Improving site speed: Tools and suggestions

Site speed is one of the factors which determines whether you get a good ranking in Google. Site speed is a ranking factor, and its importance keeps growing. In this blog post, I’ll discuss how to improve your site speed and which tools can help you measure your site’s speed. But first, I’ll answer the following question: why is speed such an important factor?

For starters, a fast website provides a much better user experience than a slow one. Research has shown time and again that people don’t buy as much from slower sites, and don’t read or engage as much on slower sites. That in itself should be enough reason to make sure the speed of your site is as good as can be.

Beyond just being better for users, faster websites can be easier for search engines to crawl, process and index. That means that your posts will take less time to show up in the search results, as well as performing and ranking better.

Read more: How site speed influences SEO »

Site speed optimization 101

Site speed is a complex topic, made up of many moving parts. We have just the thing to get you up to speed! In this masterclass on site speed optimization, our resident SEO expert Jono Alderson offers some great insights into both basic improvements as well as advanced optimization. He shows you how to define site speed. He tells you what tools (not) to use and how to best use them. He gives you a host of tips you can apply immediately. And as if all that wasn’t special enough, he also gives you a rainbow unicorn kitten.

The best site speed measurement tools

When analyzing the SEO of a website, you should always check the site speed. But which tools should you use, and, which metrics should you be looking at?

Speed tests may vary based on the location of the test, environmental influences (like the time of day), and other factors. This is just one reason why speed tools do not always provide the same results. Different tools may measure speed differently, and may even use completely different metrics.

That’s why we recommend using all of these tools when testing a site (and do not rely on just one):

Each of these tools has a slightly different approach when it comes to measurement, reporting, and making suggestions for improvements. To get the most out of them, you’ll need a good understanding of the different metrics they measure, and to understand how best to interpret the results. That’s why we’ve put together a guide on how to check your site speed.

The best WordPress plugins to speed up your site

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of things which WordPress plugins can do to speed up a site. They can:

  • Implement caching (server-side and/or client-side)
  • Alter the way in which your theme (and/or database) works/loads
  • Optimise the deliver of media

There are some speed optimisation plugins which are very specialised, and focus on doing a very good job on just one small part of these categories. Other plugins may tackle most, or even all of these areas, but do so more generally. It’s rare to find a single plugin which solves all of these problems.

We have some recommendations, but you should do your own research and testing, as performance may vary significantly based on your hosting setup, location, theme, and other plugins. Be sure to test thoroughly, as a purely configured performance plugin can very easily break a website.

In most cases, installing one (and only one!) of the following plugins should get you started. Most of them come with full page caching (where a static version of each page is saved and served to users, without needing to load WordPress and your whole site), and various flavours of resource optimisation (image compression, lazy loading, etc).

  • WP Rocket – very powerful, and one of the very best options to make your site faster. Designed to be simple. No free option.
  • W3 Total Cache – extremely powerful, and extremely flexible. Designed to be comprehensive. Hundreds of checkboxes and options.
  • WP Optimize – A good middle ground, with basic full page caching, and some sophisticated database + media optimization tools.
  • WP Super Cache – A basic solution which offers full page caching, but lacks other/advanced optimization techniques.
  • Autoptimize – Some really clever JavaScript/CSS/HTML optimization, though no full page caching (should work well with a dedicated full page caching solution)

Looking for other plugins that can help you with site speed or other aspects of your site? Check out the top WordPress plugins every site should have.

Plugins not to run

It’s important not to forget that, in most cases, every plugin that you add to your site is likely to have some degree of impact on your site speed. At worse, a plugin may be poorly coded, and create bottlenecks as your pages load. At best, a plugin is streamlined and efficient, but still adds extra logic to your site, which may still require precious milliseconds to execute.

When you’re picking plugins, it’s best practice to consider the performance impact, and if possible, to measure before and after so that you can decide whether it’s worth the trade-off.

