Efficiently hosting a WordPress site

Hosting a WordPress site is easy, but efficiently hosting a WordPress site is the hard part. Sure, you could easily just install WordPress, install a theme that looks good, maybe install a few plugins, and leave it there, but efficiently hosting and maintaining a WordPress site can be more difficult.

If you want to get the most of of WordPress, and keep system resources, costs, and your visitors’ page load times low, you will need to build and maintain that site as efficiently as possible. In this post, we will show you some ways to ensure that your WordPress site is running in top shape at all times.

Keep your WordPress installation updated at all times

WordPress, just like any other widely used and open source content management system is subject to bugs and security flaws. The majority of issues that I see on a daily basis are simply due to out of date WordPress installations.

WordPress now includes the ability to automatically update itself for any maintenance releases. While this does not apply to major releases such as 3.9 to 4.0, it will update your site automatically for minor and maintenance releases such as security issues.

Clean out those themes and plugins

Often, users will simply deactivate plugins and themes instead of fully removing them. Although deactivated, the files are still there and can lead to various bugs and security issues.

When not using a plugin or theme, be sure to fully remove it. You can always reinstall it if you find a need for it in the future.

Avoid bloated themes and plugins

Many users will go for a single plugin that does everything but the problem with that is that there are a lot of other options within the plugin or theme that they will never use. Avoid plugins or themes that are an “all in one” solution and instead of going for something that does everything. For example, if you just need to display a small Twitter widget, go for a widget that does just that, not something that includes various other things such as extra share buttons in your post or an entire page of Twitter posts. While those elements are not being shown, the code itself will usually use more system resources.

Some themes and plugins may also be poorly coded in which they will use up more resources than necessary. Although they may be attractive, there is most likely a theme or plugin that will look just as good, but use half the resources of a poorly coded theme. A good starting point in this would be to only purchase themes from reputable sources.

More and more caching

Caching can be critical in improving the performance of your site. Caching simply allows dynamic elements to be run a single time and then serve static elements to all of the users allowing for less system resources, and a quicker page load time for all visitors.

Plugins such as W3 Total Cache can easily configure caching for you with just a few simple clicks.

Use a CDN for all static content

A CDN will allow you to serve your static files from various locations depending on your visitor which will allow much quicker page load times. Aside from the user’s perspective, your server will also be able to offload those resources to another service that is specifically tuned to do exactly that, allowing a lower effect on server resources.

Services such as MaxCDN are able to cheaply boost the performance of your site, and are very easy to set up within plugins such as W3 Total Cache.

Make regular backups

Ensure that you always have backups ready to go if anything were to happen to your site. If something happened to cause you to lose all of your data, or you made a change that completely breaks your site, you will have a backup ready to go.

Most users don’t understand the need for backups until they need them, so proactively make backups when changes are made, as well as incremental backups every week, month, year, etc. Several plugins such as BackUpWordPress will be able to easily back up your WordPress site with just a couple clicks.

In addition to making regular backups, be sure that you are also storing them off of the server. Many times when a user is compromised, it will also affect the backups as well. Storing the backups in a location such as Google Drive or Dropbox will ensure that your backups are always readily available.

Maintain like a madman

Of course, once you have everything set up, be sure to continuously maintain your site at all times. Even if the site is a purely informational site that isn’t updated much, keep checking up on it to ensure that everything is running smoothly often. Sometimes you may notice a small issue that if discovered early, can drastically affect whether that small issue turns into a big one later down the road.

Running a website is much more than simply tossing it up and leaving it there. Treat it like a pet that continuously needs love and care.

10 thoughts on “Efficiently hosting a WordPress site

  1. Thanks for the advice on picking a theme. However, there are so many themes it is difficult to know what is best. We looked for a minimal theme but wound up with Catch Box Pro. Please advise if this is an efficient theme. We only want a site with static pages – not a blog site. Please advise as to what themes would be good or better choices.

