Anyone who doesn’t care about performance in 2022 is either mad or incompetent. We’re neither mad nor incompetent so we choose the essential plugins for a fast WordPress site because they perform better in terms of speed and function.
Essential Plugins for a Fast WordPress Site in 2022
Before we get on to the plugin part of the story, I’d like to put this post into context.
In 2022 two things matter more than anything else in website design.
- Quality of Content
- User Experience
Quality of Content
The latest figures (March 2022) estimate there are 1.93 billion web sites available on the internet. Thankfully only about 200 million are regularly updated but that’s still a lot of competition, regardless of the subject of the site.
To differentiate a new site in the eyes of Search Engines is more about the quality and originality of content than the excellence of the graphic design. If you can provide original content that is genuinely useful to the viewer then you’re on your way to success. The users like it, search engines love it.
The second factor is User Experience and key to this is speed. Nobody likes a slow website, regardless of how useful the information is. Check out my article Fast Web hosting for WordPress for chapter and verse on this.
WordPress is by a distance the most popular platform for web site building. The architecture is simple enough.
- WordPress is the Content Management system
- The Theme looks after the look and feel
- Plugins extend the functionality of both CMS and Theme
Unfortunately developers obsessed with things that are shiny and bright have created both theme and plugins that slow the whole thing down to a crawl. It is only recently that we started to see the concept of lightweight catch on.
The problem was exacerbated by page builder plugins that output horrendous convoluted code that ran slowly like Divi, WPBakery and Beaver Builder. All of them look great, all of them suffered performance issues, some of them were obviously and painfully slow.
Lightweight themes like Oxygen and Kadence appeared in the last couple of years that leverage the evolving Gutenberg blocks, the new WordPress editing core.
Gutenberg Blocks is an attempt by WordPress to move away from page and post based editing towards site wide editing, supporting the concept of re-usable components. Agonisingly for the likes of Divi, this idea is not new, in fact in some ways it resembles the way Divi approached page building but it is emphatically not the same thing.
Anyone building websites professionally with a builder that doesn’t support Gutenberg risks locking their client into a site design that can only ever be altered by the original builder. I\ve tried migrating a site from Divi to Kadence and to be honest it can’t be done due to the vast amount of custom code that Divi uses to bring content onto the page. You literally have to create a clean install, recreate the content and copy the design.
In the last few years a new generation of page builders has appeared that focus on speed. Examples are:
- Kadence Theme
It should also be said that page builders like Astra and Divi that became bloated and slow are in the process of catching up. Read my article on Divi Speed Enhancements from 2021.
I work almost exclusively with Kadence Theme these days because from the ground up it is built to leverage Gutenberg. It is also staggeringly fast.
Kadence Theme comes in free and pro versions and is extended by Kadence Blocks (of which more further down the page).
The free version is more fully featured than many web sites require and in terms of ease of use is considerably better than both Wix and Squarespace. At Helter Skelter Digital we’ve been using it for all our new projects since mid 2021 and we recommend it without reservation.
Designed by Ben Ritner, Kadence WP and the entire development team has joined the iThemes family which has resulted in more development money and faster release cycles. All good so far.
Plugins are the means by which WordPress functionality is extended. That includes Page Builders and more visible extensions such as Forms. Unfortunately pretty much all plugins have a negative effect on performance. So as a general rule, the fewer the better.
I’m going to focus on lightweight plugins that don’t materially interfere with the performance of the site.
Limit Logon Attempts
Security is essential on a WordPress site and almost all security plugins interfere with the speed of the site. There are many ways into a website including the file system, the http server, the database and of course the login page. and they all need to be protected.
Modern architectural thinking removes responsibility for securing the filesystem and database from the application to the hosted environment where you’ll find software like BitNinja that monitors traffic and picks up on suspicious activity.
If you use shared or managed hosting for WordPress, and if that hosting is good (check this very carefully), they will protect your database, the http server and the filesystem using a combination of software and hardware. If you’re hosting does not offer this level of security then it honestly isn’t worth having unless you’re an IT Admin yourself.
This being the case, the way most sites are hacked is via the logon page. We love Limit Logon Attempts Reloaded – it is free, doesn’t affect performance except at the logon stage and does exactly what it says on the tin. It locks the user out for a specified interval after admin defined numbers of failed attempts.
We have also used WordFence for certain sites – its the best all-in-one security plugin and if you are unsure of the capability of your host around security I’d say it’s worth taking the very small hit on performance.
Kadence Blocks extends WordPress’s Gutenberg blocks. It uses the same interface for the designer to choose blocks and is the key component that has made Kadence so successful. The implementation is built for speed, the customisation options are clear and have been very well thought through. Leaves its competitors in the dust if you want my opinion.
I’ve really had problems with galleries. As a photographer it matter to me how my images are seen and I’ve used just about every gallery plugin I could lay my hands on. All of them are problematic in some regard with the single exception of Kadence Galleries. A plain responsive gallery that loads quickly (especially if you use the WebP format for your larger pictures, offers no frills and works all of the time on every device.
