Simple WordPress plugins to speed up your site for free

WordPress is the content management system (CMS) of choice for approximately 18.9% of websites across the web. This means that there are around 74,652,825 sites, including our own that use it. When you consider that 70% of sites in the world don’t use any CMS at all, it’s an even more astonishing figure. That isn’t just a random number I’ve pulled out of nowhere either; WordPress is the most commonly used CMS currently in existence, and guess what, it’s open source!

Open source means anyone can create anything for WordPress sites, so at the tip of your fingers, you have thousands of plugins developed, tested and rated by other users that you can implement on your site in just a few seconds. Businesses don’t often realise the value of plugins and will often jump to a development solution when, a large percentage of the time, a ready-made solution is right there in front of them.

Let’s take, for example, site speed. Google are forever insisting on the importance of a fast site to improve your users’ experience, so much so that they even developed a tool you can use to test your site from the perspective of their crawling bot. You can even install a plugin that adds the site speed tester to WordPress.

Google gives sites a rating on both their mobile and desktop performance out of 100. Anything below 70 is considered slow, but don’t worry if you have scored below the threshold – you’re not doomed yet! The most fantastic feature of this tool is that it actually tells you what you can do to speed up your site with suggestions under “Should Fix” and “Consider Fixing”.

After using this tool for a considerable amount of time, I’ve noticed a few regularly-occurring fixes which appear for majority of websites which can be fixed with the appropriate plugins:

  • Optimize Images
  • Leverage Browser Caching
  • Minify HTML, JavaScript & CSS
  • Reduce Server Response Time

Three out of four of these issues can all be fixed, or at least improved upon by installing and running certain plugins on your site. The only one that can’t be is the reduction in server response time, but by acting upon the other points, this may improve naturally; alternatively, if it doesn’t, you can look at upgrading your hosting package.

Focusing on areas that can be improved upon, here are my suggestions:

Optimising Images

Images are one of the main causes of loss in site speed. Although they may not seem like huge files initially they can add up and end up taking up quite a bit of server space.

EWWW Image Optimizer – This plugin reduces the file size of images and claims not to lose any of the quality. The great thing about this particular plugin, that I believe puts it above the others is it works as and when you upload images, meaning you don’t have to worry about running it. Alternatively, if the plugin isn’t working, WP Smush is also a good alternative.

Top Tip: .PNG images tend to be double the file size when compared with .JPEG. Making this change gives an extremely minimal decrease in quality so to save space, if possible, try and stick to .JPEG file formats. But there are more PNG image compression tools available too.

Leverage Browser Caching

Browser caching can take up a large amount of space on your server; if you have access to your FTP, then you can actually locate your .htaccess file and tell it what parameters to cache. If you aren’t that technical however, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Although there aren’t plugins which can modify your .htaccess file to reduce future browser caching issues (yet…), there are ones which can improve and compress the process…

W3 Total Cache – This plugin is designed to improve speed and user experience. It reduces download times by providing transparent content delivery network integration, offering instant browser caching. It also improves time-saving by minifying HTML, CSS, JavaScript and feeds through HTTP compression. If you require an alternative, then WP Super Cache also does a good job at compressing pages and rebuilding your cache.

Minify HTML, JavaScript & CSS

Although the above W3 Total Cache plugin claims to compress these features, it is still worth implementing more dedicated solutions. Having a page with a high code to text ratio can slow a webpage down significantly. On the other hand, Google have also been notoriously bad at reading JavaScript, so it’s advised to keep it to a minimum.

If you have this issue displayed after running a Page Speed Insights test and you don’t have the development knowledge or resource for the fixes, there are some plugins which offer great solutions…

WP Super Minify – This lightweight plugin focuses on reducing the JavaScript and CSS in your HTML code and compressing the space where it can. You can tell if this plugin has worked by opening your page source (CTRL + U) and scrolling to the end. Here, you will see a note produced by the compression which tells you the total file size you have saved on that page.

Remember that in between implementing and running each of these plugins, you should run your site through Google Page Speed Insights to see if it is having an effect. Some plugins aren’t as compatible with particular WordPress themes, so you may have to try alternatives in order to get the desired effect.

Also, make sure that you cap the amount of plug-ins you use, so if you aren’t seeing any benefit from them after running a speed test, make sure that you uninstall them as they take up space on your server. You also need to make sure you remove any unused plugins so you’re not taking up any server space, which could further slow down your website.


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