Why Is My WordPress Site So Slow? Diagnosing WordPress Page Speed Issues

As technology improves year after year, the public is quickly losing patience for slow loading websites. A good page load speed isn’t just a nice to have, as a famous 2006 presentation from Amazon showed how for each 100 millisecond delay in page load, sales dropped by 1%. Furthermore, since 2010 Google has declared page load speed to be a factor in how it ranks websites in its search algorithm. A slow website may prevent you from appearing on the first page of search results.

There should be no debate to the importance of your website’s page load speed, but often website owners will not know why their site is so slow. To properly speed up your WordPress site you will need to determine if your slow page load speeds are mostly a server issue, or a content issue.

Server Issue Vs. Content Issue (or both?)

What do we mean by a server issue vs a content issue? Your WordPress site is hosted on a web server, and a slow page load speed could be the result of your website’s content (images, videos, plugins, code, etc) which you have direct control over, or it could be the result of an improper server configuration, or simply old out of date hardware, where you likely have very little control.

How To Determine What’s Causing A Slow WordPress Page Load Speed

  1. Run A Page Speed Test & Determine TTFB (Time To First Byte)

    Note: The speed test will allow you to select a location from which to test your site. Make sure you choose a location that is closest to the majority of your target users.

    There are many great websites that allow you to simply enter a URL, and they will crawl and rate your webpage and show you the order the different elements (images, videos, code, etc) are loaded, as well as assign you a page speed time and performance grade the test from webpagetest.org. This site will breakdown each element of your site and show you how long it look to load.

    Things To Look For

    First off, find your website’s TTFB. Time To First Byte measures the amount of time from when someone tries to visit your site (send a request) to the first byte of the page being loaded by their browser. Ideally your TTFB should be as small as possible, and at most hover in the 0.5 or 0.6 second range. If the TTFB on your WordPress site is over 1 second, it’s starting to look like your page speed issues are server related. If you have a quick sub-1s TTFB, but still have a slow page load time (over 2 seconds), then your site’s content is more likely the issue.

    Wordpress TTFB
    Finding Your Site’s TTFB
  2. Test Your Plugins

    The next step is to try to determine if any of your plugins are negatively affecting your page load speed. The P3 Plugin Performance Profiler will scan the plugins activated on your site and will show you their impact on page load speed.

    P3 plugin profiler
    Screenshot of the P3 plugin

    If you have any plugins that are having a large impact on page speed, deactivate them, then run the page speed test tool once more. Note any improvements in TTFB and overall page load speed.

  3. Test Your Theme

    Switch your theme to one of the included WordPress themes such as ‘2016’ and again run the page speed tool. If you’re site is quite established and you cannot switch the theme so easily, then have the page speed tool test a page that is mostly text. You could even create a sample page for this test if needed. The goal is to determine if there is anything in your theme or on page content causing a slow TTFB or overall page load speed.

Results & Next Steps
At this point you should have removed any sluggish plugins and tested the site with a default theme. If the TTFB is still over 1 second, the problem likely lies with your web server, and it is time to look for a WordPress optimized hosting provider.

If your TTFB however is quick and at or below the 0.5s range, then you should focus on optimizing the content of your site. To get started, here are 3 quick ways to speed up your WordPress website.

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