20+ WordPress Optimization Checklist 2021 (BEGINNER-FRIENDLY)

Here’s the perfect WordPress optimization checklist that’ll help you in achieving the 3-second page load time target set by Google.

In most cases, your entire website will load within 2 seconds.

I have been using this checklist on my niche sites and haven’t had any problems when it comes to the page load times.

But, your servers may have some limitations and unique configurations.

Please get in touch with your server admin or hosting customer support if something goes wrong.

Before doing any sort of website optimization, please create a complete backup of your website and save it on your local computer. You can roll back to this update if something causes your website to crash.
WordPress Optimization Checklist
If you are in a hurry and don’t want to go through the entire guide, download this image and follow the checklist.
  • Use a powerful WordPress web hosting provider
  • Minify & combine CSS files, JS files and strip unnecessary HTML Tags
  • Implement a cache mechanism on your website using a Cache plugin
  • Avoid using more than 8 plugins
  • Use a single Google Font and a single font style
  • Combine multiple Google Fonts Request into a single one
  • Avoid using Google Fonts and replace them with Font Stacks
  • Use a minimal theme that uses fewer server resources
  • Install & configure a cache WordPress plugin
  • Resize & compress images before uploading
  • Disable hotlinking
  • Use next-gen image formats
  • Use lazy-loading on images
  • Remove useless assets from WordPress
  • Update themes, plugins, and WordPress core
  • Host multimedia media on CDN
  • Optimize WordPress Database weekly
  • Use static resources whenever possible
  • Don’t over-optimize your website

Now, if you are someone who wants to understand this whole process and learn how to make this checklist work, follow this tutorial.

WordPress optimization checklist #1 Recommendation: Use a powerful WordPress Hosting

WordPress optimization checklist

Cheap shared hosting plans are good enough to launch a small business website with just 20/100 visitors/mo. Anything more than that, you need a powerful cloud hosting solution.

A cheap hosting plan will have a lot of limitations.

These cheap web hosting companies put hundreds of hosting accounts on a single server.

So, everybody is using and sharing the server resources.

So, naturally, your website will be slower if it uses more than what it’s supposed to use or if someone on your server is overusing it.

So, if you want to run anything else including a blog, a popular website, an online app, stay away from these shared hosting plans and get yourself a Virtual Private Server.

When your website grows and starts receiving thousands of visitors/mo., you must upgrade to a more powerful VPS or even a dedicated server.

When you are at it, try paying for a cloud hosting solution.

Cloud hosting makes your website secure and data protected at all times. Your website will not experience sudden downtimes and page load times will be significantly lower when compared to the old school servers.

I recommend Bluehost’s VPS and SiteGrounds WordPress hosting plan to start your own blog.

Minify & combine CSS files, JS files and strip unnecessary HTML Tags

WordPress optimization checklist

This is pretty standard.

Every other WordPress expert will advise you to compress, combine and optimize the website files.

Most themes today aren’t optimized.

Their files are large and they use multiple stylesheets, JavaScript libraries to power the front-end of the website.

When you have multiple, large files that needs to be loaded for the website to function properly, the end user will have to wait longer and Google will notice this.

Eventually, your website will lose its ranking.

So, what you can do to avoid such an issue is; optimize the files on your website.

Simply installing a cache plugin and configuring it using the default options will solve all major problems.

I use the W3 Total Cache plugin to get this done. But, if you want to strip unnecessary HTML tags and bloat, you will have to use to AssetCleanUp plugin.

Both of these plugins are free and configuring them both properly will help you in saving a lot of bandwidth and server resources, plus, your users will not have to wait for that long for the website to completely load.

Implementing a cache mechanism on WordPress

This one sounds a bit complex but it’s really simple and straightforward. Thanks to plugins such as W3Total Cache, you can enable caching on any WordPress website without touching a piece of code.

Enable the following:

  • Gzip compression
  • Browser cache
  • Object cache

Usually, W3 Total Cache comes with default settings and all you’ll have to do is configure the above-mentioned settings.

Once the configuration is completed, you can simple move on to the next step.

Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)

BunnyCDN

If you have a pretty heavy and resource hungry website that attracts millions of visitors every month, get your website a CDN.

A CDN refers to a Content Delivery Network.

It stores your multimedia files on its server. When your visitor loads the page, all the multimedia files are delivered from these cloud servers.

This saves a lot of page load time as browsers only allow a limited number of concurrent requests from a single source.

So, if you have many CSS files, JavaScript files, images, and videos, the browser will only download a limited number of files at the same time.

This is done to avoid overloading the server and crashing the browser tab.

But, it also makes your website seem really slow.

To avoid such a situation, you need to use Content Delivery Network.

I use BunnyCDN and Stack Patch CDN on my niche sites.

That said, most cloud servers usually come with a CDN option.

I use Cloudways to host Rankwide, and it comes with a paid CDN option that I can enable whenever I want.

If your website doesn’t host that many blog posts or content and you barely receive 1000 visitors/month, you don’t actually need any CDN at this stage.

Avoid using more than 8 WordPress plugins

Don't use too many plugins

You should not use more than 8 WordPress plugins on your blog.

Reason:

The majority of all the WordPress plugins load their own CSS and JS files.

So, more plugins = more files for your browser to load.

If that’s not enough, with a site that’s powered by 15+ plugins, running into plugin/theme conflicts are also greater.

I still remember when I a client contacted me to speed up their WordPress website.

When I looked into their website, I saw 42 WordPress plugins installed.

I remove 29 plugins, the Website became faster and the admin dashboard was also performing well.

If you are running a small hobby blog or a blog that generates money, you don’t need a lot of plugins.

Here’s a list of plugins that you should install:

  • Cache plugin
  • SEO Plugin
  • Lightweight security plugin
  • Lazy loading plugin
  • Google Analytics + Google Search Console
  • Affiliate Link Cloaking Plugin
  • AssetCleanUp

You can avoid installing plugins for social media sharing and follow links.

For social media profile links, you can simply use SVG or just using compressed PNG images.

Don’t use multiple Google fonts and use only a single font style

WordPress optimization checklist - don't use multiple Google fonts

Google Fonts are pretty addictive.

You have access to thousands of free fonts hosted by the most popular tech company in the world.

But, most people forget the fact that these font files are downloaded whenever a user visits your portal.

And, each font files, font styles are loaded separately which will make the whole website feel slow.

As a rule of thumb, don’t use multiple Google fonts.

But, if you have to, make sure to only import that “Regular” font style.

Combine multiple Google fonts into a single request

Combine multiple Google fonts

If you have a premium theme on your website, your theme might be requesting multiple Google fonts.

Use AssetCleanUp to combine these requests. So, all the fonts are imported with a single request.

What’s better than not using multiple Google fonts? Not using Google fonts at all.

Now that we know that Google fonts aren’t cached in the browser, there’s no point in using it just to make the text-based content on your website look pretty.

What can you do?

Web safe Font Stack.

What’s a Font Stack?

WordPress optimization checklist - Font stack

Font Stack is a bunch of web-safe fonts that will work on almost all browsers.

The fonts included depends on the stack and I have seen most popular blogs and even some news websites using Font Stacks instead of Google fonts.

Since you are not importing any font files, your website loads faster than before.

Here’s my favorite Font Stack that you can include in your website’s font-family:

apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,Segoe UI,Helvetica Neue,Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,sans-serif

Don’t forget to remove Google fonts from your website using AssestCleanUp plugin.

Use a minimal WordPress theme

GeneratePress theme

What do I mean by the term “minimal”?

Any theme that doesn’t load huge CSS and JS files just to deliver some images and text on the front-end is a minimal theme.

Minimal themes are built keeping a specific niche in mind.

So, Multipurpose WordPress themes are the ones you should stay away from.

If you have the budget, get a professional WordPress developer to build your custom theme that only loads resources that are extremely important.

Resize & compress images before uploading

Compress Images

If you don’t resize the images before uploading, your browser will resize these images to fit the elements.

This will increase the page load time of your blog post or pages.

And, uploading unoptimized and uncompressed image files will increase the page load time as larger files take longer to load.

