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 prerequisite 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.
1. Caching Plugin: 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 your caching setup.
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).
2. Image Size Plugin: Smush
Another plugin you should consider is Smush. This plugin was developed by WPMU DEV and makes it easier to optimize images in a variety of ways – all on upload. Or, you can implement optimization manually retroactively, too. Some features included here are image lazy loading, resizing, and compression. Specifically, you can expect lossless compression, a bulk smush option that allows you to compress up to 50 images at once, as well as an incorrect image size notification that identifies images that are too big so you can resize or compress them and improve your site speed.
The Smush 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.
3. Database Plugin: 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.
4. Lazy Load Plugin: Lazy Load
Another plugin worthy of consideration here is the Lazy Load plugin. As its name would suggest, it displays images only when a user scrolls to that part of the page. This means the initial view of a website can load very quickly, speeding up pagespeed over all, improving user experience, and often improving SEO. The plugin works on images within posts, pages, and widgets as well as thumbnails. It can be applied to YouTube iFrames, too.
5. Lightweight Social Media Plugin: WP Socializer
Next up, we have the WP Socializer plugin that adds social media icons and a sticky or floating share bar to your WordPress website. The great thing about this plugin is that it’s extremely lightweight, so won’t slow down your site like many other social share plugins do. Setup here is straightforward and the output is flexible, too. It works with most of the top social media platforms as well.
6. To Organize Plugins: Plugin Organizer
Another plugin worthy of consideration here is the Plugin Organizer, which makes it a straightforward process to keep your installed plugins organized in check. That is, it gives you control over which plugins are loaded first. By having this level of granular control, you can improve page speed considerably. You can also opt to disable certain plugins when a certain post type or URL is loaded. This is a plugin that should be used with extreme caution, however, as it can break your website. Make sure you backup your site before using it!
7. General Optimization: Hummingbird
8. Minification: Asset CleanUp
9. Script Optimization: Flying Scripts
10. Script Optimization: Flying Analytics
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!