Can WordPress handle heavy traffic
Are optimal PageSpeed values possible with WordPress?
I pursued this question and have dealt with this topic again and again over the past few years and even if there are already countless blog posts on this topic, I am happy to take the time to show you my personal experiences again here in an understandable way. First of all, an extensive content management system like WordPress brings with it a lot more ballast than simple HTML-based websites, I think this should be clear to everyone. However, this does not have to mean that your web server cannot handle it properly. WordPress has been continuously developed since the beginning of the open source project and to anticipate it at this point, WordPress has even managed to enable very good PageSpeed values for websites.
Are Google Page Speed values of 100% realistic?
During my research, I have come across dubious YouTube videos that boast the perfect value of 100% according to the Google Page Speed Index and have only aimed your page towards it. After a closer look, these WordPress websites often consisted of little more than a few blog texts and 1-2 highly compressed images - congratulations.
Over time, unfortunately, the thought has become established that Google’s page speed is probably one of the most important factors in determining a great and high-performance website and that pages with values above 90 that are not gigantically fast would lead to enormous ranking losses in the Google algorithm. This is a big mistake.
It is true that compared to a few years ago, speed also plays a more important role, but this point is certainly not in the top 10 of the current ranking factors. The Google algorithm is so complex that nowadays far more than 1000 factors with over 10,000 different signals make up the placement.
Basically, the user experience of the website is one of the most important roles. Your website must provide the best possible match for the searcher or the search query. A lot of other factors are more important here, such as high-quality content !!, relevant terms, formatting, further sources, grammar, language level, on-page factors (keywords, meta, etc.), duplicate content, page architecture and much more.
On the subject of PageSpeed, it is completely sufficient if your page loads and is usable for mobile and desktop devices. If you go according to PageSpeed Insights, then you should have at least ⅗ of the most important things covered and at least be arranged in the upper orange area - don't drive you crazy here and invest your time in essential adjustments in the course of search engine optimization (SEO) instead of the points there chasing after.
What about WordPress itself?
The good news is: WordPress itself won't get in the way of fast loading times, it just depends on how you use the system for your purposes. As a test, you can install WordPress in a raw version with a lightweight standard theme from the library on your server and, if you have found a semi-professional hosting provider, you will be able to enjoy excellent Google Insights values. Everything that happens after that then needs more attention and should be done with caution.
Then why is my WordPress website so slow?
There is no general answer to this, it depends on many different factors. As described above, however, I would always assume a clean framework, i.e. a fresh WordPress installation, because the next step can be absolutely decisive: the theme selection. It is precisely at this point that it often fails and the course is laid for good or poorly performing WordPress sites.
Most of the most sophisticated and great themes out there are first and foremost one thing - great. This is due to the fact that with increasing sales and user numbers, more and more requests for possible functionalities and setting options arise and only the theme options usually extend over many pages. Just think about the fact that behind each of these setting options there is already at least one more functionality that is being loaded. And let's be honest, how many features do you really need?
The same applies to the WordPress system in general. This alone brings a lot of functionalities, but not all of which you need for your website. You can therefore deactivate WordPress functionalities that are not required immediately after the WordPress installation. Most people don't know how to do this, at least not manually - but there is a useful plugin that can help you with this. You can find this in my Top 8 WordPress Plugin List at the bottom of the blog.
What about WordPress plugins in terms of PageSpeed?
As is so often the case, the golden rule here is: less is more. With every plugin that you install, you expand your WordPress system with new functionalities and options that are loaded when you visit your website. This often results in unsightly render-blocking resources, as plugins often use external sources and scripts and connect additional ballast, which are not necessarily all required for your purposes. In addition, there are often conflicts between different plugins that get in each other's way and with each additional plugin a potential further security gap in your system.
This is the big disadvantage of the millions of different plugin providers in the WordPress pool, you usually never know how good the code behind it is and when installing it you almost blindly trust the correctness and care of the respective programmers of these plugins - as I can tell you from experience, there are many black sheep among them. Therefore, choose your plugins carefully and remove all unused ones from your system.
What makes my WordPress website particularly slow?
If we compare the points mentioned so far, theme selection, number of plugins, overload of WordPress functionalities, these factors are even less important than the next important point on this list: the sensible use of media.
Correct use of images is essential on the web. WordPress itself already does a lot for this by generating so-called thumbnails in different sizes from your image upload and usually using them in the right places. For example, instead of the original size of your image, only a medium-sized thumbnail is loaded as the blog cover image, which WordPress then does for you. Unfortunately, this only works to a limited extent and very often there are misinterpretations or the wrong sizes are used by the user himself. For example, if you choose an original size picture from the media library in your blog post and use it in a container that is only ¼ of your website width, you can be sure that your picture is much too big for the rather small container and your website agility will suffer instantly. Unfortunately, this is also punished mercilessly by Google.
