Top 3 Common Reasons for a Slow WordPress Site (in my experience)

If you own and run a WordPress site which is currently slow then there are usually some common factors which are most probably contributing to the lack of load speed of your site.

The power and flexibility of WordPress lies under the hood, where as a blogging and CMS platform, it easily caters for customizations to be made in a programmatic way via themes and plugins.

However, this flexibility can also ironically be a cause for some of the reasons why your site might be running slow or has progressively become slower as time has gone on.

There are also numerous other factors which also play a role in your site’s speed (or lack thereof), so let’s take a look at them.

After doing troubleshooting work on hundreds of customer sites over the years, I have found that the following 3 common factors contribute to a WordPress site being too slow:

  1. Using lots of poorly coded plugins
  2. Using poorly coded and bloated theme
  3. Using a not so good hosting provider/solution

1. Using Lots of Poorly Coded Plugins

Due to the open-source nature of WordPress (which is a big positive in my opinion), the variety of plugin functionality available is immense but so is the variety of plugin coding quality.

The fact that you can quite often obtain a free plugin which will perform a crucial task for your website is immensely exciting, but this also requires the need to beware of which plugins you choose to use on your site.

How a plugin is coded can mean the difference in whether your pages load in a fraction of a second versus 5 seconds or more. WordPress generally has a best coding practices criteria for plugin developers but quite often these are ignored by a lot of programmers; in some cases because these programmers are new to the technology or simply not skilled enough to know better.

Therefore you will often find plugins which have been coded in such a way where the programmer has either not been cognizant of performance impacts or not taken into account possible conflicts which their code might have on other core functionality of WordPress in general or the functionality of other plugins or themes. For example, how and when a plugin developer chooses to load their javascript/jquery scripts and libraries can greatly impact the chance of conflicts.

There are many factors which determine the quality of a plugin’s coding and this topic can fill another series of articles, but for our intensive purposes as website owners we should be discerning with which plugins we choose to use.

There are a couple of easy checks you can make when choosing either a free or paid plugin.

For instance if you are searching in wordpress.org for plugins, you can check things such as the number of downloads for the plugin and also how well it is supported.

You will find with the more quality plugins that the developer quite often stands behind their work and they demonstrate this by providing some support and regular updates.

The same thing also applies for paid plugins.

Side Note and Example

You may find various articles recommending that you limit the number of plugins you use on your WordPress site because they claim that having a large number of active plugins is one of the reasons for a site’s slowness. This advice can be misleading if not explained correctly. The whole principle of WordPress is based on its modularized nature and it is designed to accept various specialized functionality via things such as plugins. So in general rather than being too focused on the number of plugins, focus on limiting the use of poorly coded and bloated plugins.

I will give you a very simple example to demonstrate my point. Lets say you have one one site (Site A) that has one plugin which loads 20 JavaScript files. Another site (Site B) has 10 plugins which altogether loads 10 JavaScript files. Now, if you purely go by the number of active plugins then you would think that Site A has better page load time than Site B which would be totally wrong.

You should in theory be able to have as many active plugins on your site as you wish provided that they are all working harmoniously with each other, your theme and the WordPress core in general.

What really matters is which plugins you are choosing to use, because the greater the number of lower quality and bloated plugins you’ve installed, the greater the chance this will affect your site speed.

2. Using Poorly Coded Themes

A similar argument to the one we made above applies for themes too. Always be mindful of which theme you choose to install on your site. The fact that you may have paid a premium price for your theme in themeforest doesn’t necessarily mean that the theme has been properly constructed by the developer. Try not to buy themes that uses a lot of JavaScript files.

The benchmark which you should often use about how well a theme performs is to try out your site using the native WordPress themes such as TwentyTen or TwentyEleven and compare how well or badly your current premium theme fares against these.

Further Reading

3. Your Hosting Solution is Not Very Good

Your hosting provider is another crucial factor which can affect the performance of your site.

A lot of the “cheap” and “free” providers are cheap and free for a reason. These hosting providers are usually under-resourced in terms of hardware and the features they provide. Also the type of hosting plan is important and which plan you choose is based on how much traffic you are getting to your site.

Shared hosting is the most common plan and will usually suffice for most WordPress sites provided that the hosting provider is reliable. In this type of solution your site shares the server’s resources with a number of other sites. If your hosting provider puts you on an overcrowded shared server then it will significantly affect your site speed. For higher traffic scenarios, a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a dedicated server solution is usually required because this provides you with more dedicated CPU and RAM Memroy resources which will keep the page load time optimum under high traffic scenerio.

Further Reading

What are your top reasons for a slow WordPress site?

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Comments (11 responses)

  1. Brooks Creative Co says:

    Great article. I’ve learned the hard way that all premium themes and plugins are not created equal

  2. Hassaan Khan says:

    Nice article. Certainly, Bloggers should get best hosting for their blogs. I agree with this article and especially I emphasize on buying best hosting.

  3. Peter Fisher says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention lack of caching. Any site or application will not scale efficiently if static elements are not cached correctly.

  4. Alizeh says:

    Well according to my experiences as you have mentioned a bloated theme consumes too much of time loading and hence makes a website sluggish. We should not use WordPress plugins that seek to load unused css style sheets and should also avoid some poorly coded WordPress plugins to improve the speed of WordPress website.

  5. Disha@hotellasuite says:

    Hi…
    I agree, To use Plugins in wordpress is good & it gives benefit to wordpress website but while using over Poorly Coded Plugins than it becomes harmful for website & poor hosting also matter for slow wordpress site. Its very simple, use good hosting service to run fast a wordpress site & avaoid to use Poor Coded Plugins

  6. Steve says:

    To use lots of Plugins in wordpress is really harmful for a wordpress website. I was also using lot of Plugins in a wordpress website & It was running slowly on Server but as I uninstall some unused plugins now wordpress website is performing well than lat time.

  7. Ribice says:

    Yes, you can read on many forums on websites that more plugins equals slower website. Well it’s partially true, but that speed change is contactable. The theme is probably the biggest issue on speed where badly coded themes tend to make big problems for speed.

    Also you could include caching here. Lack of proper caching plugins (or hard coded in theme) makes website loading longer for returning visitors.

    Nice article anyway, keep it up! 🙂

  8. Dobrev says:

    I agree with my colleague from the above comment. Template is the most important. Let us not reject and hosting services. I think it’s important to be involved gzip. Also, do not install too many plugins. You can optimize java scripts and libraries. Thanks for the article!

  9. Robert says:

    I think the most important factor is the theme. A bad theme will not only slow your website down, but also annoy visitors. They don’t like bad theme, they want something that is clear and easy to navigate 🙂

  10. Graham says:

    Nice explanation. I totally agree with you.

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