What is WordPress and why it needs performance optimizations

A brief introduction to WordPress

To cite WordPress.org, WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog. Simply put, WordPress is a very powerful, open source web publishing software, content management system and a web platform for building rich web applications. People and companies are using WordPress for various purposes and reasons, most notably for their blogs, websites, e-commerce solutions and large portals. At the time of writing (January 2015), it is estimated that about 23% 1 of all websites, whose content management system is known, is being run on WordPress. This number is quite astonishing because it means that visiting five random websites, one of them will be a WordPress-powered one.

A WordPress-powered website is composed of themes and plugins. A WordPress theme is a collection of scripts, stylesheets and images which make up the look and feel or even functionality of one’s website. It can be downloaded from different web repositories or even bought for as low as 40 US dollars. After it is downloaded, it can be copied into a designated folder inside the WordPress file structure and then activated through the WordPress Dashboard. A WordPress plugin is a pluggable piece of software which enhances the basic WordPress functionality, thus enabling its users to heavily modify their WordPress-based web applications and sites. At the time of writing (January 2015), there are about 3,000 free themes and 35,000 free plugins hosted on the public and open source WordPress.org repository. As we can all see and agree on from these facts and numbers, WordPress has a huge community and following.

Why WordPress needs performance optimizations?

WordPress, contrary to popular belief, was designed in mind with high performance and efficiency. Indeed, it is quite fast out of the box, after a fresh installation. However, as it is extremely extensible and pluggable, its users tend to use plenty of plugins and complex themes. These extensions are usually not tested and properly optimized before their release into the public repositories and online markets. Most of the best-selling themes are shipped with a large number of features and eye-candy effects, attracting the customer’s attention, while increasing the overall impact and load on the underlying server.

Another very important factor in the performance degradation of these system is a prevalent amateurism among many web hosting companies, system administrators and web developers. As the result of the widespread usage of WordPress-based web sites, many unskilled people jump into its development and administration, seeing the possible profit but forgetting about all the ‘mess’ they usually make.

With all of what has been said, I believe I have convinced the reader of this paper about the seriousness of the performance issues of WordPress-powered web applications and sites.

If WordPress is so popular, what are the available solutions to these problems?

I would be lying if I said there are not any solutions present at the current moment. The Internet and all of its blogs are full of articles discussing the endless possibilities of ‘fixing’ the WordPress speed and resources related issues. However, the common problem with these articles is their incompleteness and lack of attention to details. While you can find at least a hundred top ten lists of the best performance-increasing plugins and extensions, you hardly find a step by step guide focused only on making WordPress site faster and less resource-hungry.

For those readers who do not find time to read our whole paper, there exist several commercial solutions aimed at solving a large part of the WordPress-powered web applications and sites performance problems. Although I do not have direct experiences of using their services, wpengine.com looks like a promising and reliable WordPress hosting with speed optimizations in mind.

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