If you test this WordPress site on Google Pagespeed Insights, Lighthouse, or GTMetrix right now, you’ll be seeing a green 100 score for performance. Getting a 100 score is not essential and can sometimes seem impossible, but it certainly can be done. As long as you are getting scores of 85 and up, you are doing a solid job. I’m outlining the tools/services that I used to make this 100 score happen below so that you too can improve your website and get positive scores.
Buy a Quality Hosting Provider
For every good hosting provider out there, you’ll find 10 other hosts that are bad, so you have to be wary. For everyone testing their site speed with one of the various page speed testing tools out there, you have to remember that every speed test is going to have a different time result every time you run it. This variation can be due to current traffic load on the server, variable assets like ads loading on your site, 3rd party asset server performance, CDN performance and load and much more.
The thing to take away from that is that even if you are getting a good score right now, you can be hit with poor performance at any time later due to a poor hosting provider setup where the actions of others on a shared server can affect you too. The sheer volume of sites jammed onto one server with a bad hosting provider can also overload the server more easily with smaller increases in traffic. It’s always important to be vigilant and check your speed scores again from time to time.
I recommend also setting up your site(s) on a free uptime monitor such as Uptime Robot so that you can get alerts when your site is down. We all know you aren’t viewing your site 24/7, so it’s useful to know if your site is going down on a regular basis.
If you want performance at a great value then shared hosting with Siteground is my one and only recommendation. This a great hosting option for someone just starting out with a new website as you won’t be experiencing too much traffic while you build up your content and visitors. Anyone more with established heavy traffic, busy e-commerce, or heavy surges of traffic should consider moving to managed hosting.
Shared hosting is certainly a more popular solution for your everyday user running their own blog or small business site as it comes at a cheaper cost. Among this type of hosting provider, Siteground comes out on top as a recommendation from users. They’ve even now moved their services entirely to using Google Cloud for better speed, scaling, and redundancy, while still maintaining their same affordable pricing model.
This end of year poll for 2019 of over 6500 users for WordPress hosting has Siteground coming out on top in the ratings.
Even Yoast SEO has made the move to Siteground for their hosting needs.
If your site is growing rapidly or is established and you are ready for big-league hosting with all the bells and whistles to make your experience easy, then it’s time to move to a trusted managed hosting company. The additional features, support, and reliability will make your life easier. Support on these managed hosts is top-notch and readily available through chat whenever you need them.
These are the big players in managed hosting that are used at our digital agency with a lot of our clients when they want to go beyond shared hosting. You will know that no matter what issue you come across, support will have your back. The interfaces are very user-friendly as well, which makes handling most things on your own very simple. Staging sites, SSL certificates, and daily backups come with all of these plans, and some even come with their own CDN services.
I personally prefer Kinsta over all other managed hosts because it is not traditional shared hosting. All of Kinsta’s WordPress installations are isolated from one another so that you will never be affected by an issue happening on someone else’s website, which I can’t say about any of the other hosts. It’s like having the benefits of a dedicated server without paying the dedicated server cost. Kinsta also is built entirely on the Google Cloud Platform, which adds another unique spin to their services.
On top of everything, it has a really slick interface with tons of analytics that others don’t provide.
I put my money where my mouth is and host this site on Kinsta. I also know that after Codeable rebranded in December of 2019 and rebuilt their whole site, they moved onto Kinsta as well for their hosting needs as a major WordPress freelancer network.
The major hosting provider we used as From The Future was growing was WPEngine. It was and still is a powerhouse in the world of managed WordPress hosts. It is often a leader in new innovative features for managed hosting and still has elements of innovation that I haven’t seen in other hosts. One such awesome feature is the ability to deploy a staging site to the live site while choosing the specific database tables that you want to move over instead of the usual ‘all or none’ approach.
Avoid EIG Sites & GoDaddy.
The low prices of EIG and GoDaddy hosting providers are a major reason as to why so many people end up using them. If you want value while still maintaining quality, then you should still go with Siteground. EIG sites are notorious for poor support and cramming as many people on shared servers as they can and it results in poor performance for everyone.
