WordPress Plugin Recommendations for Faster Page Speed

If you are like me, when you setup your website, page speed wasn’t necessarily at the top of the priority list.  It’s not that I didn’t want my site to be fast, it’s just I figured that creating a well structured site would take care of all of that.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  You may not realize that your site is slow unless you use something, like Google Adsense, or the like that tells you that your Page Speed is bringing you down.  Bummer.  I kept seeing the “Page Speed” warning, and kept saying, “I’ll deal with that later.”  Page speed can ultimately affect page rank, syndication results, and your viewership.  People usually won’t wait for your site to load if it’s taking too long.

I want my site to be fun and interactive and I have a lot of neat plugins to help me do this.  Unfortunately, many of those plugins were dragging my site down.  The good news is, I didn’t have to remove most of my plugins to help reduce page speed.  And I didn’t have to change web hosts either.  Most of the page speed issues can be resolved using the plugins listed below  (or something similar).  I went from a failing score of 68 (or thereabouts – sometimes it would change a point or two up or down and depended on which page I was analyzing) to a 92 (or thereabouts – again each page is different).  I still need to do some cleanup and work (don’t judge me).  The bottom line is you can increase your page speed with just a few easy and free plugins.

Page Speed Test Tools

First, lets get your site analyzed.  Below are three tools to do this (and yes they are all free to use).  Please remember that these tools measure your pages and not your site as a whole. You should be able to guess that your scores would be very similar across the board, but if you have a page with a form, or another one with a lot of images or a unique plugin, the results might not be the same.  I recommend testing at least two of your pages – your home page and at least one blog post.  If the scores match fairly closely then you should know that the changes you make overall will have a similar effect on most of your site’s pages.

Google Page Speed InsightPageSpeed-Insights

This tool is probably a good first stop.  Google analyzes your site’s speed for both mobile and desktop devices (I’ve still got some work to do for my mobile score), but this will give you a rundown of what you are doing right which is indicated by a little green checkmarkYellow exclamation marks indicate you should consider fixing the problem and red exclamation marks indicate that fixing the issue would have a measurable impact on page performance.  Google lists the following for consideration of page speed:

  • Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content
  • Optimize images
  • Leverage browser caching
  • Minify Javascript
  • Minify HTML

You might be saying, huh?  Don’t worry, we’ll address these issues with the plugin recommendations in a second.  Hang in there.

Pingdom ToolsPingdom Speed Test

 

This is another great tool.  And you’ll probably want to use several tools to get a better idea about where changes might need to be made.  This tool analyzes page speed giving your page an overall performance grade, number of requests, load time and page size overview.  The results give you this great waterfall visual of each call that is made to produce your page, and the time breakdown to retrieve each piece.  It also gives you an overall performance grade which breaks the analytics into categories such as Combine external CSS, Leverage browser caching, etc.  The great thing about this test is that it will keep a history of your analytics.  So as you begin to optimize and retest, you can use the history tab to quickly get a visual to see if your efforts are working!

GTmetrixGTMetrix

 

This is a great speed test option and gives you lots of data including your YSlow score.  According to YSlow, its web page analysis is based on 23 of 34 Yahoo!’s Exceptional Performance team rules that are testable and affect web page performance. GTmetrix provides a plethora of analytics and a detailed report for each area.  They also provide a relative score arrow for each page speed piece, allowing you to see if you are above average, below average or inline with other pages on the web.

The Plugins

If you received a good score, you won’t need to do anything – just keep an eye on things from time to time.  If you need help in knocking out some of these foreign page speed concepts, use these plugins to make life easier.
**Before attempting to install any of the following plugins I HIGHLY recommend you backup your site.  There are plenty of plugins that can do the job. I currently use BackUpWordPress – it will backup your entire site or just the database.  You should minimally backup your database.  Just know, that if anything ever goes wrong, to recreate your site you’ll need a backup of your database, all of your plugins and your theme.  FYI – I had no issue with any of the following plugins – they all ran smoothly, but I say — better safe than sorry.  Also, BackUpWordPress is a nice tool because you can set it to backup your system on a timed schedule and it will even email you a link to the backup file when it’s done.  Piece of mind is worth its weight in gold!**

1) Jetpack by WordPress.comWordPress -Jetpack

This suggestion might seem out of place, but this one plugin can do so much and streamline a lot of tasks.  It offers a carousel image gallery, contact forms, and Jetpack comments among many other things.  If you are currently using separate plugins to do the tasks within Jetpack, you might want to consider using this. It will help your page speed some.  It’s not a must, but if you haven’t integrated this into your site, you really should give it a go.  If you came from a WordPress hosted site, you’ll feel more at home with this installed.

2) W3 Total Cache

WordPress - W3 Total Cache

If you don’t install anything else, install this.  This plugin will help with a big chunk of the issues you may have received from your page tests.  This basically allows for Caching – browser, database, page, & object, and you can check and implement the minify option here as well.  Minifications (minify) is the process of removing all those spaces, comments, new line characters, etc. from the source code without changing its functionality.  There are ton of features that you can change within W3 Total Cache, but don’t worry, the default setting will probably give you a significant boost.

3) Autoptimize

This can significantly reduce the render-blocking issue.  This works well with the W3 Total Cache plugin.  After trying several different tools to aggregate and minimize JS, CSS, and HTML this was by far the best one without screwing up my site.  Once installed, you can go to Settings > Autoptimize to customize the options.  I had to uncheck the box next to the Optimize HTML Code option and check the Keep HTML comments to keep my site working properly.

Autoptimize Options

You may want to experiment checking certain boxes to see how your site looks.  The only downside to this plugin is that it doesn’t remove all of the render-blocking javascript and css.  If you use googlefonts, these will continue to show up as an issue and this plugin creates two render-blocking scripts as well.  But two are better than 7 or 9 or however many render-blocking plugin scripts may be hanging out on your site at the moment.

4) WP Smush.it

WordPress -WP Smushit

This is the one tool I wish I had installed a long time again.  This will reduce image file sizes and improve performance significantly, especially if you have pages with a lot of images.  It really does an excellent job.  After you install it, you can set it to “smush” any new images that are uploaded.  Basically, you can set it and leave it and not have to worry again.  If you have images that are already on the system, you’ll have to go into Media > Bulk Smush.it and bulk smush your previous images.  The image MUST be less than 1 megabyte in size for this program to work.  You can also go into your media files and pick and choose which ones you want to “smush”.

BONUS TOOL

TinyPng - Shrink PNG Files
If you have images that are in PNG format, and you want to compress them before they hit the WordPress environment you should try TinyPNG – this is an awesome tool that can really reduce your file size.  Give it a try to see how much you can compress your images without losing quality.

 

Obviously, there are more plugin options, other issues to address, and things you can and probably should do manually at some point, but these plugins can help you get your page speed- well – up to speed!  Once you set everything up, you should retest your site and see if your page speed improves.  If you use any of these techniques and want to brag about your page speed boost, give me a shoutout in the comments section.

Good luck!

cover photo credit: Nathan E Photography via photopin cc
About

I'm a web developer and designer who loves technology and social media. I am also a teacher who enjoys sharing my knowledge and helping others develop quality skills and habits to make the online world a better place for consumers and businesses.

2 comments on “WordPress Plugin Recommendations for Faster Page Speed
  1. james gooch says:

    This was a great read. I am defintely going to check out some of these tools ASAP. Thanks!!!!!

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