The story of WordPress has been a remarkable one. It started out as a pretty normal blogging platform, albeit one that bloggers loved because of its ability to handle interesting layouts, fonts, themes and plugins.
Then, as now, blogging was still relatively niche (apart from the few blockbuster blogs), so high traffic was never really a consideration.
But WordPress would eventually take on a life of its own, as web developers realised that its strengths as a blogging platform also made it perfect as a content management system (CMS) for any kind of business – even eCommerce.
And it was just perfect for letting multiple users in an organisation contribute, as hardly any technical knowledge was required other than simply logging in.
The platform was adopted by small companies, then larger ones, and now there are several huge websites that have WordPress at their core, including Sony Music, Time Magazine and Wired.
So over a relatively short span of time, WordPress went from making pretty modest demands on its servers to satisfying thousands of visits a minute. And it coped.
The success is partly down to the work Automattic (the people behind WordPress) put into the platform. If you’ve ever hosted a WordPress.org site you’ll be well aware of the fact that updates come thick and fast, and when they are installed, they’re usually pretty stable and well tested.
That’s partly down to the immense community that works on updates. While many updates are security, usability or aesthetic enhancements, there are also plenty of performance tweaks, and they all add up to an ongoing benefit to the way WordPress handles larger and larger demands.
With all that said, it’s vanilla installations that will always have the optimum performance. As soon as you start adding plugins, you’re creating extra demands on the whole system.
Add a few common plugins and you’ll hardly notice the difference, but as you add them, you not only increase demand on the back end, but you also increase the chances that two of the plugins will conflict with each other, causing sparks in the system that will inevitably slow it down, especially during demand peaks.
Some plugins exist to help with demand by reducing the amount of work the back end has to do, so the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
A common one is lazy loading, which is where images, or even just general content, don’t download to the user’s device until they are just below their screen. It doesn’t just reduce bandwidth and processing power; it also means that if pages are clicked accidentally, or if multiple tabs are opened, the system won’t be overloaded.
Another way inexperienced users inadvertently damage their WordPress performance is by not optimising images and videos. When an image is visibly downloading line by line, you can be sure it has been uploaded at original resolution and is not compressed. Again, plugins like Smush can help here. Just make sure you use plugins only when needed.