Free Plugins to Speed Up Your WordPress Website

Internet users today are an impatient bunch. Seemingly small time delays are hugely significant, and have a big impact on user-experience. This is particularly true for eCommerce sites, with an estimated 40% abandonment rate accompanying just a three-second delay.

Put another way: a sluggish website will kill your bottom line. People just don’t want to wait, and will click away after just a few seconds. With hundreds of other websites just a mouse click away, you really need to grab a user’s attention — having to wait for your website to load, achieves exactly the opposite. With this in mind, having a fast, efficient website really is a pre-requisite for being successful in today’s competitive online environment.

If website speed is something you’ve struggled with, there are a number of free WordPress plugins you can use to speed things up – Pingdom is a great tool for testing your current load time to get a baseline. Now, plugins are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to your website’s load speed. There are plenty of other factors that can improve your performance: a better host, a content delivery network, and a less bloated theme for starters. However, WordPress plugins are a good place to start. Here, I’ve picked out six free plugins, with each performing a different function.

Caching Plugin: W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache

Falling firmly under the category of quick wins, a caching plugin is a must. The W3 Total Cache plugin is one of the most popular caching plugins, and also one of the highest rated. A caching plugin is a must for all webmasters, and a plugin like the W3 Total Cache will be highly effective at improving your load time. Its developers promise at least a 10x improvement in overall site performance, which is a seriously bold claim! Even better, we have our very own W3 Total Cache Plugin Guide that you can follow along with to get yoru caching setup.

A Caching plugin works by storing a static version of your website on the server. The images, CSS, and JavaScript on your website are notoriously resource intensive to load, and it makes little sense to load them from scratch each time, especially for a website that rarely changes. With the caching plugin installed, every time you receive a visitor the stored static version of your website is displayed, meaning the heavy lifting is only done once. This saves a lot of resources, and speeds up your website.

The W3’s main competitor is the WP Super Cache plugin, which some users prefer due to it being slightly more user-friendly (we have a guide to WP Super Cache as well if this plugin is more your style).

Image Size Plugin: WP Smush.it

WP Smush.it

Ensuring your images are properly optimized is another way to shave off some of that vital load time. If your images are too large, not only are they carrying some needless file size (which still needs to be downloaded), but your server also has to use extra resources just to adjust how the image is displayed — it’s an unnecessary waste.

WordPress comes with a built in image editor, allowing you to crop each image down to your desired size, but physical file size can still cause problems. Compressing your images is a solution, and a number of free online services exist, including kraken.io. However, if you want a quicker way to do this, the WP Smush.it plugin automatically compresses every image you upload.

The Smush.it plugin works by stripping away all metadata from JPEGs, as well as removing unused colors from indexed images. The result: smaller file size, quicker load time, and no noticeable loss of image quality. If you want to see some more plugin options, checkout our image optimization tips.

Database Plugin: WP-Optimize

WP-Optimize

Every post, page, and comment is stored in your WordPress database — including every revision you make. Now, every time a user wants to access one of your posts it has to be retrieved from this database. Needless to say, the more junk you have sitting around in there, the more your website gets bogged down. With every revision and auto-save taking up space in there, there are some substantial speed improvements to be made by optimizing your database.

My preferred plugin for the task is the WP-Optimize plugin. This plugin helps de-clutter your database in a number of ways. To start, the plugin makes it easy to remove those excess post revisions you simply don’t need any more — if, like me, you make plenty of revisions per post, this can save a lot of space. It also allows you to quickly remove any spam comments queued up, which can be cumbersome to remove manually. Another great feature is that it simplifies the process of actually deleting unwanted content, rather than just storing it as trash. If you want to know how effective this plugin could be, it can tell you your current database size and indicate how much space optimization can save.

Lazy Load Plugin: BJ Lazy Load

BJ Lazy Load

Now, the default procedure for loading a WordPress webpage is to load everything at once. If you have a lot of images, asking your server to do all the heavy lifting upfront can significantly slow your load speed down.

The BJ Lazy Load plugin improves your website’s load speed by using what is known as lazy loading. When your website uses lazy loading, it prioritizes all the content above the fold first — in other words, the content your users will see first. Instead of loading each image to begin, the plugin makes use of placeholders. The images are only loaded as they are about to become visible in a user’s browser.