The best WordPress hosting

Having a slow hosting environment can cripple a site’s speed, even if you’re using caching and every performance optimization technique in the book. Ditching a slow host, and upgrading to a better one, can have a huge impact on how quickly your pages load.

But, like performance plugins, there’s no perfect fit for everybody when it comes to hosting. It’s important that you do your own research, and find the right balance of cost, features and performance which meets your needs.

That said, some hosting companies are much better than others; especially when it comes to expertise with WordPress and performance optimization. To help shorten your research process, we’ve compiled a list of trusted, vetted hosting companies – each of which we’ trust when it comes to WordPress and speed!

Some hosting companies go even further, and have their own performance-boosting plugins which help your site to take advantage of their specific hosting optimizations, or even add their own caching systems (e.g., Siteground Optimizer or Servebolt Optimizer).

The best WordPress CDN

A CDN (or ‘content delivery network’) is an excellent tool for improving the loading speed of your site. The CDN brings your site physically closer to your visitor, so to say. If your hosting provider has a server in California and your visitor is from Mumbai, India there might some long latency that results in poor performance. By adding a CDN, you can serve your content from a location near your visitor and, therefore, dramatically speed up its loading times.

no cdn vs cdn wikipedia
On the left: traffic to your site lands on a single server. On the right, a CDN sends visitors to the server nearest to their location. Image: Wikipedia

As we explain in our guide to CDNs, the same ‘do your own research’ principles apply here, too. You’ll need to find the best mix of performance, features, and price.

We’re huge fans of Cloudflare at Yoast (which we use to power all sorts of our own ecosystem), but it may not be the perfect fit for you.

When you’re choosing a CDN for WordPress, it’s worth making sure that they have a good plugin integration, so that page and resource caches are automatically updated or purged as you write or update your content (like the Cloudflare WordPress plugin).

Conclusion

When every millisecond can make the difference between a visitor buying or leaving, there’s always more room for performance optimization. We regularly review the setup and configuration of our hosting, CDN, plugins and theme – and so should you.

Got a great recommendation for speeding up WordPress or other site speed tools? Let us know in the comments!

Keep reading: Mobile-friendly sites and SEO  »


46 Responses to Improving site speed: tools and suggestions

  1. George
    George  • 5 years ago

    A cache plugin is only a temporary solution for a big problem. Why not invest a little more money in good dedicated server if it can attract more visitors and please Google.

    • Plengchart
      Plengchart  • 5 years ago

      Why don’t combine both solution then? To maximize the result hahaha lol

  2. Ellen Lanser
    Ellen Lanser  • 5 years ago

    Dear Joost, I am a big fan of Yoast! This post was again very useful, thank you. One question: imagine the WP super cache f***s my sitespeed – is it a big mess for ever, and do I have to fix it, or is the problem solved by uninstalling? I hope you find the time to answer. Have a nice day! Sunny greetings, Ellen

  3. Plengchart
    Plengchart  • 5 years ago

    What about GTmetrix? I think it’s also widely used and considered as one of the too page speed provider? However thanks for the list Yoast!

  4. John Lathram
    John Lathram  • 5 years ago

    I love wp rocket and was happy to pay for it, until the moment i started geotargetting my site. While some other plugins are able to leave some parts out of the caching mechanism, unfortunately this is not possible with WP rocket. i have contacted them already, but as far as i understood it’s not on their list to implement. I’m still looking for alternatives which can handle non cached parts on pages.

  5. Lisa DeSherlia
    Lisa DeSherlia  • 5 years ago

    My webhost has disabled all Caching plugins for me site, except for Cache Enabler. My website is too slow, and it is said not to be cached.
    But being disabled from adding any Cache plugins, I don’t know what to do about that except maybe move to a different webhost.

    Website: http://oneladyfights4life.com

  6. Vlad
    Vlad  • 5 years ago

    Hi! It’s time to make a rating of caching plugins, yoast is very good but you need to know the impact on the speed and rating.