But there are so many cool image compression plugin in the market today. Should we not use them?

I hate using a image compression plugin inside WordPress.

You are putting unnecessary computing load on your servers when you can easily compress and resize images on your desktop or laptop without spending any money.

Get yourself Photoshop.

It’s cheap and you will need this software every single day of your blogging journey. So, it is worth the investment.

Once you resize the images, you need to compress them.

I use CompressJPEG and CompressPNG to compress my images for free. They let you upload and compress up to 20 images at once.

Once all the compression and resizing is done, upload these images to your WordPress blog posts.

Disable hotlinking

What’s hotlinking?

When someone inserts an image via an image URL or any other file hosted on your website to their website, it is called hotlinking.

For example; if CNN decides to copy the image URL of an image on my website and include it on their website, it will use my server’s bandwidth.

Websites such as CNN gets millions of visitors every day.

So, if they hotlink any multimedia on your website, it will lead to my hosting account getting shut down.

So, you will need to disable and block hotlinking right away.

How to disable hotlinking

The easiest way to achieve this is by including the below code at the end of your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)example.com/.*$ [NC]

RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|jpeg|bmp|zip|rar|mp3|flv|swf|xml|php|png|css|pdf)$ – [F]

Please change “example” with your website’s URL.

If you don’t want to touch the codes, just install and configure a plugin to handle this issue.

In this case, I recommend:

Go to the Firewall settings and check the “Prevent image hotlinking” option.

Use next-gen Image formats on WordPress

JPEG 2000, JPEG XR and WebP are some next-gen image format.

But, why are these image formats better?

Next-gen image formats sport better lossless compress.

So, if you have a regular JPEG image, convert it to a WebP image, you will see up to 40% reduction in size even if the WebP image is not compressed.

I have started using WebP images on my blog.

So, I can tell that WebP images are far superior and occupy less space on the server.

But, you can’t save images as WebP images on your desktop from Photoshop or any screenshot app.

You will have to convert them using any online tool.

I use WebP Converter to get this thing done.

Even after that, you can’t just upload WebP images to WordPress right away.

WordPress only allows uploading of a limited number of file extensions for security reasons. So, you will have to enable WebP upload.

How to enable WebP images upload in WordPress

Just add the below code in your theme’s function.php file and save it.

You will be able to upload WebP images without any problem.


//** *Enable upload for webp image files.*/
function webp_upload_mimes($existing_mimes) {
    $existing_mimes['webp'] = 'image/webp';
    return $existing_mimes;
}
add_filter('mime_types', 'webp_upload_mimes');

//** * Enable preview / thumbnail for webp image files.*/
function webp_is_displayable($result, $path) {
    if ($result === false) {
        $displayable_image_types = array( IMAGETYPE_WEBP );
        $info = @getimagesize( $path );

        if (empty($info)) {
            $result = false;
        } elseif (!in_array($info[2], $displayable_image_types)) {
            $result = false;
        } else {
            $result = true;
        }
    }

    return $result;
}
add_filter('file_is_displayable_image', 'webp_is_displayable', 10, 2);

Remove useless assets from WordPress

AssetCleanUp - WordPress optimization checklist

WordPress, themes, and plugins load a lot of resources that you don’t necessarily need to run your website.

You can remove or deregister these resources to reduce page load time of your website further.

Some of the resources that I remove are:

  • Emojis
  • oEmbed
  • Dashicons
  • Remove Google Fonts
  • XML-RPC – This is a WordPress API for external applications and mobile applications that you, in most cases, will not need.

You can remove resources/assets using AssetCleanUp plugin for free.

Keep your themes, plugins and WordPress core updated at all times

Update themes and plugins, WordPress optimization checklist

On a regular basis, web hosting providers update PHP, nginx, Apache and more.

To work properly with these updates and upgrades, WordPress core updates and security patches are released on a regular basis.

So, whenever you see a stable update or upgrade, just create a backup of your WordPress installation and update your website.

Now, themes and plugins also release regular updates. Make sure to update your themes and plugins whenever the new updates are available.

Outdated resources increase the risk of cyber attacks and performance drop.

