One of the things I really love about WP Checkup is how it streamlines the process of scanning a WordPress site for performance issues. Because, while you might be able to surmise why your content isn’t loading quickly enough or why Google says your mobile page speeds are abysmal, WP Checkup tells you exactly what’s wrong.
Of course, it’s not enough to just know when performance problems crop up on your site. You need to actually do something with this information. WP Checkup will provide recommendations on how to improve your site’s performance, but it’s not sustainable to constantly be scanning your site and putting fixes into place. You have to think about how to manage performance over the long-term as well.
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This is why the Hummingbird plugin is such a valuable tool to have in WordPress.
There are many great performance and caching plugins available for WordPress, but why go with those when Hummingbird gets the job done so well? Whether you’re interested in downloading the free Hummingbird plugin or upgrading to the feature-packed premium plugin that comes with your WPMU DEV membership, there’s a lot you can take advantage of here.
The Free Hummingbird Plugin
If you’ve spent a good amount of time hanging out in WordPress blogs, then you know how important the subject of performance is to the community. Not only does a speedy and high-performing WordPress site lead to a better overall experience for visitors, but it also does wonders for SEO.
Now, as I already mentioned, speed-testing tools and performance testing tools like WP Checkup are an essential part of keeping your WordPress site running smoothly. But there are other things you should be doing to speed up WordPress.
A plugin like Hummingbird is your best line of defense when it comes to performance. So, rather than constantly put out fires as you discover a slowdown in loading times, you’ll have this plugin working on optimizing performance behind the scenes at all times.
Like many other plugins, Hummingbird is available for free as well as part of the premium WPMU DEV membership. If you’re interested in giving this speedster a test-run, let’s check out how you can really make the most of the free version of the Hummingbird plugin.
One of the things I always appreciate about using WPMU DEV plugins is how nicely laid out the dashboard tools are.
Often with plugins, you’re presented with settings for configuration, but there’s usually very little context present that tells you what the setting actually does and how it will affect your site’s performance. The Hummingbird dashboard not only explains what actions need to be taken, but will also give you a clear indication of what needs your attention (and why) right now.
The dashboard includes high-level widgets for all your performance-enhancing tasks so every kind of performance enhancement technique remains top-of-mind:
- Performance scans
- Gzip compression
- File minification
- Page caching
- Browser caching
- Gravatar caching
Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the Hummingbird dashboard, the first thing to do is run a performance test. You can initiate the test right from within the dashboard or you can navigate to the Performance Tests tab in the Hummingbird sidebar. Either way, you’re going to end up here:
Once the test completes running, you’ll receive your performance test results with a score out of 100.
Scroll down the page and you’ll see what score was assigned to each of the key performance areas of your WordPress site.
And don’t just stop there. For any score you have not achieved a 100 on, click on the Recommendation. It will then expand and provide you with recommendations on how to go about increasing your score.
Follow the instructions provided, make the updates to your site, and then re-run the test to see if those improvements helped increase your performance score.
Minification is the process by which you clean up the excess in files so they’re smaller and more lightweight. This excessive use of space can come in many forms, but this plugin looks for things like unnecessary white space, characters, or carriage returns. And, as a result, HTTPS requests to your site will transmit more quickly to visitors (which means faster load times!) when you do away with them.
Here’s how it works in the Minification tab:
- The name of the file
- The size
- An indicator as to whether or not it’s been compressed
- An indicator which says if it can be combined with another file
- An option to move the script to the footer (which helps eliminate render blocking issues)
- A toggle that allows you to choose which files to include in the bulk update
After applying the updates you want to make to each file, click on Publish Changes at the bottom and let the plugin work its magic. Be sure to check your site after this is done to ensure that nothing went awry as you moved your files and scripts around.
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File transfer from server to browser can be a major problem when you have a lot of bulky files (or even just a lot of files, in general) to transmit. This is why Gzip compression is an ideal solution to have in place. In sum, it uses an algorithm to store your data as a single bit. In so doing, it makes the size of the files you need to transmit much more compact.
So, if your server doesn’t already have Gzip file compression enabled, then you can use Hummingbird to take care of it for you.
When we think of performance plugins, typically what we’re focused on is page-level caching. Hummingbird takes this a step further and allows for full-page, browser, as well as Gravatar image caching.
Basically, when a visitor calls on your website, a cached version of the website displays. What caching does is keep the various elements on your site from individually loading; instead, they’re served in a static version of your site. The only time these elements and files load then is when the caching date expires (which you can manually set in this plugin).
In addition to giving you more control over the type of caching you can manage on your site, you can configure things like:
- Which page types to apply caching settings to
- The length of expiration date for browser caching based on file type
- Exceptions to the caching rules
If you’re currently using CloudFlare CDN services, then this will be a special treat.
As you know, a CDN is a powerful tool when it comes to performance enhancement in WordPress. Part of the way in which it does this is through caching. And, so, Hummingbird not only allows for page, browser, and Gravatar caching, but the plugin enables CloudFlare users to connect their account in order to manage those browser caching settings here, too.
The Premium Hummingbird Plugin
Next, let’s take a look at the special features you have access to when you purchase the premium Hummingbird plugin from WPMU DEV.
Standard minification for the free plugin gives you more than enough control over which files are minified, combined, or moved. And that’s awesome. But if you want more power behind that minification, be sure to look at the Settings under the Minification tab.
There are two premium settings, in particular, you’ll want to activate.
The first is super-compression. What this does is compress your files two times as much as the standard compression that comes with the free plugin.
The second setting here allows you to enable the WPMU DEV CDN, which is extremely valuable if you want to lighten the load on your server by offloading your files to their CDN.
Smush Pro Integration
If you’ve purchased the WPMU DEV membership, then you immediately have access to all of their plugins, not just Hummingbird. While you’ll eventually want to explore each plugin one-by-one, the one that’s conveniently bundled into this package and which you’re going to want to activate in conjunction with Hummingbird is Smush Pro.
Once you have Smush Pro activated (which you can do from The Hub), you’ll find this widget on your Hummingbird dashboard.
What you’ll do now is use this plugin to resize and compress your image files even further. If you go to the plugin’s settings, you will be able to automate the image optimization process so that every new image added to your site will automatically be compressed.
While there are a number of uptime monitoring tools that exist outside of WordPress, they’re really unnecessary if you have access to Hummingbird.
With the premium version of the plugin installed, you can now activate the “Uptime” feature which monitors your website not just for downtime and outages, but also for when it’s running slower than usual. Within this section, you can also get stats on what the average load times are for your website.
Be sure to activate the automated notifications so you can stay attuned to any downtime on your site.
Automated Performance Reports
In addition to the uptime/downtime reports, Hummingbird also enables you to generate a performance report after the scanning of your site is complete–which you can now automate, too.
Simply activate the Reporting feature under the Performance Test tab. Set the frequency of the tests as well as the day and time when you want to receive the report. Then it’ll be sent directly to your inbox each day, week, or month.
There are many ways to increase the speed of your WordPress site. But it’s a lot easier to manage these performance enhancing techniques when you have a WordPress plugin taking care of the hard work for you. With Hummingbird, you’ll have better insights into what’s holding things up on your site as well as valuable recommendations which direct you to where you need to go to fix them.