A Beginner’s Guide to Optimizing WordPress Websites

by Chris Pearson · 31 comments

althlete training

By default, WordPress websites are a lot like young athletes—skillful and full of promise, yet highly unrefined.

In order to help your site reach its potential, you must provide coaching and assistance in certain key areas:

  • To rank well in search engines, you’ll need a great theme with streamlined, standards-based HTML output.
  • To ensure page speed and provide a stellar user experience, you should call scripts from the most optimal locations.
  • To increase conversions and improve engagement, you should focus on minimalist page design.
  • To save bandwidth and improve loading times, you may wish to institute a caching solution.
  • For world-class speed, you can set up a Content Delivery Network (CDN), or you can opt for a more exotic dynamic DNS solution.

To a beginner, these points probably seem like a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo, and that’s why I’ve created this simple guide to optimizing WordPress websites.

Regardless of your skill level, you’ll be able to use this handy guide to make effective changes to your site that will improve speed, search engine rankings, user experience, and potentially even sales and conversions!

As you read through the guide, please keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything in order to get positive results.

So, what are you waiting for? Use this guide to optimize your WordPress website and unleash its hidden potential!

Finally, if you go through the guide and still find yourself with the need for speed, be sure to check out our excellent guide to website performance and speed.

About the Author: Chris Pearson, Thesis creator and DIYthemes founder, is obsessed with optimizing the web and making sure every last detail receives the attention it requires. You should follow him on Twitter here.

If you enjoyed this article, enter your email below to get free updates!

{ 31 comments }

Vivek Parmar

WordPress is already 70% SEO optimized and these tricks + Thesis Theme make it 100% optimized. No need to apply any more tricks.
Thanks Chris for making such an awesome product.
In between though when will thesis 2.0 comes in market? any news

Himanshu Chanda

Its ironical to see so many webmasters add every other plugin to their wp site. As you rightly minimalism is the key. We need to focus on what is important and only that. Those bells and whistles are always annoying :P

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Nice guide bro, thanks.

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Wow, a new class of helpful article: Twitter Bait.

That was one lame ass ending to this guide.

Chris Pearson

Rob, the guide is actually “slides” from a presentation that I gave at PubCon last week.

Until this most recent gig, I had never included my Twitter handle or websites in any of my presentations. Over the last year, people have repeatedly asked me for some form of contact after I’ve spoken, and that’s why I finally decided to introduce my Twitter handle in the last “slide” of this presentation.

Derek Halpern

You might want to call out the fact that you never carry business cards, despite people asking for them. Ha ha.

Chris Pearson

And yeah, there’s that… :D

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

It’s all good, bra.

It was just such an abrupt ending. Next slide >> BAM >> Twitter

Ha ha!

I don’t twitter or FB and never will, but I understand (not) why other people do.

Talk to ya

Lee Hughes

Cheers Chris,

Just had a look at my plugins and deleted 3 and deactivated 2. Only going to turn it on when I need it i.e smush it.

Glad I already had my .htaccess file set up ;)

Chris Pearson

Nice! One of the benefits of streamlining that I failed to mention explicitly is that once you get rid of stuff, you get a much better idea of exactly what you need to run your site.

Fiona Prince

Thanks for this article Chris. I’ve neglected my website for the past six months due to being in career heaven, teaching interpersonal communications at Royal Roads University. This site is built with Thesis and I plan to update the entire look, feel and functionality. I’ve saved lots of your articles. Next week I will start to pay attention to my websites again and your advice will definitely help me get back on track. Thanks so much! Fiona Prince, PrinceHeron Communications.

Chris Pearson

Congratulations on being in such a positive place! I’m sure some of that momentum will carry over to your website as well, and you’ll have it running in high gear in no time :D

Joshua

Thanks for the insight.

Re: W3 Total Cashe Plugin – “a lot of documentation exists to help you configure the plugin on different server setups.”

Can you suggest one or two please? I need assistance with optimizing that plugin. Thanks.

Country Line Dancing Music

Hi Chris
Your emails are one of the only ones that I read EVERY time, you always give such great info and tips.

I will update my .htaccess today

Thanks
Paul

Chris Pearson

Much appreciated, Paul. In all fairness, the credit should go to Derek Halpern and our guest authors—this is the first post I’ve written for us in quite some time :D

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Country Line Dancing Music,

I agree. Whenever that one hits my inbox, I come right over. Always something decent from Derek, Chris or whoever. Good stuff.

Killer name, BTW. Can I just call you Country Line, or do I need to call you Mr. Dancing Music?