  7. Apkloft
    Apkloft  • 5 years ago

    I am very happy for using Yoast, thank you.

  8. phil salt
    phil salt  • 5 years ago

    Hi,

    WP Fastest Cache https://en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-fastest-cache is also a good alternative caching plugin. Super quick to set up. Offers page exclusions & built in image optimization service for jpegs. Paid plugin includes additional options for html, css & js. For e.g. Minify HTML Plus removes comments in html.

    Regards,
    Phil Salt

  9. Damien Jubeau
    Damien Jubeau  • 5 years ago

    Hi Joost,
    Please give a try to our tool, https://www.dareboost.com, according to what you said about Yslow/GPS and the others, I’m pretty sure you’ll love it!

    When logged-in you have access to 6 test locations, we provide tailor-made tips to help our users to optimze their websites, and you’ll find performance metrics only a few tools provide.

    Here is a performance report for the current page on Yoast.com: https://www.dareboost.com/en/report/56ab5f7d0cf268d349ea50ab

    • Costin
      Costin  • 5 years ago

      Look great, god job! I will test it soon

      • Damien Jubeau
        Damien Jubeau  • 5 years ago

        thanks! Let me know!

  10. Ronald
    Ronald  • 5 years ago

    Hi!
    Thank you for this great article – even for me as a beginner.

    I fight right now desastrous pagespeed on my website. The reason is a short video within the startpage-slider.

    So far I researched three (not yet tested) ideas to improve pagespeed:
    (1) Finding a Slider-Plugin that is compatible with the asynchronous wistia-embed-code
    (2) Using the plugin “Lazy Load for Videos” (not sure, if it works within a slider)
    OR
    (3) Trying to “defer” the video see: https://varvy.com/pagespeed/defer-videos.html

    Can someone identify the best (or useless) optionS? Are there better and easier options for fast-loading pages with videos within sliders?

    Best wishes,
    Ronald

  11. Daniel Hockey
    Daniel Hockey  • 5 years ago

    We spent hours testing both WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache — both had issues which we felt made them unsuitable for our clients. I then came across WP Rocket and we now use it across all of our clients websites. Highly recommended WordPress caching plugin!

  12. Lionel Tepper
    Lionel Tepper  • 5 years ago

    Another item developers should consider is eliminating social media sharing widgets, such as ShareThis, from their sites. We removed ShareThis and realized huge gains in our site’s speed. Using Pingdom, our site score went from 70/100 to 94/100. That’s huge! Social sharing services slow down the loading of pages because each time a page loads it needs to go out to an external server to gather data before the page renders. Eliminating these widgets means fewer calls to an external server, so pages load much faster. When you really think about it, services like ShareThis are no longer needed as most operating systems have sharing built into the OS, particularly on mobile devices. Also, with the world going more mobile, speed matters more than the convenience of sharing within a web page. So my advice: get rid of your social media widgets, and any service that calls out to an external server, if it’s not essential, eliminate it.

  13. Tom
    Tom  • 5 years ago

    Is it possible to address more server-level optimization possibilities like using ACP, Varnish, (caching), HTTP2 usage, NGINX-Apache hybrid and alike?
    I mean you have several layers that are used in the client-server communication and here mostly the application level is discussed.
    Thanks!

  14. Benoist
    Benoist  • 5 years ago

    Sarah > wp smushit is good. You can use too RIOT

  15. Gerard
    Gerard  • 5 years ago

    Without a doubt, wp-rocket is a true winner. We ran several of the others for a while of our ecomm store and found that wp-rocket not only caused the least (read NO) problems, it was the absolute easiest to set up and by far the fastest. The results were so immediate we recommend it as a must have to clients.

    As they say, sometimes you get what you pay for.

  16. Sarah Arrow
    Sarah Arrow  • 5 years ago

    Do you have any recommended guidelines / tutorials for the caching plugins? I’d like to see what needs doing (and whether I’m capable of doing it) .
    Are plugins like WP Smushit useful or not for reducing image size and increasing speed?

