Fewer Plugins = Faster Performance

I’ve been on a performance enhancing kick with my various blogs recently. One of the many things that I’m working on is improving site load times.

Why? Because it appears that Google penalizes slow loading sites, and I hate waiting for sites to load when I go visit them. I especially hate waiting, and then it turns out that I was waiting for an ad to load. But I digress.

I love how Yoast’s site loads really fast, like under a second kind of fast. As an aside, I hated how my airplane blog used to take almost 22 seconds to load.

I decided to figure out how come his site was so much faster than mine. That was a huge rabbit hole. But, it pretty much came down to a few things, some of which were related to plugins, some not.

First, I suggest getting a base line measurement. Look at your load time using a tool like Pear Analytics or Pingdom. You need to know where you’re starting from so you can tell if you’ve made any improvements.

Why is load time important?

Here’s an extreme example: If the average amount of time a visitor spends on your site is 5 seconds, and the site takes an average of 10 seconds to load, no one is reading your site and you’re just wasting your time.

Here’s a list of some of the things that I discovered along the way.

  1. Flash on the page. That’s right, if you have flash on your site, you’ll have a slow site. All those nice little image sliders and whatnot slow the living daylights out of your site’s load time. I changed one of my image sliders to a JQuery one, and for whatever reason, the site sped up. If you can avoid using flash, avoid using flash and try to avoid using plugins that allow you to use flash with your theme.
  2. Third Party Ads. Yep, on one of my sites, all of the page elements would load faster than the third party ads could. I’m talking about ads from AdBrite, Google Adsense, Chitika, Amazon, you name it load really slowly. Plugins that allow you to insert ads in your header, or side bar or inside the posts can slow you down even more.
  3. Other Plugins. Some plugins are just horribly coded. They will make lots of queries to your database before they allow the page to load or, in some cases, are downright malicious. Test your site with and without the plugins enabled, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
  4. Your theme. Look at your theme, and see if you can do without many of the functions that some themes include. Specifically, a flash intro and other things. I was able to squeeze 3 seconds out of page load time just by changing the theme on one of my sites.
  5. Your pictures. How many pictures, and how big they are influences load time. Not big in terms of pixel size, but big in terms of file size. A 100kb picture loads a lot faster than a 10MB picture and, depending on the resolution, most people won’t be able to tell the difference between the two.
Fewer plugins = Faster performance

Reduce the number of plugins that you’re using, and you’re bound to see performance improvements.

Since just about every rule has an exception, let me mention one exception to the plugin rule: caching plugins. Yoast uses the W3 cache plugin on his site, and he loves it. I used that plugin, and didn’t notice a difference in page load times. I did notice a difference in speed on one site when I used WP-SuperCache. Both plugins have a lot of different settings and things that you can tweak and optimize. Your mileage may vary.

I’m not sure if the difference was caused by the type of content on the site (lots of pictures vs lots of text) but I figured I’d mention it to you.

This site, rafaelmarquez.me, runs mean and lean. I have very few plugins running, no flash, one or two ads, and this site loads in 1 second on average. I wish my airplane blog loaded that fast.

Speaking of that, how successful was I in reducing the load time on my airplane blog? Right now, that site loads in under 10 seconds, which is way better than before, but not quite where I want it to be. I’d love to make that number under 5 seconds, I’m sure that I’ll get there eventually.


Rafael is an aviation geek, a consumer advocate, a dad, a multiple personality blogger, a photographer, politically opinionated, a videographer and many other things as well.