Optimize WP For Maximum Speed and PageRank

WordPress is a powerful platform from which to serve up your website. Whether you are running an online store, landing pages, or a general company page with some words about you and a contact form, you need that page to perform as fast as is possible. In this article, we will lay out some best practices that should be done with every WordPress site.

Is WordPress Fast Out of The Box?

The answer to that is no, and here is why: While the default install of wordpress with the default themes and plugins will rank high on PageSpeed, GTMetrix and other such platforms, that does not take into account any customizations you may make to WordPress prior to launching your site.

Due to the vast array of possible customizations available to WordPress, from themes to plugins, there is a lot that you have to take into account while you are designing the site. We are going to break those functional domains out into separate sections so you can pick and choose your use case and what works best for your site.

Simplicity in WordPress site design is key!

The very first thing, before you even start customizing, is to sit down and come up with exactly what you want your website to do straight out of the gate.

Whether you are designing this site for someone else, or this is your project, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want the site to be heavy on visuals, or do I want it to be simple like – say – apple.com?
  • How much traffic am I expecting?
  • How will I drive traffic to my site?
  • How, and perhaps where, am I going to host this site?
  • What is my budget for general upkeep?
  • Will this be an online storefront at any point?
  • Do I have access to technical/development talent or will I be handling this on my own?
    • Am I good technically? Or am I generally not a technical individual?
    • Do I have experience working at the server level?
    • Have I ever done anything on Linux before?

Those are very important questions to answer. While those are not the only things to consider when starting a new WordPress project, it is wise to consider those questions as a good starting point.

As you answer those questions, you should keep this question in mind:

How do I attack this item with ruthless simplicity?

There are a lot of themes, plugins and other addons available in the WordPress ecosystem that will come with lots of features, many of which you dont need – that if implemented improperly, will cause all kinds of overhead that will slow your site down, give you an awful SEO score, and can lead to problems like high TTFB times.

Visual simplicity is best

You should start by choosing a theme or starting point that is as visually simple as is possible, taking into account your branding and other visual elements that you want to express.

Choose a design that meets this criteria:

  • Doesn’t have tons of visual effects or transitions – These have lots of Javascript and other such things tied in, which causes overhead when loading a page view. This can also be troublesome on mobile devices.
  • Speaking of mobile devices… Choose a theme that is optimized for mobile devices like tablets and phones, since that is how most users casually browse the web.
  • Stick with supported fonts – If you have a typography that defines your business, then take steps to locally cache that font. Otherwise, use something simple, visually appealing and clean like OpenSans.
  • Properly Sized/Optimized Images – Some themes that you might find that are premium or free are set up to use responsive images, or serve scaled images. This is important since it can mean the difference between a B and an A score in GTMetrix and Google PageSpeed.

So, in short – go easy on the Javascript (or try to avoid it entirely), keep your images small in size (use next generation formats like WebP or JPEG-2000), and it should look good on mobile as well as desktop.

Only use the bare minimum for plugins

Every time WordPress loads a page, it fires off a database query that joins a bunch of tables together and renders a page. More often than not, most plugins are initialized and queried as well on each hit. Not only does this add additional server-side overhead, it will also cause issues with the presentation side for the end user. Many plugins have their own Javascript and other assets that are called up from remote locations on the web, causing external DNS requests that need to be made while a page loads. This will cause issues with PageRank, TTFB and other key metrics. Beyond the visual disturbances that errant plugins can cause, they are also possible attack vectors upon which hackers can screw with your site.

  • Will my potential leads or customers need to contact me from the site? This is almost always a yes, you will need a plugin that has contact form capability. We like Contact Form 7, or WP Forms. Choose one that is well supported, highly reviewed and is compatible with your version of WordPress.
  • Social Media – You will need a plugin that integrated with your social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, etc.). Choose one that is simple, and doesn’t try to work with every social network on the internet.
  • eCommerce – There are a variety of plugins that allow WordPress and WooCommerce to perform a variety of functions from order placement to integration with your chosen shipper. Lay out all the functions that need to happen from the time someone checks out until when the item is shipped, and how far you will have to carry that transaction until your customer gets the deliverable. Trying to get all the functions you need fulfilled in the smallest amount of plugins should be your goal.

