Slow loading pages on your website can rob you of a large percentage of your website traffic. People won’t wait long for a slow website to finish loading.
There are a number of different tools that allow you to check on how quickly your site is loading and most include suggestions on how to go about making improvements to your site.
But, sometimes finding the real culprit can be a touch tricky!
WebsiteTips4U has been loading way too slowly and it has been getting worse over the last couple of months.
Actually, I should clarify that statement: its slowness has been spasmodic. Sometimes it loads in what seems like lightning speed. Other times it almost times out.
So, if you are reading this post, then hopefully you didn’t have to wait too long for it to load OR you are reading it after I have implemented the fix that I have identified as the solution below.
Diagnosis of a Slow Loading WordPress Site
Sometimes, we become so engrossed in providing content on our site, and tweaking its appearance, that we develop ‘performance-blindness’. That is, we become used to what we work with all the time.
Perhaps a site that loads more slowly than it should is a prime example. We might make allowances for a less-than-adequate performance when it is our own site.
Visitors to the site won’t be so forgiving.
Here are some symptoms that should be setting off alarms of concern:
- A High Bounce Rate.
As the name suggests, this is the percentage of people who come to your site and then ‘bounce’ away to another site.
If you believe that your content is quite valuable, and you don’t have a lot of affiliate links inviting a reader to immediately exit your site then a high bounce rate can be indicative of visitors giving up on waiting for the next page to load.
So how high is too high?
Well it depends on the type of site that you have, but if your content is quite lengthy and provides valuable information and connects to other pages on your site with in-context links, then I would think that anything about 69% is too high. If it is in the 70s, it could be your content that is at fault. BUT, 80s and 90s is bad, plain and simple. This would be a definite indication that something is wrong with your site or your connection to the server.
Complaints from Visitors
Your readers might be leaving comments letting you know that they can’t access some of your pages.
- Slow Saving
You click Save Draft and then go off to make a coffee or sort some papers because you know it will take forever to finish the saving process.
- Warnings in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT)
Many people forget to periodically check their sitemap status in GWT, me included. But, it is something that needs to be done on a regular basis.
Activate GWT and from the left menu, click on Crawl >> Sitemap.
It should look like this, completely free of any issues:
If instead it looks like the following screenshot then the site definitely needs attention:
In this case, clicking on the 27 warnings, revealed: “Some URLs listed in this Sitemap have a high response time. This may indicate a problem with your server or with the content of the page.“
- WordPress Dashboard Alerts
A definite alarm bell is when you are trying to save a post that you are editing and you receive the following type of message:
You can of course check that you are still connected to the Internet but most likely, your site cannot access the server where your site is hosted.
- Slow Dashboard in General
If you try to access different components in your dashboard and have to wait until they load, then you know it is not your WordPress theme or pages that are the problem.
If nothing else, your own frustration, at having to wait too long between editing actions, will be a red flag.
All of the above, with the exception of angry comments, were dogging me, alerting me to the fact that I had to stop writing content and fix this ongoing problem so that people would be able to access my published posts.
Now to find the cause!
Possible Causes of a Slow Loading Site
There can be a number of reasons why a site loads slowly but usually the fault in WordPress sites can be found here:
- The website itself:
- Too many plugins
- A slow loading theme
- A wrongly configured plugin
- A plugin conflict
- Bloated graphics
- The WordPress version:
- Not up-to-date
- A problem with the latest install
- The server where your site is hosted:
- Too many other domains on a shared hosting account
- A slow host in general
- Cheap hosting that doesn’t provide you with much in the way of performance.
My assumption was that the source of the problem lay with my actual website.
So, performance tools to my rescue:
Using Website Performance Testing Tools to Analyse a Slow Site
So I went through a series of steps, trying to isolate issues in order to improve performance:
- I checked the site using the following performance testing tools, along the lines of the page loading case study I previously documented:
- I implemented as many of the tools’ suggestions as possible.
- I disabled plugins to look for offending code. But a plugin, that I activate on a needs-basis only, had already reassured me that there wasn’t a problem here. That is, I run the plugin called P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) from time to time to check if a particular plugin is taking up too many resources.
- I checked the performance of a different theme.
- etc. etc.
Finally the Solution
As a result of all of the steps that I took on the advice of performance tools, and forums, my site did record significant performance improvement.
This was only when it loaded normally anyway. Remember, it has been very spasmodic, sometimes fast, other times unable to load. The fast loading periods were now very fast but the unable-to-load periods were still terrible.
I was now quite sure that there was nothing more that I could do my end (at least very little) and that the issue must be with my hosting server. I contacted my host. They responded very promptly and in a very helpful manner. They listed many suggestions, most of which I had already followed as outlined above. No Change.
But, after hours of research, I finally came across another extremely useful plugin that analyses the response times from your server.
This is a free plugin and one that I can highly recommend if you are having the same issues. This is the PHP/MySQL CPU performance statistics plugin. Fortunately, it provides benchmark statistics so that you can see if the access times to your server are acceptable or not.
In my case PHP was fine.
But, the MySQL response times were off the planet.
Just to double-check, I tested 4 other sites using the PHP/MySQL performance plugin; all were within the ball park figures that were listed as acceptable. Not so with WebsiteTips4U.
Armed with screenshots of the figures, I contacted my hosting provider again. They were able to provide a logical reason for why the server was responding so slowly to database requests and have agreed to set me up with a different server.
As soon as I get the new server details, I will migrate the site to this new server and write a post on the steps that I take to do so, just in case you ever have to move a site from one server to another yourself.
This will be done shortly and I will then update this post on the outcome. Hopefully, this will be a positive improvement!!
Are you having trouble with the load times of your site? I’d be interested to hear if you have had similar experiences.