Why Your Website Takes So Long to Load (and How to Fix it)
There’s nothing more frustrating when browsing the web than a slow website, where images take forever to load and make the experience confusing. How many times have you simply given up on a website because you didn’t want to wait around for it to load? Chances are, if you’re just getting started with your website, you may have this problem yourself.
People keep saying that with each generation, attention spans get shorter. We want things to be increasingly faster and easier, or we simply move on to the next option. When it comes to your website, you only have a few seconds to capture your audience’s attention, and if you have a slow website…well, those few seconds will be spent looking at a blank screen.
So the purpose of this post is to show you some simple tips, tools and tweaks you can use to drastically improve the load time of your website. Because you want people spending more time soaking up what you have to offer, and less watching the page load.
And don’t worry – you don’t have to have any knowledge of programming or anything technical. This is a beginner’s guide! And although it won’t get you 100% of the way or the equivalent result of hiring a professional, it can get you pretty damn close! Not bad for some DIY.
Why is my website so slow?
When people come to me wondering why their website is so slow, I usually start by asking them a couple simple questions. First, how do you upload your images? Second, who’s your hosting provider? And third, how many plugins do you have?
When it comes to page speed, there are tons of factors that contribute, and some of them are much more technical than others. But the most glaring items that are easily fixed are usually to do with either the size of your images, the quality of your hosting, and how much “stuff” you have on your site (plugins included).
Your images are huge
Starting with images, most people do NOT optimize their images before uploading them. I get it, it’s a lot of work! You might not have an image editing program, or you might not even know you need to do this. You might just be uploading the 5000px-wide high-res images from your photographer and wondering why it always takes at least a few minutes to upload each one (answer: because they’re HUGE). Then when someone visits your site, it has to load those huge-ass 5mb images onto their screen, which takes a while. So that’s probably the biggest mistake people make when it comes to their websites.
Your hosting is subpar
Second up is hosting. Another big factor (that’s out of your hands, really) is how long your web server takes to respond. Some hosting companies (such as Bluehost, Hostgator, and more) are known to overload their shared servers, which makes the load time slower as the server is overworked. And easy fix for this is switching to a faster, more reliable hosting provider. I recommend Siteground, and they have by far the best reviews for shared hosting and page load. But more on that later!
You have too much “stuff” on your site
Finally, you could just have a lot of “stuff” on your website. For example, do you really need all 43 of those plugins? Ask yourself, is there an easier way I could do this? Are you overcomplicating things? Sometimes, if may be worth it to hire someone who understands websites to make a quick audit and help you clear out whatever you don’t need.
There are many other factors, and I’ll cover some of them in the solutions, but these are the basics that you can easily clean up on your own without even reading the rest of the article. But you really should keep reading 🙂
How to test your page speed
Before getting started with the optimizations, it’s good to get a diagnosis. There are a few tools that work well for getting an idea of just how
bad slow things are.
This is my go-to because of the deep insight into each of the errors. There are two versions of the score, each one valuing different things. It’s good to look at both so that you cover everything. This is what my website looked like before I optimized.
This is another good tool and the interface is cleaner and better looking (if you’re a UI/UX-lover). It can also point out items that aren’t covered as much on the GTmetrix so is a good backup, but it doesn’t give details about the specific files or affected areas of the site. Here’s what my website score looking like on Pingdom before I optimized.
There are other tools out there, but I recommend sticking with these two as it’s more than enough! Stay away from the Google page speed test, as it tends to be inaccurate compared to the others and is really only good for checking your hosting response time!
Choosing a good hosting company
To run a website you have very few costs, especially when compared to opening a brick and mortar store. All you need is the framework to structure your content (which is usually free and open source i.e. WordPress) and a place to store the files. That’s where hosting comes in. It’s one of the most important factors in your page load, and luckily one of the easiest to remedy.
Why? Basically what happens is that your domain (yoursite.com) is like a cord that is connected to the hosting server where the website is stored. Well, when someone accesses your URL, you could think of it like tugging the cord that “pulls up” your website. If the hosting server is overloaded or unresponsive, it’s as if there’s a lag from the time you tug the cord and the website appears. This can be further aggrevated by “heavy” elements like large file sizes and unnecessary “stuff” (keep reading for more info).
