This was originally written and published for The Snap Society. The article is republished here with search engines blocked and canonical set to the original published article. It is here for archival purposes and so my community can find it too.
As a photographer with a business you have many things to worry about. But there is one thing that is somewhat essential for your business; a smooth running photography website.
Did you know that 30% of the Internet runs on WordPress?
Your photography website is likely run on WordPress too. If it is, then please don’t skip ahead. But if not, then there are parts of this that can serve you well too.
Without further adieu, here are the 5 simple steps to speed up your photography website.
Step 1. Image Optimization
Image optimization goes beyond just the conventional SEO thought process. Yes, you want to make sure your image files are named with keywords, and you are implementing ALT text and whatnot.
But you also want to make sure that the photos load fast. On average over 50% of website traffic, these days comes from mobile devices. Those devices load websites slower, especially when not on Wifi. People also have less patience these days. Google also utilizes page speed as a ranking factor (although a tiny piece of the overall picture).
When talking about image optimization from here on, we’re talking compression. Meaning; shrinking the size of the image file.
Here is the thing, though. Typically compressing image files comes with a loss of image quality. For some it doesn’t matter. Especially when the change isn’t visible to the naked eye.
But to photographers, it’s essential for photographs to look their absolute best. That’s why Imagely ran an extensive comparison of all the popular best image compression plugins for WordPress.
It turns out that many of the plugins reduce the quality of the ashetics. Some to the naked eye, and others to software checks.
In the comparison article, you will be able to see the kind of space savings you can get from each plugin, and how much they impact the aesthetics of the photograph. That way you can make the best call for you.
For those not using WordPress, have a look at JPEGMini Pro. It’s a Mac and Windows based app that also integrates with Lightroom and Photoshop. The goal is to output a compressed JPEG without quality loss at all. In fact, the software is so good (even with batches of images) that it will not ever over compress an image file. For some, that’s a drawback, but for others, it’s a positive thing. Again, to each their own.
Step 2. Better Hosting
It is so familiar for photographers to be running on slow servers from Bluehost, Hostgator and even GoDaddy. Typically these servers are shared servers, meaning there are hundreds of customers on the same server (which is like a computer but on a larger scale), all running numerous websites.
Shared servers have numerous cons, including the following two:
- If one site has a security issue, others are vulnerable
- If one site gets heavy traffic, others slow down
Some hosts offer dedicated servers (private to your account only), cloud servers and even virtual private servers (like having disk partition). Each of these is better than shared servers due to the segregation of other customers.
Additionally, there is something called Managed Hosting. This is the idea where the hosting company offers support for everything you do with the siet. If there is a theme or plugin problem, they will be your first line of support. Managed Hosting companies also maintain the server, so you don’t have to. They handle downtime (which is usually less than 1%) and speed items.
But here’s the thing with that. Many Managed Hosting companies are still shared, hosts. So you have to be careful which you utilize.
If your photography website is slow right now, as you’re reading this, then think about who you are hosting with and what server level you are using. If it’s a shared host, then consider moving elsewhere. If your website is WordPress then migrating to another host is easy – and in many cases is done for free by the new host.
If you are on a platform like Squarespace, then you held under their umbrella of what they offer. You cannot change servers unless you leave Squarespace.
Changing hosts from shared to anything better can have a dramatic increase in speed. Because it’s so straightforward to move a WordPress site, that’s why changing hosts is one of the first things I often recommend. Because, in the end, it’s in the best interest of the photographer.
The next step is something that can be complicated for those lacking technical skills or knowledge. Caching is the idea of taking the dynamic content that WordPress outputs and making it static. More importantly, doing it on the fly (and fast) so the content can still change as needed, but load quickly to viewers.
For years there have been caching plugins come out for WordPress, and for years they have been complicated to use. Until recently. A French company created WP Rocket Cache a couple of years ago, and it has been leading the pack ever since.
