Running a high-growth, scaling business is grueling.
As a website owner, particularly one running a large WordPress site, you are no stranger to the endless technical challenges that come with it.
Failed Core Web Vitals?
Lots of performance warnings?
This means only one thing – your PageSpeed time is painfully slow, and site visitors won’t have it.
In this guide, we go over the intricacies of page load time and the factors that bog down WordPress sites with large databases. Let’s explore actionable optimization solutions that won’t break your online business.
The Impact of Page Speed On User Experience and Business KPIs
With over 40% of site visitors abandoning a website if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds, website speed determines the success of your online business.
As user patience dwindles, page load time has become a critical factor not only for user experience (which tarnishes the brand’s reliability) but also for business metrics like:
- Bounce and exit rates
- Cart abandonment rates
- User satisfaction
- Number of pageviews per session
- And more!
Truth is, slow page speed impacts every step of the buyer’s journey. In a 2020 study, Deloitte found that a mere 0.1-second improvement in page load time meant retail users spent 10% more.
Beyond the business metrics, a slow website means worse chances for high-ranking positions in critical SERPs, as well as lower quality scores in your SEA campaigns.
In a recent webinar, Google and NitroPack revealed new data on how site speed affects your visitors:
- Users visit 60% more pages if the sites load within 3 seconds
- 50% more visitors drop off when a page loads in 3 seconds in comparison with 2 seconds
- Visitors lose patience and disproportionally start to abandon a web page at 2.75s of the page load
Understanding Page Load Time
At its core, page load time refers to the duration it takes for all the elements of a specific webpage to fully display on the requesting browser. This includes everything: text, images, stylesheets, scripts, and any other content elements.
In this article, a fast First Contentful Paint is our top priority, as it provides your site visitors with an initial indication of a page load. Without it, you might as well be telling them your website is out of order.
Various tools, such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix, can help website owners get a detailed breakdown of their site’s loading process. By diving into these nuances, you can pinpoint areas of improvement and strategize their optimization efforts more effectively.
What Causes Slow Page Load Time in Large WordPress Sites?
In essence, the complexity that often comes with large WordPress sites, coupled with increased demands on resources and implementation caviats, increases the risk of page loading issues.
• Slow Database Queries
WordPress retrieves content from its database through queries. Imagine searching for a song in a vast digital library without a proper search function; it can be painfully slow. Slow database queries often arise from poorly coded plugins (like a malfunctioning social sharing plugin), lack of object caching, or a need for overall database cleanup and optimization.
• Excessive HTTP Requests
• Web Hosting Limitations
If you’ve chosen budget hosting like basic Bluehost or GoDaddy shared plans, you might find resources stretched thin, especially when traffic spikes. A dedicated or cloud-based solution would be better, but it needs to be configured correctly for optimum performance.
• Bloated Themes
Some themes, like those loaded with multiple demo content and flashy elements, can slow your site down. Using lightweight themes like Astra or GeneratePress can make a significant difference.
• Excessive Use of Plugins
Using a myriad of plugins is akin to having too many apps open on your phone; things start to lag. For instance, installing three different slider plugins when you only need one can slow things down. Moreover, some plugins can fire up on all your web pages when in truth, you only use them on one.
• Large Media Files
With 80% of websites having an image as their largest element on a home page, uploading a 10MB image for a website banner when it should be 100KB is a one-way ticket to slow page loads. It’s crucial to optimize images and use next-gen image formats (like WebP) to ensure they load swiftly.
• External Scripts and API Calls
Relying too much on external resources, like Google Fonts or Facebook’s API, can cause delays. Local hosting of fonts or asynchronous loading can help.
• Too Many Redirects
If a visitor has to hop through multiple redirects — say from an old blog post URL to a new one — it wastes time.
• Database Bloat
A bloated database is like a library filled with books, half of which are outdated or irrelevant. Old post revisions, spam comments, or settings from inactive plugins can clog up your database.
9 Strategies for Reducing Page Load Time (+ Best WordPress Plugins)
1. Optimize Web Hosting
Investing in a quality hosting provider ensures that your website has the necessary resources to load and perform efficiently. Shared hosting might seem like an economical choice initially, but as your site grows, it might not provide the required resources.
Instead, dedicated hosting or a Virtual Private Server (VPS) can offer better speed and reliability.
|Load time US
|1 TB bandwidth
On top of this, integrating a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can significantly enhance your site’s global reach and speed. A CDN distributes your website content across a multitude of servers worldwide, allowing faster and localized access for international visitors.
2. Leverage Browser Caching
When a user visits your website, caching allows their browser to store copies of your site’s files. This means on subsequent visits, their browser can load the site faster without re-fetching all the data. Edit your .htaccess file to include browser caching rules, or choose from the top WordPress plugins that offer caching.
3. Improve Theme and Plugin Management
It’s crucial to opt for lightweight themes designed for good Core Web Vitals and loading speed.
WordPress themes for good Core Web Vitals comparison by Nitropack
Additionally, while plugins can add a myriad of functionalities to a WordPress site, not all of them are necessary.
Conducting periodic audits to deactivate and delete superfluous plugins can reduce bloat. Furthermore, it’s always beneficial to choose plugins that are optimized and coded efficiently.