Many hosting companies (notoriously the ones owned by EIG such as Bluehost and Hostgator) have been known to overcrowd their shared servers so everything is slower. There are many other reasons to avoid EIG-owned hosting companies, ethical and otherwise, and you can read more on that here.
For this reason, I really recommend Siteground. I started out with HostGator and was immediately annoyed with all the limitation – bandwidth limits, domain limits, database limits. The support was horrible. I somehow found Siteground and after reading some reviews took the plunge and migrated over. I’ve been with them for 5 years now and haven’t looked back!
Not only is their 24/7 chat support amazing, but they don’t overcrowd their shared servers (I have their semi-dedicated GoGeek plan which starts at $11.95/month) and they don’t have all those pesky limitations. Siteground is also consistently ranked as having one of the fastest server response times.
It’s often worth it to pay a little bit more per month (but not really, because their plans start at $3.95/month) and have access to amazing support, an intuitive customer interface, and most importantly, a super fast server response!
How to optimize your images
Let’s be honest – nobody likes resizing and optimizing images. It’s a pain, it’s annoying, it can be time consuming, and sometimes just ughh. I get it. You might not even know you need to do this, or you might be aware that it’s important but eventually end up not doing it because you have a million other things on your plate and ain’t nobody got time for that.
So what’s the fast/easy way to optimize them? Well lucky you, I have some tricks up my sleeve.
Start with Web Res images
If you hired a photographer for your images, they will usually deliver in two different formats – print resolution (300 dpi) and web resolution (72 dpi). Make sure that you’re using the web resolution files. If your photographer didn’t provide you with web resolution, you should try asking them before doing it yourself as they often have advanced editors like Adobe Lightroom that allow for bulk-export in different resolutions.
If you only have high resolution images, you can use a nifty tool called Bulk Resize Photos. It’s super fast because it doesn’t require uploading the images – it resizes them within your browser. I like to use the Longest Side setting to quickly optimize all photos to 1500px.
Use a lossless image compressor
Now that your images are the right size, it’s important to compress the file size even more using a lossless image compressor (lossless = doesn’t lose image quality). This makes a HUGE difference in the load time!
My absolute favorite is Imagify. It’s free for up to 25mb a month and you can purchase a premium plan if you need more ($5/month should cover it for most people). The best is that you can retroactively optimize images that are already on your site. So if you have an existing site, you can bulk optimize every image on your site with a few clicks. It takes a while (and you’ll definitely need a premium plan) but it works wonders for load time.
This is probably the best $5/month you ever spent in terms of bang for your buck! Imagine resizing and optimizing all those images manually…or don’t. It gives me a headache just thinking about it!
Bonus: optimize for SEO while you’re at it
Since you’re already on a roll with the image optimization, you might as well go all the way and set yourself up for SEO success as well.
How to set up caching
First of all, what is caching? Caching is the temporary storage of web files like your website’s code and your images. Basically your web browser stores copies of web pages you’ve visited recently to decrease bandwidth usage, server load, and lag. This makes it much faster to load sites you’ve already visited.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to set up caching on your site and there are a lot of options for free plugins that will take care of it for you. Some of the best free options are W3 Total Cache and SG Optimizer (if you host with Siteground). I first used SG Optimizer and it worked fairly well for me.
Although those two free options will do a pretty decent job, my personal and professional recommendation is WP Rocket. Not only does WP Rocket offer excellent caching, it also has tons of other file minimization and page speed enhancing options. It’s consistently voted as the top plugin for page speed optimization and caching among the WordPress communtiy, and I personally have seen a big difference in performance on my site since I switched from SG Optimizer to WP Rocket.
WP Rocket licensing starts at $39/year for one website, and in my opinion it’s worth it! Just the amount of time you save by having everything in one place, not having to worry about piecing together a bunch of different plugins and having great support is uncomparable.
By simply activating the plugin you already get a lot of cache benefits automatically, but this is what I recommend for your cache settings. If you have a membership site, you should also select the User Cache checkbox as well.
I’ll go over more recommended WP Rocket settings for optimization further down, so keep reading!
Getting rid of slow plugins
What do I mean when I say “slow plugins” ? Well, plugins that use up a lot of processing power and slow down your site – basically, they are resource hogs.
