WordPress Optimization Guide

WordPress Optimization Guide


Many of our users run WordPress either as a CMS or blog platform. With a lot of great plugins available, it’s easy to create a full-featured website with a lot of neat functionality. These plugins however, can insert additional CSS and JavaScript files into your header which can hurt your site’s performance (and PageSpeed and YSlow scores).

We’ve listed some plugins and written some recommendations for our WordPress users seeking optimization help.

After installing the plugins and doing some tweaks, here’s how our own blog fared: Our Comparison report

How does your WordPress blog score?

Note: These plugins address mainly front-end optimization issues only. If your site still takes a long time to load, an improved server or back-end code optimizations is what will make a real difference. Read more about our WordPress Hosting Service.

Optional First Step Download and activate GTmetrix for WordPress

Download GTmetrix for WordPress here

Use this plugin to get a before snapshot of your WP performance.

Note: We are currently working on a maintenance update of GTmetrix for WordPress. While it hasn’t been updated in a while, it has been tested and still works for the latest version of WordPress (4.2.2), excluding some small formatting issues.

Enter your GTmetrix API key
Enter your GTmetrix API key

Once you’ve installed it, enter your API key from your GTmetrix account in the Settings page (you must be registered to generate an API key).

Test your Front Page
Test your Front Page

After this is done, visit “Tests” and under the “Latest Front Page Score” module, click “Test your Front Page now” button.

Front Page Report Generated
Front Page Report Generated

A report will be generated with PageSpeed and YSlow grades for the front page of your WordPress site. This is your before performance.

Step 1) Download and activate W3 Total Cache

Download W3 Total Cache here

You’ll notice a new section in your admin sidebar called “Performance.”

a) Toggle All caching types

a) On the sidebar, click on the “General Settings” sub-section.

Under “General,” Check “Toggle all caching types on or off at once.”

W3 Total Cache: Toggle All
W3 Total Cache: Check the “Toggle all caching types on or off” option

W3 Total Cache will turn on all its caching features (Page Cache, Minify, Database Cache, Object Cache, Browser Cache) as well as other features you may not need (CDN, Monitoring, etc.)

Uncheck CDN and Monitoring (and any other features) if you’re not using them.

b) Under the Minify subsection in General Settings, ensure Minify is enabled.

Next, look at the option called Minify mode. Select the Auto option.

W3 Total Cache: Set Auto Mode for Minifying
W3 Total Cache: Set Auto Mode for Minifying

Click Save all settings.

Note: If you make any changes to your WordPress plugins, the W3 Total Cache plugin may ask you to Empty the Cache. This is done to make sure the plugin doesn’t serve a cached version of any changed files.

c) On the sidebar, click on the Minify sub-section

Under HTML & XML, check Enable in the HTML minify settings. You can also enable the other options (Inline CSS/JS minification and Line break removal), but make sure to test your site to see if it breaks.

W3 Total Cache: Enable HTML & XML minification.
W3 Total Cache: Enable HTML & XML minification, and other options if you wish

d) On the sidebar, click on the Browser Cache sub-section

Under General, Cascading Style Sheets & JavaScript, HTML, and Media & Other Files headings enable the following:

Set expires header
Set cache control header
Set entity tag (eTag)
W3 Total Cache: Enable Browser Cache Options
W3 Total Cache: Enable Browser Cache Options

Click Save all settings.

Step 2) Download and activate WP Smush

Download WP Smush here

Under the “Media” section in your WordPress sidebar, you’ll see a new menu option called “WP Smush”

In this section, ensure that the “Auto-Smush Images on upload” feature is checked. The plugin will now optimize every image you upload henceforth since you activated it.

WP-Smush Auto Smushing
Ensure “Auto-Smush Images on upload” is checked.

Next, smush all of the images in your Media Library by clicking on “Bulk Smush 50 Attachments” (The free version of the plugin is limited to bulk smushing 50 attachments at a time. You’ll need to revisit this page and bulk smush the next 50 attachments).

WP-Smush Bulk Smushing
You can only Bulk Smush 50 media items at a time. Revisit this page to smush more.

That’s it! You’re finished.

Step 3) Analyze your site

Analyze your site again (via GTmetrix.com or with our plugin) and see the difference in performance!


After testing and playing around with many similar plugins, we’ve found that the combination of W3 Total Cache and WP Smush provide the most effective and simplest way to improve the performance of your WordPress website.

Take a look at the difference in our blog:

Our blog’s improvement
View the comparison report here
If you have a WordPress blog, slow or not, give these plugins a try and improve your user’s experience!

Need further help?

We’re experienced with optimizing high-traffic WordPress platforms. From code-optimizations to managed hosting, we can help even the most demanding WordPress installs run faster and more stable. Read more about our WordPress Hosting service.

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