Today, everyone online has the need for speed. Your readers love it, Google loves it, and your wallet will love it.
Today, we are going to examine 16 ways to improve your website speed on Bluehost.
Bluehost is the number 1 recommended hosting platform on WordPress.org. Bluehost powers over 2 million websites, is competitively priced, and has some nifty WordPress specific features like a built-in staging environment for your website that you can toggle on/off from your wp-admin dashboard!
And whenever you are a huge company like Bluehost, you are likely to have both raving fans, and outspoken nay-sayers.
I actually started my blogging career on Siteground because I had heard of some negativity around Bluehost.
As I grew more comfortable with handling the tech around my site, something kept nagging at me…
How can there be so much hate against Bluehost if they are the #1 recommended WordPress hosting company?
I decided to run a little experiment to validate some of the opinions about Bluehost.
Everyone kept claiming that Bluehost simply ran too slow… But speed is a very dynamic issue. I wanted to see what I could do to prove or disprove the Bluehost speed discussion.
Here are 16 tips that will absolutely speed up your Bluehost (or any other) powered WordPress site! Stay till the end for something pretty awesome 🙂
1. Run Speed Tests to Measure the “Before State”
Any self-respecting scientist or engineer will tell you that you need to measure your current state before you start tweaking things. That way you can better measure your results and improvements.
There are 2 amazing free resources that you need to bookmark right now.
Head to Pingdom and put in your website name to start your test completely free. In moments you will get a summary of your performance, with some advice on how to improve.
I have found that some Pingdom suggestions aren’t perfectly accurate, but overall it does a great job. For example, even after implementing a CDN (Step #9), Pingdom will still remind me to activate one.
So don’t be surprised if you get an overall lower grade with Pingdom, and be more focused on the overall page load time.
GTmetrix is another great page speed analyzer that is free to use and gives a great deal of detail into your performance.
Like Pingdom, you just put your URL in and start analyzing, and GTmetrix will spit out a treasure trove of data.
The 2 benchmarking tools used here are PageSpeed Score and YSlow Score. These are both open source tests that are applied to your site, and the output is a laundry list of possible tweaks you can make to your site to make improvements.
You’ll notice that each recommendation – Optimize Images for example – are given a grade, a type, and a priority score.
Scroll through this list and look for the high priority items that you got a low score on, these will be some of your first targets.
Not sure what one of them means? Simply click on the name, and it will expand with some details. It can still be very hard to isolate exactly what needs to be done, but it gives you a starting point in your optimization efforts.
2. Install a lightweight WordPress Theme
It’s normal for people to be drawn to the toy with the longest list of features.
Be careful not to fall into this trap when selecting your WordPress theme!
Each feature that your theme includes adds code to its body, and can potentially slow down your site.
If you are looking for a free theme, I recommend the Astra theme, and if you are going premium, you can simply upgrade to Astra Pro, or if you are a fan of Thrive, their themes are also very good. I’m currently using the Minus theme, and am waiting for them to release a complete theme builder soon!
Since your theme loads on every page, making sure you have a fast theme will impact the speed of your entire site.
And several themes have additional performance options to help as well, like lazy-load images & built-in image compression (I’ll cover these in #4 and#12).
3. Resize your images before you upload them
Images and videos are normally the largest files that have to load on your site, so by finding ways to save space on these images will usually lead to the largest improvements in page speed.
You don’t need any fancy software to reduce the size of your images. If you’re on a Windows, you can simply open the image in paint, and bring the size down to a reasonable level. You can also do this in Preview for mac, and it can even be done on a Chromebook with the Nimbus chrome extension
What’s a reasonable level, you ask? This all depends on where you want to use your image.
The goal here is to not force your website to do any unnecessary image scaling. When you upload an image that is 2,000 pixels wide, and you want to display it on a 1,000 pixel wide blog post area, your site has to work overtime to download the entire image, scale it to the proper size, and display it on the site.
To save time on this, look at your theme settings and take note of a few things:
- How wide is your blog post container? This will be the most common size of image that you are going to want to save.
- How wide is the entire container for content? This would be for images that you want to span from edge to edge of the content area (blost post + sidebar)
- For fullscreen images, I’d recommend you cap the pixel width to 1920 pixels. That is a common monitor size, and unless your site is specifically about photography, going any larger is mainly going to be wasted.
WordPress will automatically create a thumbnail, medium, and large version of your image, but you will still see speed benefits by not forcing any scaling on your load times.
4. Compress Images with your plugin or theme
When I first got started, I thought compressing and resizing was the same thing. It isn’t.
In basic terms, Resizing is changing the height and width of the image.
Compressing is changing the level of detail in the image, but not affecting the overall number of pixels.
Scratching your head? Don’t worry, it’s a pretty simple thing to address.
