8 tips for building and maintaining a super-fast WordPress blog

wordpress-logoThere is a strong consensus among those in the blogging world that WordPress is hands-down the best blogging platform out there.

It’s ease of use, amazing flexibility due to its virtually endless customization options and a natural friendliness towards search engines makes using WordPress a true no-brainer for many.

All of that being said, it’s extremely easy to build a WordPress site that’s cumbersome to use and irritatingly slow to load if one just throws a bunch of “pieces” together. And that’s not a good thing since a slow loading website tends to drive away visitors in droves and keep your pages from ranking well in the search engines.

On the other hand, it’s actually pretty easy to build and maintain a WordPress blog that loads very quickly. Here are a few tips that can help: 

1 – Choose a high quality web hosting company to host your blog. There are several good web hosts out there, but when it comes to WordPress hosting DreamPress is the best in the business in my opinion. This post explains why I recommend DreamPress so strongly.

2 – Choose a high-quality WordPress theme for your blog. There are tons of free themes for you to choose from, but there are also tons of bloated, slow and poorly coded free themes as well. If you choose the wrong one, your site will be slow to load AND easy for hackers to break into.

If you decide to go with a free theme (and it’s fine if you do – I’ve used free themes on some of my blogs for years), I suggest visiting a couple of WordPress forums like the official one at WordPress.org or the great WordPress community over at Digital Point and ask the seasoned WordPress users there for recommendations.

While finding a high-quality free WordPress theme can be a hit-or-miss proposition, it’s pretty easy to acquire a theme you can have complete confidence in by investing in a premium theme framework such as Genesis (my personal favorite that actually powers this blog) or the equally awesome Thesis.

3 – Keep the sizes of your images as small as possible. Every byte of data transmitted from your web server to the visitor’s computer adds precious time to your page loads, and images are typically the “heaviest” items on your page. Shaving as many bytes from your images as possible while still preserving a decent image quality will speed up your page load times considerably.

I limit the sizes of my image files in two ways. First, on most of my blogs I crop and/or re-size the images to 300 pixels in width. That makes them perfect for use as an acceptable thumbnail while still being large enough to add value and context to the post.

Next, I compress every image I publish on my blogs using the “Save for web” option in my image editor. Most modern image editors now have this option.

4 – Keep your WordPress installation, your theme and your plugins updated with the latest versions. In addition to keeping hackers at bay, keeping every component of your WordPress blog up to date will also help keep your blog running smoothly and efficiently.

5 – Keep the number of plugins and widgets in use on your blog to a bare minimum. Every plugin and widget you use adds extra code and a corresponding delay to your blog’s page load times.

Of course if you need a specific plugin to serve a needed function, by all means use it. I use a dozen or more on some of my blogs! But always be asking yourself “Is the value provided by this plugin (or widget) really worth the extra page load time?”. If the answer is no, don’t use it.

6 – Delete any plugins that you don’t actually use. Even a “deactivated” plug can be a drag on your blog.

7 – Install a caching plugin such as WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache (personally, I prefer WP Super Cache, but either is a great choice).

Caching plugins are great because they create static HTML versions of the slower loading dynamic pages created by the WordPress engine, store them in a “cache”, then serve them to visitors when your pages are requested. Since WordPress doesn’t have to waste resources (and time) re-creating the pages that haven’t changed since the cached versions were created, subsequent page loads are extremely fast!

8 – Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to make your blog pages load quickly in every part of the world. With the exception of installing a caching plugin, this is the single most effective way to make your blog load as quickly as possible if a large percentage of your readers live in different countries.

CDNs work their magic by storing the most important bits and pieces of your blog’s web pages on multiple servers that are located in different countries around the globe.

Those bits and pieces are then assembled and served up to local users within those various countries without the page requests having to travel clear across the Internet back to your actual web server. This also helps speed up your blog by sharing the server load caused by all of your site’s concurrently requested pages among multiple servers.

As with most everything else, you have several good choices when choosing a CDN, but I use and recommend Cloudflare.

In conclusion, you can see that there are many pieces to the puzzle that is maintaining a speedy WordPress blog. You can either enjoy the benefits of just one or two of them or put your blog on steroids by using all 8. As always, the choice -and benefits – are yours!

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