  17. Filipe Varela
    Filipe Varela  • 5 years ago

    Good Tips, Thanks

  18. Ed Swarez
    Ed Swarez  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for the post! I seem to be the only one here to use ZenCache (the Pro version is paid for but cheap enough). Had the best results of any caching plugin with it. Great support, very well written technical updates and lightning quick with a great user-friendly interface. After some disasters with W3 it’s been a lifesaver – even outperforming MaxCDN!

    https://zencache.com/

    Thanks for another great post and I look forward to reading more as time goes on. Keep up the good work !!!!!

  19. Robert Trevellyan
    Robert Trevellyan  • 5 years ago

    Our go-to caching solution is ZenCache. For the average site owner, no configuration is necessary.

    We have a Pro license, which adds CSS and JS minification and combination.

  20. Pat
    Pat  • 5 years ago

    Hi Yoast,
    First, let me say I love your SEO plugin. In fact, I purchased your Premium SEO plugin, but deleted it because it slowed things down so much. Is there anything you can do to improve load speed of your plugins?

    When I mentioned slow website speed to a Bluehost tech, he said your SEO plugin is a problem. Not a good reputation to have for such a valuable plugin.

    • Joost de Valk

      Hey Pat,

      was that conversation with Bluehost over email? If so, could you forward it to support at yoast? I can assure you that we work very hard to make Yoast SEO the fastest SEO plugin out there and in fact are, by far, the fastest out there in all tests we’ve done. If a support rep at Bluehost says that it’s usually because something else is happening and they can’t figure it out, blaming a plugin is just easier.

  21. Irina Blumenfeld
    Irina Blumenfeld  • 5 years ago

    I also like GT Metrix https://gtmetrix.com/ for speed testing. In the list of suggestions it has Optimize Images that show you savings, and you can even download them from there. You can also compare your site load to your competitors, and set up weekly performance alerts.

    Also loading multiple fonts and font-weights add a lot to page weight. People should only load fonts they actually use.

    For image sizing compression, I like Kracken.io https://kraken.io/ It’s a Free online tool, and they also have a WordPress plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/kraken-image-optimizer/. Monthly cost of this plugin depends on how many images you have and how big they are. They have a free start up plan. This plugin can compress images and also size them too.

    I also really like Autoptimize plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/autoptimize/ It helps to speed up website by combining JS and CSS files, and minifying HTML.

  22. Charlene
    Charlene  • 5 years ago

    Um, great piece, but when I tried to sign up for your book for small businesses your site took forever to load.

    • Joost de Valk

      Was that recently? Or when we launched? We did have some launch issues last year when we launched our ebooks, mostly because of a ridiculous influx of traffic, but that should no longer be the case.

  23. Dennis Ocasio
    Dennis Ocasio  • 5 years ago

    Hello all. I’ve tried all the solutions mentioned in the article but I’ve gotten the best speed performance thus far on my site (http://yourgraphicdesign.guru) using the following set-up:
    • Zen-cache
    • WP Super Minify
    • Autoptimize
    • AWS & Cloudfront
    • Leverage Browser Caching Ninja

    Feel free to test the site. Cheers!

  24. ShawnO
    ShawnO  • 5 years ago

    Good stuff here! Yoast, when addressing site speed… do you think google’s new AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) should now be considered among the more important on site SEO factors? It’s apparently rolling out in Feb. 2016.

  25. Hasibul Kabir
    Hasibul Kabir  • 5 years ago

    Personally, I tested several cache plugins. W3 total cache is not good for a shared hosting. It slows down website. But when i tested in a cloud server, It could reduce a bit page load time. WP super cache, Rocket or fastest cache are awesome in performance.

