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How to Build a Fast Website

Three Ingredients – How to Build a Fast Website in WordPress

The Basics

The basic ingredients of a fast loading website in WordPress are a fast theme, a content delivery network (CDN) and avoiding plugins or connections that slow the site down. I often am brought in to help speed up a website that is slow. Usually it is because the site has a very slow theme or some slow plugins, and I’ve covered some of the solutions and things to think about below.

What if it’s not the theme, plugins or images?

Sometimes a slow website is from another cause such as a the server being attacked with a denial of service (DOS) attack. A DOS attack can often be stoppd by changing how your site responds to robot requests, or by increasing security settings, a process known as ‘hardening’.

Here are the first and most likely ways to build a fast site.

Use a Fast Theme

Not all themes are created equal. Often the best way to ensure your site is fast is to build it using a well-designed, fast base theme. Before selecting a theme, check out it’s reputation for speed. Here are some of the fastest widely used themes. Often wordpress site designers will start from a nice fast clean base theme such as Astra, and then customize the design to reflect your colours, branding and other features. A good theme was updated within the last few months, and has a reputation for speed. If you are wondering if a theme you are considering is slow, google the theme name plus wordpress and the word slow together  and see what comes up, the results may be enlightening.

For good measure it’s also a good idea to google the theme name and the words ‘buggy’ ‘troubleshoot’ and/or ‘problem’ to see if there are a lot of complaints.

In general, a theme that requires a lot of plugins to work or which needs to communicate with an external server in order to maintain a  license is likely to be slower than a leaner and better constructed one.

Use A Content Delivery Network (CDN)

There are two situations where you really need a content delivery network (CDN) –  if there are a large number or size of image files on your site, or if your site needs to be fast no matter where in the world people are accessing it from.

What is a CDN?

A content delivery network (CDN) makes copies of some of the information on your site and stores it in servers all over the world. This allows for two things: for a big chunk of the information on your site to be sent from a server closest to the place where your customer is, and for that information to be sent from multiple places at once so the customer’s computer doesn’t have to wait for a single source to respond to multiple requests.

How a CDN helps if you have a lot of large images

If your site has a lot of large image files, videos or pdfs, or just a lot of images overall, then a content delivery network (CDN) will really help. This is because these files are slower to transfer over the internet and so if the CDN can take over some of the work of transferring those images, the overall process is faster. Also, because the node in the CDN that stores a copy of your images is likely to be closer to your customer than your main website server is, it can get those images to the customer’s computer faster.

Geography – where your customers are matters to the speed your page loads

A CDN will also improve load speeds if your website is intended to be accessed by people all over the world.  Information on the internet travels fast but it’s not instantaneous. If your website is hosted on a server located in California but some of your customers are in France, then the information needs to travel via the internet all of the way from California to France, through multiple servers and nodes on the internet. A CDN takes copies of all of your static files (images and style documents) and squirrels them away on servers all over the world. Then when someone in France accesses your site, they see the images from a copy stored on a server in France that can get it to them much faster.

You can see this in action by using a site speed testing service like pingdom – it allows you to test the speed of your site depending on where in the world the person is viewing it from. Try putting your website in and selecting different locations on this tool, one close to where your site is hosted one as far as possible away.  If you don’t know exactly where your site is hosted, use a location close to you and one far away. You will often notice a big difference in speed geographically if you don’t use a CDN. A good site will load in 3 seconds or less. For example, this afternoon, my website, which has a CDN, loaded in 1.02 seconds when viewed from London, England and a similar 1.22 seconds from San Francisco, USA. A CDN isn’t the only factor in load speed variations by geography, however, as the same page loaded in a whopping 5.6 seconds when viewed from Sydney Australia, which has slower broadband internet speeds in general

Avoid Unnecessary or Slow Plugins

Plugins are little programs, often free, which can be added to your wordpress installation to do various tasks. They are really helpful, but can really slow your site down or cause issues if they are poorly built. The fastest plugin is no plugin. For best results, if you don’t really really need that plugin, don’t install it, and if you stop needing it, delete it. In general, plugins that need to talk to other sites such as ones that communicate in real time with your social media accounts or which load their fonts from somewhere else, can make a big difference in speed. Here are some plugins known to really slow down websites that should be used with caution if at all. If you have more than 10 plugins active on your site, have a look to make sure you need them all.

Need some advice on how to speed up your site? Contact me for an assessment and some help.

Sophia Kelly is a highly experienced WordPress website developer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Call 604-813-7674  or email  now to get started.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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