WordPress Site Speed Tips: 13 Optimizations To Improve Your Site Speed

So you want to improve your site’s page speeds?

There are many different things you can do but some of these methods can be difficult to understand and implement yourself.

Yet, we all know how important this is for us to do once Google announced that site speed became a ranking factor.

To bridge this gap, here are 13 tips with explanations for improving your WordPress site speed.  Plus I’ve included my own recommendations to implement these optimizations.

I will start with some basic optimizations first, and then get to more advanced optimizations later on in the article.

Basic Site Speed Optimizations

Site Speed Tip #1: Upgrade Your Web Hosting

Web Hosting

It all starts with where your website is hosted.

When someone visits a page on your website, their browser talks to the server where your website is physically hosted so that it can retrieve the relevant information.

The faster your server responds, the faster the browser can get to work displaying your content.

If your website files are hosted on a server that’s poorly optimized or overworked, you better believe those response times are going to be subpar (and that’s putting it nicely).

If you’re just starting out, a shared hosting account with Siteground is often good enough to get you by until traffic really picks up.

Eventually, though, you want to upgrade to a better web hosting solution.  At SmartBusinessTrends, we’re currently hosted on WPX Hosting which offers very fast site speeds. and I (Lewis) have been very happy with CloudWays web hosting for my own site.

We recommend: WPX Hosting and Cloudways Vultr High Frequency plan starting at $13/month for unlimited sites.

Site Speed Tip #2: Use a more optimized WordPress Theme

WordPress Theme

Asking the hosting server for information is one thing, but how much information is entirely another.

Your WordPress theme is the framework of your site. The bones, if you like. And themes come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are all about aesthetics, including all the bells whistles to make pages look like a work of art. Some take the opposite approach, offering a clean but simple layout that favors speed above all. Others are somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, themes have come a long way since the early days and many developers have figured out ways to offer beautiful, highly customizable themes while keeping code-bloat at bay.

The best part is, these developers actually care about speed, so you know future updates will always account for that.

Some of these include:

You also have blank themes that work as placeholders for theme builders like Elementor Pro, though I would place this combo firmly in the “middle of the road” category on speed.

So it is very possible to have a great looking website without compromising on speed, especially if you implement all the other site speed tips mentioned in this article.

We recommend: Kadence (Free or Pro) if you’re not using a theme builder. Hello Theme (free) if you’re using a theme builder like Elementor Pro.

Site Speed Tip #3: Audit Your WordPress Plugins

WordPress Plugins

Plugins are essentially an extension of your WordPress theme, so many of the same rules apply here.

If you want more bells and whistles, you’ll need more plugins. However, more plugins can bloat your site and increase load times, regardless of how fast your base theme is.

You have to ask yourself, is the extra bloat worth it? For example, if you want fancy image sliders or crazy parallax effects, you will have to sacrifice some page speed and in most cases does nothing for your bottom line.

There are some important caveats to this, however.

Some plugins are very lightweight and offer useful functionality. Others are a little heavier but are considered mission-critical additions — so the tradeoff is justified.

These include:

  • Security plugins
  • Comment spam prevention plugins
  • SEO optimization plugins
  • Frontend or backend UX plugins
  • Conversion and opt-in plugins
  • Monetization plugins

Other plugins are designed to optimize the speed of your site, which will nullify any speed penalty they themselves incur. Well, at least they should.

We’ll talk more about those in the next section.

We recommend: Removing all but essential plugins.

Moderate Site Speed Optimizations

Site Speed Tip #4: Use a Caching Plugin

Caching

Remember how a web browser has to communicate with your web host server to retrieve information about your webpage?

Even with a blazing fast server, there are dozens of processes, requests, and file transfers that take place before a page shows up on a visitor’s browser – and that takes up valuable seconds.

This is where site caching comes in.

It creates a temporary HTML snapshot of your fully loaded page and stores it on the server. When the browser makes a call to your server for your webpage, the snapshot is already on standy, ready to be deployed.

In other words, the browser still has to retrieve the information from your hosting server, but it doesn’t have to make multiple “trips” and piece it all together like it usually would.

The beauty of this is you don’t need to understand the technical nature of it. You only need to flip a switch using the right tool.

Plenty of WordPress site caching plugins exist, including:

It’s also worth noting that you can install advanced caching plugins like Varnish for reverse proxy caching and Redis for object caching, but please do your research before implementing those.

We recommend: WPRocket is easily the best premium option at $49/year. Otherwise go with W3 Total Cache.

Site Speed Tip #5: Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Content Delivery Network

A Content Delivery Network (or a CDN) is a network of servers that delivers your website content to your visitors.

How is that different to a regular hosting server?

The main difference is that it’s a network.

While a web host stores your files on a single server, a CDN stores snapshots of your website’s content (yes, this also utilizes caching) on multiple servers around the world.

Depending on the geographical location of each individual website visitor, the CDN will serve that content from the nearest physical server. Which will significantly reducing the time it takes to transfer data.

