The very idea of using plugins
to speed up the load times of a WordPress website or blog is counterintuitive,
given that bloated plugins are often identified as the main reason a site
performs too slowly. An entire cottage industry has evolved to address
WordPress performance issues, along with a raft of plugins designed to monitor
site performance and recommend strategies for improvement.
WordPress author awareness of
the importance of minimizing page load times is on the rise, as studies continually
show the number of seconds visitors are willing to wait before surfing
elsewhere dropping year over year. Some experts now say a wait as long as 400
milliseconds—less than half a second—is enough to send visitors away, and a
page load time a quarter of a second briefer than one’s competitors now
constitutes an actual advantage on the web. Google now docks SEO points from
slow sites, pushing them lower in hit lists.
installed plugins and then measuring any change in performance is a
tried-and-true method for identifying performance-robbing plugins, which can
then be uninstalled. After that, WordPress authors seeking quicker loads often
try theme optimization, various caching strategies, or the adoption of a
content delivery network.
But as a content management system (CMS), WordPress’s very
reason for existence is convenience. Improving site performance simply by
installing a plugin is an attractive and practical solution for many WordPress
authors who want better performance but do not want to apply great amounts of
time, effort or money to achieve it.
With that in mind, this article describes three ways to
dramatically improve WordPress performance by doing nothing more than
installing a plugin and choosing a few settings. All three plugins described are
available from the WordPress Plugin Directory at http://wordpress.org/plugins/.
Loading Images Faster
Studies have shown that as many
as 90 percent of WordPress sites are slowed chiefly by unoptimized images:
picture files that contain excess metadata or are larger than necessary for how
they are used in the layout. Many authors find that optimizing images is second
only to cleaning out plugins as the quickest fix for a slow WordPress site.
Optimization isn’t the only
approach to improving picture load times. Pros advise favoring images in the
PNG format for icons and logos because of PNG’s transparency support, and
favoring the JPEG format—and its typically smaller file sizes—for photographs.
Using images first resized to the proper dimensions outside of WordPress helps,
too; scaling them inside WordPress reduces dimensions but not file size.
But WordPress authors favoring a plugin optimization solution
can look to tools like Prizm Image’s plugin for WordPress. Prizm Image is a
free cloud service that applies patented technology to images to cut their
files down to as little as a third of the original size while preserving the
full resolution, display/print dimensions and image quality of the original
image file. The service works on JPEG, PNG and GIF files.
The plugin for Prizm Image adds a single panel under the
Media tab and some settings on the Media settings page to WordPress that enable
the author to remove extraneous metadata and reduce file sizes for selected
images in the author’s WordPress media library. The plugin can be configured to
automatically apply these optimizations to all new images uploaded to the
library, so every new image the author drops into a WordPress site is already
as small and speedy as it can be.
The WordPress plugin for Prizm Image speeds up the
load time of JPEG and PNG images by reducing their file size without changing
Caching Pages for Faster Loading
image optimization, there are many different ways to enable caching of
WordPress pages to speed up load times, some requiring more time and technical
skill than others. But among the simple, plugin-based solutions is WP Super
Cache, a static caching plugin.
The Super Cache
plugin takes a dynamic WordPress site and uses it to generate static HTML files
that load quickly and bypass the usual WordPress PHP script processing that can
pages are served not to all visitors at all times, but rather to visitors who
won’t notice the difference from the dynamic pages, such as those who aren’t
logged in, those who have not left a blog comment or those who have not viewed
a password-protected post. But by swapping in the HTML pages even for just
these visitors, the plugin can trim server load and speed up performance for
all visitors, even those viewing the regular WordPress PHP content.
The WP Super Cache plugin offers a variety of options
for fine-tuning performance.
typically contain both unnecessary characters and extra space—useless bytes
that slow down script loading and processing. Minification is a
technique for speeding up script processing by removing unnecessary characters
from code without changing the code’s function.
WP Minify is
site by integrating an online Minify engine with WordPress. Just as the Prizm
Image plugin boosts performance by shrinking image files without affecting
CSS content without affecting its function.
after installation the WP Minify plugin grabs script content from generated
WordPress sites and passes it to the Minify engine, which returns consolidated,
minified, compressed code that trims page load times considerably.
article only scratches the surface of available WordPress extensions that can
have a significant positive performance effect in a variety of ways. For
example, there’s a free WordPress plugin for the Prizm Cloud service that
enables authors to embed a fast, powerful document viewing window in a WordPress
page so visitors can view PDF documents, slideshows and other document content
quickly, without downloading the file or loading an external reader or
No doubt the
very best WordPress performance will be achieved by those authors willing to
brave digging into the bowels of MySQL or direct editing the PHP code. But doing
so tends to run against the WordPress culture, where authoring is meant to be
simple and problems are meant to be solved by plugins. Many authors will likely
be happy with the gains they can achieve with the installation of a few simple
performance-enhancing plugins. For them, the hardest part may be choosing which
plugins to apply.