WordPress is designed to be a highly efficient system, optimized to work well even when it has been paired with dozens of themes, plugins, and sidebar widgets. Despite this excellent design, the system does sometimes suffer from sluggish performance that can cause website owners to become frustrated when adding new posts or performing other routine administrative tasks. The good news is that this does not have to be a permanent condition of a WordPress installation. In fact, there are a few key ways that website owners can reclaim the fast performance of a brand new installation, enjoying nearly instant page load times for both their public website and the administration interface that makes WordPress such a good fit for managing complex sites. Before assuming the worst, keep in mind a few tips that can dramatically enhance performance.
1. Perform a Thorough Plugin Inventory
The need for certain WordPress plugins can wax and wane over time, leaving some site administrators with a large number of activated plugins that have no current use with their current theme or their site’s current functionality. Though these plugins are not being actively used to generate the site’s pages, they still require database queries and server resources that can cause the whole website to slow down dramatically. The first thing to do is analyze which plugins are installed, which ones are activated, and which ones are no longer needed. Perform a full inventory of the site’s various plugins, compared to where they’re used within a theme, and make note of this information.
With a detailed inventory performed on the site’s plugins, website owners can now determine the proper course of action for each plugin. Some of these plugins will have to stay, since they’re actively used to generate site content or enable added features that are important to end users. If a plugin is not used within the current theme, or has not been used for a very long time, it should be fully deactivated and removed from the WordPress installation entirely. This will stop the plugin from performing database queries, speeding up how quickly the site loads. The removal of the plugin from the installation will also free up server space and allow the WordPress installation more room to “breathe” as the site’s content and files grow larger over time.
2. Take a Look at Installed and Activated Themes
Next, perform a theme inventory that is similar in structure to the plugin inventory that just took place. Remove any themes that have been installed by default, or installed accidentally, and consider removing old themes that have use to the installation at the present time. This will free up a significant amount of server space by eliminating old images, page files, templates, queries, and other data. The removal of these themes is only the beginning, however.
Another key way to speed up a WordPress installation is to look at the currently activated theme and analyze its code. This analysis should look specifically for opportunities to eliminate database queries while enhancing performance. For the most part, this means replacing WordPress variables and “loops” with hardcoded XHTML and CSS values. For every hardcoded value in place of a WordPress variable, a database query is eliminated. Each eliminated database query effectively speeds up the site by reducing the number of calls the site must make to the database before it will appear on end users’ computers. It’s important to look for hardcoding opportunities in the header, footer, and individual page body templates contained within the activated theme. With this process performed, the site will likely be noticeably faster and much more enjoyable to use.
3. Improve WordPress Performance with a Cache Extension
When a WordPress website is loaded by an end user, it is dynamically generated by using calls to the database. This process is performed each time the site is loaded, even if the same user has visited the site multiple times. By querying the database each time, the site experiences a significant “load” that can affect performance for all users, no matter their location or their administrative status within the WordPress installation. Unfortunately, WordPress does not contain its own effective caching mechanism that can be used to reduce database queries and improve site performance natively. The good news for website owners is that developers in the WordPress community have created their own caching extensions to solve this oversight.
The most popular of the caching extensions is WPCache, but there are dozens of other options that work well with sites of all sizes. Website owners should make sure to read plugin reviews, assure plugin compatibility with their installed version of the WordPress software, and customize the full range of cache settings before fully activating the plugin. By caching major database queries, like posts and archives, the site will load significantly faster and update only when new content is added. This can make a noticeable difference for administrators and end users alike.
4. Make Sure to Rule Out a Web Host Issue
While the most common reasons for a WordPress site performance issue arise from plugins, themes and database queries, some website owners find that these actually aren’t their biggest problems. In fact, sometimes the biggest problem is the website’s host itself. Less reputable web hosts typically suffer from excessive sever loads, leading to a slowdown in data speeds that can make every site they host perform very poorly. If the recommended methods of improving WordPress’ performance have not had a noticeable improvement in how the site performs, it might be time to send a message to the hosting company’s tech support team.
In some cases, the problem arises from a temporary server issue or a configuration problem. In a limited number of cases, however, it may simply be necessary to switch hosts and find a provider that guarantees better levels of uptime, broadband performance, and hard disk read speeds. With a better web host, WordPress installations can grow to be very large overall, without a hit to performance for end users or administrators.
The Trouble Spots: Databases and Web Hosts Can Improve WordPress Performance
WordPress relies on two key things to keep it running quickly and smoothly: databases and web hosts. If the database has become overburdened by a large amount of queries, or calls, it will start to slow down and serve data less efficiently. As a result, pages will load slower and the WordPress control panel will be unable to perform quickly. Administrators may also notice occasional site errors and control panel problems if the database is taxed too often. To fix this problem, take a full inventory of the site’s installed plugins, installed themes, and the database queries used within the activated theme. By carefully analyzing what is essential for site functionality, and what can be removed in favor of performance, it will be able to optimize WordPress over the long-term.
If all of these optimization efforts fail, and the problem does not trace to the site’s database, then the most likely issue is that the site’s host has begun experiencing problems. After taking action within the WordPress installation, take a moment to contact the host’s tech support team and ask about any issues they may be having with server performance, their bandwidth, and their installed software. This is an essential step that will clarify whether website owners need to transfer to a new web hosting company or scale their operation to a dedicated server, where their needs will be handled by more sophisticated hardware and web hosting technologies.