  26. Steve Clarke
    Steve Clarke  • 5 years ago

    Hiya Yoast,

    Your SEO is prolific amongst us WP site builders. I’ve noticed a huge slow down on performance recently on paid for themes. Do you think theme authors could do much more to enhance the performance of their frameworks?

    You’re correct about your assessment of W3 Total Cache, it’s a minefield of conflicts. I will try WP Rocket, always happy to pay for the best results, and the minimum of fuss!

    Thanks for great information as always.

    SW

  27. David Alexander
    David Alexander  • 5 years ago

    One of my favourite tools for speeding up WordPress websites is autoptimize. It can be used nicely in conjunction with a caching plugin like either W3 or Super Cache. Interesting you don’t recommend W3 anymore, I have had issues with Super Cache in the past but that may have been specific to the other plugins or theme within the ecosystem.

  28. Patrick Dankers
    Patrick Dankers  • 5 years ago

    Hi all,

    Well a lot of things where mentioned here already but I would like to get these two more famous with the wordpress crowd;

    Gonzales (https://tomasz-dobrzynski.com/wordpress-gonzales) and WP Assets Cleanup (https://nl.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-asset-clean-up/). Both are key as to shrink the JS/CSS bloat WP can have (selecting a light theme like for instance schema from MyThemeShop can also help)

    Beside that use a good combination of caching + cdn + local caching (for example on my new development website I am using: Cloudflare + MaxCDN + WPRocket + PHP-FPM +NGINX with a custom take on how it deals with expire headers and so on and get pageloads of below 400ms with hefty pages)

    Pageloads can get as low as under 300ms for hefty pages (also check Brian Jacksons posts on that subject for some nice information (https://woorkup.com/speed-up-wordpress/)

  29. Trisa
    Trisa  • 5 years ago

    I would also add to the list an image compression tool like ImageRecycle (trial): https://www.imagerecycle.com/cms/wordpress
    OR as free/optionally paid
    ewww: https://fr.wordpress.org/plugins/ewww-image-optimizer/

    • Kenny
      Kenny  • 5 years ago

      I have been using eww image optimiser after trying out a few others. I really like it. You have to read the blurb properly… but definitely worth getting set u properly. READ THE BLURB.

  30. Janmejai
    Janmejai  • 5 years ago

    WP super caches link redirects to WP netherlands domain.

  31. Brian
    Brian  • 5 years ago

    I would also recommend adding the free Cache Enabler plugin to your list. https://wordpress.org/plugins/cache-enabler/

    • Joost de Valk

      Will have a play with that :)

  32. Torben Rick
    Torben Rick  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for a good post.

    I already use a CDN provider (CludFlare) with my WP site. Would it make sense to install WP Rocket?

    • Joost de Valk

      It depends, it might speed things up even more, but it might not do much… It’s not just an image CDN of course but a full page CDN, so basically a full page cache as well.

  33. Dan Awontis
    Dan Awontis  • 5 years ago

    Exactly the topic I should pay more attention to since my websites are still a bit slow. I’ll test those tools and hopefully I’ll make some progress.

  34. Marcel
    Marcel  • 5 years ago

    Could you maybe share the different loading times of wp rocket and wp super cache?

  35. Sunday William
    Sunday William  • 5 years ago

    Hey, I agree that site speed is one of the factors that affect Google ranking for a site. The sooner we start implementing speed boost techniques for our websites the better ranking we would have.
    With so many tools and plugins out there, the average webmaster would be overwhelmed and could even harm the site like the Swiss Knife analogy. It becomes pertinent to test and try what works best.
    Your tips and recommendations are in order. Hopefully, new visitors will make the most from them!

  36. Matt Selby
    Matt Selby  • 5 years ago

    Like you say, I think Site speed plays a big role in Googles ranking factors. Ive recently spent a lot of time and effort to try and improve my site speed.

    One of the things I implemented was leverage browser caching – but it hasn’t affected the ‘add expires headers’ for improving my Yslow score.. Its a complicated game but one which can be beneficial to your rankings.