Supercharge WordPress performance and speed

by | Dec 7, 2015 | Blog | 0 comments

WordPress is arguably the world’s most popular CMS and blogging system. But it’s old, as these things go, and built on a relatively sluggish language (PHP) and aging database infrastructure (MySQL).

Despite these challenges, it’s ubiquitous, free, and heavily tweaked and hacked. It’s still my go-to CMS for all sorts of projects, including this website. After years of different web hosts, caching plugins, CDNs, and trial & error, I’ve landed on a pretty solid recipe for making WordPress run quickly.

ENVIRONMENT

These tweaks and cheat sheets will be useful primarily if you’re in the same or similar environment we are. If you are using a managed WordPress host like WP Engine or Pagely, none of this stuff really applies. We are hosting our site on a basic Hostgator shared plan. Everything else is done with the plugins and 3rd party services.

PIECES OF THE PUZZLE

This is a high-level overview of all the pieces involved in accelerating our WordPress deployment:

  1. Web host: Hostgator. Not a huge contributing factor here, though they have performed great for us, and of course a poor quality or slow web host will degrade performance mightily. But we have a vanilla shared hosting plan and no server-side tweaks.
  2. Caching plugin: W3 Total Cache. This is a phenomenal WordPress plugin that provides and incredible amount of control and speed increase. It works in conjunction with the CDN and other pieces.
  3. CDN: MaxCDN. This is huge. Putting all the assets you can on a fast CDN (content delivery network) will markedly improve your site’s performance.
  4. DNS manager: Cloudflare. Cloudflare helps mitigate DDOS and other attacks against your site and maintains another level of caching beyond your primary CDN.
  5. Image resizer: Imsanity. This allows you to force the server to automatically resize large images to a more suitable size.
  6. Image optimizer: WP Smush Pro. This uses either lossless or lossy compression to reduce image file sizes as much as possible. Regular (non Pro) WP Smush works well too. Smush Pro is a paid solution with regular Smush is free.

REAL WORLD SPEED INCREASE

To show an example of how much faster these optimizations can make your site, take a look at this comparison. On the left is with caching and optimization turned off. On the right is with it turned on.

This results are remarkable:

  • 341% faster load time (3.18 fewer seconds to load)
  • 16 fewer requests
  • actual page size .2mb smaller
  • 12 points higher overall performance grade

Below are quick reference cheat sheets with my settings for these various plugins and services. Your mileage may vary and you will almost certainly need to tweak some of these based on your own server environment.

W3 TOTAL CACHE

This is the backbone of your WordPress optimization. Tons of configuration options, here are mine. Note that the CDN and Cloudflare settings assume you have already setup your Cloudflare and MaxCDN account and are ready to integrate them. If not, skip past those parts until you have them ready.

These screenshots are based on W3 Total Cache version 0.9.4.1.

I am not an “according to Hoyle” expert in this, but I have been through a lot of trial and error. Use these settings at your own risk.

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