Lazy Load Social Media Plugin: Digg Digg

Digg Digg

Obviously we can’t ignore the importance of developing our readership through social media, but social media plugins can be amongst the slowest to load — after all, for every button you include you’re asking your server to run one extra HTTP query. If you have four social buttons at the top, bottom, and in a floating sidebar on each post, that’s twelve extra queries you’re requesting — this contributes significantly to slow loading times.

The Digg Digg social plugin uses lazy loading to avoid this problem. It simply displays a social buttons placeholder. This requires no extra queries from your server, and users cannot tell the difference. Only when a visitor hovers over the social buttons do they load, and this helps with the initial load time for each page.

To Organize Plugins: Plugin Organizer

Plugin Organizer

A slow load time is often attributed to having too many plugins. However, in most cases we need those plugins, so removing them just isn’t an option. Perhaps a better question is not whether you need a particular plugin, but whether you need it on every page. For example, other than on your contact page, do you really need Contact Form 7 loading every time a user wants to read a blog post? Probably not.

Now, by default WordPress loads every enabled plugin for every page, whether you’re using it on that page or not. By using the Plugin Organizer plugin, you can override WordPress’s default urge to load each plugin, and tell it which plugins you want loading on each page. This is done via a simple checkbox system. By loading only the plugins you absolutely need, you can reduce your load time substantially.

Another neat feature of this plugin is the ability to prioritize the order in which plugins load, by adding a drag-and-drop function to the Installed Plugins section of your dashboard. For example, the comments section is typically the last thing a user will see, so it makes sense to load this last, right? This can improve user-experience by making the page usable more quickly. The plugin allows you to group together related plugins to simplify the task of organizing them, too.

Final Thoughts

By installing these plugins you can make significant improvements to your website’s speed. The faster your website loads, the better it is for your users, it’s that simple. A happy user is more likely to stick around to enjoy your content, and ultimately this can boost your subscriptions, social shares, and conversions. A fraction of a second really is that important! If you want to recommend another plugin that has helped improve the load speed on your website, get in touch in the comments section below!

Post Author: Shaun Quarton

Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.

