I have followed this question and have dealt with this issue over the last few years again and again and even if there are already countless blog posts on this topic, I like to take the time to show you here my personal experience once again understandable. First of all, a comprehensive content management system such as WordPress brings in contrast to simple HTML-based websites significantly more ballast, I think this should be clear to everyone. However, this does not mean that your web server can not handle it reasonably. WordPress is continuously developed since the beginning of the open source project and to anticipate it at this point, WordPress has managed to enable even very good PageSpeed values for websites.
Are Google Page Speed values of 100% realistic?
In my research, I have repeatedly come across dubious YouTube videos that brag about the perfect value of 100% according to Google Page Speed Index and have aligned your page only to this. After closer inspection, these WordPress websites often consisted of not much more than a few blog texts and 1-2 highly compressed images – congratulations.
Over time, unfortunately, the idea has taken root that Google’s Page Speed is probably one of the most important factors in determining a great and performant website, and that pages that are not gigantically fast with values above 90 would directly lead to enormous ranking losses in the Google algorithm. This is a big mistake.
It is true that compared to a few years ago, speed also plays a more important role, but this point is certainly not in the top 10 of the current ranking factors. The Google algorithm is so complex that nowadays far more than 1000 factors with over 10,000 different signals make up the ranking.
Basically, the user experience of the website is one of the most important factors. Your website must provide the best possible match for the searcher or the search query. Here, a lot of other factors are more important, such as high-quality content, relevant terms, formatting, further sources, grammar, language level, OnPage factors (keywords, meta, etc.), duplicate content, page architecture, and much more.
On the topic of PageSpeed, it’s quite sufficient if your page loads reasonably for mobile and desktop devices and is usable. If you go by PageSpeed Insights, then you should have at least ⅗ of the most important things covered and be at least in the upper orange range – don’t go crazy here and rather put your time into essential adjustments in the course of search engine optimization (SEO) instead of chasing the points there.
What about WordPress itself?
The good news is: WordPress itself won’t stand in your way in terms of fast loading times, it just depends on how you use the system for your purposes. As a test, you can install WordPress in a raw version with a lightweight standard theme from the library on your server and, if you have found a reasonably professional hosting provider, you will be able to enjoy excellent Google Insights values. Everything that happens after that needs more attention and should be done carefully.
Then why is my WordPress website so slow?
This can not be answered so sweepingly, but depends on many different factors. As described above, however, I would always start from a clean basic framework, so a fresh WordPress installation, because the following step can be absolutely crucial: the theme selection. Exactly at this point it often fails and the course is set for good or bad performing WordPress sites.
Most widely developed and large themes on the market are first and foremost one thing – large. This is due to the fact that with increasing sales and user numbers, more and more wishes for possible functionalities and setting options arise and only the theme options alone usually already extend over many pages. Just think that behind each of these setting options there is already at least one more functionality that is loaded. And let’s be honest, how many functions do you really need?
The same is true for the WordPress system in general. This alone brings a lot of functionalities, but you do not necessarily need all for your website. You can therefore also disable directly after the WordPress installation not needed WordPress functionalities. How to do this, most do not know, at least not manually – but there is a useful plugin that can help you. You can find this in my Top 8 WordPress Plugin List in the lower part of the blog.
What about WordPress plugins in terms of PageSpeed?
The golden rule here is as so often: less is more. With every plugin that you install, you extend your WordPress system with new functionalities and options that are loaded when you visit your website. Often, this also results in unsightly render-blocking resources, as plugins often use external sources and scripts and add further ballast, which are not necessarily all needed for your purposes. In addition, conflicts can arise between different plugins that get in each other’s way and with each additional plugin a potential security hole in your system.
This is the big disadvantage of the millions of different plugin providers in the WordPress pool, you usually never know how good the code behind it is and trust the accuracy and care of the respective programmers of these plugins blindly during installation – as I can tell you from experience, there are many black sheep among them. Therefore, choose your plugins carefully and remove all unused plugins from your system.
What makes my WordPress website particularly slow?
So if we compare the points mentioned so far, theme selection, number of plugin, overload of WordPress functionalities, these factors are even less heavyweight than the next important point in this list: the Sensible Use of Media.
