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The Complete Guide to Troubleshooting a Slow WordPress Site

One of the most common complaints among website owners is that their sites take too long to load, and WordPress isn’t immune to this phenomenon. The problem is, troubleshooting a slow WordPress site can be tricky since there are many different factors that can affect its speed.

If you find yourself needing to speed up your WordPress website but don’t know where to start, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. The most common causes of poor performance for this platform are well documented, and they’re all fixable.

In this guide, we’ll talk about why it’s important to make sure your WordPress website always loads fast. Then we’ll walk you through troubleshooting yours. Let’s pop the hood open!

Why Your WordPress Site’s Speed Matters

Nobody enjoys sitting around waiting for a website to load. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a modest WordPress blog or a massive e-commerce site – speed is critical to a good user experience.

On top of raising your blood pressure, slow loading times have many other adverse side effects, such as:

  • Higher bounce rates. Your bounce rate refers to the percentage of users who leave your site without interacting with any of its elements. The general consensus is that high bounce rates are directly related to serious usability issues, such as long loading times.
  • Fewer mobile views. Mobile users tend to be less forgiving when it comes to long loading times, and since they now account for most of the traffic on the web, you don’t want to get on their bad side.
  • Lower conversions. At least on mobile, fast-loading sites tend to convert more users than their slower counterparts. In this way, your site’s performance can directly affect your bottom line.

With that in mind, let’s talk about numbers. Ideally, you should be aiming for your site to load in less than two seconds. This may sound like a tall order, but go ahead and test your favorite sites to see if they hit the mark. The owners of most popular websites understand the importance of loading times, and do everything possible to keep them down.

That two-second mark isn’t arbitrary either – studies have shown that almost half of consumers expect websites to load within that timeframe. There’s a bit of wiggle room, but bounce rates start skyrocketing once you go up to three seconds.

The good news is that, as we mentioned earlier, it’s relatively easy to optimize a website’s performance (although it can take some time). All you need to do is follow a series of steps.

How to Troubleshoot a Slow WordPress Website (In 7 Steps)

The problem with troubleshooting WordPress sites is that no two are the same. For example, one website’s main performance bottleneck could be its images, while another site might be perfectly optimized but hosted on a shoddy server. That means that to find the culprit, you need to be methodical.

It could also be the case that your website doesn’t have just a single serious issue, but multiple small ones. To be safe, you’ll want to test your site’s loading speed both before you begin the process and after each step. That way, you’ll know firsthand how each of these problems can impact loading times. Let’s kick things off by setting a benchmark.

Step #1: Measure Your Site’s Initial Loading Time

There are plenty of tools that enable you to test your website’s loading times, but we’re fans of Pingdom for its simplicity. All you need to do is enter your site’s address and choose a testing server to get things started:

The Pingdom homepage.

For the best possible results, you’ll want to choose the testing server that’s closest to your hosting provider’s data center location.

An example of a Pingdom test result.

If you’re unsure where that is, check your provider’s website for information about its data centers. Keep in mind that you’ll want to use the same server to test your site after implementing each of the steps below. You’ll also need to take note of your loading times so you can check the impact that each step has on your site’s performance.

Once you get the hang of using Pingdom, move on to the next step.

Step #2: Delete or Replace Slow Plugins

Plugins are one of WordPress’ main selling points, but they can also be one of your worst enemies when it comes to performance. Some people think this has to do with the number of plugins you’re using, but it’s actually more about the complexity of the features they add.

Some plugins are better coded than others, which means they don’t have a noticeable impact on your loading times, even if they add complex features. The trick lies in identifying those that do slow your site down, and either deleting or replacing them. The best way to find out which plugin(s) are behind your problems is to disable them one by one and run a new speed test after each:

Deactivating plugins in WordPress.

This can be a chore if you have a lot of plugins on your site, but the results may be well worth it. Just remember to back up your site before you start the process, since disabling plugins could cause some errors to appear. You’ll also want to do this during a quiet period in terms of traffic, so it doesn’t affect your visitors’ experience too adversely.

You may also be familiar with a tool called P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler), which measures the impact of your plugins on your site’s loading time:

The P3 plugin.

It’s worth mentioning that P3 hasn’t been updated in ages, and it doesn’t seem to play nice with PHP7. However, if you want to give it a whirl and see if it works for your site, check out this tutorial on how to get it working.

Step #3: Optimize Your Images

Images are one of the cornerstones of online content, but the higher their quality, the more space they take up. Larger file sizes in turn lead to longer loading times.

The good news is that you don’t need to sacrifice the quality of your images to get your site to load faster – you just need to optimize them. Fortunately, there are a lot of plugins that can help you automate this process, so you don’t have to do the work manually. For example, there’s Compress JPG & PNG Images:

The Compress PNG & JPG plugin.

Once this plugin is installed, it’ll compress (or optimize) each image you upload to your site. You won’t see any noticeable impact on your images’ quality, but chances are they’ll take up a lot less space.

Plus, you can also use the plugin to optimize your existing catalog of WordPress images, in case you already have a library of content. Be aware that the free version of this plugin has a limit on the number of images you can compress. Depending on thumbnail size, you get around 100 per month under the free plan, so you’ll need to go for the premium plan if you regularly upload more images than this.

