WordPress Speed Optimization – Happiness Delivered

Published: August 2, 2021
Last modified: August 25th, 2021
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I recently decided to look at this site’s page speed rankings from Google, and what I found was abysmal! This wasn’t surprising, after all, I haven’t touched the theme or plugins in several years, and let’s face it what was “best” in 2018 is far from what’s the best today.

My intention starting out was to run the speed test, probably switch out a couple of plugins, maybe add a tiny bit of tweaking to the custom theme I had already, and call it a day. Maybe an hour of time, no big deal, right? But then I saw the results of my test and soon realized I needed to dive deep into WordPress speed optimization techniques here.

Google Speed Ranking
Google Speed Ranking
25 Mobile / 84 Desktop

Realizing what a major revamping of the site this was going to be, I decided to document what I did and hopefully help a few others out there who might be in the same position.

The Theme

The first step was to drop the theme I was using. It was a custom theme, actually a custom child theme of the Ascend theme from Kadence Themes, and while I like the appearance, I knew I could get close with a whole lot less bloat in the theme and CSS files.

Not long ago I created a minimalist theme for WordPress based on the PureCSS libraries from Yahoo!, so I uploaded this theme and dropped my Ascend child theme. I deleted Ascend and the child theme I had created from it, because you really shouldn’t keep old themes on your site and there was no way I’d be going backward here, so, didn’t need them.

The New Theme
The New Theme

I love PureCSS and favor it over Bootstrap (oh so bulky and full of bloat) yet can still put a design or WP theme layout together using PureCSS in minutes, then just spend a little time on the fine-tuning details and call it done. The theme I created and am using on this site now took me less than an hour to create.

If there is interest in my PureCSS theme let me know in the comments, I’ll be happy to make it available here.

There were some minor fixes necessary when I changed the theme, primarily with the main page since my PureCSS theme doesn’t have the nifty layout options for the front page that Ascend had come with, fortunately, WordPress itself had my back.

With the latest WordPress release, the editor blocks have been expanded and all I needed to do to recreate my front page layout of before was to create an actual Home page in my dashboard, add 2 Recent Posts blocks to it, one for the latest feature story and one for the most recent blogs (Musings I call them), then go to my Reading settings in the dashboard and set this new Home page to be the front page display of my site.

Next up, Plugins!

24 Plugins - Most unnecessary
24 Plugins – Most unnecessary

I had a whopping 24 plugins installed on the site, though in fairness a majority of them are back-end and dashboard related for security and content creation helpers, but still I thought I could do better than 24, not to mention there were a few plugins missing that I’ve taken to using lately, so the goal here was to add a few new plugins and end up with less than 24… simple!

The plugins I kept were:

There were 18 others that I deleted, crossing my fingers it wouldn’t break anything on my site.

And here are the plugins that I then added:

For a grand total of 15 plugins. Far better than 24 and a good number of them having nothing to do with the frontend so wouldn’t add much if any code or CSS bloat on the site.

Why 2 Caching Plugins?

I like to use Autoptimize and WP Fastest Cache because I’ve found each is really good at certain things, so I divide up what each is doing to get the maximum cache savings on my site.

There is a great write-up over on GoodLayers for getting the most out of them, I follow the suggestions they make with the lone exception of the “Inline and Defer CSS?” setting (now titled “Eliminate render-blocking CSS?” in the plugin settings). I don’t check this option only because the CSS of my PureCSS theme is already so small that I don’t find it adds any value for me, however with another theme it might.

Other Plugins I Use and Why

I also use WP YouTube Lyte, it’s a great plugin for speeding up page loads if you embed videos into your posts and pages.

Mobile Performance

AMP is crucial for minimizing your load speeds to mobile users. Just be careful as it doesn’t always play nice with JavaScripts and some JavaScript-reliant plugins out there. In fact, there’s a Gutenburg Blocks plugin that adds lots of nice blocks to the editor which simply won’t work with AMP at all, so I don’t use the advanced blocks as much as I’d love to for this reason. It’s far more vital to have AMP than those blocks available.

