WordPress Optimization

WordPress powers 40% of the world’s websites. With a rich ecosystem of plugins that add user functionality, this platform can host a range of functional web solutions. In addition to plugins that extend a website’s capability, WordPress developers can also leverage custom-developed themes to enhance their web applications. Created by a market of designers and developers, these add-ons can automatically change a website’s appearance by styling pages with industry-leading CSS, JavaScript, and design practices.

These features make it easy to create a WordPress web solution. As it has a low barrier to entry, anyone with a little tech-savvy can get a WordPress site up and running. However, as with any technology, fine-tuning and enhancing its configuration can increase performance. By optimizing WordPress, you can gain a competitive advantage. As speed is vital in an online world, WordPress optimization directly affects your search engine ranking and user experience score.

What is WordPress?

Launched in 2003, WordPress is a free, open-source Content Management System (CMS) written in PHP. It is a website creation platform that automatically manages all the technical aspects needed by a modern web application. WordPress makes working a website easy with built-in features such as user and media management, full standards compliance, and an intuitive admin dashboard. As it offers every typical administrative function, you do not need to worry about developing these features. Essentially, WordPress is a platform that gives developers a head start. By leveraging its capabilities, you can quickly build and launch a fully featured web application with minimal custom coding. This approach gives you the added advantage of easier management and maintenance over time.

Optimizing WordPress

WordPress optimization starts with understanding the essential elements that determine the speed of your site. These elements include the server hosting your site, the WordPress application configuration, and the individual components that make up a conventional page, such as images, stylesheets, and scripts.

Optimized Hosting

The server and underlying infrastructure that hosts a WordPress site play a significant role in its performance. The webserver needs to have enough computing and memory resources to process any user requests rapidly. However, the ideal hosting platform is not identical for every WordPress site. The server and related infrastructure must be fit for the site’s purpose and visitor count. Sites with basic functionality and lower page views do not need the same infrastructure resources as multi-functional sites with thousands of visitors per day.

Optimizing Your Hosting Platform

The best way to determine the appropriate hardware resources for a WordPress server is to load test it. Using a tool like loader.io can help you calculate the maximum number of concurrent users without your site running into resource constraints. However, when conducting load tests, you must take any optimization technologies into account. Elements such as server caching solutions and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) can influence the score. Ideally, you should test your site with and without these optimization solutions to determine your WordPress platform’s speed across all scenarios.

PHP

The creators of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, and Mike Little, built the platform on PHP. This server-side scripting and programming language provide all the base functionality of the CMS. All the themes and plugins that enhance the platform also leverage PHP code. The later versions of this language offer much better performance. For example, PHP 7.4 is almost twice as fast as PHP 5.6. Ensuring your host runs the latest PHP version is also a vital step in any WordPress optimization initiative.

WordPress Configuration

Once you have performed any actions necessary to optimize your WordPress hosting platform, the next step is to fine-tune the application’s configuration.

Themes

Choosing a theme is a vital step in any WordPress development project. However, depending on their size and functionality, they offer various levels of performance. Typically, the more features they offer, the slower your WordPress site. When selecting or building a theme for your site, you need to balance speed with functionality. For optimum performance, you should only enable any features that are relevant to your website. As many themes come with a wide range of prebuilt functionality, disabling the elements you will not use can help optimize and improve your WordPress platform’s performance.

Plugins

As mentioned, WordPress is a platform that allows you to leverage plugins that add functionality. Disabling plugins not in use is a vital step in optimizing your WordPress solution. However, the opposite is also true. Multiple plugins exist that enhance WordPress optimization. Typically, these plugins leverage server-side caching to improve performance. By storing elements in memory, they help improve page load speeds. As WordPress does not need to query its database each time it loads a webpage, cache plugins can boost your WordPress optimization significantly.

Image Optimization

Images are a vital element on any website. Used correctly, they can capture the attention of the user and improve a site’s overall design. However, images can also detrimentally affect website performance. As they have a larger data size than text and other elements on a webpage, they take longer to render on a user’s browser. Optimizing images can improve page load speeds significantly. There are several techniques available to accomplish this task. You can reduce image sizes by cropping them to the exact dimensions needed or convert them to another file format. For example, leveraging web-optimized technologies such as WebP from Google and SVG can reduce image data sizes significantly.

Content Delivery Networks

Once you have optimized your host and WordPress configuration, the next step is to look at the infrastructure that delivers the site to your end-users. A typical WordPress installation consists of a server located in a particular location. However, if your site services requests from users spread across the globe, each one’s performance experience will differ. Site visitors located in the same geographical region as your servers will have better performance than those situated on the other side of the world.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) can enhance the performance of your WordPress solution. Caching static elements such as images, text, stylesheets, and JavaScript files improves page load speeds. CDNs typically offer a network of nodes located in data centers across the globe. When you subscribe to a CDN service, the service replicates your cached content to every node on their infrastructure. When a user accesses your WordPress site, it loads this content from the closest node, improving page load speeds. Due to the significant performance improvements CDNs offer, these services must form part of any WordPress optimization initiative.

WordPress Optimization Requires an Iterative Approach

Optimizing WordPress requires an iterative approach. As a typical solution has many moving parts, you need to refine and fine-tune each component to achieve optimized efficiency. However, starting at the base of the solution stack and working your way up is vital. The first step in any WordPress optimization initiative is to ensure your web server’s configuration is optimal. Once you have optimized your hosting infrastructure, the next step is to fine-tune the application. Themes and plugins play a vital role in WordPress, and you must optimize these elements for performance. Finally, once you have optimized your hosting and application configuration, you should look at the underlying infrastructure that delivers your site. If you serve users across the world, leveraging a CDN can help provide a consistent experience.

With Upstack, there’s nothing that can stop us when it comes to scaling your business. Hire a WordPress developer & start expanding your business today.

Originally published at upstack.co on April 11, 2021, by Chris Lazari

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