Again, it all sounds very technical (and honestly it is), but some CDN services have simplified the process.  To a point where almost anyone can take advantage of this technology with very little knowledge or setup required.

Cloudflare is a popular option and for good reason. The free plan works very well and the setup process is a breeze.

We recommend: Cloudflare free plan.

Site Speed Tip #6: Do Code Optimizations on your Site

Caching

When a browser loads a web page, most of the “information” being processed is usually not media like images or videos, but code.

It’s things like HTML for the basic elements and layout of your site. CSS for the styling of individual elements and Javascript for interactive content.

Despite using a lean WordPress theme and minimal plugins, it’s this code that can take up precious milliseconds of your load time.

But there are a few code optimizations you can do here:

  • Minify the code. This removes all the spaces, comments, and unnecessary characters throughout your HTML, CSS, and Javascript.  This will reduce its overall file size without removing any of the important stuff. Be careful with Javascript though, as it can be sensitive to minification, and break things.
  • Compress the code. Instead of simply cutting down code, this actually rewrites code to make it smaller for browsers. This is done through something called GZIP compression which can reduce your HTML, CSS and Javascript files by up to 90%.
  • Combine multiple files. The next step is to combine the same file types (such as CSS) into one.  This will be more efficient than loading multiple smaller files of the same type. Although, you don’t need to do this if your site is running on HTTP/2 because it can load files simultaneously for the same end result.
  • Preload content. This allows you to give load priority to particular content on the page which, when properly implemented, can ensure resources are available when needed, in the order they are needed. At the very least this can give a perceived speed increase.

Fortunately, you don’t need to do all this manually.

Many WordPress caching plugins such as WPRocket or Breeze (from Cloudways) handle this too, making it as painless as checking a box.

We recommend: Again we recommend WPRocket at $49 per year.

Site Speed Tip #7: Optimize the images on your site

Image Optimization

There’s nothing wrong with using images on your website. In fact, both your website visitors and search engines like Google love to see images used throughout content.

The problem is the vast majority of images aren’t properly optimized for the page they appear on. Meaning it takes more time and resources to load the image than is actually necessary.

There are three things you can do to improve this:

  1. Adjust image size: If you put a 1200px wide image in a 600px wide space, you are more than doubling the load time of that image for no added benefit. Oversized images are often the single largest problem when it comes to pagespeed performance. And it’s a fairly easy fix with the right tools.
  2. Compress images: If you use an image without running it through any image compression software, you’re using a larger file than is necessary for minimal to no added benefit. The two main compression types used for images are Lossless, which retains the full image quality, and Lossy (recommended), which sacrifices some quality for the largest file size reduction.
    Compress images
  3. Lazy load images: Images below the fold (not in view) add to your load time even if the visitor doesn’t scroll far enough to see them. Lazy loading solves that problem by only loading images that come into view.

So how do you implement this?

As you might expect, there are a number of WordPress plugins that handle all this on the fly, meaning they resize and compress every image you upload to WordPress automatically.

Popular options include ShortPixel, Imagify, and WP Smush, many of which operate on freemium models for a small number of images.

We recommend: ShortPixel on the free plan, or $10+ per month for larger sites.

Site Speed Tip #8: Use a faster DNS

Content Delivery Network

DNS stands for ‘Domain Name System’.

Every website you’ve ever visited on the internet lives on an IP address.  When you type in a domain name, you’re simply telling the DNS which IP address you’re trying to connect to.

It’s essentially a translator, turning letters into numbers. The faster that translator is able to respond and process a request, the faster everything else happens.

The thing is, when you purchase a domain name, your DNS is automatically set to whatever the domain registrar has by default. That’s usually not going to offer the best performance.

This is why it’s a good idea to upgrade your DNS to reduce any potential bottlenecks, no matter how small.

We recommend: Again we like Cloudflare. It’s one of the fastest DNS providers and it provides other services for speed optimization.

Advanced Site Speed Optimizations

Site Speed Tip #9: Use Cloudflare APO

Cloudflare APO

Cloudflare recently announced their ‘Automatic Platform Optimization’ technology, or what they call APO.

This is basically an enhancement on the free Content Delivery Network (CDN) service they offer, and it comes in at $5 per month for users on the free plan.  Or it’s included at no extra cost on paid plans starting at $20 per month.

Without getting too nerdy, it stores your entire website, including all HTML files and third-party fonts, on Cloudflare’s edge servers.

This means, regardless of where in the world a visitor is accessing your site from, they will always get your site (and all relevant files) from the nearest edge server.

“Our testing, as detailed below, showed a 72% reduction in Time to First Byte (TTFB), 23% reduction to First Contentful Paint (FCP)” — Cloudflare

Before Cloudflare’s APO you really couldn’t achieve this without some very technical manual configuration using Cloudflare’s Page Rules and Workers tools, which also aren’t free.

