Four Factors that Affect WordPress Performance
As your website grows, you might find that visitors and customers tell you your website seems slow. While there are many factors that affect website speed, there are some basic techniques that most website owners can use to improve WordPress performance.
This is the first article in a 3-part series on foundational considerations for improving WordPress performance. I will introduce four factors that affect WordPress performance:
- Web Hosting
- Keeping Up to Date
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Some of these issues can get quite technical and are generally better left to experienced developers. However, there are some basic things that any website owner can do to improve overall performance.
WordPress Hosting and Updates are the first areas to consider.
In another post on Foundations of WordPress Security, I discussed the importance of good web hosting and keeping WordPress and plugins up to date. The same rule applies to optimizing website performance: WordPress hosting that is reliable and fast is essential. Once you have a solid web host, you need to keep WordPress system files and plugins up to date.
If you run a small business website built on the WordPress platform, your website may be hosted on a shared server. This means that your website files are stored on the same computer as a number of other websites.
For most small websites, this is an adequate solution that is also very affordable. Just be aware that you might run into trouble on a shared server if something goes wrong with another website on that server. There are times when a computer virus can spread from one website to another on the same server.
Of course, some shared solutions are more reliable and more secure than others. SiteGround, for example, offers a unique way of adding security to websites on their shared hosting plans.
Generally, the very low cost solutions try to fit as many small sites as possible onto one server. Depending on the hardware they use, this might be fine for smaller sites with low traffic.
But once you start getting more activity on your website, this type of shared hosting may slow down your site. Or another website that shares your server might experience a spike in traffic that affects your website performance.
If you notice a slowdown (or if customers complain), discuss upgrade options with your web developer or your hosting provider.
Shared hosting also means that the hosting company is responsible for keeping your server updated and functioning at its best. They should also provide the optimal hosting solution based on your needs.
Shared or Managed Hosting?
Shared hosting solutions are not created equal. The usual business caveat applies to web hosting: you get what you pay for. So be careful about opting for $3/mo. hosting—some are better than others (I recommend HostGator for smaller budgets). If you choose based on price alone, you might not get the service or performance you need for your website to serve your customers well.
But the opposite caveat also applies. There are some excellent “managed” hosting options which look after maintenance tasks like backups, security monitoring, performance analysis, etc. Unfortunately, you will not always get the best service just because you pay more. Let me give you an example.
I recently helped with a WordPress website hosted by a managed service. The client was paying $20/mo. for managed hosting. But when I logged into the website, the WordPress core and many plugins needed to be updated. There were also over 4500 spam comments. Perhaps the client had stopped paying their bill, but it made me wonder how effective this managed service really was.
So be careful choosing your web hosting service. And remember: quality web hosting is key but a live, dedicated maintenance manager or WordPress developer can save you time, money, and potential loss.
Keeping Up to Date
One of the easiest ways to improve the performance of your WordPress website can be accomplished by regular plugin maintenance.
As you know, WordPress can be highly customized by using small additional apps and scripts known as plugins. Many of these are free, but some require a small fee or subscription. In my experience, the paid commercial plugins are usually worth the investment. If a developer is receiving a regular income from their plugin, chances are they will keep it up to date, adding new features and fixing security and performance issues as they arise.
But there are certainly many excellent free (or donation-based) plugins developed by quality programmers. Whether you prefer free or premium, choose plugins that are compatible with the current version of WordPress, have positive customer ratings, and display a solid, regular revision history.
When you see an update available for a plugin (the notice will show up in your Dashboard), you should update. There is a slight chance that updating may cause a conflict on your website, but if you have a backup, you will always be able to revert to an earlier version until you find a fix.
One of the challenges with updating plugins is that not all developers stay committed to updating their plugin code. Smaller plugins that you have found very useful might become obsolete, thus putting your website in a vulnerable position. Hackers will search out these vulnerabilities and take whatever advantage they can.
It is therefore a good idea to update plugins as soon as the updates are available.
Keep an eye on plugins that have not been updated for many months, or even years. If you discover that the plugin has been abandoned, start looking for an alternate plugin or consider doing business without it. If it is a feature you cannot live without, seek out a developer who might be able to work the code into your website, or even develop a new replacement plugin. Always delete unused plugins.
One final thought. Your choice of WordPress theme is also an important factor in improving your website’s performance. Themes that are full of features and detailed graphics may look cool, but all those bells and whistles take a toll on your server. If visitors and potential customers are not able to access the information they’re seeking quickly and efficiently, they might decide to go elsewhere rather than wait for pages to load.
When you choose a WordPress theme, choose one that best serves up the information customers and clients are looking for. There are so many WordPress themes available now, choosing one that suits your business can be difficult. While you might be attracted to a pretty design or a cool feature, try to use themes that are built by professional developers with a solid history and staff that will continue to support and refine the theme.
My first choice is always the Genesis framework by StudioPress or one of their themes. WooThemes also has a solid track record for great design, code, and support.
Before you start tweaking your website to improve performance, make sure you have good WordPress hosting and are committed to keeping WordPress, themes, and plugins updated and current.
I suggest starting with HostGator if you are on a budget (good plans with great support). If your budget is a bit bigger, take a serious look at SiteGround (great value and they’re committed to supporting WordPress sites).
Of course, there are many good WordPress hosting options out there. What’s your experience?