WordPress performance - How to design a lightweight website ideal for low bandwidth areas

September 19, 2019

This week we've been researching the best ways to create a WordPress performance-optimised website - fast to load, even for users in low bandwidth areas and developing countries.

When designing a WordPress website where performance is the top concern, every aspect of your work should focus on ensuring it is lightweight and fast to load, even in countries with low bandwidth. Although there are no guarantees and everyone has different levels of internet access, following all the latest best practices to maximise the website's performance will bring the best results.

Here are our top tips.

Select a super-fast WordPress theme

If you're planning to use an off-the-shelf WordPress theme (which can save you a lot of time and money), start by researching themes that are optimised for performance. Use articles like Top 10 Fastest WordPress Themes to get you started.

Many modern themes (and most of the ones on ThemeForest, the most popular WordPress theme marketplace) are very bloated. They're weight down with lots of unnecessary features, JavaScript and messy code that would slow down your website. Instead, shortlist themes that go against this trend and prioritise speed and performance.

Design is also a consideration in choosing a performance-optimised WordPress theme. Look for themes that will allow a professional result with minimal images. For example, themes with effective typography can look really eye-catching without having to add lots of slow-to-load images. Avoid themes that make use of huge background images and other elements that would slow down your site.

Create a CSS logo rather than an image file

Most website logos are image files, which add to the page load time. A more lightweight option is to add your logo to the website using pure HTML/CSS code, instead of an image file.

Supercharge your WordPress website with CloudFlare

CloudFlare is a free service to 'supercharge' your website.

CloudFlare works by routing your website through their global network so that visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance, wherever they are in the world. For example, if your website is hosted in the UK and someone in Ethiopia visits it, then it will be served to them from somewhere local to Ethiopia. This means it will load more quickly for them, requiring less bandwidth.

CloudFlare also blocks threats and protects your website from hacking attempts. This means that nearly all CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in speed and performance, along with a decrease in spam and other attacks.

More tips to improve WordPress performance

You can implement some additional performance measures including:

  • Setting up GZIP compression, to serve a zipped version of your website to visitors
  • Setting up page caching
  • Minifying CSS/JS files, if appropriate
  • Installing an image optimisation plugin, which will compress any images that you upload to the site (although we recommend keeping images to a minimum)

Keep plugins to a minimum

For most sites, it's a good idea to install a few tried and tested WordPress plugins relating to backups, performance, anti-spam, search engine optimisation and broken link checking. But for every plugin you install, think really carefully about whether it's really necessary. For example, backup plugins are great but they can really slow down your site while a backup is running - a disaster for visitors in low bandwidth areas! Look at whether there's a more lightweight alternative - for example, backups are much less resource-intensive if you run them directly on your server, outside of WordPress and PHP.

Add features in the simplest way possible

If your WordPress website needs any extra features, consider the simplest and most lightweight way to achieve them. For example, if you need a document library then the obvious option might be to add a document management WordPress plugin (or add your own) with sophisticated search and filtering features. But this will add bulk to your WordPress site and can affect performance.

A simpler alternative is to structure your docoument library using static content only. Think creatively and use accordions/toggles/tabbed content to make it easy for people to find the information they are looking for. This will be easier to develop and faster to load than a more sophisticated searchable Document Library, while still being very effective. If the theme that we choose for the website doesn't include styling for these features then any good WordPress designer can add appropriate styles for breaking up your content.

WordPress website performance monitoring tools

It is important to monitor the loading speeds and performance of your wesbite - this way, you can see for yourself which tools and methods give the best results when trying to keep your website as lightweight as possible.

Pingdom's tool comes with a free version to test the loadtime of any website. This can be especially useful if you are using CloudFlare as it allows to check the load times of your site when visiting it from different parts of the world.

Google PageSpeed Insights is a free site analysis tool which can offers guides on how to maximize performance. It's part of Google PageSpeed Tools which provides both analysis and optimisation services. You can enter any URL you'd like to check and it will show both analysis results for the desktop version of your site and the mobile version. Google offers a link to let you access the service directly, or you can install a browser extension for Google Chrome and Firefox which is essential for internal sites which aren't available for public viewing just yet.

With these tools, you can ensure that people viewing your site from around the world and/or through a low bandwith can have the best possible experience. At the same time, you can help to guarentee the success of your business and brand.

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