Earlier today I did some behind the scenes work to speed up my site, and I thought it might be helpful if I walked you through the process and shared a bunch of tech tips that don't really translate to list posts.
As you may recall, I spent last Saturday night replacing my blog theme. One of the reasons I wanted to make the change was that my site was slow when running the old theme (Magazine from MH Themes).*
The blog posts and pages were loading in four to six seconds. That is an acceptable load time if your site is on a terrible hosting company like EIG, InMotion, Godaddy, BlueHost, LiquidWeb, or 1&1,** but my sites are on my own server. I don't have to share resources with anyone other than clients, so my site should really be loading faster than four seconds. ***
I did have a plugin called WP Rocket that was supposed to speed up my site, but it wasn't really helping any more. (Plus, it broke every so often and showed visitors random code in place of blog posts.) I wanted to replace WP Rocket, but my preferred alternative was not compatible with my old theme.
But then this morning I got another bug report from someone seeing random code in place of the blog post they wanted to read, so I decided it was time to stop putting off fixing this problem.
I spent some time today installing and configuring a plugin called Swift Performance Lite. This free plugin is not widely used yet, but it is currently very popular in WordPress tech support circles because it is easy to set up and is highly effective at speeding up WP sites.
The first thing I did was make a backup of my site, and then I deactivated WP Rocket. Performance plugins sometimes do not play well together, so you should take care not to use two plugins to do the same job.
Next, I installed Swift Performance Lite, made sure my site was still running (sometimes you don't know a plugin will cause problems until after you turn it on), and let it run its setup wizard.
The great thing about Swift Lite is that this plugin does most of the work for you. I have seen client sites go from loading in eight seconds to loading in three seconds after running the setup wizard (it really is that good).
Swift Lite improved my site's load time to around three and a half seconds. I know this because I tested the site with GTmetrix, a free, online, comprehensive site performance test.
But as good as that was, I wanted to see if I could do better. So what I did next was to go into Swift Lite's settings menu and enable its options one by one. My process worked something like this:
- Check a box to activate a feature.
- Save the settings, and clear the cache.
- Re-run the GTmetrix test to see if performance improved.
- If the site is slower, uncheck the box and save the settings again.
- Go on to the next feature, and repeat the process.
After a half hour of testing one feature at a time, I managed to get my site to load in under two and a quarter seconds. Some pages are even loading in as little as 1.7 seconds.
That is a great load time, enough so that I can declare victory and stop. (For one thing, my time would be better spent optimizing my clients's sites.)
I do actually know how to make my site load even faster, but at this point the trade off isn't worth it. I've already taken a lot of steps to speed up my site, including doing things like removing non-essential plugins, so what I would have to do next is to look at my essential plugins and decide which feature I no longer wanted on my site. Since I am kinda attached to things like a spam filter, firewall, and mailing list sign up form, I can't exactly give them up.
All in all, this was definitely worth an hour of my time. My site is faster, and I got a blog post out of it as well.
If you have a site, you should definitely take some time to see if it can run faster. Or better yet, hire me. This is one of the services I offer under my monthly support plans.
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P.S. One of the reasons I chose my new theme (SiteOrigin Corp) was that in my experience SiteOrigin themes loaded quickly. I sped up my site by replacing a slow theme with a fast one.
P. P.S. Yes, those are terrible hosting companies, and yes, your site would be faster if it were hosted elsewhere. I have horror stories about each and every one of those hosting companies, and would not wish them on my worst enemy.
P.P.P.S. If you want a recommendation for a better alternative with great service at an excellent price, I'll let you in on a secret known to very few: Peopleshost. I have my server with them, and I also have a client on their managed WordPress hosting. I was surprised by the performance given the price they charge for WP hosting.