    1. Hello Victor,
      The choice in theme can vary significantly due to the sheer number of themes out there and an individual’s particular preference. When choosing a theme, usually I go for something that is quick and stable, then customize the appearance from there. Personally, one of the theme sellers that I recommend is StudioPress as their themes are based on their Genesis framework and of course, since they created the Genesis framework, they are extremely efficient.

      If you’re looking around for themes, I recommend starting with the WordPress Theme Directory and going from there.

      If you want to check on the efficiency of a theme, there’s a great plugin called Theme-Check. I have also written a tutorial on the Theme-Check plugin that may be useful to you in getting started.

  2. Thanks for this article. I’ve recently started a blog on my website using WordPress and I’ll review it with the guidelines you gave for efficiency.

    One item that would be helpful to hear more about – how to efficiently deal with spam comments on WordPress. I’m amazed at the amount of spam comments my blog posts get. I moderate all comments, so I have the opportunity to delete the spam. And I use the WordPress “comment blacklist” feature to catch some spam comments. But I still get a lot of spam comments and it takes time to review and delete them. Any helpful tips for automating spam detection would be appreciated.


    Stephen Shostek

  3. Thanks Jeff. I’ll read the article you mentioned. I have akismet but haven’t activated it yet. I’ll give it a go. Also – I see that your site uses reCAPTCHA. Would you recommend installing reCAPTCHA on my blog? pros and cons?


    Stephen Shostek

    1. reCAPTCHA is useful, but you will want to make sure that other methods are in place. Many spammers simply buy captcha completions so it is not nearly as effective as additional methods such as Akismet.

  4. Jeff:

    Thanks for your advice. As mentioned, we have already chosen a theme named Catch Box Pro. We will take your lack of comment on this theme as your polite comment. As mentioned, we are only interested in static pages – not a blog. We are having a lot of problems – mainly with the front page of the theme because it seems to be driven by blog pages and cannot be edited in the same way as other pages. Do you have any advice as to themes for static page web sites. We would be happy with a theme that gave us a mast head and menus – and allowed us to do the rest with some type of visual editors and plugins. We were quite happy with Microsoft Front Page for many years – but now we have been forced to move on and wish we could find a theme and visual wysiwyg editor/plugin that would operate as well as Front Page. Any comments on visual drag and drop editors?

    Thanks again for any advice you may offer.

    1. I have never used the theme that you are referencing, nor any other theme by this author so I wouldn’t have a basis to recommend for or against it. There are a lot of themes out there that are for a static site and not necessarily a blog such as Modern Portfolio Pro by StudioPress.

      First and foremost, I’m a WordPress guy and usually don’t like WYSIWYG editors as they code they produce is usually quite terrible and can be very inefficient but one that I have used to produce basic layouts that I have later customized into WordPress themes is Macaw. It is actually the only WYSIWYG editor that I seen to produce efficient CSS. I believe they have a free trial available. Keep in mind that it does have a bit of a learning curve and it is more targeted towards more advanced designers to quickly create templates, but with a bit of work, you should be able to figure it out.

  5. RE: Site Back Up plugins, I learned the hard way that some of them use too much CPU. I had Updraft Plus installed on multiple add-on domains at another host (12 WordPress sites on my account on a shared server), and it took the sites down. At first it seemed great, because I could schedule the backups to run and upload to a cloud drive. That avoided the step of downloading and deleting the large back up files from the server. But everything that sparkles is not gold … it took a lot of time and research to discover the source of the problem. I removed the plugin from all of my sites and now rely on the host’s nightly backups.

    1. Generally most automated backup plugins are fine, but on shared hosting with several sites and a lot of content on each of them will certainly use a significant amount of server resources.

      I also highly recommend keeping more backups than simply any backups provided by us or any other host. As backups are run nightly, they overwrite the previous backup so if you happen to catch the issue late, the backups contain the bad data that you were trying to restore. Backing up and storing your files in several locations, as well as keeping incremental backups daily/weekly/monthly are a good practice to ensure that you always have something to roll back to.

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