Identify your slow plugins
How can you tell if a plugin is a resource hog? Usually they are the type that do continuous sweeps, scans, checks, or have visual builders. Here are a few that are well known to slow down your site:
Broken Link Checker
Contact Form 7
Yet Another Related Posts (and most related posts plugins in general)
Wordfence Security (to fix, turn off live traffic reports)
WPML (when using a lot of add-ons)
If you really want to DIY and figure out for yourself, you can do a scan of your site on GTmetrix. There’s a good article about that here: 35 WordPress Plugins that Slow Down Your Site
So how do you remedy it? Well, the obvious answer would be to just get rid of the slow plugins. But I know that’s not entirely feasible for most people without an alternative in place.
The best option then is to find a similar plugin that does the same thing but won’t affect your site speed. For example, since most free Related Posts plugins are usually big resource hogs, a good alternative is Contextly or Related Posts for WordPress. The downside is that they will most likely be premium (paid) plugins, so it’s a good idea to prioritize which functionalities are the most important to you and your business.
Here’s another a good post that goes more in depth about this topic and offers a lot of great alternatives: The Slowest WordPress Plugins (and Alternatives to Try Instead)
Consider direct embed codes
For some plugins that are social-media related, you don’t actually need a plugin to do the job. For example, to add a Facebook widget to your sidebar, instead of using a plugin to do it for you, just use the Facebook Developer Tools site and copy and paste the embed code into a Text widget.
In general, try to be smart about your plugins. You most likely don’t NEED about a quarter to half of the ones you have installed right now. Cut down to essentials as much as possible and you’ll see the difference when it comes to load time.
Setting up a Content Delivery Network
This is where we get a little bit more technical. You might be reading this wondering what the heck a Content Delivery Network even is. When I first heard, I imagined a little fleet of pigeons delivering messages across the world. Turns out, that’s actually not that far off (just replace servers with pigeons). Here’s Cloudflare‘s definition:
A content delivery network (CDN) refers to a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content.
I recommend Cloudflare because it’s well-known, well-supported and they have a pretty good FREE tier. If you have 100 or less visitors per day, the free option is a great place to start.
If you have more than that, you can sign up for a premium account. That goes a little beyond what I’m going to cover here but you can read this article for the full walkthrough: The Ideal WP Rocket Settings With Cloudflare/StackPath CDN Instructions
Then click on the Settings tab. Here’s a little overview of what I recommend. Note that if you have an SSL certificate on your site, you’ll need to make sure SSL Support is set to Full Strict.
Bonus: if you host with Siteground, you also get access to Railgun which normally is only available with Enterprise plans and makes your site even faster!
And you’re good to go! It’s super easy to set up, especially if you have it integrated into your hosting cPanel.
More optimization settings
There’s quite a bit more you can do in terms of optimizing, and if you really want to go in-depth I recommend checking out this EXTREMELY intensive (read: detailed 38-point list) article on page speed optimization: A Comprehensive List Of 38 WordPress Speed Optimization Tips (2018 Guide)
So instead of getting into that nitty-gritty here, I’m just going to share the settings I have set up in WP Rocket that helped my website immensely. Here come the screenshots!
I know we talked about minimizing the file sizes of your images, and here we take it a step further with things like Lazy Load. What’s that? Lazy Load is when the website doesn’t load all the images on the page from the start – it only loads each image as the user scrolls down to it. That way the images can load in the background as the user reads and scrolls through the site, making it much faster.
Your website database is where most of the settings and written content of your site is stored. Over time it can become overloaded and filled with unnecessary backups and copies, which can slow down your site. I recommend doing a one-time cleanup and then setting WP Rocket to do weekly database cleanups. Make sure you save a backup of your database before you do this!
You should also make sure that you don’t need any posts/pages that are currently in your trash, and that you don’t need access to past revisions of your pages. Revisions are every time that you update a post/page – the previous version is saved in the database. As you can imagine, it takes up a load of space! If you’re confident in the content currently live on your site, go ahead with these settings:
If you use Google Analytics or Facebook Tracking Pixels, this can also help you speed up your site. Just simply slip the switch to On. If you use other tools like Cloudflare (which we talked about above in the CDN portion) or Sucuri (security monitoring and fixes), you can also turn those settings on as well.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, allow yourself a little YES moment. I personally like to do a little dance.
And if you’re really on a roll and want to keep optimizing your website, here are a few more posts you should take a look at!