How To Speed Up Your WordPress Sites

At Pubcon this year Google announced page load time was going to become a ranking factor in 2010 (see video below). Shortly after this announcement, Google started showing load time data in webmaster central. Being a bit proactive, I decided to start looking at ways to speed up this site.

The graph below shows the average load time for this website. I had a high of about 12 seconds and low of about 5 seconds. Using the techniques below I was able to bring my page load time down under 5 seconds.

  • First, remove any social media buttons that have active counts. Using add-ons like the “smart digg button” makes a call to another website and will increase the page’s load time. The more buttons, the longer the site will take to load, so go with static buttons for things like sphinn, stumbleupon, twitter, digg, facebook, and so on. In some cases this may work against you as it will get you less “votes.” If you depend on social media interaction for traffic, consider using a date based hook. Show buttons with the count when the post is new, then switch to static buttons or remove them entirely when the post is old.
  • Two of the biggest offenders which deserve special mention are share this and tweetmeme. They make a disproportionately large number of connections for what they are doing. Worse, they throw a huge amount of validation errors. True you don’t need to be valid to rank but for a plugin to throw 40 validation errors is embarrassing and quite simply shows nothing less than gross incompetence from a programmer or team who should be fired on the spot. Those two plugins should be first two to go if you are concerned about speed.
  • Look at your sidebar for any social widgets, plugins or javascript-based add-ons. Decide if  they are helping you bring in any traffic. Things like Google Friend Connect are almost never worth it and should be removed.
  • Are you using plugins like shadowbox to give you a nice effect when people zoom in on a picture? Seriously consider whether it’s worth it: chances are good that the plugin and ones like it are having some detrimental effects on load time.
  • Are you using any dynamic, on-the-fly image resizing, or are you cheating and using hard coded width and height settings for your images? If you are, chances are good that you’re affecting load time. Create a smaller image and link to the larger one. Starting with wordpress 2.9 there is a built in image editing feature. Take advantage of it.
  • If you are using comments, set the default avatar to “blank.” It will show images for people who have registered but won’t show anything for people without avatars. if you have posts that get over 25 comments, the savings can be significant.
  • Do a plugin audit. Use a page load monitoring tool to turn plugins on and off one by one to see if anything is adversely affecting load time. Some plugins like Page to Post converter don’t need to be enabled 100% of the time. Turn them on when you need them, turn them off when you don’t.
  • WordPress used to have a GZip setting built in.  It was removed in version 2.5.  Add it back in if it’s compatible with your hosting plan because it’s worth doing.
  • Caching is a tricky thing with wordpress. If you are playing the social game you want it running and everything set to lockdown. If you publish frequently you need to clear the cache to make sure everyone is getting new content. 99% of the posts I do here are scheduled, and I’m not convinced the setting “clear cache on post publication” works 100% of the time with scheduled posts. So use WP-Cache–just get in the habit of manually clearing it out every now and then(at least once a week at bare minimum).
  • Install WP Minify. It reduces and combines the javascripts and CSS files. This one can be a bit tricky to get installed and sometimes has conflicts. It’s definitely worth trying though.

To conclude, what you want to do is look for scripts, add-ons, plugins,  javascripts, or social media tools with large load times or callbacks to external websites. Remove them whenever possible. Use basic file reduction techniques like using thumbnails instead of large images. Install compression and caching scripts to maximize the value from your first two steps. By themselves, none of these steps will have that much effect; however their cumulative effect will add up. In the case of this site, they reduced load time in half.

To be clear, at the time of this post’s publication, there is no evidence that page load time is currently affecting organic rankings. However, it is a part of the quality score in Adwords. When taking into consideration Google’s statement that load time will become a factor in the future, this presents an opportunity for you to take proactive steps now instead of playing catch up 6 months from now.


By Michael Gray

Michael Gray is SEO specialist and publishes a Search Engine Industry blog at He has over 10 years experience in website development and internet marketing, helping both small and large companies increase their search engine visibility, traffic, and sales.

Leave a comment