Optimize WordPress database on a weekly basis

Optimize WordPress themes

Here’s a list of all the useless and irrelevant stuff that’s stored in your WordPress database:

  • Post revisions: The number of times you update the drafts.
  • Auto drafts: Automatically stored drafts
  • Deleted blog posts
  • Comments marked as spam and trash
  • Trackbacks and pingbacks
  • Transient options

I delete these on a weekly basis and avoid bloating my database.

If you don’t perform a weekly optimization, your database will become slower over time and you’ll start noticing a significant drop in performance inside the WordPress admin dashboard.

Use static resources whenever possible

This might not speed your website that much but there will be a slight improvement nonetheless if you remove dynamic elements with static ones in the front-end.

When I develop my own themes for my niche websites, I use a static navigation menu, logo image, sidebar, and footer.

The only dynamic piece of element is the content area with blog posts and pagination.

Furthermore, in the single blog post page, I use a static author’s box, an affiliate disclosure box, an ad box with the latest affiliate deal, and more.

If you a developer or someone who’s been coding with WordPress, this will help you save a lot of bandwidth in the long run.

Don’t over-optimize your website

Especially, when you are a blogger, the worst thing to do is to spend more than 2 months on blog optimization, theme development and tweaking things here are there.

Time is valuable and the more time you spend on these irrelevant things, the less time you spend churning out content.

At the end of the day, quality content is going to make you some money and not your web design.

Just download a free theme such as GeneratePress and Astra, start optimizing your website by following this checklist.

They say that 3 seconds is the benchmark that Google has set for websites. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, it will be gradually demoted on the Search Engine Results Page.

But, if your website already manages to load in under 3 seconds, making it faster will not give you any ranking boost on the search engine results page.

Also, I have seen some giant news websites that take more than 7 seconds to load completely ranking at the top spot of Google.

So, focus on producing quality content on your website.

Don’t spend more than 2 hours choosing a theme and 2 hours optimizing your website.

Conclusion: WordPres Optimization Checklist

In this in-depth tutorial and checklist, I shared with you some of the most important steps to optimize any WordPress website.

I didn’t dig deep into each point as it would have made this article ridiculously lengthy.

So, bite-sized sections for people who are familiar with WordPress is what I would classify this tutorial as.

That said, even if you leave the most hardcore section and just focus on some simple optimization techniques such as:

  • Resizing and compressing images
  • Installing and configuring a cache plugin
  • Using a lightweight theme
  • Not installing more than 8 plugins

You will able to reduce the page load time a lot.

If you ask me, the best way to make a fast website is to:

  • Use a VPS to host the website
  • Build your own custom WordPress theme
  • Use CDN to deliver multimedia files
  • Regularly optimize the database
  • Update the theme and plugin with the latest recommendations and WordPress standards.

Assuming that you are using a reliable web hosting provider and not some bare minimum dedicated server, I haven’t shared any web hosting optimization.

I only follow the above-mentioned checklist and it has worked out just fine for me.

So, don’t worry and stop trying to achieve less than 1 second page load time.

FAQs Related to WordPress Optimization Checklist
What type of website hosting is suitable for my blog?

1. You can use shared web hosting from a reliable web hosting provider if you are just starting.
2. If you are running a blog that’s already receiving some traffic, move your website to a basic VPS account.
3. If you are receiving millions of hits/mo., get yourself a powerful VPS account or a managed dedicated server.

If you want, you can still use CDN with your VPS account and pull some impressive traffic off. The key is to properly optimize your website.

Do I need to hire a web designer or a WordPress expert to follow this checklist?

No, you don’t need to hire someone if you have been working with WordPress for a considerable amount of time. If you have no idea how WordPress works and have not even created a simple website backup, hire a freelancer to optimize the optimization.

Will speeding up my website help me in attracting more users from search engines?

Yes, but don’t expect too much. Almost all the websites that you see today will load within 4 seconds. So, your blog is not going to have any special power if you manage to hit the “3 seconds loading benchmark”. But, if your website is slow, speeding it a bit and bringing the page load time down to 3 or 5 seconds might help you in getting a few more visitors from the search.