Still, the main problem voiced by users and developers is relatively poor performance and low WordPress site speed. Sites go slower and slower with time and there is a relentless search for new methods, techniques, and patches that aim to solve this problem on WordPress websites.
But maybe it’s all in vain and there is a better overall solution than to fix a slow WordPress? You will find the answer in this article.
We will discuss:
- Why site performance is so important in today’s world
- How to speed up a slow WordPress site and is it worth trying?
- The benefits and future of a completely different approach to building and maintaining websites
Let’s dive into the details!
Why performance matters
Performance may seem to be just one of many factors influencing the overall page quality, but this assumption may be misleading. The numbers indicate that it is among the most important ones.
But before we look at them, let’s summarize what the term really means and how we can measure the performance of a website.
Generally speaking, it’s the speed of loading the page or file in the browser. But this value may vary across different pages of the website (high-traffic or content-rich ones tend to load more slowly), and it also depends on geographical location, internet connection, and the user’s device.
Performance and SEO
Performance is one of the indicators measured by Google while assessing the quality of websites. This, of course, translates to the search engine’s ranking. The better the performance, the higher the chance your page gets to the top of the lists and gains some extra traffic (or any traffic at all).
Remember, your site’s speed may affect your ranking not only directly (because that’s the algorithm), but also indirectly, by increasing the bounce rate and reducing time spent on the website.
How can you assess performance?
You can, for instance, use one of Google’s tools called PageSpeed Insights, which allows you to spot performance issues on the website (but also matters regarding usability and accessibility).
You will get an overall score, an actual loading speed, and a list of specific issues (both for mobile and desktop versions), so this tool may extensively help you with boosting your performance.
To estimate the performance and quality of your website, you can also use many different evaluation tools, such as so called website graders – these are either a part of greater marketing management systems, like HubSpot, or act independently, like GradeMyWebsite.
What does an improvement of a site’s performance mean?
In a research report by Deloitte, with the all-telling title “Milliseconds make Millions”, we can find a bunch of interesting numbers about the performance of mobile sites (which are the most popular form of consuming the internet).
According to the research, an improvement of the page speed by just 0.1 second leads, among others, to:
- Bounce rates improved by up to 8.3%
- Increase in page views per session up to 8%
- Increase in conversions up to 10.1%
- Increase in average order values up to 9.2%
- Improvement of retail customer engagements up to 5.2%
As the page load time goes up, the probability of bounce rates increases significantly – from 32% comparing 1 and 3 seconds, to 123% in the case of 1 versus 10 seconds.
Also, 70% of consumers told the researchers it’s the page speed that impacts their willingness to buy products from a particular shop and, according to 10%, slow loading is a reason they would resign from a purchase.
So, an improvement regarding a site’s performance has a direct impact on funnel progression, especially on ecommerce sites, which translates to a lower bounce rate, more page views, better conversions and eventually – more profit.
Users don’t like slow websites and they tend to escape from them more frequently. And they might never come back.
Is your WordPress site slow? Some ways to speed it up
Several ways have been invented for WordPress speed optimization. Let’s take a brief look at the most popular ones. Is there a way to successfully fix the problem of a slow site using widely-described methods?
Management of plugins on a slow WordPress website
According to popular knowledge, slow plugins are the main culprit of poor performance in the case of WordPress sites. Even if you don’t use your WordPress plugins, they may run in the background all the time, consuming your resources.
They are often open-source and while working together, they may be incompatible, which will further slow the site down.
First, deactivate (or even delete) unused WordPress plugins and see if it affects the performance. Then, look for the highest quality plugins, using the recommendations and reviews you can find online – these should be lightweight and consume only the necessary resources.
This may speed up the overall performance a bit, but it is of course time-consuming and requires recurrent checkups. Moreover, it could mean you will have to get rid of functions that are crucial for your website.
Instead of plugins, you can try implementing microservices. Thanks to their API-first approach, they cooperate and communicate better with each other because they were invented to just do so.
Using a simple WordPress theme
Some themes are full of heavy images and other functions that may seem attractive, but they slow down the performance, especially if they were not optimized during the programming stage.
It’s better to choose a lightweight WordPress theme with only the necessary functions, which of course means you can’t go too creative with your features, and you limit the possibilities of providing the best user experience.
Images & videos
Some heavy images may be responsible for lower performance. The solution is to compress them, reducing their sizes without giving up on quality – but finding a perfect balance between those two values may be tricky. You can use a photo edition program or a plugin to do this.
A huge problem may appear when you have hundreds of thousands of pictures, and you have to optimize all of them.
You may even go as far as to host the videos – that are usually the heaviest type of content – on an external server and just embed them in your WordPress, although it means you have to rely on an external service provider and, if it goes down, your videos might be unavailable for some time, and you can do nothing about it.
Lazy loading means that the page is still rendered gradually while the user is looking at the content and discovers more and more of it. Thus, some of the images aren’t loaded until you scroll down to a particular point.
This saves the system from unneeded resources usage and cuts down the initial page load time and initial page weight. It actually improves the performance but you’d save only a fraction of loading time.
Moreover, if you create pages that are full of picture content, lazy loading can then even slow down your website.
