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August 18, 2012

5 Simple WordPress Optimization Tips You Probably Didn’t Know

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WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) that is easy to learn, but difficult to master.

Whilst your initial experience with the WordPress admin area was probably rather intimidating, after a day or two of exploring, you probably started to find your way around rather easily.

What you may not know is the multitude of ways in which you can make WordPress  faster and easier to use. In this article, I want to offer up a selection of 5 simple tips that you can put in place to make your WordPress experience just that little bit better.

5. Remove Unwanted Menu Items from the Sidebar

Let’s start with some spring cleaning. Check out the sidebar in your WordPress admin area. How many of those buttons do you actually use?

Admin Sidebar

The chances are that you’ve never even clicked on at least one of them – “Links” being a prime example. What if you could get rid of unwanted menu items, leaving you with only what you do use?

Doing just that is a piece of cake. Just access your functions.php file from Appearance > Editor in the sidebar, and paste the following code at the bottom of the page:

/* Remove Unwanted Admin Menu Items */

function remove_admin_menu_items() {
    $remove_menu_items = array(__('Links'));
    global $menu;
    end ($menu);
    while (prev($menu)){
        $item = explode(' ',$menu[key($menu)][0]);
        if(in_array($item[0] != NULL?$item[0]:"" , $remove_menu_items)){

add_action('admin_menu', 'remove_admin_menu_items');

A word of warning – you may want to ensure that you have FTP access to your site should you make a mistake in pasting the code, which could temporarily “break” your site. (Undoing any mistake is as easy as opening the functions.php file in your FTP client and removing the offending code.)

Don’t worry if the above code makes no sense to you – you only need to worry about one line:

$remove_menu_items = array(__('Links'));

This is where you define which menu items should be removed from your sidebar. As you can no doubt guess, the above line removes the “Links” menu item. If you wish to remove other items, you can do so by simply adding them to the line of code as such:

$remove_menu_items = array(__('Comments'),__('Links'),__('Posts'));

All of the menu items are labelled as you would expect:

  • Appearance
  • Comments
  • Links
  • Media
  • Pages
  • Plugins
  • Posts
  • Settings
  • Tools
  • Users

This same technique can be used to remove any menu items that plugins or themes add to your sidebar, which is exactly what I did on my own site:

Before and After

Once I had removed a handful of menu items that I never used, the admin area became much easier to navigate.

Source: How to Remove Unwanted Items from the WordPress Admin Sidebar

4. Screen Options

You may have noticed that certain screens on the WordPress admin area contain various “meta boxes”, such as these:

Meta Boxes

Most notably, you will find these meta boxes on your dashboard, and on the post/page screens.

Some of these boxes are of little or no use. For instance, I have no real interest in seeing updates from the WordPress.org blog on my dashboard:

WordPress.org Blog

Fortunately, getting rid of unwanted meta boxes (and adding ones that you would like to see) is easily done with the Screen Options tab that you will find at the top right of any relevant page:

Screen Options

Clicking on that tab will display a list of check boxes relating to the meta boxes you can choose to include or exclude on that particular page, in addition to screen layout options. Here’s a screenshot of the screen options available for my dashboard, and the result my chosen settings provide:

Screen Options

As you can see, I removed a selection of meta boxes and chose a three column layout. The end result is a small selection of meta boxes, all viewable above the fold.

The Screen Options tab is especially useful on the Add New Post/Page screens, which can get clogged up with unwanted meta boxes added by plugins that you install over time.

3. Comments Management

When you first start blogging with WordPress, it is great getting email notifications every time you receive a new comment. You can set email notifications in the Discussion Settings screen:

Discussion Settings

However, as your blog grows, these email notifications will begin to get irritating. Not only that, but WordPress has a superb built-in comments management system that you should look to utilize from the get-go.

First of all, you should have the “Recent Comments” meta box displayed on your dashboard, so that you can quickly see if new comments have been submitted when you login to your site:

Recent Comments

Your first option is to directly respond to comments from that meta box on your dashboard. You can do so by hovering over a comment and selecting one of the options:

Recent Comments

However, I recommend instead that you select the “Comments” option from your admin sidebar:


From this screen you have total control over all of the comments on your blog. You can filter your comments by type (e.g. pending or approved), search through your comments, view the posts on which a particular comment has been left, and of course edit and reply to comments. You’ll soon wonder why you ever managed your comments via email notifications.

2. Image Optimization

Now that we have spent some time optimizing your WordPress admin area, let’s talk about optimizing your site for speed. The simple fact to bear in mind is this – the time it takes for your site to load defines to an extent how popular it will be.

But don’t take my word for it – just check out this experiment that Google ran back in 2006, in which they increased the number of search results they displayed from 10 to 30. The result was an equivalent 20% drop in traffic and revenue, and the only discernible difference was that the bigger page took twice as long to load. Although that sounds dramatic, that increase was in fact just half a second. That is all it takes.

Whilst WordPress is no slouch coming out of the blocks, there are a couple of simple steps you can take to optimize it for speed, the first of which is to optimize the images that you use. Although bulky code can certainly slow a site down, it is invariably images that hog the most resources. The smaller you can make them (whilst retaining quality), the faster your site will load.

Which is why every WordPress blog should have the free WP Smush.it plugin installed. This clever little utility reduces the size of images on your site without affecting the quality. Just install and activate, and any image added to your site will be automatically “smushed”. You can also use the “Bulk Smush.it” feature to optimize all images currently on your site.

1. Caching

The second way in which you can easily optimize the load time of your site is to use a caching plugin, which essentially takes a static snapshot of your site and presents that to the end user, rather than the dynamic mix of content that WordPress serves up by default. Users see the same thing, but it reaches them in double quick time.

Whilst there are a few caching plugins to choose from, my choice is W3 Total Cache. Although the plugin’s settings screen can be utterly intimidating when you first see it.

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