Especially the right handling of images is elementary in the web. WordPress itself already does a lot for this by generating so-called thumbnails in different sizes from your image upload and usually uses them in the right places. For example, only a medium sized thumbnail is loaded instead of the original size of your image as blog title image, which WordPress then does for you. Unfortunately, this works only conditionally and it comes very often to misinterpretations or are also used by the user himself the wrong sizes. For example, if you choose a full-size image from the media library in your blog post and use it in a container that is only ¼ of your website width, for example, you can be sure that your image is much too large for the rather small container and your website threadability will suffer immediately. This is unfortunately also mercilessly punished by Google.
Basically, images should always be optimized for the web. I would recommend you to never let your file size exceed 300 kb and in any case decouple all image metadata by a web export in e.g. Photoshop or GIMP and stick to the common image formats on the web.
Just by optimizing your images you will make up for most of the loading speed. Don’t just trust that everything will be fixed automatically by image optimization and compression plugins. These will not let your 2-4 MB image shrink back to 300kb and if this happens not with a highly sophisticated algorithm like Photoshop would do to produce a sharp and cleanly compressed image for Retina display even with a 300kb. But this is again a topic for itself. A good plugin to optimize your images is useful in any case, especially if you already have a running website.
How should I handle videos and fonts on the page?
In second place next to your image material then usually follow the video embedding and in the third step uploaded PDFs or even individual fonts. Videos I would not upload myself in WordPress in the media library, but e.g. via Youtube DSGVO compliant and as modified iframe. This way you prevent the data transfer to Youtube and the loading of the videos directly when visiting your page. For the fonts, before the DSGVO outcry it was very convenient to use them via Google, this is unfortunately so without data transfer unfortunately no longer possible and should be best used locally. This unfortunately creates an additional ballast but can be optimized by smart caching. Unfortunately, this point is also an absolute standard for most WordPress themes and even if you do not actively use Google fonts there, the connection to Google is usually not cut, so that you carry both loads every time.
What else is important for my website performance?
These are topics like caching, compression, lazy load, CDN and more, but you need a deep understanding to use them successfully. If you are not well-versed in this area or lack the technical background, you can get a lot out of your website by choosing professional plugins with just a few settings.
You can find my current WordPress plugin tips at the bottom of this blog. I will also write a post about this topic with exact details if you are interested.
Here are the most important points once again in overview
- Professional website hosting
There are many providers and a lot of comparison portals. I myself would recommend a WordPress specialized provider like wpengine or raidboxes, because you will not only get a strong support team but also a lot of advantageous services perfectly designed for your system.
- The right choice of WordPress Theme
Check exactly which functionalities your WordPress website needs and don’t take the biggest and most popular theme right away. As an advanced WordPress user, build your website on an absolutely lightweight and clean base theme or create your own.
- WordPress Basic System Configuration
Disconnect from unnecessary ballast and disable WordPress features you don’t need.
- The lean and proper plugin selection Limit yourself to the absolute minimum of plugins and save yourself unnecessary loading marks and potential security holes.
- Using images and external media correctly
This is an absolute MUST for performant websites, you should focus on this topic.
- Caching, Compression, Lazy Load, CDN
A clean caching is indispensable, fortunately this can be solved relatively easily with good plugins. In addition, file and script compressions, the reloading of images and videos (lazy load) and the use of content delivery networks (CDN) help to put the finishing touches that will earn you some points in the end.
As you have probably noticed, the subject area around the PageSpeed of your website is dependent on many different factors, which unfortunately for non-experts often go too quickly into the nitty gritty. Nevertheless, I am sure that even with a conscious and simple basic framework performance strong websites based on WordPress can be built in a few steps for everyone. With some experience and know-how even very good values with 95 points and higher according to PageSpeed Insights and Co. are possible and that even for extensive pages with more functionality.
If you’re interested in what my setup currently looks like and what plugins, themes, page builders, hosting plans I’m currently relying on, feel free to take a look at the listing below (no affiliate).
Both providers specialize in WordPress hosting and offer good performance, a lot of useful features and security measures along with a top-notch support team.
*We ourselves usually work with a very simple and slim theme, because designs and functionalities are usually added quite individually.
*The WPBakery page builder was our #1 for a long time in the last years, this is now more and more replaced by the strong development of Oxygen.
Top 8 WordPress Plugins 2020
These plugins are often standard on our system and have become firmly established in our plugin set over the last few years.