Changing hosting provider
This idea means that you choose the best possible hosting companies and plans out there (including managed WordPress hosting), but it also comes at a price, if you have a lot of traffic and content.
If you opt for shared hosting – the most popular and cheapest option – your performance may suffer if another co-sharing company will get a high number of hits and consume the available resources.
Database and resource minification
Over time, your CSS, HTML, and other source code will inevitably build up. This will slow down the site, so you should consider minifying it, which means – as the name indicates – a reduction of its size. If you have a database on your server, you will have to repeatedly perform this operation.
The thing is that you… don’t really need a database on your server. This type is called serverless database.
Installation of the latest PHP version on your WordPress site
WordPress sites operate on PHP, which is one of the most basic and “classic” programming languages. It releases regular updates, so you should make sure you have the latest version.
All in all, this method will not change the architecture of the system, which is the main problem here.
We have also a bunch of other ideas on how to improve the load speed of a WordPress site, including:
- Using Gzip to compress files
- Updating the system regularly (every new WordPress version)
- Cleaning the database
- Installing a caching plugin
- Avoiding redirects
- Turning off pingbacks and trackbacks
- Limiting external scripts
- Optimizing task management according to traffic
- Managing blog posts: splitting, paginating, and limiting the number of revisions
All the above methods can help a bit but just look at how much time and effort it will consume, and how many problems you can meet along the way.
Is there a different approach?
Before we answer this question, we must clarify one thing. Most of the problems connected with performance of WordPress stems from the fact that its architecture is monolithic.
In a monolithic model, all the functions of the applications are gathered in one codebase. It is a large block of code with multiple modules that are coupled together as one inseparable entity.
With time, it becomes less and less functional, and messier. It may result in complications such as the 429 error.
So, you can try and use multiple techniques to speed up your WordPress site, but none of them will really change the core problem.
Needless to say, even using them all properly might not offer you the performance you need for your website, especially if it’s rich in caloric content and aims at offering a unique user experience.
All your actions will only result in incurring technological debt. Before you start running in circles trying to fix things, you may want to try a completely different approach: the Jamstack method.
Jamstack vs monolithic
Jamstack usually comes along with a headless CMS – one where the “head” aka the front end is decoupled from the back end, so you can even have multiple front ends working together with one back end.
Other than monolithic WordPress, you have a free choice of front-end technology and tools, and you don’t have to rely on plugins (using them in WordPress can make your website vulnerable to breaches and being blacklisted).
Jamstack = better performance
Those dynamically generated static sites let you enjoy great performance. Why?
First, let’s explain the main difference between static and dynamic sites.
Dynamic sites, on the other hand, are being generated on the user’s request, which takes a lot more time because the page has to be rendered first.
Jamstack sites are by nature static, so they can load fast, but they can contain dynamic content without being connected to the database (as we said, the “head” can be separate from the back end), which is a must in today’s online world full of ever changing content and fueled by sophisticated user experience.
Using the CDN to speed up sites
In the Jamstack approach, you use a content delivery network – a globally distributed network of web servers that enables you to avoid the problems associated with too much distance between you server and the user’s server, making the content highly available to anyone who enters the site, no matter the location or seasonal peaks of traffic.
How does it work? The user has access to a copy of a page situated in an area that is geographically the nearest one – without having to access the central server.
Needless to say, the CDN way is much faster, especially for streaming and downloads. Servers are also optimized to deliver different types of content in the most efficient way. The CDN not only improves performance, but also allows for relieving traffic coming from the infrastructure of the original provider.
Flexibility and creative freedom
With headless, you can forget all the pains connected with WordPress. A small change to the code cannot break the system. Your marketers can easily just change particular portions of content in a headless CMS without influencing the whole website.
Also, the whole dashboard is usually more friendly than a slow WordPress admin panel as headless CMS solutions have started to emerge and develop a few years after the WordPress release, so they are more up-to-date with their UI.
You have unlimited design freedom and can create any website you like, without having to think about limitations as to the size of images, videos, or themes, or a slow WordPress admin dashboard.
The future of Jamstack
Jamstack and headless approaches seem to be the rising stars of website development and are also on the crest of a wave as it comes to popularity. We have a few numbers to back it up!
The headless CMS market has gained over 1.65 billion dollars in funding since 2020. Jamstack is also getting popular among developers – between 2020 and 2021, the number of programmers using this approach has tripled (4% vs 13%).
Jamstack is no longer a “brand new” approach but has become the new reality for many companies worldwide, with Netflix, Adidas, Pizza and T-Mobile being only a few examples.
Although still the most popular CMS on the market, WordPress may start to lose its position because of its monolithic architecture.
Optimizing its performance actually makes sense in one case: if you have a simple, rarely updated, and rather small website with low traffic and no need for better SEO, it will work well enough even with WordPress.
In any other case – especially when your traffic and amount of content is significant – you should opt for a headless solution. This is especially important when you take into account that monolithic WordPress limits not only the performance aspects of the website, but also the number of ways to create user experiences or design and create particular pages.
At Naturaily, we have vast experience concerning the Jamstack approach– if you want to talk about your project, just let us know.