If you’d like to go more in-depth as to what is wrong with these hosting providers, you can check out my post about hosting providers to avoid.
Utilize WP Rocket
WP Rocket is the swiss army knife of speed plugins. I’m using it on this site and you should use it on your site as well. It has the most straightforward setup process and I have the least issues with it compared to anything else I’ve tried. It comes with its own critical path CSS generation, CSS/js combining and minification, lazy-loading, caching, pre-loading, database optimization and more all in one great interface.
After activating it you’ll see this note, “To guarantee fast websites, WP Rocket applies 80% of web performance best practices.” That’s 80% of best practices taken care of with one single plugin. I previously used a combination of several plugins and paid services to accomplish all of what WP Rocket does. WP Rocket just manages to do it quicker, easier, and with fewer complications than the patchwork of other plugins required to do the same tasks. It’s speed with simplicity in a single plugin package.
WP Rocket is a paid plugin, and that’s the reason I had avoided using it for so long. Now that I’ve tried it though, I had found that it’s well worth the value. It’s a straightforward implementation covering the majority of your page speed needs. The one-time cost quickly pays for itself thanks to the page-specific critical CSS generation alone. I had been using Autoptimize combined with the critical CSS service from criticalcss.com, which was costing me about $8 per month USD. For me, this means WP Rocket paid for itself in about 6 months, while still offering other benefits with fewer headaches.
Start with a Fast Base Theme
If you are using a theme that is slow and bloated from the start, it is much harder to get it to a proper speed and score than if you started from an ideal place. There are several themes that are more widely known for their speed, while still being versatile.
For this site, I used Genesis by StudioPress. I have a full StudioPress license, but as of 2019 WPEngine acquired StudioPress and all of the StudioPress themes now come free with your WPEngine hosting. So with some proper planning, you can get a great base theme with your hosting provider.
Genesis is more of a developer-focused theme that is chock-full of hooks for inserting elements and filtering content as needed. It is lightweight and SEO-friendly themes handle the essentials you would need from an optimization standpoint. For non-developers, this many come across as more confusing, which is where I would instead point to my other favorite theme, Astra.
Another favorite of mine is the Astra Theme. It’s another barebones starter theme with great speed out of the box and I have found the customization options to be great for knocking out a lot of the basic setups that others don’t tackle. If you use one of the starter sites that they offer, I would recommend using a Gutenberg Block based theme instead of using the Beaver Builder or Elementor themes. I’m not a fan of using page builders in any fashion when it comes to speed and this is no exception.
My agency bought a lifetime license for Astra after a few successful website builds because it proved to be fast and SEO-friendly while also streamlining the usual development tasks that we would do for any site we worked on.
It’s not just me saying this though. A user poll done in the largest facebook group for WordPress speed improvements had Astra come out on top by far.
Use an Adaptive Image Service
Adaptive Images can be served via a CDN service and will clear up a lot of image-related issues that you may encounter in speed testing tools. These services generate images of the exact dimensions required for whatever size device it is being viewed on. They also can convert images to nextgen formats like webp and they take care of lazy-loading to help handle the majority of issues that you will see crop up in site speed testing tools.
ShortPixel Adaptive Images
We often use ShortPixel Adaptive Images on our client sites because it delivers high quality compressed images and is a great value for what it brings. ShortPixel has some additional advanced settings that help to handle background images and CSS delivered images that others may not and this can be essential for some of our agency’s more technical builds.
Everyone is going to get 100 free credits a month, but typically that won’t cover the adaptive images service for that span of time. That would only give you the chance to try it out. The good news is that credits are very affordable and can be bought as needed. I have some clients who buy large stocks of credits at a time and just re-buy as needed and I have some who go for monthly or yearly plans once they get a gauge of their usage. It all depends on your needs and traffic.
WP Compress was newly revamped at the end of 2019 and has made itself the easiest to implement image service on the market. This is the adaptive image service that I ended up choosing to go with on this website and it is an essential part of why my speed scores are so good.
The slick interface is great for seeing your usage and makes it crazy simple to edit the options. They also have a generous method for counting image credits. Instead of counting it as 1 credit for every image sized served, they count credits based on the image itself. So every image only uses up one credit even if it is served as 10 different sizes. Instead of 10 credits, that’s only 1 credit.