WordPress Security

Loginizer and Wordfence Security #FTW – yeah, I say f*&k them bad-bots and script kiddies.

Expanding the Gutenburg Editor

I’ve been a fan of Gutenburg since the beginning and the fact that WP is slowly expanding the core to where soon it will be a full-featured page building CMS without having to use 3rd party plugins like Elementor or Brizy has me stoked.

I’ve never liked those page-building plugins for one simple reason, they’re full of bloat and burden page load speeds.

On the backend though, I want options when creating a post or page, so plugins that give me more blocks in the editor or expand the feature range of existing block types are a must.

You can see from my list the ones I use regularly and installed for this blog.

The blocks plugins that play nice with AMP and I used are:

  • Getwid
  • Magical Posts Display
  • PublishPress Blocks

WordPress SEO

I don’t put a lot of time into SEO anymore, in 2005 it was worth the time investments, today though creating good quality, helpful content is a much better way to focus your resources.

Get the basics of on-page SEO right with a “set it and forget it” plugin like Rank Math and then put your time into creating great content. We’ve actually done a lot of testing on this over recent years and spent a lot of money to do it, and there’s just no comparison between the small bumps working on SEO can bring in traffic to your site compared to the huge gains investing instead into great content will have.

Finally, A Few Miscellaneous Plugins

GDPR Cookie Consent – Every bit a “must have” as SSL certificates are these days.

MC4WP: Mailchimp for WordPress – If you want to put a signup form to your Mailchimp list on your site there’s no better way in my opinion.

Really Simple SSL – Because, as the name implies, it’s really simple to use.

Sassy Social Share – You have to have social network badges on a blog, don’t you? It’s kind of the law now I think. Out of all the different social sharing plugins out there that I’ve tried this one is the least intrusive and bloat-making.

Woody code snippets – Because I like to tinker. This plugin allows me to create PHP applications right inside of pages on my blog here, like my Leap Domain Name Generator, so it’s a good one for me.

The WordPress Speed Optimization Results

Now that I’ve changed my theme and after all the plugins work I had to do, about a three-hour job in all, what are the results on my page speeds:

97 Mobile / 97 Desktop
97 Mobile / 97 Desktop

Not too bad huh? My mobile page speed increased from 25 all the way up to 97, and the desktop speed went up from 84 to 97 as well.

I could probably squeeze another 1-2% out it if I went back and converted all the images I’ve used on the site to the WebP format thanks to WordPress 5.8 now fully supporting it.

As of today, August 2, 2021, just over 95% of all web users online are running browsers that support WebP images, with the majority of the less than 5% who aren’t being on old versions of IE which WordPress itself isn’t even going to support going forward, so there’s no reason not to use WebP anymore.

But, going back and converting images from old posts is a chore, even with the plugins out there that will help you, and given the speed scores I got without doing that I decided to leave the past behind me, I will be using WebP going forward.

Was this posting helpful to you? Did I give you ideas for improving our own page speeds? If so, please tell me below, I’d love to hear about your thoughts and adventures in WP speed optimizations.

My Favorite Tools & Services

The tools and services below, some I’m affiliated with and some I am not, are exactly what I recommend to paying clients based on value and quality.

WordPress & Web Hosting: BanProNET – Fast, secure, reliable web hosting for personal sites, small businesses, and national organizations since 2002.

Domain Names: NameSilo – I’ve had accounts with just about every domain registrar on the planet over the years, NameSilo by far is my favorite for simplicity and pricing, hands down.

WordPress Plugins: WPFavs listing of the common plugins I use and recommend to clients. You can import this list directly using WPFavs to save time by installing them all with a single click.

Content Writing: WriteMyArticles.com is among the most affordable content services out there, and unlike most that have different tiers of quality based pricing, WriteMyArticles delivers top-quality with every piece of content going through a researcher, writer, and editor’s hands before being delivered to the buyer.


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