9 MUST Have WordPress Speed Optimization Plugins, Tools & Resources

9 Must Have Wordpress Speed Optimization Plugins & Tools
9 Must Have WordPress Speed Optimization Plugins & Tools

If you’re on this page no doubt you already know that website speed is important – Google rewards faster websites (or more accurately, punishes slow sites with poor rankings) and your customers and prospects want a fast site too. You know yourself when a site is slow to load you quickly lose patience and click away right?

As part of our agency work we started doing site speed optimization to the point where we now have a completely separate business that focuses solely on WordPress Site Speed Optimization – WPSpeedFix.com

Since we started that business in late 2015 we’ve optimized just shy of 3000 sites so have deep experience in what works and what doesn’t when it comes to fixing slow sites and optimizing their loading times.

In this post we’ll share the best WordPress Speed Optimization Plugins, Tools & Resources that we recommend and use on a daily basis, some free, some unpaid and definitely a one or two you haven’t thought about before.

1. Caching

Apart from having a high quality web host, caching plugins are a key component in getting WordPress loading lightning fast.

Caching pre-builds your website’s pages before you even receive a request from a visitor. With a cache in place, all the MySQL database lookups and PHP processing required to generate your HTML pages is done before the visitor hits the website. When the visitor’s web browser requests a page the HTML file is sitting on the web server ready to go which can often cut seconds from the load time.

There are plenty of caching plugins out there and we’ve pretty much used them all. The three below are what we use and recommend on an ongoing basis.

1. W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache (W3TC) is one of the fastest caching plugins BUT it can be very complex. Unlike most other plugins, W3TC focusses exclusively on caching and skips other features like Lazy Loading, Database Optimization and so forth.

W3TC supports more advanced memory caches such as Redis and Memcached and both Object and Database Caches whereas most other caching plugins only support Browser and Page Caching.

These more advanced caching methods are important on high traffic sites especially Woocommerce sites that are database heavy and intensive.

BEST FOR:

  • Zero budget optimizations (Free is a great price!)
  • High traffic sites or database heavy sites where database and object caching is more important
  • Technical users who want granular control over caching settings

2. WP Rocket

The WP Rocket plugin is an easy to use plugin and is a great option if you’re not super technical and DIYing your site speed optimization.

It is a paid plugin (pricing starts at $49) but it’s ease of use and simplicity makes the price tag well worth it. There’s also an unlimited site license developer option so if you’re a web designer or agency managing a lot of sites the price versus value proposition is great (we’ve paid for the developer license for years and is well worth it)

Some of the features WP Rocket offers over and above W3TC are lazy loading (albeit there’s a standalone free WP Rocket Lazy Load plugin you can use with W3TC), database optimization (can be done with the free WP Optimize plugin also) and some granular settings around DNS prefetching.

BEST FOR:

  • DIYers and less tech savvy users
  • Simple sites where only Page Caching is required
  • Web designers and agencies that manage a lot of sites and need an optimization solution that is fast and cheap

LINK: https://wp-rocket.me

3. Swift Performance

Swift Performance is one of the newer caching plugins on the marketplace and it sits somewhere between WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache.

Where WP Rocket is quite simple with a simple interface, Swift has some advanced caching options that neither WP Rocket or W3TC offer.

Some additional features in Swift include Image Optimization (which brings NextGen Image Optimization), Whitelabel capability which is great for agencies and designers and the premium option offers some advanced speed optimizations like HTTP2 push and Woocommerce Ajax session caching.

There’s also both free and paid options so you can give Swift a test drive at no cost before deciding to fork out any $$$

Right now Swift is the best performing plugin on the marketplace and if we had to recommend one plugin Swift would it.

BEST FOR:

  • Both the DIYer and developer level optimizer
  • Optimizers who are focussed on Google Pagespeed Insights Score & Lighthouse

Link: SwiftPerformance.io

2. Uptime Monitoring

WordPress website uptime monitoring

We often encounter people that are obsessed with getting an XYZ score on a speed testing tool, or ones that aim for a loading time of under 1 second but completely ignore the quality of their web host. Uptime is at least as important as speed if not even more important.

