Our WordPress Optimization Journey
Why We Chose WordPress
There are plenty of website builders to choose from these days. Wix, WordPress, Magento, Shopify (if you have an e-commerce store), and a handful of others.
I have previously worked with Magento and Shopify before we decide to build this website but felt like WordPress was the best option for what we were wanting to accomplish.
Magento and Shopify are both used for E-Commerce websites. I’m sure people use them for other things, but their overall design is geared towards selling products, and we are selling a service.
WordPress is also by far more customizable than any other website builder on the market.
It powers almost 50% of the internet and is even used by giant companies like Sony, MTV, and BBC.
WordPress Optimization is also somewhat simple with some quality plugins, which makes it a great choice!
Best WordPress Hosting Options
This is a widely covered topic, but it’s saturated with affiliate links. We thought about getting set up as an affiliate for Kinsta Hosting since that’s what we use and are extremely happy with – but we’ll save that for a different day. We wanted this post to focus on our experiences with the handful of hosting solutions we’ve used so far.
Here is a link for a WordPress Hosting Options Blog Post that is one more accurate and detailed I have been able to find. They go into more detail on a bunch of different hosting companies (some I’d never heard of before). Especially if you are looking for something on the extremely cheap side under $5 a month – this post will show you a handful of options that are better than others.
We have run BlueHost, SiteGround, and Kinsta – and settled on Kinsta Hosting simply for the edge in performance.
BlueHost is what I used on my first website because it was about $3 a month including a domain name. Pretty hard to beat that no matter what you do in terms of pricing. However, I struggled to get the load speed I wanted. After a few months, I made the switch to SiteGround which was a nice improvement. Their promotional pricing is about $5 a month, but their normal pricing is $15 for their single site plan.
This is half the starting price with Kinsta for the single site plan at $30 a month.
Ultimately we chose to go with Kinsta because it provided the best performance for WordPress hosting. Our website is a rather complex website, more so than your normal blog or small e-commerce website, so it requires more resources on the hosting side of things.
If you’re just starting out, I would recommend something like SiteGround. They are a great mix between affordability and performance, and you have some room to grow with them. They also have great customer support, which is always nice. Especially if you aren’t the most experienced in web design, their support people are always happy to help you get things sorted out.
Kinsta also has amazing customer support. You can send a message via chat, and they respond within minutes. I had sent them a blog post on using Short Pixel with the type of server Kinsta has, which required you to edit a certain file that only the techs at Kinsta can edit. They read the post and made the required changes and everything was ready to rock-n-roll within 10 minutes or less.
Chosing a WordPress Page Builder
This is somewhat personal preference, but also makes an impact on your WordPress optimization and overall website performance.
There are a handful of different options depending on what you’re looking for.
Elementor is a drag and click style builder – which makes it really easy to create beautiful pages.
A website I was involved in Yenza uses Elementor Pro – which gives you templates you can use and huge flexibility to design some really nice pages.
The only downfall is that it is a little heavy which hurts your WordPress optimization. Especially when you start getting into the more complicated designs, which just add more stuff to load and can end up slowing the website down a little bit.
Generate blocks is a page builder that’s continuing to build hype and popularity. It builds on the base type block builder in WordPress, so it’s an extremely lightweight builder – which improves WordPress optimization.
It takes a little bit to get used to when you’re switching from Elementor to something like Generate Blocks because they are so different. Elementor is a visual editor, almost like Wix, where it’s a drag and drop style.
Once you get used to it though, it’s really smooth to create and edit on generate blocks. I like it!
Our main small business blog page was designed using Generate Blocks in just a few minutes. It’s super easy and simple to use, yet you can make a decent page without knowing any code or spending too much time.
With your builder, it depends on what you’re looking for. Generate-blocks is more performance-oriented, and Elementor is geared towards creating beautiful pages. Elementor is still very capable of being fast, so you won’t have to worry about having your website loading terribly slow with Elementor, it just won’t be quite as fast.
If you look at each builder’s main website, there is a noticeable difference in their WordPress Optimization levels. The load time difference may only be 1 second, which is really not that noticeable in practice – but every ms counts. Especially now that Google is factoring in your website speed for ranking.
With this website, we did see a noticeable increase in performance upon switching to GenerateBlocks over Elementor Pro. Our mobile score was around 50ish, and now are float around 85-90. The Desktop score was already close to 90, but it did jump up to 99. It has been stubborn and doesn’t want to show us the 100 scores just yet, but 99 is almost perfect.
Fast WordPress Themes
There are literally thousands of themes for WordPress. It’s always difficult because you can scroll through themes for hours and still not know which one you want to go with. Currently, I am using the Astra theme on our small business directory – which has been a great theme. You can upgrade to the Pro version that comes with a bunch of features if you’re looking to make a more complex website.
Another WordPress theme that is gaining momentum is the GeneratePress theme, which is designed by the creators of the GenerateBlocks page builder. Especially for those of you that are more familiar with web design and a little bit of code, this theme is very capable and highly efficient.
