It’s more important than ever to make sure your WordPress site is optimized to reduce bounce rates and increase conversion rates. If your site doesn’t load quickly enough, you will rank lower in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), and Google is known to use site and page speed as a ranking factor.
A WordPress site can be optimized by employing a number of techniques including image optimization, selecting quality hosting and a well coded theme for your website, using the latest version of PHP, using site caching plugins, code minification, using a CDN, making sure the database is optimized, keeping spam comments to a minimum, and disabling pingbacks and trackbacks.
In the following sections, I’ll explore each of these points in more detail so that you too can optimize your website for maximum conversions.
Use Good website hosting
Cheap website hosting may seem very attractive at first and is excellent for a hobby site, but if you want your site to perform at its best and rank well in the SERPs you need to invest in quality hosting.
Most people start with a ‘shared’ hosting package, which means that other websites are being hosted on the same server. You won’t be able to see them from your web host control panel, but they are all sharing the same physical resources of the server which means they will run slower than if you are on a dedicated machine.
If one of the other sites is receiving more traffic than you then it will be using more server resources. This is why hosting companies put a limit on how many monthly visitors your site can receive and how much bandwidth your site can use each month.
If your site becomes heavily frequented, let’s say in the range of 50k to 100k visitors a month then you should really think about moving it to a dedicated server, often referred to as a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
This is a server that will be running your site with better resources than a shared server can offer. This means your site will have more processing power and memory available and will be able to cope better with larger numbers of visitors to your site. This will cost significantly more than using a shared hosting package but will give you far better site performance regarding speed and reliability.
Use a well-coded theme and keep plugins updated
You should select a reputable theme that is known to be well coded and run fast. Choosing a lesser known theme that could have bugs and can slow down your site so make sure you do your research before choosing one.
The same concept applies to WordPress plugins. Make sure you use ones that are maintained regularly and make sure you keep them updated.
Leaving old plugins on your site can be a security risk that allows hackers to take it over or install malicious software and we’ll talk more about this later.
You should also make sure that you are using the latest version of PHP as this will allow your site to run faster than previous versions. Most web host control panels will allow you to select the most recent version or upgrade it if you are using an older version.
Large image files can drastically slow down the load time of your web pages. Images need to be optimized, which means that they should be sized appropriately for their intended use, use a suitable image format and compress them to reduce their file size.
Firstly, you should choose the right file format for your images. If your images are just text or line drawings with limited colors, then you should use the GIF format. It’s limited to 256 colors and it results in low file sizes for simple images. When it comes to photographic images then you should look at using either the JPG or PNG formats.
JPG is a ‘lossy’ format which means the image quality can be reduced by compressing the image and reducing the overall quality of the image. When you save your image as a JPG your image editing software should give you options for the output quality but don’t go too low as this can make your images look bad.
On the other hand, PNG is a ‘lossless’ image format ideal for graphics, icons, and photographs but can’t be compressed as much as a JPG image. One big reason to use PNG images is that they support transparency which is useful if you need to cut out part of an image to place on a different colored background.
However, you could just make the layer you cut out the same color as the background and just use a JPG, but if you ever wanted to change that background color, you would need to edit all your images again.
Using the correct dimensions for your images will reduce the overall file size of your image. Smaller images load faster. If you want a small picture on your page, make sure you have resized the image before uploading it. You don’t want to be using a 2mb file just for a thumbnail image instead of a file that should be around 20kb!
To compress your image files, you can either do this manually yourself using software like ImageOptim or an online service like TinyJPG and TinyPNG. Alternatively, you can use a WordPress plugin to optimize your images automatically. SmushIt, ShortPixel etc.
One last thing that might also be worth considering is ‘lazy loading’. This is where the page will only load images that are visible in the browser viewport. When you scroll down, then any additional images are loaded. This can speed up your page considerably if you have an image heavy page. Again, there are quite a few lazy load plugins available for WordPress such as BJ Lazy load and Image Lazy Load to name a couple.
Caching and minification
When a visitor comes to your WordPress site, it has to make a request to the database to display the content in the browser. If thousands of visitors are coming to your site, it means your site will slow down as more and more database requests are made.
Using a caching plugin gets around this issue by making a copy of the page after the first time it is displayed to a visitor and then shows the cached page to additional visitors without having to re-access the database. This allows the page to be displayed quicker because no database interaction needs to take place.
In addition to caching functionality, these plugins also give you the option to minify your CSS, and JS files. Minification usual involves removing whitespace from files and renaming variable names to something shorter, so fewer characters are used in a file which in turn leads to smaller file size.
There are several popular caching plugins available such as W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. Some web hosts such as Siteground and Bluehost even offer their own caching services, so you don’t have to worry about installing and configuring additional plugins.
Use a Content Delivery Network
A content delivery network consists of a group of geographically distributed servers that deliver your site’s content to the visitor using the server nearest to them. So if your visitor is based in the USA, the CDN would deliver content from a server in that region rather than from your web host located in the UK which would require far more network hops to deliver the content to the US.
There are quite a few CDN services available, but we tend to use Cloudflare or MaxCDN as they are particularly easy to set up and use. Using such services will also give you the added, improved security against DDoS attacks.
Over time the WordPress database accumulates more and more data from old post revisions, spam comments, deleted items, plugin settings and tables. This will cause WordPress to slow down if it’s not maintained over the long run.
Fortunately, you won’t have to start messing around directly with the database as there are plugins available to do the hard work for you. Probably the best known are WP-DBManager and WP-Optimize which will take care of table optimization, cleaning up old revisions and fixing any database corruption for you.
Disable Pingbacks and Trackbacks
Many people think that having pingbacks and trackback enabled on a WordPress site these days is asking for spam content to be posted on your site. The more spam that is added means more unnecessary rows are added to your database, so it’s probably best to disable them in WordPress settings.
Protect Your site from Malware
You should keep the WordPress core and any plugins you use up to date as possible to make sure hackers can’t exploit security vulnerabilities in them.
If hackers gain access to your site, they might make it obvious and deface your website, but most of the time they don’t want you to know as they want to use your site to store files silently and malicious software or they will use your server as a bot to launch DDOS attacks.
This will use additional resources and slow your site down. You should consider using security plugins like WordFence to add an extra layer of security to your website and use it to identify any potential issues.
Use an SSL certificate
You should use an SSL certificate on your site if you want to take advantage of speed gains offered by HTTP/2 protocol as mentioned in the CDN section. Moreover, Google will rank sites that don’t use an SSL certificate lower than those that do.
These days it’s very easy to get a free SSL on your site using Let’s Encrypt, and many web hosts now offer push-button solutions to add this to your website free of charge.
We have talked about several ways you can optimize your WordPress lead generation site ranging from making sure your images are optimized to optimizing the database.
The more of these things you do, the better your site will perform and have a better chance at ranking higher in the SERPs as well as encouraging visitors to stay on your site and follow the call to actions you have on your pages for higher conversion rates.