This essentially turns your hosting server into a repository for Cloudflare, meaning a cheap/slow hosting provider will see an even greater speed increase from implementing this.

We recommend: The free Cloudflare plan with the $5 per month APO addon.

Site Speed Tip #10: Take advantage of Adaptive Images

Adaptive Images

We already covered image optimization in this article but there is another layer worth considering.

Depending on which device and screen size a web page is viewed on, the size and resolution of your images could be larger than required, especially on smaller, or non-retina displays.

So if you want the best possible image optimizations, a “one size fits all” approach to image sizing doesn’t really work.

This is where adaptive image sizing comes in. Services like ShortPixel’s Adaptive Images can bridge the gap between images and responsive design, along with a few other benefits like smart cropping and image placeholders.

If you’re already using ShortPixel, this is really a no-brainer.

We recommend: ShortPixel Adaptive Images on the free plan, or $10+ per month for larger sites.

Site Speed Tip #11: Perform Ad Optimizations

This is more a niche optimization as it only applies to websites that run display ads.  Examples include Ezoic, Mediavine or AdThrive.

The thing is, no matter how many of these optimizations you apply, advertising scripts create hundreds of server requests that will KILL the fully loaded time on your site.  And honestly, there’s very little you can do about that.

But what’s important to keep in mind is that the fully loaded time of a page isn’t the same as the first interaction, or when a user can interact with a page that “appears” to have loaded.

For this reason, sites running ads should pay particular attention to this metric:

Ad Optimization

With that being said, there are some optimizations that will increase the perceived load time of an ad-filled page, including:

  • Script code optimization: This involves minifying and compressing code in the same way mentioned above, in the code optimization section.
  • Lazy loading ads: Loading ads only when they come into the viewport, preventing ads from displaying below the fold. This is similar to how lazy loading images work.
  • Disabling ad scripts on page load: Prevents all ad scripts from firing until the user scrolls. This is mainly a “hack” used to bring down pagespeed scores using tools like GTMetrix.

While some WordPress speed optimization plugins (like WPRocket) are technically capable of ad-based optimizations, they can sometimes mess up your ad layout, break ads entirely, and potentially even violate terms of service.

This is why it’s best to consult with your display ad network, especially since some networks offer their own site speed solutions, such as Mediavine:

Ad Settings

We recommend: Asking your display ad network.

Site Speed Tip #12: Use NitroPack

NitroPack

Nitropack is also a relatively new service, and it’s unique in that it’s basically an all-in-one solution for increasing site speed performance.

It takes (almost) all the optimizations we’ve discussed in this article and bundles them into a complete package that can be deployed on your site in a matter of minutes.  There’s virtually no setup involved.

That includes everything from a CDN (Amazon Cloudfront), site caching, code optimizations, image optimizations, adaptive images, and even ad-friendly optimizations.

The best part is it doesn’t even run anything on your site.

Instead, it takes an exact copy of your site and applies all the relevant optimizations directly in the cloud, meaning you get none of the usual slowdown from a WordPress cocktail of speed optimization plugins.

What’s the catch? Well, it’s not cheap.

This is widely considered one of the single best solutions on the market when it comes to pagespeed, so if you’re willing to spend the money, you can pretty much disregard everything else covered in this article.

We use NitroPack on this site, and have been very happy with the results we’ve been getting with it.

We recommend: Nitropack on the paid plan. The free plan is too limited and will quickly use up the allocated quota, even for most small sites.

Site Speed Tip #13: Try some Manual Optimizations 

Many of the optimizations I’ve covered here can be configured and toggled with relative ease, despite their technical nature.

To get the absolute best possible speeds, however, there’s a good chance you’ll need to dig into a site speed report—like GTMetrix—and tackle some of the issues manually.

This includes things like removing unnecessary CSS and Javascript files, disabling unused third-party fonts, and fixing redirect chains.

If that seems like a daunting task, you really have two options:

  1. Start with one issue and research it to death until you understand what it means, how it works, and exactly how to fix it. Then move on to the next issue until you’ve cleared the list.
  2. Use a paid service like WPSpeedFix or WPBoosters to handle it for you. This will cost you around $200 but could also save you a ton of time and headache.

At the very least it’s worth running a report just to see what issues are present, as you may not have much to worry about.

Final thoughts – Your Next Steps

Which steps you take to improve your site speed depends on where your site is at right now.

For example, changing your web hosting or theme may be too burdensome for an established site.  But it’s something you should consider when starting a brand new one.

I would start first by testing the performance of your site as it stands now to get a baseline of your performance.  You can use GTMetrix or Google PageSpeed insights.

Then based on your results, go back through this list and see what tips will apply to you.  Implement the low hanging fruit first, and always measure the impact of the changes you made.

Do this and you should see a big increase in hit site speed.  Good luck!

About Lewis Parrott

Lewis is a writer and SEO nerd based out of Southeast Asia. He spends most of his day churning out internet marketing related content from his laptop. Believe it or not, he also has a girlfriend.

>