Basically, images should always be optimized for the web. I would recommend you never let your file size exceed 300 kb and in any case decouple all image metadata through a web export in e.g. Photoshop or GIMP and use the common image formats on the web.
Just by optimizing your pictures you will make up for most of the loading speed. Don't just trust that everything will be fixed automatically by image optimization and compression plugins. These usually do not allow your 2-4 MB image to shrink back to a 300kb and if this does not happen with a well-engineered algorithm such as Photoshop would do it, in order to generate a sharp and cleanly compressed image for a retina display even with a 300kb . But this is another topic in itself. A good plug-in for optimizing your images makes sense in any case, especially if you already have a running website.
How should I handle videos and fonts on the page?
In the second place next to your image material, the video embeddings usually follow and in the third step you upload PDFs or individual fonts. In principle, I would not upload videos to WordPress in the media library myself, but use them e.g. via YouTube in accordance with GDPR and as a modified iframe. This prevents the data transfer to YouTube and the loading of the videos directly when you visit your site. For the fonts it was very pleasant to use them via Google before the GDPR outcry, unfortunately this is no longer possible without data transfer and should be used locally. Unfortunately, this creates additional ballast which can be optimized through smart caching. Unfortunately, this point is also an absolute standard with most WordPress themes and even if you don't actively use Google fonts there, the connection to Google is usually not cut, so that you bear both burdens every time.
What else is important for my website performance?
These are topics like caching, compression, lazy load, CDN and a lot more, which however require a deep understanding in order to use this successfully. If you are not yet versed in this area or you lack the technical background, you can get a lot out of your website with just a few settings by selecting professional plugins.
You can find my current WordPress plugin tips in the lower part of this blog. I will also write a post with exact details on this topic if you are interested.
Here is an overview of the most important points
- Professional website hosting
There are many providers and a lot of comparison portals. I myself would recommend a provider specializing in WordPress, such as wpengine or raidboxes, because in addition to a strong support team you also acquire a whole range of advantageous services perfectly designed for your system.
- The right choice of theWordPress Themes
Check exactly which functionalities your WordPress website needs and don't take the biggest and most popular theme straight away. As an advanced WordPress user, you build your website on an absolutely lightweight and clean theme or create your own.
- WordPress basic system configuration
Get rid of unnecessary ballast and deactivate WordPress functions that you do not need.
- The slim and right plugin selection
Limit yourself to the absolute minimum of plugins and save yourself unnecessary loading characters and potential security gaps.
- Use images and external media correctly
This is an absolute MUST for high-performance websites, you should focus on this topic.
- Caching, compression, lazy load, CDN
A clean caching is essential, luckily this can be solved relatively easily with good plugins. In addition, file and script compression, reloading of images and videos (lazy load) and the use of content delivery networks (CDN) give you the final touches, which will bring you a few points in the end.
As you have probably noticed by now, the subject area around the PageSpeed of your website depends on many different factors, which unfortunately often get too quickly into the nitty-gritty for non-experts. Nevertheless, I am sure that even with a conscious and simple basic framework, high-performance websites based on WordPress can be set up for everyone in just a few steps. With a little experience and know-how, even very good values with 95 points and higher according to PageSpeed Insights and Co. are possible and that also for extensive pages with more functionality.
If you are interested in what my setup currently looks like and which plugins, themes, page builders, hosting offers I am currently using, please take a look at the list below (no affiliate).
- wpengine (English-speaking provider)
- raidboxes (German-speaking provider)
Both providers specialize in WordPress hosting and, in addition to good performance, offer a lot of useful features and security measures together with a first-class support team.
- simplefox Custom Theme *
- Genesis Framework, Astra, Scalia, The GEM, X Theme and many more.
* We ourselves mostly work with a very simple and lean theme, since designs and functionalities are usually very individual.
- WPBakery Composer *
- Oxygen Page Builder
* The WPBakery Page Builder has long been our No. 1 in recent years, it is now being replaced more and more by the strong development of Oxygen.
Top 8 WordPress Plugins 2020
These plugins are often standard on our system and have become firmly established in our plugin set in recent years.
- WPRocket (performance)
- ShortPixel Image Optimizer or Smush Pro (image compression)
- SEO Framework or Yoast SEO (SEO)
- Borlabs Cookie (GDPR Cookie)
- NinjaFireWall (security)
- AntiSpamBee (spam protection)
- Clearfy (WordPress configuration)
- Real Media Library (folder structure / media)
Originally published August 13, 2020 updated April 25, 2021
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