The Best WordPress Performance Plugins For 2019
On the web, faster is better. The duration between clicking a link and receiving a functional web page is wasted time. Nothing useful can happen, and web users don’t like to wait. WordPress pages load quickly, provided they aren’t too heavy, and the site is hosted by a provider who knows what they are doing. But, as pages are loaded up with images, scripts, and heavyweight assets, load times climb while user satisfaction plummets.
Four-tenths of web users abandon pages that take more than three seconds to load. A quarter leave a site immediately if it frustrates them. Many never return. Mobile users in particular are sensitive to performance. So what’s a site owner to do? We love our images and scripts and interactive widgets, but we also need our pages to load quickly.
It’s a problem faced by hundreds of thousands of WordPress users, and developers have created excellent solutions, often as plugins. In this article, we will explore the best options for cutting load-times on your WordPress site in 2019.
Smarter minds than mine can explain why we need a solution to strip away assets that needn’t have been included in the first place, but there is no denying that AMP makes overloaded web pages faster for mobile users.
The official AMP Plugin for WordPress is a collaboration between WordPress, Google, and others. If you want to provide faster pages to mobile users, AMP is the best way to achieve that goal — short of actually optimizing your WordPress site’s pages, that is — although there are those who don’t approve.
CAOS For Google Analytics
Google’s analytics scripts allow WordPress site owners to track visits, visitor demographics, and a host of other information. But the script itself is large and retrieving it from Google’s content distribution network involves lots of web requests.
The CAOS For Google Analytics plugin allows Google’s tracking scripts to be hosted locally, incurring fewer round-trips to third-party servers. The mechanism is straightforward; CAOS downloads the script from the CDN and ensures that it is served from the local cache and not from the CDN. It allows the script to be cached in the visitor’s browser, eliminating repeated downloads. The plugin also regularly updates its cached copy.
a3 Lazy Load
A visitor sees a webpage through a window that shows only some of the page’s content. You can scroll an article up and down, but you can’t see the whole thing at once. A WordPress page may have a dozen images and as many embedded YouTube videos, but they aren’t shown at first, so they don’t have to be loaded right away. Instead, they can be loaded when the browser thinks they are about to appear in its window.
This is called lazy loading. The browser loads just the elements it needs to fill the first window, and other elements before the user scrolls them into view. It’s a trick that doesn’t help your mobile visitors with their bandwidth caps, but it can make slow pages seem snappy.
The WordPress plugin a3 Lazy Load allows for the lazy loading of various elements: images, video embeds, and iframes. It works well with WooCommerce and AMP and provides easy to use toggles for users to choose which elements to load lazily.
Smush Image Compression
When you download an image from Unsplash or a camera, it includes a lot of data that your visitors don’t care about. This metadata — EXIF data, among others — dramatically inflates the size of image files. Unless you are a photographer who wants visitors to have this information, it can be safely removed without affecting the quality of the image.
Smush Image Compression strips metadata from images as they are uploaded. It can also automatically resize images as they are compressed. Smush works well with the most common image file types, including PNGs, JPEGs, and GIFs.
The free version of Smush is limited to processing images smaller than 1 MB. If you want to process images up to 32 MB, you need WP Smush Pro, which is faster and can also make images smaller than the free version, with lossy compression.
When a visitor clicks on a link to a page on your WordPress site, her browser sends the site a request. WordPress looks at the request and begins to build a webpage. It runs PHP code, some of which retrieves data from the site’s MySQL database. Once the page is built, it is sent to the visitor’s browser. On an unmodified WordPress site, this process happens every time a user loads a page. It’s very fast, but not as fast as if the page had been built in advance and could be sent as soon as the request arrives.
WordPress’s ability to build pages on the fly is what makes it so powerful, but it is not always necessary to build a new page. If twenty people request a blog article on your site, they all get the same content, so why generate it anew for every request?
Caching plugins “save” pages and other components after they are generated, keeping them on the server’s hard drive or in its memory, both of which are very fast to retrieve data from.
There are several caching plugins you might consider.
- W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching plugins. It can cache pages and other content, and it also includes other performance-enhancing features, such as minification, compression, and the ability to connect to several content distribution networks. The main downside of W3 Total Cache is complexity: it comes with a huge number of configuration options, and, although the defaults are reasonable, its settings screen can intimidate the bravest of us.
- WP Rocket can do just about everything W3 Total Cache can do, but it is easier to use if you aren’t a web caching expert. WP Rocket also includes some nice extras, such as browser caching configuration and lazy loading. The downside? You have to pay for it. WP Rocket is a premium plugin, but for busy sites, it is well worth the outlay.
- Cache Enabler is the sweet-spot between W3 Total Cache and WP Rocket. It’s fast, free, and its settings are easy enough to get to grips with.
The best way to optimize your site for performance is to reduce the size of its pages and install a caching plugin. Slender pages served immediately provide performance as fast as anyone could ask for. However, the other plugins we have covered here are excellent options on sites where slimming down isn’t desirable.
About Graeme Caldwell – Graeme is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. His articles have been featured on top publications across the net, TechCrunch to TemplateMonster. For more content, visit the Nexcess blog and give them a follow at @nexcess.