The following section is simple steps to take before adding additional software and plugins. Skip ahead to the next section if you’ve taken stock on your current WordPress set-up.
Upgrade Your WordPress: Always make sure you have the latest and greatest version of WordPress installed for your account. Every new version of WordPress should have software installed that optimizes your site faster than before.
Update Your Plugins: You’re not done updating. It’s important to check your plugins with every new WordPress update. Separate them into two categories, ones you need and ones you don’t. Make sure the plugins you need are updated and working properly. Plugins you are not using should not just be turned off, but deleted completely. Rogue plugins can be tough on performance, so delete them from the plugins directory.
Eliminate Third-Party Plugins: One of the easiest ways to speed up the website loading is to minimize third party services/widgets from being used on your blog. Some plug-ins may be needed, but try to substitute a non-local plug-in with a WordPress plug-in whenever possible. If the 3rd party site is loading slow, your site will look goofy by default.
Optimize Your Images: Image optimization is one of the most important aspects of speeding up your WordPress site. Large image files may be slowing down your site without you even knowing it as your pictures take a heavy tool on your site’s resources. The solution: smush them!
Check out the plugin Smush Image Compression and Optimization. This super plugin should be a default install on any site that needs optimized images. Smush strips meta data and optimizes compression for your JPEGs. It eliminates extra bytes that are useless, without compromising the quality of the image. Compress any image in any directory!
Cache is King
Caching means storing pages, images, and files on the local hard drive. Therefore, the next time a request is made, the cache is served to the user instead of reloading everything again, resulting in a speedier delivery. Different times of caching exist and need to be tended to for faster results:
WordPress Cache: WordPress allows caching plugins that create a static HTML page of every single one of your webpages, reducing page load time. There are many good plugins that do this, but we’re partial to WP Super Cache.
WP Super Cache is the easiest to configure and free of charge. Some of these plugins are bloated and filled with ads; WP Super Cache is lightweight and ad-free. It works out of the box and can be tweaked by novices and experts alike. Once installed and operated, you should see an improvement immediately with the page loading tests, and the speed of both your customer facing pages and backend admin pages.
Server Cache: For high traffic sites on VPS, dedicated, or cloud servers, it would be wise to look into server caching. This is the process of using a reverse proxy server in front of the server where WordPress is actually running. The WordPress codex gives a good definition of server caching:
The simplest solutions start with the server caching locally while more complex and involved systems may use multiple caching servers (also known as reverse proxy servers) “in front” of web servers where the WordPress application is actually running.
Our server cache recommendation is Varnish Caching. I’ll let Varnish explain what they do so well:
Varnish Cache is a web application accelerator also known as a caching HTTP reverse proxy. You install it in front of any server that speaks HTTP and configure it to cache the contents. Varnish Cache is really, really fast. It typically speeds up delivery with a factor of 300 – 1000x, depending on your architecture.
Once you have Varnish Caching installed, grab the free WordPress plugin Proxy Cache Purge plugin (formerly known as Varnish HTTP Purge). This will allow you to manually clear the cache whenever you would like.