The plugin is affordable, powerful and plays well with others. What I mean by that is, it won’t act strange if your server has a layer of caching, or if another plugin utilizes its own caching. It will adapt itself to work alongside others.
Let me tell you a short story.
WP Engine is a popular Managed WordPress host. They have had their server caching layers since their beginning. But their customers were wanting to use WP Rocket Cache for increased speed and other caching options. So WP Engine and WP Rocket Cache partnered to ensure that the plugin plays well with WP Engine’s server caching. A match made in heaven!
With well designed caching, a website can go from loading over 5 seconds to just under 1 second. It really is like magic.
But there is a caveat here, worth mentioning. If your WordPress theme or a plugin are not designed to be used with caching, then things can go wrong. A site can crash or the front end can look badly. So testing is essential when setting up a caching plugin.
Fortunately, though, WP Rocket Cache also offers a setup service (that’s affordable) for those non-technical photographers wanting the benefits.
4. Fewer plugins
There is a myth in the WordPress community that the more plugins you use, the slower your website gets.
I’m happy to break that myth on a daily basis. The truth is that the more plugins you have, your site speed can remain intact.
The real issue with plugins, is that some plugins are poorly developed. What happens in that case is having many plugins running while there is a poorly developed plugin also running, causes ships to collide, breach and capsizing.
Metaphor aside, it’s not the quantity of plugins you have but rather the quality of plugins.
Look at the list of plugins you having active on your site. Think to yourself:
- Is this plugin important?
- Can my site function without it?
- Could I implement this another way?
- What would go wrong on my site RIGHT NOW If I disabled the plugin and deleted it?
If you have an answer to all of those questions, and the answer to the first question is “no” then it might be worth considering the deletion of the plugin. Here is an example for Hello Dolly which is pre-installed on every WordPress site.
- Is this plugin important? No
- Can my site function without it? Yes
- Could I implement this another way? I do not need to
- What would go wrong on my site RIGHT NOW If I disabled the plugin and deleted it? Absolutely nothing
Hello Dolly might not be the best example, as it’s a very tiny plugin that changes 1 line of text in the WordPress software. It’s coded as an example of how to code a WordPress plugin. All of that said, you won’t notice any speed change with or without Hello Dolly active.
Even so, it’s a plugin that’s not necessary. So remove it.
While the Fewer Plugins topic is more about quality over quantity, sometimes quantity can play a role, when it’s something as pointless as Hello Dolly.
5. Database Maintenance
The last item we are going to talk about today is maintaining your database. Every site on every platform has a database of some sort to worry about. When it’s a closed platform like Squarespace, there is no control provided to maintenance or optimize a database. You are paying Squarespace to do it for you. But when it comes to WordPress, it’s all on you.
One of the pros of WordPress is that its free software. But one of the cons is that you need to monitor and maintain things.
If you are not using a Managed WordPress Host, then there is little to no chance you will get help with your database. But if you are using a host like WP Engine, Pagely, Cloudways or Flywheel than you could ask for assistance and get it. Additionally, the hosting companies are monitoring sites for issues and will do their regular optimization as needed.
As you begin to try different themes and plugins, get comments, create post drafts, revise posts and pages, get comments and so on (basically run a website), your database will begin to get clunky.
SQL Databases offer the ability to optimize the clunky areas. Kind of like a disk optimization in Windows, which used to be called defragging. It cleans up the database, so it’s clean and concise, making the front end load faster.
There are also plugins out there, like WP Optimize, which can schedule database cleanup on a regular basis. If you try WP Rocket Cache (recommended earlier), then it also does this. (Bonus: one less plugin needed) The optimization feature will also remove all post and page revisions, spam comments and more. Mine is set to clean up every week.
There You Have It
So there you go, 5 simple steps. I never said it would be quick or easy. But really, it’s simple and that is what’s most important. The most complicated part (moving hosts) can be done for you, not by you. So that’s a plus!
Have questions about anything you’ve read here? Comment and let me know!