Why Did My WordPress Website Become So Slow?

Recently I did a website overhaul (also known as a “complete design reboot”) for a client. The goal was to make it more modern, minimal, and mobile-friendly. I focused a lot on performance because the site was really slow and unresponsive even on high-end devices. I used tools like Page Speed Insights, GTMetrix, and WebPageTest to diagnose the problem. I dug in and found a couple of major issues that were causing the site to perform poorly.

Huge Database

There was a large amount of content, around 11,000 words, on the site. I set up the blog with WP Smush to automatically optimize images and minimize the load time. However, once I removed some of the content, the site immediately started performing better. This confirmed that the problem wasn’t with the content, but rather with the database size. When optimized, the site would work fine in most scenarios, but when under a heavy load, like during a visit from a visitor, it would bog down. To speed it up, I dropped the database size to 7500 words and the site performed much better.

Poorly Optimized Images

I know, I know…it’s not just about the words, right? I mean, it IS about the words, but not just the words. I use the same images for blog posts and social media posts – around 500 of them in total. What’s weird is that I didn’t really have that many images on my hard drive to begin with. It was more like 100 – 150 images total. So, it was either my web host optimizing the images for me or my client ordering multiple copies of the same image to appease their visitors.

Heavy Blogger Follies

I noticed that around 40% of the slowness came from my own incompetence. I commented out quite a bit of code that was slowing things down (cleaning up the style and adding various scripts and whatnot). I should have known better, but hey, I’m human and I made a few mistakes. I had to undo some of my changes because they weren’t improving the site speed, but rather made it worse. I removed a few more scripts and some of the stylesheet and the site started performing a little faster. Then, I decided to use a caching plugin (W3 Total Cache) to see if that would make a difference. It did, the site speed increased by around 30% with the use of W3 Total Cache. I enabled it on my site and dropped my GTMetrix score from 41/100 to 31/100.

I would like to mention that although 11,000 words is a lot of content, it’s not that much when you consider that a novel can have around 200,000 words. So, for reference, an average website has around 500-1000 words per page. That’s a fairly standard word count for a blog post or website content piece in today’s modern web design. The point is that content doesn’t need to be long. In this case, the content was actually slowing down the site, but that’s not always the case.

Overall Takeaway

My takeaway from all of this is that you shouldn’t just focus on getting a fast site speed. You should also be mindful of the data that you’re loading into it. A lot of the time, it can be the simple things, like removing images that you don’t need or using a caching plugin, that can make a huge difference. Make sure that your web host has all of the necessary optimizations enabled and configured correctly. It would be ideal if they could help you get your site up and running quickly, with all the bells and whistles, and able to handle a heavy load. Remember: speed isn’t everything, but it sure is something.