For me, I prefer Rob @

Rick

Chris, Thank you for the WordPress info. Do you also have a similar guide for traditional website development and to streamline for SEO?

Chris Pearson

Rick, aside from plugins and themes, the tips in the guide will work for any kind of website. As far as streamlining for SEO is concerned, this guide to semantic HTML markup covers the basics (which will apply on any website platform).

Juliette

Looks like excellent advice, I will definitely try it out!
Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it!!

Chris Pearson

Thanks for reading, Juliette. We’re glad to have you here and are thrilled to help you improve your website!

Betty Locke

As a new purchaser of Thesis I would like to see some basic ‘ how to ‘ just to get started. Optimizing is all very well for people who are familiar with the basics. I have been reading your instructions for beginners and I don’t understand a word of it. Now it is installed I would like to know what to put where. What about some basic instructions for using Thesis on the site?
For instance do you use the Thesis set up in the left hand column and ignore the stuff that comes with Word press? I am floundering so I hope to get some help. Thanks, Betty

Ahmad Wali

Wow! in the end good way to get Twitter followers… I would recommend using CDN, but I don’t think there is any free CDN provider. Most of them are expensive for beginners.

Chris Pearson

Ahmad, I originally gave this guide as a presentation, and I covered both CDNs and dynamic DNS near the end (without an accompanying page with more detail).

I still need to go back and add an informative page on both topics. CDNs are getting some much-deserved focus these days, and we’re about to experiment with dynamic DNS on this site, too. Clearly, there’s plenty to talk about!

Andrew Brown

Dear Chris,

I fell in love with the Thesis about a year ago and set up a website. She was my baby. But I was inexperienced and naive and after the honeymoon I soon found the relationship to be complicated and time consuming.

I have a confession to make… I had a wandering eye and eventually left Thesis for a number of younger, seemingly more attractive themes.

It wasn’t long before I discovered the shallow and selfish nature of these individuals. They proved to be unreliable and uncaring. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from them for weeks! I soon found myself wandering the digital desert, lost and alone, for months on end.

Realising the biggest mistake of my life, I came back to Thesis with my tail between my legs and begged for forgiveness. I fell into the warm embrace of Thesis once again.

Now, I can honestly say that our relationship has never been so good! I realise what I have here and Its amazing! We’re starting again, we’re rebuilding, taking it one day at a time. I will never stray again. I just wanted to say thankyou for all the support we’re getting from the Thesis family.

Yours sincerely,
Andy Brown

Chris Pearson

Andy, you’ve made my day, and it’s not even noon yet. Thank you!

Donovan

Hi Chris,

How do your configure .htaccess to address video content?

Thanks for the info.

Chris Pearson

Donovan, standard Apache servers come with certain “mime types” (file types, basically) declared, and video is not something that is generally included.

Based on a quick search, it looks like some hosting solutions—Amazon S3, for instance—provide additional mime types to handle expires headers on video files.

Donovan

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your reply to this question.

Mohit

Thanks for such an awesome framework ,I really like working with thesis theme ,when we will get Thesis 2.0

Lon Kaufmann

Hello Chris, I’ve been educating myself on the world of WordPress and came upon your site. Your video was informative and I have several questions. I’m hoping you have the time and patience to help with some answers.

1.) Does Thesis come with a list of settings templates to toggle through a variety of cosmetic and functional design theme combinations; ie, design portfolio gallery site, news magazine site, Facebook-like social blogging site, etc.?

2.) If template settings aren’t included could you point me to sites of your clients that have been designed for these three functions?

3.) Are there options in the Thesis theme to insert custom designed graphics from Photoshop or Fireworks for use as div background tiles, page background images, or even rollover buttons?

4.) Is it possible to integrate a forum plug-in like Simple Forum, Mingle, etc. with the Thesis theme?

5.) I teach an introduction to web design using Photoshop or Fireworks and Dreamweaver. Given the amazing ability of Wordpress to integrate dynamic functions into a website, I’m considering teaching a combo of PS/FW and Wordpress so students can design one of three mentioned site types I mentioned. From watching your video I’m wondering if your Thesis theme with control panel would be a ‘friendly’ way to help introduce CSS and dynamic website design. Related to that possibility, do you have any kind of academic pricing for student use? Would the developer add-on you mention cover letting 20 students use Thesis with Wordpress? If not, what would be the cost to license 20 students?

Thanks

scott

I’m trying to get some help regarding the Thesis help forum. I’ve lost my username and when I supply my email address to retrieve my info, I get the “An email has been sent to the address provided” or something to that effect. However, I never get the email therefore I can’t log in and get any help with some issues that I’m having with the Thesis Theme. Any help would be appreciated.