The speed of your WordPress website has had an impact on it’s rankings ever since the search engine business announced that speed is a ranking factor for Google Search and ads.
But since Google’s page experience signals was pushed as a ranking factor, website owners and internet commentators have been frantically testing, writing about, and planning for the Core Web Vitals
In case you’re wondering how your website performs in terms of Core Web Vitals, use Google’s web.dev test to measure speed based on 6 key metrics. Use this performance benchmark to refer to as you make your WordPress site faster loading.
You can also check how well other sites perform. It’s worth running some tests against your competitors for certain keywords. Like everything with search engine optimization, you don’t have to have the best website in the world. You only have to be better than your competitors to rank above them.
Use this checklist to improve your website speed and as a result, improve your SEO.
Note: this is a work-in-progress. I will update this document as new information comes to light, new best practices are introduced, and software products develop.
1. W3 Total Cache is free and is one of the best cache plugins for WordPress. It's a little more complicated to set up than the alternative (see below) but it's free and there are tons of resources on how to get the most out of it. The default settings are not good enough to take advantage of the plugin's power so make sure you research the best cache settings for W3 Total Cache.
2. The alternative is WP Rocket. It's much easier and faster to set up than W3TC but it's not free.
Image compression and resizing
Resize all images manually using a desktop tool like Photoshop or use a web-based tool like Pixlr. You could also use the excellent Canva, but it’s a few extra clicks to get the same result so it’s not the most efficient for this purpose.
I recommend something like 1200 x 800 for landscape and 1000 x 1500 for portrait. Reduce the quality until you get your images to under 300 kb (or 400 kb if you need higher res). Keep in mind that this all depends on the number of images in your post and the width of your website’s content area. Wider content area calls for wider images.
You’ll also want to compress images for better delivery on the web. And using the new Webp format will score your extra points for speed (WebP requires smaller files for the same quality as JPEG or PNG).
Use one of these plugins to automatically compress and resize images based on the user’s screen size and device.
Test how your website looks on multiple devices and screen sizes with Lambda Test.
CloudFlare – Free. Not a full/true CDN but good enough for most people. CloudFlare APO, the platform's own automatic optimization tool costs $5/month. Worth it.
CDNs also add an extra layer of security and CloudFlare can act as your DNS server. The latter will speed up the time it takes for the “internet” to look up your domain name and match it to your server. Simply put, it makes your site faster and more secure in several ways.
All in one optimization
If you want to hand off everything to one product, then NitroPack is incredible. NitroPack Makes massive improvements on speed and takes care of caching, images, CDN, etc. While it might be cheaper to configure other free tools and manage individual services, the peace of mind and one-click optimization offered by NitroPack is worth the entry price.
As mentioned above, a fast DNS server can really make a difference to your website loading time. Use an excellent hosting provider (Cloudways is my recommended host and the one I use for over 20 websites) and CloudFlare as your DNS (Cloudflare has one of the fastest DNS resolution times on the internet).
Miscellaneous Website Speed Tips
- Use Google Tag Manager for all scripts. Hardcoding your scripts and tags has been shown to deliver a poorer performance compared to GTM, which uses a CDN and loads scripts asynchronously (short explanation: it doesn’t block or interfere with other scripts when loading)
- Use Advanced Database Cleaner Pro, a powerful database maintenance and optimization plugin for WordPress, to improve the performance of your site by cleaning the bloated databased and eliminating database errors.
- Remove all the plugins you don't absolutely need. Plugins just add to the bloat and slow your site. Get rid of non-necessary plugins. Here are some of the most common WordPress plugins you don’t need.
- Monsterinsights analytics
- Google's Sitekit
- Simple SSL (if you’re still using this, change web host)
- Redirection plugins (do it manually or use SEOPress)
- “click to tweet”
- Sharing plugins like SUMO or Social Warfare. Grow by Mediavine is free and probably the safest to use
- Disqus (a garbage plugin) or any fancy commenting plugin
- Forms plugins like WPforms and Ninja Forms (just leave a business email address and have spam filters in place)
- WP Hive is a free Google Chrome extension that will show you the good (minimal page speed impact, clean, secure, regularly updated) and bad (slow, PHP errors, high website memory usage impact) of every plugin in the WordPress plugin repository. Use the Plugin Performance Profiler plugin (how very meta!) for an evaluation of the ones you’ve already installed. Rule of thumb: If you don’t absolutely need it, remove it. Nice-to-have plugins have no place on your WordPress site.
- Get rid of fancy custom fonts, emojis, and other stuff that visitors don’t care about and you don’t need. Users care about speed and information, not fonts and funny icons.
- Use good quality, reliable, and trustworthy hosting providers like Cloudways or WPX. Not BlueHost.
- Try putting the main/featured image below the fold (below the visible part of the screen when the page loads). This helps prevent the text and other elements from shifting when the slower-loading image is rendered.