WordPress Workshop: Speed-Boosting Techniques

Stephen Yagielowicz
Adult webmasters cannot get enough of the WordPress blogging platform and for many good reasons — but add custom themes, plugins, add-ons and a variety of tweaks into the mix and your site’s performance can easily come grinding to a halt. Even in its stock configuration using the default “Kubrick” theme, WordPress can benefit from some performance enhancing modifications that can make a visible difference in load times.

Before making any changes to your site, be sure to backup its database and all of its files, in case you need to undo one of these “use at your own risk” modifications. As a matter of course, regularly backing up your theme files is a great idea, especially if you change the files and their HTML code directly. It is also important for both performance and security reasons to have the most current version of WordPress installed.

Grab a free baseline performance snapshot of your website with Pingdom Tools ( or a similar performance metrics service, so that you can measure the actual impact, for the better or worse, of your performance “enhancements” with data. This is especially important since some server configurations may not respond very well to certain changes, so definitive load times and other values need benchmarking.

Make things easier for WordPress by removing unused themes and plugins from your server and save a copy locally if you think you may want to use the item “someday.” This procedure of eliminating unnecessary searching, overhead, processing and database calls, extends into the realm of hard coding the theme’s templates.

The reason themes and templates tend to be so “inefficient” is because they are made to be easy to use, with simplicity of installation being of greater importance than is having a lightweight footprint. For example, understanding the template hierarchy and creating custom category and other pages can help lighten individual page loads, as the “one size fits all” coding in the header templates used in many themes can be eliminated.

The process of hard coding includes going through the header, footer, sidebar, index and other theme templates, searching for instances where a dynamic call is made for data of a static nature, i.e., replacing <?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?> with the name of your site. Do the same with the stylesheet_url, template_url and all other fields used in the theme simply because the theme’s designers did not know which site would use it.

If you want to ensure you have all the right values, compare the template files with what is actually output by your website, as determined by using your web browser’s “view source” function, providing you with the correct paths and URLs.

Remember, WordPress themes install easily on your site, allowing owners to quickly find the look and feel they want — but once you commit to a theme, it’s best to make it your own, customizing and hard coding it for optimum performance.