Finally, you can also use the plugin’s free web service counterpart, TinyPNG, to optimize your images manually if your site only uses a few of them. You just need to head to the service’s site, upload the images you want to compress, and wait for the platform to do its magic:

The TinyPNG plugin.

This way, you can avoid setting up an additional plugin on your site.

Step #4: Clean Up Your WordPress Database

Every WordPress website uses databases to store data and pull it when necessary. Your post revisions, drafts, user information, etc. – it’s all stored in your database. The problem is that as time goes by, every database is liable to become ‘bloated’ as it accumulates unnecessary information.

The larger your database gets, the longer it can take for WordPress to process your user requests, which translates to longer loading times. Most web hosts these days enable you to interact with your databases from your cPanel, but cleaning one up manually is a near impossible task.

That’s where plugins such as Advanced Database Cleaner come in. It keeps track of all the information that can be pruned from your database, and enables you to do the job with a single click.

The Advanced Database Cleaner plugin.

Bear in mind that you’ll want to back up your database before each ‘clean’, just to be safe. The plugin also enables you to automate the optimization process, so you can set it up and forget about it (as long as you do regular backups!).

As for how often you should clean your database, that depends on the volume of content you publish on your site. However, once every couple of months should be okay in most cases.

Step #5: Add Lazy Loading to Your Website

In a nutshell, lazy loading prioritizes the loading of what the user can see on-screen at any given time. Whatever is set to appear within the browser screen loads first; then, as the visitor scrolls down, the rest of your site gets loaded dynamically. As long as the lazy-loading effect doesn’t harm usability by forcing users to wait for loading as they scroll down, it can be a useful addition to your site.

As is often the case, the easiest way to implement this feature is by using a plugin. In this case, we’re going to recommend that you try a3 Lazy Load.

The a3 Lazy Loading plugin.

If you use lots of images on your site, then this plugin should make a real difference to its performance, as they won’t need to load until users reach them. Plus, the tool also supports other types of embedded media, widgets, and even WooCommerce products.

For more information about how to configure a3 Lazy Load, look out for the instructions at the bottom of the plugin’s WordPress.org page.

Step #6: Implement a Content Delivery Network

We’ve covered a lot of the most common optimization issues that affect WordPress sites, so now we’re going to talk about Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). These are services that store copies of your website across a network of servers distributed worldwide.

It might sound complicated, but the idea behind using a CDN is remarkably simple. The shorter the distance from your server to the location of your users, the faster your site should load. Naturally, most of us don’t have the resources to set up servers around the world, so that’s where CDNs come in.

As you can imagine, these services come at a cost. However, the Cloudflare CDN offers its users a decent free plan that can cache up to three different pages. If you’re running a small WordPress website, that’s often enough to cover the most crucial sections.

The Cloudflare homepage.

If you’re looking for a budget option, then check out this guide on how to set up Cloudflare to work with WordPress. On the other hand, if you’d rather look at a premium plan, you can always check out Cloudflare’s other tiers.

StackPath (formerly known as MaxCDN) is another name that’s very popular for websites both large and small, and its starter plan is accessible at $20 a month:

The StackPath homepage.

If you need a premium plan from the start, bear in mind that MaxCDN is also easy to set up with WordPress. Regardless of your choice, using a CDN is a good way to maximize your site’s performance.

Step #7: Assess Your Web Hosting Provider’s Performance

So far, we’ve been operating under the assumption that your site’s slow loading is down to poor optimization. However, if you’ve made it to this step and you’re still not seeing an improvement, then it’s likely that your hosting provider is the weak link in the chain.

To put it simply, not all hosting providers and plans are created equal. Some have better hardware than others, and put more work into optimizing their platforms to ensure that every customer gets good performance. The best way to find out if your host is known for poor performance is to look at independent reviews online. Read a cross-section of reviews and see what people are saying about the company.

On the other hand, if your provider’s performance is giving you headaches, it might be time to think about moving to a new one. Most reputable web hosts (like us!) offer free migration services to make the process simple.

If you’re in the market for a new home, we recommend that you check out our WordPress-optimized hosting plans:

Our selection of WordPress hosting plans.

Plus, we’ve made a bit of a name for ourselves when it comes to fast loading times. Each of our servers is optimized to deliver excellent performance for every platform – not just WordPress – and there are plenty of reviews to back up that statement.

Conclusion

It’s all too common for websites, even those built with WordPress, to suffer from long loading times. There are plenty of reasons why this can happen – including poor optimization and sub-par servers – so you need to be methodical when investigating a slow site. That means going through all the potential issues one by one, to see how they affect your performance.

Let’s recap the seven steps to troubleshooting a slow WordPress website, from start to finish:

  1. Measure your site’s initial loading times.
  2. Delete or replace slow plugins.
  3. Optimize your images.
  4. Clean up your WordPress database.
  5. Add lazy loading to your website.
  6. Implement a CDN.
  7. Assess your web hosting provider’s performance.

Do you have any questions about how to troubleshoot a slow WordPress website? Ask away in the comments section below!

Image credit: Pixabay.

About Corey Hammond

Corey has been directly involved in the web hosting space since 2010 and leads marketing for A2 Hosting.

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