Give your website the best start possible to 2020 with our Four Week Website Tune Up.
Over four weeks we’ll go through the simple steps you can take to tune up your website and improve its performance. This is week 2. If you missed week 1 you can catch up here.
Over four weeks we will cover the following topics:
- Week 1 – Clean up your content
- Week 2 – Speed and security
- Week 3 – Optimise your blog
- Week 4 – SEO improvements
We know your time is precious so we’ve divided the topics up so that each week’s tasks shouldn’t take longer than an hour.
Week 2 : Speed and Security
Task 1 – Update (everything)
If you pay to have your website hosted by someone else then you probably don’t need to do anything to update the host, however, if you’re hosting WordPress yourself then it is essential that your host is kept up to date with the latest security patches.
The things that most people will want to update are concerned with WordPress itself:
WordPress Core (10-20 mins)
WordPress regularly releases minor (security) updates and it is essential that these are applied.
For the majority of users, WordPress is likely to be setup to automatically update minor versions unless the default behaviour it has been explicitly changed by a plugin or a web developer.
These minor updates are defined by WordPress as: “Minor core updates, such as maintenance and security releases”, hence the importance on having them update regularly.
If, for whatever reason, minor updates are disabled and have not been applied automatically then WordPress will let you know that an update is available. You can go to Dashboard/Updates and update from there.
Themes (5-10 mins)
Good quality well supported themes will be updated by their maintainers in line with WordPress Core updates, but will also be updated as and when security vulnerabilities or bugs are found with the theme itself.
Unless a theme update requires you to update WordPress Core to a new major version then these should always be applied. There is really no reason not to update the theme.
You can go to Dashboard/Updates and update Themes from there, or go to Appearance/Themes and update from there also.
Plugins (5-10 mins)
As with Themes, good plugins should be updated regularly by their developers to fix bugs and/or security vulnerabilities – so the advice here is identical to the above for Themes.
One thing to consider is – if a plugin hasn’t been updated, is it safe to use, stable, and secure? To check on the activity of a plugin, go to your plugins page and click on the View Details link for any questionable plugins – you’ll get a screen like this:
In the above case you can see that the plugin was last updated 2 years ago, and WordPress even warns you that it hasn’t been tested with your version – so careful testing is required to ensure it’s safe to continue to use. If in doubt, find an active plugin replacement instead.
Task 2 – Remove redundant items
Delete unused plugins and themes (5 mins)
If you have plugins listed on your plugins page which are no longer required (ie not activated) then these should be deleted.
Themes are not strictly a speed issue, but a space issue – if you have any themes installed which you’re no longer using then just delete them as they’re taking up space and you can always install them at a later date if you need to.
Leave one of the bundled themes installed as a backup theme – if WordPress ever has a problem with your installed theme it’ll have a theme to fall back on (like Twenty Twenty, say).
To delete a theme go to Appearance/Themes, hover over the theme and click on Theme Details, and on the following popup page there’s a Delete option in the bottom right hand corner.
Task 3 – Optimise images
Images are essential in creating a visually attractive site, however, they are also one of the principal causes of page slowness if not handled correctly.
Here are a couple of quick checks and fixes you can do to speed up image heavy pages or posts.
Size appropriately (10 mins)
If you’ve uploaded an image from a modern digital camera, or even a mobile phone, chances are that the image is much larger than any screen viewing it – but any browser still has to download the whole image before showing it to the user on a much smaller screen.
This is extremely important for mobile devices as these images might also served over 4G (or worse) making things even slower for those users.
To fix the issue, there are a couple of options depending on your theme in use. Since version 4.4, WordPress will handle this by itself and will serve a browser a range of image sizes. The browser will select the most suitable one for its resolution.
This is also true with some themes (like Twenty Twenty), but what if you have a different theme which may not make use of this feature?
The good news is that there are plugins which can take care of this for you such as Responsify WP or Smush, which creates different sized images for you to use in pages and posts from the one you upload.
Use a lazyloader (10 mins)
If you have a page which is deeper than the screen height viewing it, the browser will download and render the entire page, even though much of it will be outside the current viewport (and so not visible).
This can slow down the initial load of the page, forcing your user to wait for content to load that they won’t even initially see.
The way to fix this is to ensure that images are loaded lazily – that’s to say that the browser doesn’t load the image to the page until it’s scrolled (nearly) into view.
You’ve probably seen this when scrolling quickly on some sites – the page scrolls into view and then there’s a short delay as images pop into existence.
There are many plugins out there which do this job, and some themes do it automatically, so the solution for each site will be different.
Have a look at Smush, which we mentioned already, as one option but there are many others so it really depends on the individual features that each offers and which will work best for your setup.
Serve the next generation image format WebP (5 mins)
What are next generation images? Basically they are smaller (and so faster) than ‘old’ image formats, but maintain quality.
Google has a good page to describe the WebP format (it’s a Google product) and while the jury may still be out as to its effectiveness vs careful selection of png or jpg formats, it is used by Google when ranking the Page Speed and so worth enabling for that purpose alone (though we do find that WebP images are smaller and faster, typically).
Since WordPress doesn’t yet do this the solution has to be a Plugin.
We use the WebP Express plugin and find that with its default settings it works perfectly (up to our current version of WordPress, 5.3.2).
The plugin will convert your uploaded images to WebP format and serve those, with a fallback to the original image if the browser requesting the page doesn’t handle WebP yet.
Once you’ve completed this week’s tasks your website should be a bit quicker, and more secure.
Next week we’re going to focus on making sure your content is up to date and relevant.
If you have any questions or would like some help updating your website please get in touch and see how we can help you.