Want to get a higher search ranking for your site? Just as you periodically de-clutter your closets, clear old papers out of filing cabinets, and empty drawers of accumulated junk, it’s a good idea to clean out WordPress from time to time as well. The start of the New Year is a great time to do it.
While it’s great to have a smoother-running WordPress site, there’s a bigger benefit — it will improve your site load time, attract readers, and please the Google gods.
#1. Start with a Complete Backup
As always, before you make any changes to your WordPress setup, back up your data and your file system completely.
See How to Back Up Your WordPress Site for complete instructions.
#2. Remove Unused Themes
If you’ve used a 1-Click Install to install WordPress initially, it may have automatically loaded up a bunch of themes.
Your Themes folder should contain only the theme you are using, plus one generic theme from WordPress to use in case you need it to troubleshoot something. I recommend keeping the Twenty Fifteen theme, which is simple and stable, and comes with WordPress.
If you’re using an Elegant Themes theme, you should see only two items when you click Appearance / Themes in your Dashboard.
If you’re using a StudioPress theme, you should see three items:
1. Genesis Framework
2. Your theme
3. Twenty Fifteen theme
If you have created a Child Theme, you’ll also see that. If you need to ask “what is a child theme,” you don’t have one.
#3. Remove Unused Plugins
If you have inactive plugins, or plugins that you’re not using, deactivate and delete them. (Remember to deactivate first — you’ll cause all sorts of problems if you delete an active plugin!)
#4. Remove Unused Images
This can be a little trickier. I haven’t found a plugin that can reliably identify and remove “dead” images, but those unneeded images can cause a lot of bloat and slow down your site.
#5. Optimize Images
When you size images properly and optimize them for the web, you’ll reduce file size and make your site run faster. Now that Google counts site load speed in its ranking algorithm, small load times help your site rank better in search.
#6. Install a Caching Plugin
There are two kinds of web pages: static and dynamic. Static means that it’s always the same. Dynamic means it changes. Behind the scenes programming lets it show rotating ads, or different content to readers who are logged in or not logged in, for example.
A WordPress site is always dynamic.
Basically, when a reader clicks a link to go to a page or read a blog post, a plugin like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache will serve up a saved (cached) version of a page. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the easy way to explain it.)
WordPress can get that static page in front of your reader’s eyeballs faster than a dynamic version.
That’s because WordPress is working behind the scenes to call up 10, 20, sometimes 50 or more requests per page. WordPress calls up each element — the header, the search box, the menu, the blog post, etc., and puts them together to make a “page” in your browser. My Future Expats site homepage generates 101 calls! (And that’s after I removed the slider. . .) WordPress Building Blocks only makes 54 requests.
When you cache the site, the caching utility pre-saves each page as if it were static, so it can “serve” it to your readers faster.
Your website host might provide caching for you, so check there first. If you’re installing your own, WP Super Cache is a bit easier to set up than W3 Total Cache.
You’ll find your site loads faster and uses less server space — which, depending on your hosting provider — can save you money every month.