Autoptimize, WP Rocket, Async Scripts, CDN – what combination of WordPress performance plugins simply works?

If you’re like me, you’re constantly tweaking your WordPress sites, checking results with GTmetrix, Google PageSpeed Insights, Website Speed Test from Pingdom Tools, Performance Test | KeyCDN Tools, and similar websites. And this process probably drives you crazy because you never get where you want to be.

I wished for a long time that somebody would simply give me advise about which set of plugins doesn’t overlap too much, is worth the money if not free, and give actual results that impress, even for larger sites on WooCommerce or other bandwidth and speed hogging systems. And doesn’t start by stating ‘it depends’.

To large extend, it doesn’t depend. This is my set of combined tools which works well on any kind of site from small to large, from scaled load-balanced cloud setups on the majors (AWS, Google Cloud, etc) to single sites on a small VPS, (and although I don’t have tested any of these, yes it should work on shared hosting sites as well):

What did I try

Combinations of these tools I tried and failed at because the combination simply didn’t work (slowed things down even), or I required a big spreadsheet to just remember that minification was handled by plugin X, WebP creation by plugin y, WebP serving by a CDN and not by the caching plugin.. More than once I had double settings in plugins and didn’t get why my speed was going up rather than down or my images were double compressed until visible impairment. I know, this is a matter of paying attention, your correction is taken with dignity, you are right.

Plugins:

  • WP Rocket
  • Shortpixel
  • Shortpixel AI
  • Flying Pages
  • Flying Images
  • Flying Scripts
  • Asset Cleanup
  • Async Scripts
  • WP Optimize
  • Heartbeat control
  • OMGF

Other:

  • CDNs, many CDNs., too many CDNs. They all have their pros and cons. There’s many opinions about them, and even some good ranking sites. Generally, the faster the more expensive if you really compare like-for-like features against each other. Google Cloud CDN, CloudFlare CDN, BunnyCDN, Cloudways CDN, etc..
  • Hosting. There is so many reviews, so many opinions, so many ways to measure speed, so much affiliates praising nonsense. I tried Closte, Wp Engine, Flywheel, A2 Hosting, Kinsta, Cloudways (Vultr HF), Vultr HF itself, Liquid Web. Etc.

What’s the problem

They overlap. By a lot. But have a different specialty they excel at which is supposed to be the golden nugget for speed improvement, so you feel forced to use them side by side.

What works

  • WP Rocket (paid version)
    • The best cache plugin I have found that actually works. All options simply work, like minification, lazyloading (better than the new native from WordPress), etc.
  • CloudFlare (DNS only)
    • I don’t use proxy.
  • BunnyCDN
    • Free for smaller sites. I use the paid optimization feature too which cost $10 per month. It’s worth it.
  • Shortpixel
    • For image optimization
    • I use the normal Shortpixel plugin, not ‘Shortpixel AI’ plugin as it comes with it’s own CDN which is performing worse compared to BunnyCDN.
  • Flying Pages
    • A better way to preload pages than WP Rocket. In fact it’s about the only feature I don’t use from WP Rocket.
    • What’s better: More granularity. Specifically preloading what’s outside the viewport (the part your user looks at in a specific moment) is better; for smaller sites with little links you can preload everything, for bigger sites being able to limit the amount of simultaneous links and viewport can mean faster load times, or at least the perception of it.
  • Flying Analytics
    • Makes Google Analytics be hosted locally, which saves loading time. It works. Ideally WP ROcket should fix this too, but I had bad luck with it. Ig it improves I’ll get rid of Flying Analytics.
  • Asset Cleanup (free version)
    • This tool requires knowledge. Use it wisely. But when you do, it makes your homepage fly by ridding it from scripts you don’t use there, but may need to be loaded on (for example) blog pages. It’s a great relief and really helps to get your page load down and general scores in GTmetrix, Google PageSpeed Insights and so forth, way better. Especially of you use many great plugins you don’t want to miss but drag your site down.
    • Example on my site: TablePress is a great plugin but doesn’t need to be loaded on the homepage, so, it isn’t.
    • It’s fun, I’m still optimizing and making the site faster.

Settings

When I get around to it I’ll update this article with my settings for these plugins.

Final thoughts

As usual these are my notes for my future self. It isn’t written to be fully comprehensible for everyone. And the usual disclaimer; many other setups are possible. I just don’t find them reliable, easy and affordable enough to work for me.

Oh, and if you need a commenting system it’s worth looking checking pipDisqus, which is fast and lightweight, though has no options to choose from. wpDiscuz is the alternative to load Disqus if you don’t like the WordPress commenting system (which I find slows sites down and needs security plugins which in turn makes things slower).

In terms of hosting, so many things play a role, like if you want a panel (like DirectAdmin or cPanel), and new kinds of caching come into play which you can install yourself instead. I landed on Vultr High Frequency with cPanel and Nginx as reverse cache proxy. But I’m considering Litespeed, I know I’ll like it. Anyway, I prefer do it yourself largely. Yeah I know, you say, cPanel do it yourself? Lol, I optimize under the hood but you are right.. 😉

Hope it helps some who are about in the same process of selection and sifting through trial and error.

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