Recommended WordPress Plugin: Query Monitor can help identify slow plugins
4. Optimize Images and Media
High-resolution images might look crisp, but they can be bulky and slow down a page. Using compressed, web-optimized images ensures a balance between quality and size. Implementing lazy loading ensures that images and media only load when they come into a viewer’s visible area, conserving resources and speeding up initial page views.
Implement native lazy loading by adding loading=”lazy” to your image tags and run your images through compression tools like TinyPNG.
Recommended WordPress Plugins: a3 Lazy Load
5. Apply Code Minification and Concatenation
For the manual approach, use phpMyAdmin to access your database. Choose the WordPress database, select all tables, then choose “Optimize table” from the dropdown. Alternatively, choose a plugin to automate this process for you.
Recommended WordPress Plugins: NitroPack
6. Optimize Your Database
Over time, databases can accumulate overhead data and become sluggish. Regularly cleaning and optimizing the database ensures smoother and faster queries.
Recommended WordPress Plugin: WP-Optimize can assist in maintaining a healthy database.
7. Limit External Scripts
While third-party tools like ads, font loaders, and analytics are essential for many websites, they come at the cost of speed. Analyzing the performance impact of these external scripts can provide insights into potential bottlenecks. Asynchronous loading can be an effective solution, ensuring that these scripts don’t block the primary content from loading.
8. Implement AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
AMP is a Google-backed project designed to speed up content delivery on mobile devices by simplifying the content. Websites with AMP versions can provide mobile users with a faster, more streamlined experience.
Recommended WordPress Plugin: The AMP for WordPress plugin will automatically generate AMP-compatible versions of your pages.
9. Reduce Redirects
Each redirect forces the browser to make an additional request, which can add up and slow down the website. Tools like Redirect Path can help identify and minimize unnecessary redirects.
To do this manually, use redirect checker tools to identify unnecessary redirects. Then, access your .htaccess or server configuration to remove or adjust them.
Recommended WordPress Plugin: The Redirection plugin offers an interface to manage and monitor redirects directly within WordPress.
Advanced Techniques to Speed Up Page Load Times in WordPress
Mastering these advanced techniques might require technical know-how, but the results are well worth the effort.
As with any significant change, remember to back up your site before implementing new settings and always monitor the effects to ensure the best possible performance.
• Use DNS Prefetching
Domain Name System (DNS) prefetching is a technique to proactively resolve domain names before a user follows a link. In essence, this is like looking up directions to a destination before you set out on your journey. When a user clicks on a link or requests a resource from a different domain, the DNS lookup can create a small delay.
By prefetching these DNS lookups, the delay can be eliminated:
- Add the following line to your WordPress site’s header: <link rel=”dns-prefetch” href=”//exampledomain.com”>.
- Replace “exampledomain.com” with the domain you want to prefetch. Add multiple lines for different domains if needed.
Note: Ensure there aren’t too many prefetch tags, as this can lead to decreased performance.
• Preload Resources
Here’s how to set it up:
- In your site’s header, add: <link rel=”preload” href=”path/to/your/resource” as=”type”>.
- Replace the path with the correct path to your resource, and specify its type (e.g., as=”script” for JS files, as=”style” for CSS).
Note: Only preload resources above the fold that are critical to the user experience. Preloading too many resources might backfire by congesting the network with less critical resources.
• Server-side Caching
Server-side caching is one of the most effective ways to speed up WordPress. This technique stores a static HTML copy of your webpage, reducing the need to run PHP scripts and database calls, which can be time-consuming. Every time a user requests a page, the server provides this static version unless there’s a change, making page delivery faster.
- If you’re on a managed WordPress host, server-side caching might already be in place. Check with your provider.
- For DIY solutions, tools like Memcached or Redis can be used. Installation and configuration will vary based on your server.
- Test the implementation using tools like GTmetrix to ensure the cache is working.
• Adjusting Server Settings
Adjusting specific server settings can also lead to improved load times. Two such techniques are enabling compression and configuring ETags.
1. Enabling Compression: Much like zipping files on your computer, enabling GZIP compression on your server reduces the size of files sent from your server to the browser, making web pages load faster.
- For Apache servers, edit the .htaccess file and add the code to enable mod_deflate.
- For NGINX, edit the nginx.conf file and add the gzip directives.
2. Configuring ETags: ETags (Entity Tags) are a mechanism web servers and browsers use to determine whether a component in the browser’s cache matches one on the origin server. By configuring ETags properly, you can ensure that unnecessary data isn’t re-downloaded, thereby speeding up page load times.
- In the .htaccess file for Apache servers, add the code to set the FileETag directive.
- For NGINX, ETags are supported by default, but settings can be adjusted in the nginx.conf file.
Take it Away
As an owner of a large WordPress site, your challenge is to deliver your content, services, and products faster than anyone else in your competition pool. And with studies showing you only have 2.75 seconds to win a site visitor, it’s crucial to prioritize optimizing your page load times now.
Periodic checks should become a routine, ensuring your website remains user-friendly and efficient. Utilizing tools to monitor page speed over time will provide invaluable insights, allowing for proactive adjustments.
Additionally, setting up a web performance budget can guide your optimization efforts, ensuring consistent performance.
After all, who doesn’t love a website that loads in the blink of an eye?