While I initially was using ShortPixel AI on here, the reason that I actually switched had nothing to do with the ease of setup or quality. I have plenty of experience configuring ShortPixel and use it often. The reason I actually went with WP Compress here was the lifetime plans they were offering. With a one-time purchase, I now have an adaptive image service provider for life that will deploy my images from their CDN to the sizes I need. You really won’t find a better bargain than that. I don’t know how long they will offer the lifetime plans, so I’d advise grabbing one too while they are still an option.
EWWW Image Optimizer
EWWW Image Optimizer, which is the other big name for this type of service, has some of its own special offerings. I’d put it at the other end of the spectrum on simplicity when compared to WP Compress. EWWW IO is probably the most technical of the three with the most granular options and it also offers options to optimize images stored in an Amazon S3 bucket. The CDN option itself is a $9/month fee so it comes in as a pricier option than the others, but if you want the extra control or features it may be worth it.
Load Google Analytics and Google Fonts Locally
Third-party scripts can often knock your scores on any of the speed testing tools. Moving these files to load locally on your site is the way around that score issue. I’ve found a set of free plugins that make this very easy to accomplish.
Complete Analytics Optimization Suite
The first is called “Complete Analytics Optimization Suite” aka CAOS. This one just requires you to input your Analytics Tracking ID and has a couple of loading options to select and you are good to go.
Optimize My Google Fonts
The second is called “Optimize My Google Fonts” aka OMGF. This plugin requires a few more steps, but they are clearly spelled out. The end result is a locally served version of all of the chosen google fonts without much effort on your part.
Implement a CDN
A CDN saves your data on servers that are spread out geographically across the world so that no matter where a visitor is accessing your site, they will be getting the data served from the closest server to them. For example, if you are in the USA and have a European visitor to your site, that visitor would normally have to wait for the data to be transferred from your US-based server. With a CDN though, the data would also be saved on a server that was in Europe and the data would be sent from that instead. Distance makes a difference and a CDN will get your load times down across the country and the world.
BunnyCDN is a low-cost pay for what you use option that will cover all of your general CDN needs. You’ll get your special CDN url that all of your static assets can be served from. Just make sure that you enter this in the settings of your other speed-related plugins as many have options that need to be filled in regarding CDN’s.
Cloudflare CDN is a free option, but you won’t be able to get a perfect YSlow score on GTMetrix with Cloudflare because it is not a cookieless domain to serve your static assets from. The negative effects are negligible though and it is offering a free basic service, so there is no reason to avoid it strictly based on that.
Free Hosting Provider CDN
Kinsta and WPEngine come with their own free CDN, so that offers another added value for these hosting providers if you’ve already made the move to managed hosting or are considering it.
Optimize your Database
Over time your database can get bloated from regular use. Things like spam, trashed items, comments, post revisions, expired transients, pingbacks, trackbacks, and more are always accumulating behind the scenes which over time will also make queries a touch slower. These effects are generally felt on Time to First Byte (TTFB) scores in the page speed tests.
Defragmenting and optimizing the database tables themselves will also keep your queries running at an optimum speed. While Kinsta actually comes with an automated service built-in that automatically optimizes your MySQL database settings based on your specific site, most other hosts do not. We are looking for every bit of speed we can, so keeping your database clean and optimized is another tool that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I typically use WP Optimize for this. I set it to save all data for a couple of weeks before deleting it, and I have it run once a week. This is just a set it and forget it type of thing. I know that it will always be running once a week to clear up any garbage without me needing to do anything further, so it’s an easy tool to use.
Get Expert Help
If implementing these items gets too technical or confusing, you always have the option of bringing in some extra help. Finding a freelancer can be a challenge because quality may not always be apparent and people may not always deliver. I can tell you from my experience though that with the extensive vetting process that Codeable uses, it is full of certified WordPress expert developers that you can trust. Getting a quote on a project is free, so there’s no harm in seeing how much it would cost to get some help. When I’m overloaded, I even use Codeable so that I know it will be done right without all the hand-holding.