Two levels of image compression
There are 2 levels of compression that most services allow: Lossy and lossless compression.
Lossy compression will reduce the file size the most, but may have a slight impact on image quality.
Lossless compression will slightly reduce file size, but you won’t be able to detect any loss of visual quality.
In most cases, it is beneficial to increase your page speed at the expense of slight image quality.
Unless you are millimeters away from your screen examining ever detail, you won’t notice the quality difference, but you can reduce file size by 60% or more!
Three ways to compress your images
There are 3 easy ways to compress your images:
Use an external website
Sites like Optimizilla allow you to upload your image files directly, and it will compress them for you and allow you to download them right back to use on your site:
Here I take a simple photo from my iPhone of my little guy – and the uncompressed photo is 2.5MB! But after simply uploading it to Optimizilla, it reduced its file size down by 53%, and provides a simple slider where you can further compress if you want to reduce size further.
I’m not the biggest fan of this method, because it’s just one more step to publishing content, which I want to make as efficient as possible.
I want image compression built into my normal process, but this is definitely a useful tool to keep in the back pocket.
Use a WordPress Plugin
To build compression into your natural workflow, there are two great WordPress plugins to look into:
I used WP Smush (the free version) for several months. It works seamlessly and just chugs in the background everytime you upload an image. Not bad!
Shortpixel is the plugin that I currently use on some of my other hobby blogs. It has the most advanced image compression and will often compress my images down by 85%, and I have never noticed a difference in file size. I love how they do image comparisons on their site:
They have a free version for 100 image compressions per month, or you could get 5,000 images per month for $5 per month.
For that advanced image compression, it may be worth a look (especially if you really want to keep the quality of the original photo).
Compression within your theme
This is a more rare option to find these days, but some themes actually have image compression built in.
Thrive Theme’s entire suite of themes all come with free unlimited image compression via Kraken:
I haven’t done a detailed comparison between Kraken and Shortpixel, but they are both premium services for image compression, and I like the ability to have this built directly into my theme.
Whichever way you decide to go, image optimization and compression will both be extremely valuable to the page speed of your site!
5. Flat Website Design
Let’s take images one step further. Compressing images is a great way to reduce the file size from extremely complex image types like landscape photos…
But why don’t we just use simpler (and smaller) images in the first place?
This is the essence of flat design, which has become extremely popular in web design recently.
What exactly is flat design? Here’s an example:
So why is flat design included in the speed conversation? mainly because the photograph of the mountains was over 100KB even after compression, where the flat design was only 25KB uncompressed.
So are the prettier mountains worth 4x the size hit?
There are obviously other reasons why flat design has taken off in recent years, but the speed reason definitely has a place at the table.
And I’ll be honest, they can be. But here is the super simple explanation:
Each line isn’t too big of a deal, but when you get 10-15 of these snippets firing every time, it can add a second or two on your page speed.
The solution? Implement Google Tag Manager on your site.
So instead of having all those lines of code on your own site, all you’ll need to install is a single snippet for Google Tag Manager.
Then whenever pages load, Google Tag Manager will come to the rescue and run all your other snippets of code asynchronously, which is a fancy way for saying in parallel with your own site, so they don’t slow down your own page load speed.
GTM also makes it much easier and more visual to do advanced marketing tactics, which we will talk about in another post!
7. Prune your Plugins
There is a misconception that every plugin is going to slow down your site. It’s just not true.
Well designed plugins will have a negligible impact on page load speed, and can provide incredibly valuable functionality to your site.
But.. there are your problem children that can wreak havoc on your page load speed.
Using the Waterfall chart on GTMetrix, you can sometimes identify plugins that seem to hang up on your site. But not always.
My best advice for plugins is to periodically read through every plugin that you have installed on your site. Think about each one, and whether it is still serving its purpose. If you are ready to say goodbye, first deactivate the plugin (don’t delete immediately!).
Once deactivated, look through a few posts and see if the plugin has left behind any ugly shortcodes on your site. If you see it, take note of what the command is (example: [mepr] [/mepr]), and install a super helpful plugin hide unwanted shortcodes which can sweep through your site and remove any broken shortcodes from visibility.
And yes… I know how hypocritical that sounds, but if you can get rid of 10 shortcodes and only add 1, it’s still a win!
8. Install a Caching Plugin
Caching plugins are likely your biggest bang for your buck in terms of seeing an immediate increase in page speed.
Essentially caching plugins help you store parts of your website in memory, which allows it to serve up full pages much faster for your visitors than if they had to pull each image, text, and file from your database individually.
There are a number of caching plugins to choose from, but here are some popular recommendations:
Free caching plugins:
- W3 Total Cache
- WP Fastest Cache
- WP Super Cache
Premium caching plugins:
- WP Rocket
- Viper Cache
I am currently using Viper Cache, as I got faster speeds, and less issues than with the others I tried.