Downtime means ZERO speed – preventing downtime is even more important than the overall operational speed of the site!

Most poor quality, cheap shared hosts have several hours per downtime per week. In some cases several hours per day.

We strongly recommend you run uptime monitoring on your site so you get a clear picture of the reliability of your web host.

The uptime software we use and recommend is UptimeRobot.com – there’s a fantastic free option that monitors your site on 5 minute intervals but we use the paid option (dirt cheap) that monitors on 1 minute intervals.

Check it out at UptimeRobot.com

3. High Quality, High Performance Hosting

Hosting is the basis of everything you set out to do on the internet. Your SEO and Google rankings, your Adwords and Facebook ads, as well as the enquiries, calls and emails your site generates – all of them are connected to the quality of your hosting provider.

If you’re afraid of choosing a more expensive hosting provider – don’t be! Hosting that’s faster and more reliable will, in the end, bring you more profit and will easily pay for itself. The reason for this is simple enough – it’ll provide you with more enquiries, calls and sales that’ll come through your website.

The problem is that most people base their hosting choices on the price that’s being offered, and this isn’t really the best criteria, because it comes down to this: when it comes to hosting, you get what you pay for. And while price may be one of the criteria included in choosing a hosting provider, it shouldn’t be the only one, or the main one. If you do the math, you’ll see that the difference in price between a good host and a bad one isn’t that big – it comes down to a couple of lunches a month. 

There are four hosts that we use ourselves and recommend to clients on a daily basis:

  • Siteground – this is one of the fastest cPanel hosts in the world (also one of the cheaper good hosts out there)
  • Cloudways – offers dedicated, speed optimized VPS servers, just without the complexity (starts at $10 USD/month)
  • WPX Hosting – high-quality managed WordPress hosting, a nice balance of speed and price; it has data centers in the US and UK.
  • Kinsta – premium managed WordPress hosting, best suited to serious sites

In this article on the best WordPress hosting we dig into the features of these hosts in a little more detail.

Fastest & Best WordPress Hosting

4. Backup

Blogvault Backup

This is also one of the more unusual recommendations we’ve included in an article that deals with speed optimization plugins. But, we do think that similar to website uptime (or downtime), having a good quality backup plugin is extremely important as well.

It’s very likely that at one point your site is going to experience the following: it’s going to get hacked, will face a problem of a technical nature, or something will be deleted by accident. 

This is where a good quality backup comes in the picture – not having one means that if something of the above happens, you’re most likely going to lose data and won’t be able to recover part of it. 

And when it comes to hosting providers, a lot of the time we see how they wash their hands clean when it comes to any kind of data loss. Sure, your hosting provider can provide backup, but if something goes wrong, they’ve got terms and conditions that protect them from liability. In the end, it’s you and your business that’s going to suffer if you don’t have good backup options. 

The rankings of your website, as well as traffic, and ultimately the income it generates are all connected to the structure and content of the ste. We’ve realized that a whooping 90%+ of the site’s we work on don’t have any real backup system, which is a crazy and an unnecessarily daredevilish move. Your site’s content is a valuable asset and you should protect it accordingly. 

You can find dozens of backup plugins on the market – we’ve also tried most of them and we can safely say there’s one that really stands out. The plugin that we’ve been using for the past 5 years now is BlogVault. This is a paid plugin but it’s definitely worth paying for – in fact, it’s almost nothing compared to what even a day of downtime will cost you. 

Here are the main reasons why we love BlogVault so much: 

Realtime backup capability

Some of the higher level plans that BlogVault offers provide a realtime backup solution – this means that any changes that occur on your website are being backed up as they happen. This is a superb option for Woocommerce and membership sites where changes occur constantly, and where nightly or daily backup just won’t suffice. 


