Out-of-the-box content management systems like WordPress try to serve everyone. As a result, they tend to be bulkier than a custom developed CMS. Fortunately, there are a number of optimizations that can speed up a WordPress install.
1. Choose the right host:
The right hosting provider makes all the difference. I personally prefer SiteGround hosting. Their shared hosting plan has many useful optimization features that help speed up WordPress sites. I also like SSH access, which can speed up a lot of daily maintenance tasks.
Location is important with a hosting provider. Try to avoid hosting from a server clear across the country if your visitors tend to originate from a specific region. Also, avoid hosting providers that overload their servers with too many shared accounts. Check out hosting reviews before settling with your hosting provider, it’ll be the biggest decision you’ll make.
How do you find the right host? I googled “best hosting provider” and browsed the first page of search results. I compiled a list of hosting providers consistently ranking high among the different reviews and then narrowed my list. From the remainder, I googled reviews for that specific hosting provider. Through this process, I found Siteground. However, you might find something else.
2. Build Your Site Properly, Install the Right Plugins
Take time to understand WordPress a little before you work with it. This designer’s guide will help you understand how to work with WordPress themes. In short, don’t modify a theme directly, create a child theme. Also, don’t choose a theme just because it’s pretty, read reviews and test a theme to make sure it works and it works fast.
Install only the plugins you need to make your site work the way you need it. Every plugin you install adds complexity and more parts to break. For optimization purposes, I work with three plugins: W3 Total Cache for caching the site, WP-Optimize for database optimization, and WP-SmushIt for lossless image compression.
Be sure to back up and thoroughly test your website after installing these plugins. W3 Total Cache requires a lot of work to configure it to work with your site. You might find you can’t aggressively cache everything without breaking something. Also, if you ever have HTTP errors uploading images, you might have to disable WP-SmushIt. The plugin accesses smush.it, a Yahoo service that can become overwhelmed at times.
3. External Services
Any external caching or content delivery network (CDN) will help speed things up. With SiteGround, they offer a number of services. They use a popular CDN called CloudFlare. You can sign up for free. I also take advantage of SiteGround’s static cache and memcached feature, great for speeding up database driven sites like WordPress.
4. Keep Only what’s Needed, Point to Static Resources
Don’t host any files on your server that aren’t needed. Delete unused plugins, themes, and media files. Try not to use your server for personal storage.
Once you’re lean and mean, try avoiding database and PHP calls. Try viewing this guide to help you out through this process. Don’t get carried away though, part of the reason for having a CMS platform is to automate procedures.
5. Optimize .htaccess file.
Learn to be friends with your .htaccess file. Just don’t get too sloppy, make a backup of your .htaccess file before you make modifications, or you might just break your site. Check out this guide, you’ll have a lot of optimizations to perform.