Website speed worries? You might need better hosting.

As WordPress experts, we deal with some pretty beefy WordPress websites with lots of custom functionality. We’re also experts in making sure that, no matter how complex the site, your website speed and performance are taken care of.

Clients often come to us concerned that their website is running slowly. Often, they are running a complex business with many digital applications, and aren’t aware that their commodity website hosting just isn’t up to it.

What is commodity web hosting?

Most people start out with inexpensive web hosting through a mainstream provider like CrazyDomains, GoDaddy, or many others. Hosting tends to cost around $10 (Australian) a month, or sometimes less.

This hosting is called “shared hosting,” and it means that the hosting provider has many, many websites on a single server. In order to prevent one website from taking up all the resources, they place limits on the usage for each site. If your website uses too many resources, it will be restricted for a period of time to give others a fair go.

Here’s an example from a typical hosting provider:

basic website hosting - not best for website speed

Typical commodity hosting plans (click to view larger)

Another name for this type of hosting is “cPanel hosting,” after the software commonly used to manage the websites hosted with it. If you can login to a cPanel management interface, that’s what you most likely have.

What do “resources” mean when it comes to website speed?

There are a few different types of resources that come with your hosting. Not all of them have anything to do with website speed. so it’s good to understand the differences.

  • Disk space also known as storage is the amount of space you have for the images, text, and other media on your website. Think of it like a USB stick: you probably have about as much space with your shared hosting as a small thumb drive. This is usually enough for all your content unless you have very high resolution photographs or videos.
  • Bandwidth is the amount of internet traffic that travels between your website and your visitors’ computers. When your visitor requests a page, it gets sent out over the wire and uses some of that bandwidth. Think of it like your home internet connection: in Australian terms, NBN has more bandwidth than ADSL, which has more bandwidth than dialup.
  • CPU and memory are the “thinking power” of the computer running your website. It has to do with how quickly binary instructions can be performed. Think of this like how fast your personal laptop, desktop, or other device runs. If you are running an old computer from 5 years ago, it may be very slow when you load up certain applications. A new computer will have a faster CPU and more memory, and be able to run more programs at once without getting bogged down.

CPU/memory are usually the limiting resource when it comes to a complex website’s speed.

What uses so many resources?

Any of the following may use up a lot of resources on your site:

  • e-commerce software/shopping cart
  • membership systems
  • forums
  • event calendar
  • booking systems
  • online learning platforms

Typically on commodity hosting, you can only run maybe two of these at most.

Other plugins may not take up much individually, but if you have a heap of them running they’ll add up, including:

  • social media plugins
  • email newsletter plugins
  • customer service or chatbots
  • contact forms, surveys or quizzes
  • comment management and anti-spam plugins
  • rotating carousels and animations
  • extra sidebar widgets
  • embedding and displaying information from other websites
  • SEO plugins
  • advertising plugins
  • tracking and analytics plugins

Finally, your theme or layout may be using a lot of resources. This is especially true, we’ve found, for those from ThemeForest which tend to integrate a great many features which you may not even need. It’s better to use a lightweight theme for layout (we like Beaver Builder) then only install plugins for the features you really need.

How can you tell if your site is resource-limited?

If your commodity web hosting provider limits your website’s resources, your website will slow down and take 10-30 seconds per page to load. This includes the WordPress dashboard.

You can check how long your pages take to load using the Pingdom page load timer tool. If your site is resource-limited, you’ll see a lot of long wait times, in yellow, like this:

website loading slowly

Pingdom tool showing long wait times, leading to poor website speed.

If you have cPanel (and you probably do), you can go into “CPU and Concurrent Connection Usage” to see if your resources are being limited. If it says “Your site has been limited within the past 24 hours” or “Your site might hit resource limits soon” it means you are using too much CPU and this is what’s making your website slow.

cpu can impact website speed

cPanel metrics can show if resource limits are making your website slow.

What can you do about it?

  • First, you can try removing plugins from your site to make it less resource-hungry, or installing a more lightweight theme. However, if your website needs all those features to run your business, that will be difficult!
  • Your hosting provider probably offers various tiers of hosting, as shown in one of the images above. You can move to a higher hosting tier, and this may alleviate your problems. Typically you are a looking for a tier that offers 2x, 3x or more CPU boost. This should work fine if you are only occasionally hitting the resource limit. Don’t be misled by bandwidth or disk space – these are irrelevant! You should expect to pay a few times more than what you’re currently paying – maybe around $30/month.
  • If better shared hosting isn’t enough, you might need to move to a Virtual Private Server, or VPS. A Virtual Private Server makes sure your website is the only one using the resources, so you don’t have to share with others. A fully managed VPS will set you back hundreds of dollars a month, and will require a bit more technical know-how from your side. A self-managed VPS will be much more affordable – generally under $100 a month – but will need a highly experienced technical person to manage it, and is probably best for businesses that employ full-time IT staff.
  • We actually recommend moving to specialised WordPress hosting, designed to offer great performance for WordPress sites. We love and recommend WPEngine (and no, we don’t get any kickback from them for saying that.) Their plans start at $35/month USD, or about $50 AUD. You’ll still need some other hosting service for your domain name registration and your email. Some hosting providers will offer inexpensive plans for this, or you might choose to use something like Google Suite for this.

Don’t get distracted by Page Speed Insights

A lot of people will point you at Google Page Speed Insights, suggesting that you follow its instructions to make your site load faster. This can only shave a small amount of time off your load times – perhaps a second or two, but more likely milliseconds. If you have these sorts of problems, they’ll show up in the Pingdom tool, linked above, in a colour other than yellow. For instance, large images will show as green (receive time).

If your site’s taking more than 10 seconds to load, including on the backend dashboard, it’s not this sort of problem. You need to sort out your hosting first.

How Flax Digital can help improve your website speed

Our WordPress maintenance and hosting plans are great for websites that are struggling with commodity hosting. They include:

  • super fast hosting on WPEngine
  • performance review of your existing plugin and themes
  • configuration changes to make your website run super fast
  • local, expert support so you can get back to running your business!

When we start working with a site that’s taking 30 seconds or more to load, we typically reduce the page times by more than 90%. This is great news for your business! Not only do your customers stay to do business with you, but it can even improve your Google rankings as page speed is a factor in search engine optimisation.

If you’re interested in getting your WordPress website up to speed, drop us a line!

Yes, I want to speed up my WordPress website!

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improve your website speed - fast website

Alex

Alex is the owner of Flax Digital, a website consulting agency based in Ballarat, Australia. Alex has over 20 years' experience developing websites and digital strategy for businesses and non-profits in Australia and internationally.

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