WordPress Site Running Slowly? Here’s How You Cut Out the Bloat.

Speed matters.

Your users aren’t going to sit around and wait forever for your site to load.

Google’s going to ding your search engine rankings if you have a slow site.

When you get a huge influx of traffic, the inability to load your site quickly could cause your server to crash.

A slow website can be caused by any number of things: cheap web hosting, too many scripts and large images, excessive redirects, or just bloat.

With WordPress-powered sites, there’s always a chance for bloat.

What’s Bloat? I Mean, I Know What Bloat is … But What Do You Mean?

Since WordPress is open-source software with the ability to be customized, the core software is (generally) minimalistic, with the idea that you add on to it the additional features you need to run your site.

In theory, that’s a great idea because you only enable to tools and features you actually need.

In reality, it doesn’t always happen that easily.

WordPress plugins give you the ability to add in features you need; but some of them can do too much (or can be replaced with simpler code in your functions.php file).

WordPress themes from ThemeForest and the Theme Directory give you a quick look-and-feel, but many of them have too many layout and design options you don’t need.

All of that code that you don’t really need? That’s bloat.

Got It. Should What Should I Do to Cut Down Bloat?

There’s usually not one answer for cutting down the bloat to speed up your site.

Like SEO, you’ll need to cut bloat from a few different places to make an impact.

Here’s what you should do.

Stop Using an Off-the-Shelf Theme. Go Custom.

Think about this.

You’re buying a theme from ThemeForest, or you’re downloading one from the Theme Directory.

Was that design made for you?

Are you using everything included with that theme?

Do you need to install specific plugins in order to use the theme?

Every theme offered in a theme marketplace is developed to serve a large audience. Even if it’s a small business theme and you’re a small business, the theme developer is almost always consider how a wide range of users could use the theme.

If the theme doesn’t include a specific piece of functionality, it may not sell as well.

I’ve seen off-the-shelf themes with templates and code for WooCommerce being used on magazine-type sites. I’ve seen BuddyPress functionality added for small business sites.

This is bloat. If you’re not using it, you don’t need it. But if you have it, it’s slowing down your site.

What should you do instead? Use a custom-developed theme.

Yes, I understand that means you need to pay a designer and a developer to build it for you, but if your site’s (lack of) speed is affecting your business, then going custom is an investment.

With a custom-developed theme, you’re only including the code you need. I’ve seen off-the-shelf themes with dozens of template files cut down to 10 or less when re-developed as a custom theme.

If your theme only includes the code you need – and not the code you don’t – you’ve cut down on the bloat.

Remove Unnecessary Plugins

The great thing about WordPress is that you can find a plugin for basically anything you want to do.

The bad thing about WordPress is that because it’s so easy to add a plugin, you may end up running dozens of plugins on your site when you don’t really need to.

I’ve seen plugins on sites that do things your core code should take care of. One of my favorites is Insert Headers and Footers, which gives you fields for adding code to your site header or footer.

You don’t need a plugin for this; your theme should do it.

Every time you have an active plugin running on your website, its code needs to be loaded onto your page. If you’re not using a plugin, deactivate and delete it. It’s unnecessary bloat.

But that’s not enough.

There are tons of plugins that are well-intentioned to do simple things, but are way overbuilt. For example, Jetpack — one of the premier plugins actually built by the WordPress.com team — has a ton of features packed into it. I’m sure there are a few sites who use them all, but I haven’t found them yet.

You don’t need additional functionality that you’re not actually using. Even if you can turn off specific features of these plugins, there are definitely better options out there.

One of the easiest ways to find the plugins on your site that are slowing everything down is to use the P3 plugin. It gives you a report that shows what’s taking the longest to load … and is probably the best thing that GoDaddy has ever built.

Third-Party Scripts Will Kill Your Site

Even if you have the fastest hosting in the world, with premier caching and load optimization, your website likely has some code that gets pulled from another website.

Whether it’s a Facebook Like Box, your Twitter feed, or advertising from your ad network, your site can’t load until these other sites do.

What does that mean?

It means that if you’re loading scripts and content from a third-party website, you don’t have total control over how quickly your site loads.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell a client that their site is slow (or their server has crashed) because their ad network is taking forever to load. And that’s assuming that those ads are coded correctly (which they often are not).

The easiest way to tell which third-party scripts are slowing down your site is to run the Pingdom Website Speed Test (which we’ve written about previously). You’ll see the loading time for every element on your site, and can determine which script is causing the slowdown.

The reality is that it’s almost impossible to remove all third-party scripts from your site, so choose your vendor partners wisely and consider whether or not they’re receptive to your concerns about load time.

Optimize Your Database on a Regular Basis

If you have a content-heavy site, your WordPress database works hard.

Between storing your posts, information on your attachments and media, comments from your users, and all your site options, your database can get big.

Optimizing your database allows you to remove the bloat you don’t really need: old post revisions, entries noting when posts are locked for editing, WordPress transients, and tables and entries from previously used (and now deleted) plugins.

I highly recommend a plugin that does this for you (on a regular basis): Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions.

It can look a little confusing to set up, but once you have your settings in place, it’s a huge help.

You can also use Lester Chan’s WP-DBManager plugin, which doesn’t delete revisions, but can optimize the database by removing overhead.

If your blog has comments enabled, and you’ve used the popular Akismet plugin to manage spam, there’s a good chance it’s left a lot of junk entries in your database. One query we’ve run over and over on client sites is this one, cleaning up Akismet entries from the wp_commentmeta table.

Cut Out the Bloat. Just Do It.

We’ve talked plenty about why having a fast-loading site is important; not just for search engine optimization and your business, but for your users (who matter more than anything else).

Keeping your website lean and mean are all part of ongoing site management. Remember, your website is never finished, only abandoned.

Take care of it.

You do backups. You do software updates. Work to keep it running quickly, with as much bloat as possible removed.

You’ll be happy you did.

Jason Unger
About Jason Unger
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that builds brands and helps companies grow. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Jason has done it all, from website strategy, design, development, troubleshooting, maintenance, content and marketing.