Informs you of its actions

This tool will actually let you know what it’s NOT backing up. We actually stumbled upon BlogVault after bad experiences with VaultPress – it wasn’t backing up all of our files and all the tables in the WordPress database. We found out about this during a restore – fortunately the hosting provider also had a backup to plug the gaps. 

In fact, all backup plugins will skip some files. VaultPress, the one we were using back then, wasn’t backing up MP3 audio files, Mp4 video files or any WordPress database table that didn’t start with WP. We were actually very lucky not to suffer a permanent data loss. 

BlogVault is great because it allows you to see which database tables and files it’s NOT backing up. It also gives you the option to select them for future backup.

It’s reliable

BlogVault is a cloud-based backup solution and will let you know whenever the plugin goes offline, isn’t able to do backup or has another type of issue. Lots of tools, such as Backupbuddy and Updraft, don’t have very good alerting options and it often happens that the backup remains broken for weeks before anyone actually notices anything. 

Check it out at BlogVault.net. We dig deeper into backup plugins in this article on the Best WordPress Backup Plugins

5. Image Compression & Optimization

NextGen Image Optimization & Compression

Sites that are image-heavy also experience slow loading times. In fact, image size is one of the main culprits behind the decreased loading speed of your site. That’s why considering doing image compression might just help boost your site’s speed and also considerably affect and reduce your site’s resource requirements. 

Image compression basically means that the file size of the original image on your site is being shrunk to a smaller file size. There are lots of image compression tools on the internet – most of them will provide you with pretty similar results by the end of the compression, but not all of them go by this the same way. 

There are two types of image compression: lossless and lossy. When you’re about to choose the type of compression you want to make, make sure to choose lossless compression, and not the lossy type, because the difference can be significant. Let’s have a brief look at how they differ:

  • Lossless – this means that the file size, in the end, will be smaller, but that the image quality will be the same (this type is the one we recommend)
  • Lossy – the file size will be smaller in the end, but the quality of the image is going to be reduced as well. (not recommended for business-oriented users) 

We always recommend that you don’t set out to sacrifice the quality of the images on your site over a gain in loading times. Bad image quality can reflect on your business and it’s never going to be good for marketing. 

And while we’ve tried many image compression plugins ShortPixel is the one we use and recommend daily. It’s fast, reliable and also supports webp images so we can implement NextGen image optimization which is critical to reducing page size as much as possible.

We dig into NextGen Image Optimization and how to implement it with Shortpixel in this article.S

6. Site Speed Testing Tools

Speed testing your site is the number one thing you need to do before setting out to improve your site’s speed. It’ll provide a benchmark against which you can measure subsequent changes in the speed and it’ll allow you to see if you’re moving in the right direction. 

You can find a lot of speed testing tools that’ll help you see how your website fares. For WPSpeedFix.com, our site speed optimization service, we were using the speed test tool Pingdom (tools.pingdom.com); it was our primary speed testing service for over a year but it has many gaps so decided to build our own tool, which you can check out SiteSpeedBot.com

SiteSpeedBot will provide you with detailed recommendations many tools do not including HTTP2 support, as well as HTTP2 push support, which is something that other test tools simply don’t do. SiteSpeedBot also measures a number of speed metrics that are important on the modern web, such as DNS hosting speed and TTFB.

Some other tools that we have used are:

  • GTMetrix.com – might just be one of the most well known speed testing tools on the internet. It’s certainly a good tool, but it’s starting to show its age. For example, many of the recommendations that are given, are, in fact, already out of date on the modern web. Also, it seems that their servers are often overloaded, making the speed tests seem slower than they actually should be. 
  • Tools.pingdom.com – as we said above, we used to use the Pingdom speed test tools for  WPSpeedFix.com in the past. Don’t get us wrong – it’s still a pretty good tool, although it was updated in the last 12 months, and now its recommendations are not as good as they were before and don’t go into much detail. 
  • Google Pagespeed Insights – this one is a pretty useful tool, one that Google provides. A lot of marketers and techs are obsessed by Pagespeed score; the truth is, however, that it often doesn’t correlate to actual speed. Pagespeed is still a useful tool, although it’s important to keep in mind that it measures speed only partially. A large part of its score comes from the comparison it makes putting your site against a technical checklist. The problem is that, in a lot of cases, it doesn’t take into consideration some practical limitations of the site’s coding and design. One of its speed testing components also does a fine job at completely ignoring the geographic location of the site, so you can expect the scores to vary quite a lot, depending on where the test was being made from, where is the geographic location of your hosting, and also how packed the internet is at the time of the testing.

