WordPress Optimization – What Impacts Site Performance?

Even the best-looking WordPress site won't succeed online if it doesn't perform well enough on a technical level to provide a seamless user experience and assist with search engine optimization. Read about the top six performance factors to consider when optimizing your clients' WordPress sites.

by Ryan Sullivan

WordPress

| 5 min

Research consistently shows that every second added to a website’s page load speed negatively impacts conversion rates, bounce rates, and a customer’s or client’s willingness to give a site the time of day.

This is a key reason why Google’s page experience signal — which measures page speed, the stability of web pages, and user interaction — has played an essential role in how websites now rank in online search results.

This infographic shows the three Core Web Vitals metrics being used to measure page experience for online users: LCP, FID and CLS. It shows the scores needed for a Good, Needs Improvement, or Poor rating.

If your clients’ WordPress sites get poor overall Core Web Vitals (CWV) scores, they won’t be as visible in searches as others in the industry that get a “thumbs up” from Google for their loading speed, visual stability, or seamless user experience. This is why fine-tuning a website for optimal performance is so important.

So, what exactly impacts a site’s performance, and what can you do about it? This blog looks at the top six performance factors for consideration.

Performance factor #1: Web host

Regardless of the website’s user-facing front, its files have to be stored somewhere. A web host describes the server space that houses all databases, images, code, and other files necessary to display and run the site. Naturally, the quality of the hosting service you choose can significantly impact your site’s performance.

Businesses often choose shared hosts as a comparatively cheap option because multiple websites share the same server. Shared hosting introduces performance bottlenecks and can seriously slow down your website when traffic gets high for websites sharing the same server. While a private or dedicated server is more expensive, you can rest assured that your server will be exclusively optimized for your WordPress site.

Regardless of the host type, reliability is critical. Ensuring that your WordPress host is appropriately configured, and has a reliable uptime, along with fast support, is key to sustainable website performance.

Performance factor #2: Website cache

A web cache stores pieces of your website in your visitors’ browser, so pages load more quickly each time they visit your site. Each of the three types of caching can have a major impact on performance:

  1. Browser or client-side caching happens in your visitors’ web browser. The right configuration in your site can tell browsers how long to store information. Through WordPress plugins like WP-Rocket and WP Super Cache, you can control cache headers that help to optimize performance from the visitors’ browser.
  2. Page or server-side caching cuts down extensive PHP and MySQL queries by serving simple HTML files to browsers that previously used the website. Its ubiquity and simplicity of use mean that every WordPress website should include page caching, controlled through all standard WordPress caching plugins like those mentioned above.
  3. Object caching is especially relevant for highly dynamic websites that pull in lots of content, tables, user-generated content, ecommerce transactional data, and custom post types. Through a plugin like Redis, your website can serve users a snapshot of the site, reducing the load on your hosting server and improving page load times.

Performance factor #3: Website images

Online users love visual content, but these files tend to be the biggest ones on your site. Ironically, your oversized graphics can overload your users’ browsers and cache, making your website slow and unreliable, increasing bounce rates, and impacting the time users can spend on your site. None of this is great for conversions or any other performance metrics you are trying to measure.

It pays to optimize each of your website’s images for loading speed. That means sizing them to fit the exact space for which they’re designed and using a file format like JPEG or PNG to reduce file size. You can also use a WordPress plugin like Imagify for real-time image compression as you build and update your site.

Performance factor #4: CSS and JavaScript files

Modern websites are no longer coded in simple HTML. Instead, they use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript (JS). CSS is essentially your website’s style guide. It defines a set of rules that all the HTML on your site will follow, from defining your headline styles to embedding videos and more. JavaScript, meanwhile, is designed to execute automated scripts that turn static pages into dynamic experiences, such as animations, scrolling image galleries, hover-over designs, and the like.

Each of these programming languages is essential for any modern website. But the files they require for a visitor’s browser to reference and ‘read’ also take up quite a bit of space. If you’re not careful, your website gets slow or (depending on the quality of the code) becomes unreliable. Optimizing your JavaScript and CSS files by trimming the fat or removing accidental render blocks becomes vital for site performance.

Performance factor #5: Server location

We’re used to an almost seamless online experience, so it might be a surprise to hear that server location can drastically impact site performance. But it does. In a world where every microsecond counts, hosting your files on the other side of the world can lead to performance issues that neither your visitors nor Google will tolerate.

The reason is simple: data still has to travel physically. From image files to CSS and JavaScript code, all the points we’ve mentioned above become magnified when that distance increases.

But what happens when you have visitors from multiple countries, and no single location will satisfy all of them? A content delivery network, or CDN, can solve that issue. As its name suggests, it’s a network of servers across the globe, caching static web content and files to deliver them more quickly, based on where the request originates. CDNs help minimize any location-related performance issues.

Performance factor #6: WordPress database

Any website built on WordPress has an integrated database where the platform can store anything from usernames and passwords to posts, pages, comments, and even information about your visual theme. While it’s an essential piece of the overall configuration, it can become overloaded over time.

Left unchecked, your WordPress database will continue to accumulate information. As it does, users will need to wait longer and longer to get the information they need. Cleaning up your database regularly thus becomes a vital part of the optimization process.

Fortunately, that cleanup process is relatively straightforward. Plugins like WP-Sweep can help you automatically clean up old and unused tags, expired user information, and post drafts. Each request to your site becomes less complex and requires less data, improving website performance in the process.

Get your core website vitals checked for free

There is no shortage of factors that could negatively impact your clients’ WordPress sites’ performance. Ultimately, though, it’s all about reducing complexity. Streamlining and creating leaner files without compromising quality goes hand-in-hand with optimal hosting and server performance, all of which enable a fast and reliable website experience.

Getting there can take time and requires ongoing tweaks and maintenance. Fortunately, SiteCare can help. Read our guide on How to Get Started With WordPress Optimization In Eight Simple Steps, or contact us to explore us handling your clients’ WordPress maintenance and support needs.

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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