A quick word of warning: caching plugins can have a lot of settings. And some of them can cause strange behavior of your site. So if you are going to stray off the beaten path of the default settings, do it smart.
Change one setting, save, and test it. If it’s all good, you can move on to the next setting. But try not to make a bunch of changes all at once. If you do and it breaks your site, it will be hard to determine which one works better.
That’s another reason I like Viper Cache. Super simple options:
9. Get a Content Delivery Network like Cloudflare
In most cases, your website is stored on one server, in one geographic location. You usually have backups of it, but whenever people go to your site, that information is getting served from one place.
So if you live in the same city as your web host, rock on – you have awesome speeds!
But the further away you get from the physical server, the slower your connection will be. This is call ping or latency.
A great way to reduce that connection lag is to make copies of your website all over the world, so that wherever your visitor is coming from, your website can be close by.
That is the basic concept of content delivery networks or CDNs.
The most popular free CDN is Cloudflare, which can store your site resources across 155 data centers around the world.
Cloudflare also offers some other benefits like increased site security and other optional optimization options. It’s really a no-brainer to speed up your site, and bluehost has a native integration with it to make it extremely easy to set up!
10. Host your videos separately
WordPress allows you to upload your videos directly to your media gallery… but think long and hard before you do.
Video files are very resource intensive, and can severely slow down your site speed.
If you upload your latest video directly to your site and send thousands of people from your email list to it at the same time… you will likely bring your site down, especially if you are on an entry-level hosting plan.
The solution? Use 3rd party video hosts like Youtube, Vimeo, or Wistia to store your videos and simply embed them into your blog.
This will make sure you minimize the impact to your page speed.
And you can always use video player optimizers like VooPlayer or PressPlay to enhance your videos and make them load even faster! Check out my Pressplay post to see how it can improve your own videos!
11. Host your audio separately
Same thing with podcasts – use Anchor or Libsyn to host your audio files, and simply embed the code to your site.
While audio is less resource intensive than video files, it still makes little sense to hog up your website’s resources to stream audio for all your visitors. Especially if you notify people whenever you release a new podcast episode, it can bring a flood of visitors to your site at the same time, and bring it down.
12. Lazy Load where possible
What, lazy? I thought we wanted speed!?
Lazy loading allows you to only load what’s visible on the page, and delay the content further down on the page until the user gets closer. That allows your initial page load to be much quicker, because it doesn’t have to load things that are 3,000 words further down the page.
13. Need that sidebar?
Sidebars were extremely popular back in the day, but we are seeing fewer and fewer of them on popular blogs. With the rise of “mobile first” design, sidebars make less sense than they used to.
Many readers have developed “sidebar blindness,” and rarely click or take any action on your sidebar at all.
It’s also additional content that needs to load on your page, which can slow your speed down.
14. Enable Gzip compression
(images courtesy of betterexplained.com)
You know how you can package up bunch of huge files on your computer and turn them into a .zip file to save space?
Gzip compression is the same concept for the internet. It allows you to compress all the content of a website while it is downloading, and then use your browser to “unzip” the data and display it for you.
That can dramatically reduce the page speed of larger webpages.
For whatever reason, most web hosts don’t have Gzip compression enabled by default, but I was able to just chat with bluehost and get it enabled in 2 minutes. No sweat.
15. Get Mini with it
Your website is made up of a ton of code, and sometimes, the code isn’t always the cleanest.
Minification is the simple process of taking all the code on your site and trying to optimize it to read cleaner and load faster. Many premium caching plugins will do this by default, and the impact on page speed can improve greatly as your site continues to grow.
16. Play Detective
As you continue to monitor your site’s speed over time, pay careful attention to the Waterfall chart of GTmetrix. This is an incredibly useful tool, because you can easily visualize the entire loading process of your page.
What you are looking for are individual line items that are much longer than the others. These are called bottlenecks and can hold up the entire loading process.
In the example above, the 2 bottlenecks are the initial request of the domain (latency), and my push notification tool.
The ping is partially Bluehost’s responsibility, and partially Cloudflare’s, but I am not going to throw a fit over 422 milliseconds. And the push notification tool adds enough value to my business to justify the slow down.
But as you continue to grow and add plugins, do a deep dive of this chart every few months and see if any other optimizations are necessary to continue to move the needle on your speed.
So, is Bluehost a slow host?
I’m not going to blow hot air up your butt and say that Bluehost is the absolute best and fastest host at any price. It is a discount web host and should not compared with dedicated or managed hosting companies.
But with proper speed tweaks like we’ve discussed in this post, you should be able to expect load times of under 3 seconds consistently – which should be plenty to make sure your visitors and Google love you.