate problem areas or plugins that have malfunctioned and are causing site bottlenecks. You can also search for page issues or monitor performance with visual data tools such as New Relic, Query Monitor, or Xdebug

Key Takeaway

Forty-six percent (46%) of users do not revisit web pages with poor site performance, and 64% of shoppers say they will visit a different site if they are unsatisfied with their initial experience. Regular WordPress optimization and maintenance are critical if your clients want to reap the rewards of a positive online business presence.

Luckily, there are steps to take to optimize any WordPress site. Use the information in the above guide to update and upgrade your clients’ underperforming web pages. If you want extra help with your WordPress optimization or need a WordPress site maintenance partner, Contact SiteCare to talk with the experts. 

Ryan Sullivan | Vice President, Client Success

Ryan Sullivan is VP of Client Success at SiteCare, LLC. With a background in information and open source technology, Ryan has been calming technical tidal waves, and helping businesses and publishers succeed online for 10+ years. Ryan is also an avid golfer and loves tuning in to Utah Jazz.

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