How to Improve Website Performance in WordPress
The world’s #1 content management system (CMS) is undoubtedly WordPress. WordPress is free and open-source, which means anyone can modify the code and create new plugins (additional features) to enhance its functionality.
WordPress is incredibly popular, with around 20.3 million sites using the software. Because it’s so widely used, most digital marketers and SEOs will know exactly what performance metrics to look out for.
But what are those metrics, and how can you track and improve them?
Pages Load Faster
When a visitor lands on your website, they instantly want to know how ‘quick’ the website actually is. While there are a number of factors that can affect the speed of your site, you can measure the performance of your website with a series of tools that track page loads.
Traditionally, SEOs have focused on only two metrics: page speed and traffic. But recently, with the rise of the mobile web, content performance has become a key consideration.
According to HubSpot Blogs research, 62% of respondents said they’d rather pay more for content that is fast and good-quality rather than cheap and slow. That’s a lot of emphasis on content performance!
So, how can you improve the performance of your content? Use tools like Google LUX to easily identify areas of your site that are taking a long time to load. Once you’ve pinpointed the source of the problem, you can eliminate it or fix it. For example, if you notice that a certain page is taking a very long time to load, chances are you’re trying to fetch a lot of content from the database. You can either fix the issue by reworking the query or eliminate it by removing some of the content.
Mobile Responsive Design
Responsive web design (RWD) is all the rage right now. With the growing number of mobile users surfacing the web, web designers have had to rework their techniques to provide a better experience for users on the go.
Rajesh Pillai, CEO of digital marketing agency Future Inc, highlights that even though almost everyone is accessing the web via mobile devices, not all websites are designed to look perfect on smaller screens.
He notes that while creating a mobile-optimized site is a must, you also need to take care of the design and functionality of your site even on a larger scale.
According to HubSpot Blogs research, 20% of respondents said their biggest site challenge is designing a responsive site that looks good on all devices. But you can take care of this by using a tool like WordPress to build a site that automatically adjusts to fit any screen size.
WordPress provides you with predesigned templates that you simply need to tweak. For example, the Twenty Ten theme from WordPress comes with a number of pre-designed templates that you can easily customize. Just click on the customize button to begin creating your unique website.
User Experience (UX)
Your website’s UX is how your visitors (and hopefully, future customers) experience your product or service. One of the simplest ways to improve the user experience on your website is to simply make it more pleasant.
In general, users have an innate desire to find information quickly and easily. If your site isn’t meeting their needs, they’ll quickly move on to the next best thing. You can improve the user experience on your site with things like:
- minimalist web design
- navigation that is clear and easy to follow
- visual calls to action (CTAs)
- accessible, information-dense content
- fast, snappy page load times
- error-free site
- search functionality
- mobile accessibility
- intuitive layout
- easy to navigate
While the above list is not exhaustive, you get the idea. These are all user-centric elements that you can implement to make your site more enjoyable to surf.
As you see, building a better website doesn’t necessarily mean launching a new product or service. It often starts with small changes to the way you host and design your site. For those interested in the practical side of SEO, let’s look at how to improve the performance of our websites.
Reduce Page Loads
Reducing page load times is an important part of improving website performance. When a user lands on your site, they have certain expectations about how quickly the site will load. Typically, people want to avoid spending more than 3 seconds waiting for a page to load. Anything longer than that, and they start thinking about leaving.
You can use a variety of tools to analyze and reduce the page load time of your site. For example, you can use the Chrome Developer Tools to examine the page load times of your site’s URLs. Or, you can use PageSpeed Insights from Google to examine the performance of any URL you wish.
Some of the things you can do to improve the speed of your website include:
- Reduce the number of HTTP requests (this is usually caused by images)
- Use caching (this improves the speed of your site because the same content can be reused)
- Reduce the number of colors used (this can be minimized via your theme’s styling)
- Optimize images (this reduces the number of HTTP requests made by your site)
- Minify HTML (gzip compression reduces the overall size of your site’s HTML)
- Combine CSS files (this reduces the time it takes to load your site’s CSS)
Keep in mind that while reducing page loads is an essential part of improving website performance, making your site mobile-friendly and user-centric isn’t going to improve its speed all on its own. You need to look at ways to both reduce and improve the page loads of your site.
Use Rel=”next” and “prev” to Improve Page Navigation
You can use the HTML tag rel=”next” and rel=”prev” to indicate that two links are related and should be placed close to each other. It is widely-supported by major browsers and search engines. When a user clicks on the link with the rel=”next” tag, they will be taken to the next page; similarly, the link with the rel=”prev” tag will take them backwards.
The benefits of using these tags are numerous. If a user is browsing through your website and comes upon a page with a link that says “continue here”, they may very well click on it because it’s the next best thing to having the page already loaded. This will improve the user experience because they don’t have to keep scrolling to find the information they’re looking for. This is especially beneficial when used with an internal link to a next or previous page. So, instead of having one massive FAQ page, you can break it down into several bite-sized chunks, making it more accessible to your users.
One of the best things you can do for the performance of your site is to enable caching. This simply means saving a copy of your site’s frequently-accessed content (such as the home page) so that it can be served quickly to visitors. Using caching is a great way to improve the speed of your site because it allows your visitors to access the information they need without having to request the page from your web server each time they visit.
There are a variety of caching plugins you can use to cache your site’s content. For example, the WordPress Squid proxy plugin can automatically cache all the content on your site, including your blog posts and images. So, if a visitor comes back a day or two later, they will still be served the same cached content as before. This means that if there was information on your site that they needed but didn’t have the time to view before, they will now be able to get that information without having to wait for the page to load.