man on the phone

This is part 1 in my series on slow websites, what causes them, and how to fix them

If you ever review a job board for web developers, you’ll see many variations on “my WordPress site is slow, what do I do?”

I have got 6 websites. The load speed is very slow.

Looking for a WordPress Optimization and SEO Expert. My current site is running too slow and has poor page speeds from google.

id like my wordpress speed updated, currently it is pretty slow i believe 10 seconds to load which is not good for user experience.

And that was just a quick search on Upwork. People all over the world are struggling with slow websites, many of them WordPress sites, and trying to find ways to fix them. The good news is that it’s usually pretty easy to speed up your basic WordPress site.

This series will cover some of the most common things that can cause your website to be slow. Some entries in the series will be more dev-focused, and some will be useful to anyone!

This first entry is geared more toward developers, but I’ll try and use some metaphors here and going forward to make sure the concepts being discussed are clear. Buckle up!

What’s a slow website?

Your host (like GoDaddy or Digital Ocean) owns a bunch of computers not all that different from your home computer, except that they are accessible to the public. These computers are called servers because their primary purpose is to deliver, or serve, your website to users. Your website lives on one of these servers, and they can be located anywhere in the world.

To better understand how this works, consider a phone call. When you place a phone call, your voice goes through cables and wires to get to someone else, and their voice comes back. The internet works much in the same way—remember dial-up? A slow website, then, is one that takes a long time to get from your host to someone’s home computer or smartphone.

But what can make a website slow is that, unlike a phone call, websites are delivered in many pieces from your host. Imagine you needed to figure out the details for a family reunion from your out of state cousin. With a phone call, you’d call them up and ask for all the details in a single conversation and then hang up. A single phone call covers all the information that you need.

That’s not how the internet works. If phone calls worked like the internet, they’d go something like this: You’d call your cousin and ask how they were, they’d answer, and then you’d both hang up. Then you’d call your cousin again and ask “What day is the reunion?” They’d answer, and you’d hang up. You’d call them a third time and ask for the time, and hang up. Every single bit of information requires a new phone call, waiting for them to pick up, formalities, asking the question, listening to the answer, and saying goodbye.

In internet terms, each phone call–a trip to the server and back for a piece of information–is called a request. Each request requires contacting a server, asking it for information, waiting for it to respond, and saying goodbye. It’s a slow process, and it’s the crux of why most slow websites are slow.

Requests: big ones, and lots of them

Imagine there were 20 pieces of information you needed from your cousin. That would be 20 phone calls! For an actual website, that means 20 trips to the server, which makes for a very slow process. The more pieces, the more requests, that your website has, the longer it’ll take to load.

But it’s not just about the number of questions you have—it’s also about the length of the answer. Imagine you needed your cousin to tell you the whole list of everyone attending, what they’re bringing for the potluck, their food allergies, and whatever fad diet they may currently be on. That one, very big chunk of information would take a very long time for your cousin to answer. Similarly, larger requests take a longer time for your computer to download.

Requests on your website take many forms, and just like our phone call metaphor, can be both numerous and large. Also just like the phone call, they can seriously slow down your website. Here are examples of a few kinds of requests that may exist on your website:

  • Initial request
  • Javascript files
  • CSS files
  • Images
  • Ads
  • Fonts
  • API calls
  • Tracking and marketing services
  • Analytics
  • Share buttons

The reason that any of these can be large or numerous varies with each type, and there are factors other than requests to consider when it comes to site speed. The upcoming entries in this series will cover each type of speed problem, as well as some of those other factors.

Myths about slow WordPress sites

WordPress, in particular, gets a reputation for being slow. There are some developers out there (many of them commenting all over reddit at /r/forhire) who write off WordPress full stop. They believe that WordPress is inherently too slow to be worthwhile and there’s nothing to be done.

This simply isn’t true. What is true is that the do-it-yourself nature of WordPress opens the door for a lot of problems. No-holds-barred admin panels allow users to upload bloated images. Installing plugin after plugin makes it tough to efficiently load scripts and styles. And the low barrier to entry for WordPress allows some developers to write code that never should have seen the light of day. But if you know what you’re doing, understand what makes a website slow, and prioritize your needs against the nature of the internet, it’s pretty easy to start speeding up any website, including WordPress.

Up next: How images slow down your website

The next post in the series focuses on how images slow down your website and what you can do to fix it. There’s content for both developers and non-developers. Check it out now!

Optimizing Images on Your Super Slow Website


Real talk for a second?

I love educating my clients, and I think it’s important they have a vague understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. That being said, you’ve got important stuff to do, like run a business. You don’t have time to worry about speeding up your website.

So leave that to me. Reach out today for a free consultation. I’ll take a look at your website, tell you what I think we can do and how long it’ll take. That’s in addition to my other awesome maintenance services. Put all that together, and the only time you’ll remember you have a website is when it’s bringing you leads.

2 Comments

  1. […] This is part 2 in my series on slow websites, what causes them, and how to fix them. Read part 1 here. […]

  2. […] is part 3 in my series on fixing slow websites. Be sure to check out parts 1 and […]

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