I have been thinking about switching to this theme but will need to get the pro version to be able to design the header I want, which is why I have not pulled the trigger just yet.
As you can see, the GeneratePress theme has a Google Pagespeed Insights score almost 4 times what the Astra theme score is. This is a huge difference. Especially in the eyes of Google.
Most studies show customers will only wait a few seconds for your page to load. Once you start passing the 3-4 seconds you start losing a lot of potential customers.
According to Amazon, a 1 second drop in load time would cost them over a billion dollars a year.
Here is a good article that compares the features between the two themes from Kinsta Hosting. Check it out HERE.
There are plenty of other themes that you can choose from. WordPress comes with several themes already installed and ready to go, so feel free to look through those. If you’re looking for the more premium themes you’d want to think about either Astra or Generate Press. If WordPress Optimization is your top priority then you’ll definitely want to be going with the Generate Press theme combined with the Generate Press page builder.
We did go back and run a test with both themes and didn’t notice any noticeable difference in load times. The scores were just about the same on both mobile and desktop as well. We had the same header design, and same footer design in both tests, so it would have only shown the difference in theme optimization.
Once you get into more extravagant designs you might see more of a noticeable difference in your WordPress optimization scores. Especially if you’re utilizing the webhooks which are incredibly easy using the Generate Press them.
WordPress Optimization Plugins
There are all kinds of plugins specifically created for WordPress optimization. Some are free, some are paid, but most of them are freemium.
Budget definitely plays a role in this side of things, because if you’re on a budget of absolutely Zero (like most of us), spending hundreds of dollars on plugins is going to be a hard pass. We did spend a little bit of money on our plugins and have spent a little more money on our hosting, but it’s doable on a smaller budget.
WP-Rocket is a paid plugin running $49 a year. This is what we are currently using, and is the plugin that took us from a mobile score of around 60 to 90. Kinsta did a really good article on reviewing the features on WP-rocket: Kinsta and WP Rocket: Now Speeding up WordPress Together.
Perfmatters is another great plugin that we are using. It runs at $25 a year, which is less than the WP-Rocket plugin, but I do feel if we had to choose just one it would be WP-Rocket.
Perfmatters was actually created by some people at Kinsta, so they have WordPress Optimization in their blood, and have been at it for a long time. Their website also scores at almost 100, so they clearly know a thing or two about speed.
ShortPixel is what we are using for image optimization (this is SUPER IMPORTANT). Often times images take up a big chunk of the files on our website, so if you don’t have optimized images it’s going to be a big drag on your website. ShortPixel is one of the more popular and is what we decided to go with, but there are plenty of others. WP-Rocket actually has its own service you can get, but I have no experience with that. We found ShortPixel first and it’s been amazing so we are sticking with it.
Autoptomize is another plugin that we have used. It definitely helps with WordPress optimization and is free which is always nice. We went with WP-Rocket in the end because it offers more intense WordPress optimization, and we made it work with our budget. If the budget doesn’t agree with a paid plugin like WP-Rocket, Autoptomize is a great way to go.
There are loads of other plugins as well, so it’s difficult to cover them all in a single post. It also differs depending on your hosting situation and what you’re using your website for. However, the combination we have (WP-Rocket, Perfmatters, ShortPixel) is something that would work on just about anything because they are all very flexible.
If you’re running SiteGround hosting instead of Kinsta, they do have their own WordPress optimization plugin that handles the cache settings. You can link it to your CDN as well, so it can incorporate that side of the cache settings as well. In our experience, this plugin is not as good as the others, and sometimes has conflict issues with other plugins. So you’ll always want to make sure you’re website is functioning when messing with your WordPress optimization settings.
CDN (Content Delivery Network)
This is a huge part of the WordPress optimization journey. Depending on your hosting, it might include CDN as part of it which is what Kinsta has.
There are a few types of CDN and plenty of CDN providers. This is a good article that talks about it: What is a CDN? | How do CDNs work? | Cloudflare. Two of the big names in CDN are KeyCDN and the most popular which is Cloudflare.
Kinsta was set up with KeyCDN when we first started hosting with them, but since then they have worked out a deal with Cloudflare to handle all of their CDN.
I can’t tell you exactly why, perhaps it was a money deal, or perhaps they saw better performance with Cloudflare.
Both services are amazing though!
You also have a few others that you can do, such as the CDN service you can get through WP-Rocket – which is great.
I don’t think you can really go wrong with a CDN network when you’re working on your WordPress optimization, but having one that has a guaranteed uptime and a larger number of locations is always nice.
Ending Our WordPress Optimization Journey
It’s been a learning adventure, that is for sure. WordPress optimization is something a lot of people talk about, but even with all the information available, it’s still difficult to accomplish. We hope that our post helps!
If you have any questions feel free to contact us anytime.
Good luck on your WordPress optimization journey!