Disclosure: This page contains external affiliate links that may result in us receiving a comission if you choose to purchase said product. The opinions on this page are our own. We do not receive payment for positive reviews.
Got something to say? Join the discussion.
  1. Stuart Masson says:
    If I am already using WP Super Cache on my site, is it worth changing to W3 Total Cache? Will I notice any real performance improvement.
    • I would say it is defiantly worth considering. W3 cache has many superior options and is overall a better plugin. Don't get me wrong, many people love WP Super Cache, it is really up to opinion. You may not notice any increase in performance, but it has far better options I found. Either way, as long as you got W3 or Super Cache running your fine. To many people don't use a caching plugin. If your host supports it, try W3 in a staging environment. If not, W3 is the way to go. If your looking for a host, Try WPEngine too. They take care of my caching within their servers. But W3 is superior in my opinion.
  2. Great article. Didn't know some of them yet and ... have been considering several. Being the first, some questions: :-) Didn't use WP Smush.it yet, doesn't it require extra performance? Any experience with Cachify plugin. Have it active on a local site. Seems to work but not easy to quantify. Documentation is in German sadly enough. I assume you could WP optimize your database and unplug the plugin again. It doesn't need to be active all the time to keep the number of plugins low.
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      - WP Smush.it is now being developed by a new company and it's a lot better so the performance issues of the past should be gone. - No experience with Cachify here, sorry - That is correct, you can do that, however,the plugin should only run when you click the button so it shouldn't make a difference if you leave it active, it's your choice ;)
      Admin
  3. Great article, but be careful using WP-Optimize and LazyLoad. If you are an image heavy site, Lazyload can affect the SEO rating dramatically. Also WP-Optimize can jack up the database if the database is very poorly setup. Shared hosting like Hostgator and others have horrible database optimzation and this may break it. Managed hosting providers are banning WP-Optimize as it is re-arranging and breaking the databases. But Smush.it and w3 cache are great plugins. To help speed up a Wordpress site, it is always great to limit plugins, pictures, and have a real hefty hosting provider like WPEngine or similar. They even take care of my caching so no third party plugins are needed. Also a CDN can help, or I personally love CloudFlare pro.
  4. Sakthitharan says:
    extraordinary post.. will definitely help.. Can you please shed lights on CDNs? I don't know whether to use it or not as it costs lot
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Depends on your website. If you don't have that much traffic or you aren't planning on making significant income from your website then maybe it's not worth it. If you have the money and your website produces income then it could help you potentially make more money because your site would load quicker.
      Admin
    • a CDN doesn't have to cost a lot, look at cdn.net - they are a pay as you go cdn with incredibly low cost and a 30 day 1 tb free trial to test it out on your site - disclosure, I'm just a client and fan, not affiliated with them in any other way
  5. Akshat Verma says:
    Which is the best cache plugin. i had face many problems when using W3 Total Cache plugin on my blog.
  6. Jean-Baptiste says:
    Hi Akshat, maybe you should try WP Rocket, a new caching plugin for WordPress (disclaimer I'm the cofounder). We have a lots of great features (Lazy Load, Cache Prealoading, Minification, Concatenation).
  7. Sakthitharan says:
    Really great article. Thanks for sharing this plugin list.
  8. Ahmad Fahrurroji says:
    I would like to know more about the statistics before and after the plugins installed on the website. Do you have any statistics? Thanks for nice post.
  9. Ashwani Kumar Singu says:
    Great article Shaun, I was in a doubt as to what should I use for my new website and your article helped me a lot. At last I decided to go with W3 Total Cache and it has just boosted my website :) Thanks. Regards, Ashwani Kumar Singh
  10. attechblog says:
    Nice article,very informational i am using wp optimze anyways great recommendations
  11. Thanks for your article! I'm using plugin "WP Optimize By xTraffic" to optimize my site. This also good plugin you should try for your WordPress site wordpress.org/plugins/wp-optimize-by-xtraffic/ :)
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      I haven't tried it, but it seems like it has a lot of overhead, it doesn't slow down your site?
      Admin
  12. Mudassar Jutt says:
    I am big fan of w3c cache, and wp db optimizer, i think these are enough to speed up
  13. HDimages says:
    Great article, I had no idea about the issue with all plug ins loading at once. Adding Plugin Organiser certainly helped speed things up. Many Thanks
  14. Great article. I think Varnish cache is a great addition too.
  15. ravigupta says:
    I have only one word to say, WoW. I read the article what a awesome article, improving my website google ranking thank you for sharing. I have a lot of work you will find a lovely support.This post is very inspiring me. I always take your advices very seriously, keep posted.
  16. MarshyMellow21st says:
    I agree, this is good info! Would just like to add this really nice plugin i use. JCH Optimize is slowly gaining popularity and it has a commercial and free version, which is just as good
  17. Daniel Keith says:
    Hi there, Nice post. I thought that W3 total cache would be the best solutions to decrease my website's load time. But everything went opposite. Before installing it my website's load itime was 7.59s which has now reached to 8.31s. Any idea what happened wrong?
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Hi Daniel, The plugin can definitely slow down the site if not setup correctly or if the server is incompatible with any caching plugins it is important to research your server well so you can adjust the plugin settings correctly and hopefully they may even have a guide for using caching (most goodWordPress hosts have documentation regarding WordPress caching).
      Admin
  18. BilqeesKenchi says:
    Many thanks for this and two other articles on the best WP plug-ins. I've had loading speed issues reported all over my site had no idea all my updating of posts was clogging the drains and was surprised at how much my media library images could be reduced. And on top of all that you're bringing me new leads with the pop up registration.
  19. bitrepository says:
    Plugin Organizer is cool, but not enough. Sometimes you need to load a plugin on a page/post, but that plugin loads, for instance, 4 JavaScript files and 2 CSS ones. You only need half of those in that page to load. To reduce the number of HTTP requests, you can use you can use “WP Asset Clean Up” (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-asset-clean-up/) to prevent specific scripts (.JS) & styles (.CSS) from loading on pages/posts and home page. Combined with Plugin Organizer and a caching plugin, it will make a tremendous difference in loading time.
  20. Thanks for pointing out these plugins! I'm rather familiar with most of them and can pretty surely say these are the best-functioning. However, as good as W3 Total Cache for example is, I found it to be a little hard for an entry-level user like myself as the configuration options will get your head spinning. Besides using these great plugins, I suggest to make some changes to the theme as besides looks it has tremendous impact on the site's speed. I definitely recommend to change the theme for the sake of better Google search ranking and well - overall, for a better impression to your visitors!
  21. akakaweb says:
    Thanks I was looking for stuff to get my wordpress sites faster, I am aware of some plugins but stuff in here is awesome ... will be adding them to my list of fav plugins Yoast .. and go stats both light and doesnt effect the speed
  22. Shaikh Masood Alam says:
    I am using Imagify instead of WP Smush It, Its reduce my upload folder from 7MB to 3.5MB in free plan.

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