7. Database Optimization

WordPress Dastabase Optimization Plugin

It so happens that, with time, the WordPress database bloats, meaning that its overall file size becomes a lot bigger than the amount of data that’s actually being stored in it.

WP Optimize is a plugin that is able to help remove this so called bloat. It will allow you to run SQL database optimizations inside the WordPress backend console. 

By using this tool, we often succeed in reducing the size of the WP database by a couple of hundred megabytes. 

Sidenote: WP Rocket and Swift Performance have a built in database optimization function, which means you won’t need this tool if you’re already using on of them.

Check it out at https://en-au.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-optimize/

8. Perfmatters – Permatters.io

WordPress has quite a few different features and integrations that are often called legacy (aka old) features or features that most people don’t use anymore.

One of these features is the xmlrpc.php API, one that allows for remote publishing. This feature is commonly under attack by hackers, as well as automated bots that are looking for security holes in WordPress instances; it can take a rather large amount of CPU power on your hosting account.

Perfmatters.io is a plugin that will allow you to disable a lot of these features. So, if you want to be serious about your site’s speed optimization, then it’s definitely worth a look. 

9. Lazy Loading

Lazy loading is a technique for viewing content on a particular page, whereby the content (usually images and videos) outside the initial viewable area of the webpage (known as the content above the fold) is not being loaded until the user scrolls further down the page. 

This technique is especially important to take into consideration for websites that are particularly loaded with images. Lazy loading has a considerable effect in reducing the weight of the initial page load without having to interfere with the functionality of the page itself. 

We use the free lazy load plugin from WP Rocket – this is also the one we recommend. An important reason why we like this plugin over other such plugins is because it’s actively maintained (or kept up to date!) by WP Rocket’s team AND it honors the <picture> HTML tag/element, meaning it’s compatible with the image optimization technique that uses the .webp file format, the one we were talking about in section five, and the one we implement using the plugin from ShortPixel. 

Have in mind that a lot of lazy load plugins don’t honor the <picture> tag, or are simply not aware of it, which means once they’re used, they will essentially disable any .webp image optimization.

The full WP Rocket caching plugin has this feature built in; so, if you’re already using that plugin, you can just enable lazy loading from there. 

10. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) – Why We Don’t Use AMP & You Shouldn’t Either

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. In short – do not use them!

AMP is widely promoted in articles around the web. Unless there’s an SEO reason to use AMP (News sites potentially get an SEO benefit) then you shouldn’t use AMP for site speed.

AMP pages load fast because they’re a stripped down version of your main website and Google is using Edge Caching on their network to deliver the pages faster to users.

You can achieve all this yourself without relying on Google using a fast WordPress theme that doesn’t rely on Jquery (see our Fastest WordPress Themes here) and by stripping out all the unecessary Javascript from your pages.

We have some other issues with AMP, besides the one mentioned above, issues that have a lot to do with conversions and CRO. Using AMP basically means you’re giving up the control of your webpage to Google; and this is not something you want to do in a world where you actually want to rely less on them, not more. If you’re an aggressive marketer, you certainly wouldn’t want to hand wholesale control of the mobile version of your site to Google – trust us, it’s a bad idea.

What are your favorite plugins?

We sincerely hope that this article was a helpful guide in your search on how to speed up your WordPress site. Feel free to leave us comments documenting your experience in using and implementing the plugins and tools we elaborated on in this article. 

If you’re looking for speed optimization make sure you checkout WPSpeedfix.com


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