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There are many ways you can speed up your WordPress site. Deleting plugins, optimizing images, and using a cache are all commonly suggested. But you might not have heard of HTTP requests (Or HTTPS if you're using HTTPS encryption). And left unchecked, they can easily cause your site to start acting sluggish.
Don't let the sound of HTTP/S requests scare you, either. You don't have to be a tech genius or web developer to understand this. This guide will help you understand it. We'll also show you how to reduce the number of HTTP/S requests to increase your site's speed.
Your readers visit your site in their favorite browser. Before they see anything, their browser has to "talk to" the server your site resides on. That browser may fetch a style sheet so it knows how it should display information. Or it may need to grab a file, video, or image from your server.
Whatever it is the visitor is trying to access needs to be pulled from the server in order to be shown in their browser. Well, usually. Unless it's save in a cache, but if you want to read more about that, you can read about caching here.
An HTTP request has to be individually sent for every image, file, stylesheet, script, etc.… When their browser has all the info it needs, it's only then that your site is displayed to the visitor.
So it only makes sense that if their browser has to wait for tons of info from the server, it's going to take longer for your site to load. Now imagine if you have lots of visitors on your site at the same time. Now it's trying to do this for every single file for every visitor.
If your site is slow to load, you've already made a bad impression on that visitor. In fact, according to research at Kissmetrics:
So you can bet that your site speed will directly affect your business. How fast your site loads will also affect how visible your site is in search results.
Now you hopefully understand what HTTP requests are and how important it is to keep them in check. But how do you know if your site is making lots of them? If you need to work on reducing them? If your site is feeling sluggish, then there's a good chance you should look into this. Luckily, there are several tools available to help you figure that out…
Both Chrome and Firefox have tools built in that let you analyze the requests being made while visiting a page. Visit your site, then do the following…
Go to the menu and select More Tools > Developer Tools
This will open a window on the right by default. In that window's menu at the top, click Network. Here you can see each request being made, what it is and how long it takes. It also has a waterfall view that shows the order in which they're loaded.
Go to the menu and select Web Developer > Network
This will open a window on the bottom by default. This shows pretty much the same information as Chrome, just laid out differently.
Pingdom has a very popular tool that can help, as well as give you other important information about your site. Visit tools.pingdom.com and enter your URL.
You'll be presented with a grade score for a variety of things that affect your site's performance. You can click each row for tips on how to improve that particular element.
Beneath that, you can see the number of requests grouped by type (images, scripts, etc.…). And at the bottom is a full list of requests, complete with extremely detailed information for each one.
With WordPress sites, too many HTTP requests going on are often the result of too many plugins. Many times, plugins come with their own images, scripts, style sheets. So every plugin you have could be adding multiple requests to the whole process.
Take a serious look at the plugins and themes you're using, make a backup of your installation and ask yourself, "Do I really need them?" If you find plugins that were once used for something but aren't needed anymore, completely delete them and get rid of them. Are there plugins that are only used occasionally? Deactivate them.
If you have old themes that you aren't using anymore, get rid of them too.
And, of course, always make sure you're keeping them up to date.
Images are next in line. Dive into your media library and get rid of any images you don't need. Oftentimes, you'll find that there are duplicate images. If an image is accidentally uploaded twice, WordPress won't replace the old one.
Once you have your media library dwindled down to only what's needed, make sure the remaining images are optimized. Especially JPG images (use PNG when possible). If you need help with image optimization, our guide to reducing CPU usage has some good info on it. You can find that here.
Remember that caching was mentioned at the beginning of this guide? If you use caching, you can greatly reduce the number of HTTP requests made by returning visitors.
You can use a plugin or 3rd party caching services often referred to as CDNs (Content delivery networks).
For plugins, there a few caching plugins Hostwinds recommends here.
You can also take a look at the following services to see if they're a better fit for your situation/organization:
If your site is still slow and sending lots of requests after doing all of this, the culprit might be the external resources you're using. It could be custom fonts, social media sharing buttons, or videos you have embedded on your site.
A big one for WordPress users is in the comments. This is thanks to Gravatar…
Gravatar is used in the comments section by default, which means every comment could be adding a new external image. So if you have lots of comments on your site and you haven't intentionally implemented something other than Gravatar, you might want to disable the avatars. This can be done in Settings > Discussion > Avatars.
It all boils down to getting rid of anything you don't need and optimizing what's left. Taking the time to reduce the number of HTTP/S requests and speeding up your site can directly affect your business. So, while it may seem tedious, it's definitely worth it.
Is there something you use to reduce requests and increase performance that isn't listed here? Leave it in a comment below.
And of course, if you've found this helpful, please share!
Written by Hostwinds Team / May 2, 2018