On the subject of WebP – some galleries also convert the images – my take on this is if you want to tie yourself into a gallery then that’s fine. Otherwise let the conversion happen in the CDN where it will have no impact on the gallery you use except to speed it up.
Fluent Forms is a form builder and a very good one. Check out my Fluent Forms review for the details. In a nutshell it doesn’t put code all over the site, it is very flexible, uses a Blocks like interface to build its forms and makes it possible to build sophisticated Forms applications.
If I need something that goes beyond the capability of the Kadence Form Block then Fluent is my first choice.
If you’re concerned about speed then you’re also concerned about SEO. I’ve used two SEO plugins, Yoast and Rank Math. I’d recommend Rank Math for speed and efficiency.
Rank Math is the onsite SEO tool I’ve used for more than two years now on all of my sites. It has recently added a more advanced AI driven capability – You can read my review of Rank Math Content AI to catch up on that.
Every web site needs to have an off site copy. Don’t leave it to your host to look after it. If you’re lucky you’ll never need to use it. If your hosts backup fails you’ll need this.
Duplicator is the best of many candidates, reducing the pain of installing a complete website to a series of easy to follow instructions. I’ve even used it to separate single sites from WordPress Multisute installs with no problems at all.
In 2022, the Litespeed universe is way ahead of the rest. If you’re host uses Litespeed Web Server then most of this section can be safely ignored, the Litespeed WordPress plugin will do all you need and more.
Litespeed Cache for WordPress
The Litespeed Cache for WordPress plugin used in conjunction with Litespeed Web Server and Quic.cloud this will do the job of every other plugin in this list. It’s that good. If you’re host doesn’t use Litespeed Web Server then it’s worth looking at the following plugins.
Before we migrated our sites to Litespeed, we used WP Rocket as the keystone of our performance tuning stack. The key to using a stack of plugins to improve performance is to avoid overlapping functionality, so my recommendation is start with the CDN (if you have an international audience). Then add WP Rocket and take care not to duplicate function with the CDN.
Perfmatters gives you a more finely grained approach to script management. Meaning that you can disable or defer scripts on pages where they are not needed.
OMGF is a plugin that addresses the issue of Google Fonts. Normally a page that is using google fonts will call out to Google to load the fonts before it can render. Any callout will impact performance so given the widespread use of Google Fonts this is a must have.
From the same stable as WP Rocket, Imagify manages the optimisation of images. It also handles conversion to WebP format, but that is also available in most of the CDN suggestions below.
Video is often a bottleneck in website loading times and given the larger amounts of data involved it’s a difficult thing to mitigate. We like Presto player for its integrated lazy loading – i.e. it doesn’t hold the page up, instead it loads quietly in the background allowing the page to render quickly in the browser.
Presto Player also has a host of other features that are not found elsewhere – I’ll write a full review soon!
Content Delivery Networks are a mechanism for taking the load completely away from the server. Essentially they cache content in a global network of servers and serve that content from the closest server to the browser requesting it. On the plus side they make a perceptible difference to page loading speed. On the minus side unless you have enough traffic to keep the cache alive, it will expire and the content has to be reloaded.
As a rule, we use CDNs on the sites that have an international audience.
However there are some functions that it is possible to use for specific cases such as Image conversion (Quic.cloud) and Video streaming (Bunny.net) that make a compelling case for considering a CDN even if you are running a local site.
Quic.cloud is the CDN that pairs most effectively with Litespeed. The integration is seamless and not difficult to set up. It is also possible to use Quic.cloud for image optimisation, converting larger images to WebP.
At Helter Skelter Digital we have been using Quic.cloud as our default solution for eighteen months on the sites we manage and we think it’s the best solution for Litespeed users in particular due to the seamless integration with Litespeed Web Server.
The other thing I love about Quic.cloud is that it is possible for testing purposes to turn it off without disrupting the service. This is a lifesaver as it tells you instantly whether the problem is with your website or with the cloud configuration.
Cloudflare has a larger server network than Quic.cloud, and we used it for all the sites we hosted on Siteground. The experience made me glad that the Litespeed/Quic combo existed! Basically the problem is one of overlapping functionality.
If you use WP Rocket then you will find that Cloudflare overlaps and that can break stuff on the site. Some people love it, we ended up turning it off on the majority of our sites – now that was partly down to being unwilling to invest the time across multiple sites to discover the overlaps and turn them off, so my decision.
I haven’t used Bunny.net for anything other than video delivery, but at this it excels! With Bunny.net Stream, tight integration with Presto Player practically removes the tiresome video bottleneck altogether. The advantage of this over say YouTube is equivalent performance with no ads.
As soon as I wrote the word “Essential” in the title “Essential plugins for a fast WordPress site” I realised that removed certain options, for example you may not use video. I have therefore included some of these options even though they are not strictly essential for everyone, in order to provide useful information for those that do use these features.
Hopefully you’ll find this useful, if you do it would be great to hear some feedback!
Add our Insight direct to your mailbox!
Actionable tips to turbocharge your digital dynamo!
I sometimes use Affiliate Links in my reviews and instructional materials. If you purchase software or hardware through one of these links it won’t cost you any more, but it helps me to offset the cost of creating the content.
Thanks for your support