These are helpful tips and a good starting point, not absolute gospel when it comes to planning out how you are going to see everything together. Again, keeping things as simple as possible will be the key.

WordPress hosting is absolutely important and should not be decided on price alone

There are thousands of hosting companies out there that will host your wordpress site for you. It is also a race to the bottom. The vast majority, about 75% of them, don’t care about your data or uptime, they just want your money, and in exchange will give you the bare minimum that you need to get your site up and online. They will also crowd you onto one of their shared plans that puts your security and speed at the mercy of other sites on that same server. If one of those sites gets hacked, there is a huge performance penalty, and you could also leak customer data, which in some jurisdictions comes with legal consequences.

This site is hosted on DigitalOcean. They are one of our solutions partners. We host this site in the most resource efficient way possible, while providing high availability and scalability. We are also a technical first organization, so we have the headcount required to service our site at the ‘console level’ – depending on your organization, and your individual technical prowess, this might not be an option. Here are some things to look for when you are using commodity hosting, or engaging a managed hosting company:

  • Geo Location – You want a hosting company this is in the same geographical area as you, and/or your customer base. These are the areas that you will want to host in depending on where your customers are located…
    • East Coast of North America
      • North Virginia – This is the biggest collection of termination points, and the largest internet pipe in the world. Locating your data here brand that you will be able to reach all your customers in the shortest amount of time. The amount of bandwidth here is absolutely massive, and why lots of tech companies and defense contractors colocate their data in this region of the United States.
      • New York City – There is tons of low latency connectivity here, since the worlds financial markets need to connect to the stock exchange and do so in the shortest amount of time as possible. This is some of the lowest latency on the east coast.
      • Montreal – There is a company located here, called OVH – one of our partners – and they have a totally green datacenter and sit on one of the biggest fiber junctions outside of NYC and N. Virginia. They also have some of the most competitive prices in North America as a whole when it comes to cloud services and hosting. Other WordPress hosting companies located in this area almost always use OVH as their hosting back-end. If you are a Canadian company, this is where you will want to host your site.
    • West Coast of North America
      • San Francisco – Lots of tech companies here, reasonably prices bandwidth and resources.
      • Seattle – This region is not as crowded as California, and the fiber pipes are a bit quieter. We have found some great low latency hosting in this region when setting up hosting for clients’ WordPress sites.
  • VPS with Control Panel – You will want a VPS with cPanel or Plesk to manage the underlying server. This keeps you out of the command line interface, while isolating your resources. On a VPS, it is just you running in your instance, so you are not competing with other users and their poorly optimized WordPress sites.

Hosting companies that have good speed to cost ratio are:

  • DigitalOcean
  • OVH
  • Amazon Web Services

Everyone should have a caching stack

Just because your site is not expected to take 1,000’s of hits every couple of hours doesn’t mean that you don’t need to set up caching. Our caching stack for this and all other wordpress sites we handle are:

  • Server Level
    • Redis – This caches our database queries.
    • NGINX – This is both our web server application, as well as our response level cache.
  • WordPress
    • WP Super Cache – Ue use this to cache HTML versions of each page so we don’t need to make round trips to the database if we don’t have to.
  • Edge Level
    • CloudFlare – We use CloudFlare as both our Web Application Firewall, and a globally distributed content delivery network. Pages are cached locally to our clients, so someone on a different continent, state or country can access this site quicker if others in their region have accessed it already. This plays nicely with our WordPress level caching. This reduces the load on our server, and also acts as a failover if the origin server should go down.

Font, JS and Asset Caching

If you can, you will want to cache any Javascript that your site runs, since running that remotely or 3rd party can have a performance tax which will cause your PageRank, GTMetrix and other scores to go down.

Google has a great article on font optimizing and caching here.

Here’s an article on local font caching.

By caching these components locally to your site, you will improve PageRank and perhaps TTFB.

Conclusion

These tips are not really gospel, and your use case may be different, but these are the things we do for the sites that we develop and host, and the every day performance of all these sites ranks 90 or better PageRank, and B or better scores on GTMetrix. In turn, those performance advantages contribute to higher conversions, and more sales for our clients.