We’ve covered page speed a lot over the years, and talked about its importance for websites. Clearly, a faster page is always going to outperform a slower one, all else being equal. That’s a fact that will no doubt be confirmed by your own experience with visiting slow-loading, laggy websites. If there’s an alternative, you’ll go there instead.
The truth is that no page has to be slow loading. Websites are pretty simple things when you look under the bonnet – code is blisteringly fast to download at today’s broadband and mobile data speeds. Even downloading images and referring to databases, going through security and running programs on your device or server-side don’t tax the browser and the server all that much. If slowness isn’t down to inferior hosting, it’s always down to bad practices.
Luckily, there’s some low-hanging fruit when it comes to the usual suspects for slow WordPress sites: overworking your server, unoptimised images, and downloading more data than is required. And all three can easily be solved with these plugins.
W3 Total Cache
You might be familiar with caching on your phone or PC. It’s where you store a web page and its images on your device so you don’t have to download them each time you visit the site. It saves time and bandwidth.
Server-side caching does a similar thing. Instead of referring to the database every time someone makes a request (and WordPress is entirely database-driven, don’t forget), it saves the content in a cache on the server, and refers to that instead. It speeds everything up and reduces stress on the database.
W3 Total Cache is the standard issue plugin to do your caching for you. You’ll notice huge improvements in load time when you install it – make sure you’ve cleared your device’s cache before you test it though, or you’ll probably just display a local copy.
Bitmap images (.jpeg, .bmp, .png etc.) are made up of a grid like graph paper, where every square has a colour associated with it. A raw image is a huge file – imagine an image 1000 by 1000 pixels (not large by any means). That’s 1 million pixels, and each pixel contains all the RGB and possibly transparency data. It’s how a moderately large image can easily be 5 MB or more.
However, there are ways of reducing this number. For example, areas of the same colour can be treated as a large rectangle with dimensions and a colour code, rather than thousands of individual pixels. Or the quality can be reduced by looking for areas of similar colours and making them the same colour – imperceptible to the human eye, but a massive saver of data.
It’s these techniques and more that WP Smush uses to optimise images. It can usually reduce the size by 20% without any noticeable effect, or more so if you don’t mind sacrificing a tiny amount of quality. The result? Faster downloads.
WP Rocket for Lazy Loading
Finally, there’s lazy loading. That is where the browser doesn’t request images and other media until it’s needed, i.e. when it’s just below the visible part of the screen. It means the page loads gradually as the user scrolls down, rather than all in one go. The benefit is that pages will load more quickly because the visitor won’t have to wait for many megabytes of content to load until they need it – or even worse, if they have no intention of scrolling down to the bottom.
We think WP Rocket handles this better than the native WordPress lazy loading feature. WP Rocket is also a caching plugin, similar to W3 Total Cache, so you can experiment with your configurations to see which combination helps your page the most.
Professional WordPress support
At Gooey, we’re experts at installing, maintaining, optimising and testing WordPress and its many plugins. We can ensure your website is running to its optimum performance, free of conflicts and security holes. Why not find out what we can do for you?