Why Is My Site So Slow? Seven Places to Look

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why-is-my-site-slow-pageDo you know why your website is slow? A slow loading, and poor performing website could be seriously undermining your efforts to launch a successful online business, and it can actually be a bigger problem than you may think.

One of the greatest things about content management systems like WordPress and Drupal is that they make it easy to get your website up and running pretty quickly.

Especially with WordPress. You can have a site up and running in no time at all, start cranking out content, building a blog, or building your company’s website.

However, that same benefit of being able to start fast is also a potential issue because it’s so easy to get up and running quickly, it’s easy to think that things are just going to work and be fast out of the box.

That’s a mistake.

In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. The convenience of a quick start does not equal high performance. Your WordPress or Drupal powered website has a lot of high-performance capabilities and because it’s usually so easy to get started and to extend the functionality, it’s easy to make the assumption that there isn’t much you need to do.

High performing websites are just like high-performance cars – there is a lot of stuff going on under the hood to make sure they’re performing at peak efficiency. So if you want your site to be running in top order like a finely tuned machine, you’re going to have to get under the hood and get to work.

Here are seven places to start looking if you’re site is bogging down.

1. Too many plugins

One of the first place to look when your website is slow is to look at your plugins and modules that add functionality to your site. It’s easy to go searching through community contributed plugins when you need something that your site doesn’t have. And to be clear, both WordPress and Drupal are built with the idea of extending functionality in this way. But when looking for a piece of functionality ask yourself the question – do you really need it? If so, make sure you find the best possible option for your site. The more plugins you have the more resources are needed by the server to power those plugins and it can cause your site performance to suffer.

2. Not caching static content

This means things like static pages of content, images, etc.  When you have too many images, images that are too big, or just not otherwise web-ready, you’re hurting your page load speed. Caching static content is a way of making it easy for your site to quickly provide content for users that rarely changes, like blog posts. Once you’ve published the content, it can be cached so that your content management system can serve it up really quickly instead of needing to query and pull that content out of your database each time.

3. Your hosting sucks

Face it. Sometimes cheap hosting is cheap hosting for a reason. If your site is slow, it could also be because your hosting service sucks. Shared hosting is always the cheapest way to go, and when your share a server with hundreds of other sites that means that the server resources are divided among all of those sites which usually means that none of them are very fast. There could be network issues, server performance issues, traffic issues related to other sites on the server you share, among other things. Going cheap is a not a bad way to get started, but having a host that provides rock-solid performance is key. A lot of shared hosting services are over-sold and under-powered. Make sure you choose wisely.

4. Too many server calls

This may seem like Latin or Greek to many, but what this means in English is that you simply may have too much going on for your hosting service to handle in a fast and efficient way. There are simply too many communications between what your site files call for, and the database server that provides them. E-commerce extensions are notorious for this kind of problem. In order to provide you with the function you need for an on-board ecommerce store, e-commerce modules and plugins utilize a lot of resources to power the feature. Evaluate what you need before you add plugins – see number one above.

5. Poorly written code

A place you may not suspect is in your source code for your website. Sometimes your theme can be causing problems. Other times it may be an outdated plugin. One of the first things I do when I get a customer inquiring about a slow site is to check the error logs to see what’s going on behind the scenes, and it’s not unusual for me to find issues there. Sometimes the error may be small and not big enough to bring your whole site down, but enough to cause performance problems due to it recurring over and over again. If you want a high-performing site you need to get familiar with the inner workings of these kinds of things, or hire someone who can help you.

6. Not using the right (or any) caching plugin

I mentioned caching static content above, but it’s not just a matter of plugging it in and forgetting about it. To get the most out of caching, your caching tool needs to be set up correctly and work well in your hosting environment. Some WordPress plugins work great in some situations, but not in others. For instance, our hosting service works great with WP Super Cache for our regular service, but W3 Total Cache is a better solution for our dedicated hosting clients. There are configuration guidelines that you’ll need to follow that will be available through your hosting service. If you get your caching set up correctly, you can see remarkable improvement in your page load speeds by this factor alone.

7. Location of your hosting service relative to your visitors

For sites that are starting to get a little more traffic, you not only have to nail all the factors above, but the location of your site relative to your visitor can make a difference. Many – though not all – hosting services have multiple data centers to provide their clients with the best routing possible and to get the best performance for their customers. But it’s hard to be in all places at all times, and that’s where using a content delivery network comes in to play. Services like Rackspace Cloud Files, and Amazon S3 are a great way to extend your reach and serve your site’s visitors with fast loading content.

Conclusion

A lot of sites start small, with a lot of do-it-yourself effort, and over time, they grow and start picking up good traffic. You start to see the fruit of your labor paying off and make some headway in your efforts to have a successful presence online.

But as they grow, performance starts to suffer in a more noticable way. You may have not noticed that your site was slow before, but now you’re starting to see it, and it’s affecting your traffic and your bounce rate.

Google is now factoring page load speed in to its rankings and the expectation is under two seconds. That’s pretty fast – especially if you’ve not thought much about it before.

So, not only is the speed of your site an issue for visitors, it’s also an issue for how you’re going to rank in search engine results too. It’s time to start figuring this stuff out.

Some things you just may not have any control over, like a user’s computer speed and internet connection. If their machine is slow and/or they’ve got a mediocre internet connection, there really isn’t a lot you can do about that. But there are a lot of places you can check on your own setup to figure out where the issue is.

If your site isn’t performing up to your expectations, look at these things first before you start thinking about moving your site somewhere else.

image by Janet Tarbox