Do we think the new Hummingbird all-in-one speed plugin for WordPress websites is cool? Nope. We know you can get the same website optimization functions for free with standalone plugins – and produce even better results.
- Generate a performance report with recommended speed improvements
- Browser caching
- Minify and combine files
- Defer script loading
- GZIP configuration
- Bonus: Uptime monitor and notification
Hummingbird is a performance and optimization plugin to improve site speed. Using cloud-based services, it analyzes (by Google Page Insight standards), minifies, can add Gzip compression, and caches pages.
All of this costs money. Hummingbird is a SAAS subscription service. The advertised prices are: $49.50 monthly, $103.50 quarterly, or $294 annually. Recurring payments are made via PayPal. Those are the reduced-by-half, discounted signup prices. Sticker shock!
You can easily add all Hummingbird features to your website with just six free, WordPress-archived plugins. That’s right. Free. And they’ll probably run even faster.
Here they are:
1Hummingbird Feature: Minification
Minifying shrinks files and combines them to lighten server load with fewer HTTP requests (calls).
Free plugin alternative for minification.
Better WordPress Minify (662k download)
Allows you to minify your CSS and JS files for faster page loading for visitors. Not all minifier plugins work – in fact – they frequently break your site. This plugin really works. It combines (concatenates) all possible files to reduce the number of HTTP requests and removes code “white space” and comments.
2Hummingbird Feature: Caching
Store a snapshot of specific content in your user’s browser so they don’t need to reload the entire page every time they visit. Improves user experience and lessens the load on your server.
Free plugin alternative for caching.
WP Super Cache (888k download)
Caching plugin for WordPress. Caching doesn’t always help with speed. It depends upon how optimized your site is to begin with. If you’ve done a good job making images small (or not even using images) and Gzip compression is activated, caching doesn’t necessarily make much improvement.
3Hummingbird Feature: Remove Render Blocking Resources
4Hummingbird Feature: Enable Gzip file compression.
Send smaller files over the web for quicker load times. Sending zipped files is faster and can save you money on hosting.
Free plugin alternative for Gzip compression.
Honestly? Gzip never saves money on hosting any more. Where did they come up with that old myth? But Gzip does make a difference in page load time. There are many free Gzip compression plugins. Gzip can also be done by hand-coding – tediousness! We’ve found that none of those methods work reliably or will break your pages. Our recommendation instead is:
Far Future Expiration Header (7.5k download)
This plugin will add a “far future expiration” date for various file types to improve site performance. This is a best practice advocated by the Yahoo Extreme Performance Team. It keeps files and images cached longer. There is also a simple, on-off radio button to enable Gzip – a nice addition. For best results, set the expiration to the maximum 365 days.
5Hummingbird Feature: Automated Image Compression
Save space and improve site speed with WP Smush Pro image compression.
Free plugin alternative for automated image compression.
Duh! The obvious free replacement plugin is the not-so-pro version, WP Smush, (which is more than adequate) maintained by the very same author.
WP Smush (104k download)
Reduce image file sizes, improve performance and boost your SEO using the free WPMU DEV WordPress Smush API. (Note: We don’t think this plugin will ever improve your SEO – just speed. Relevant content is what improves SEO – but for some reason the plugin authors advertise that benefit).
We recommend another excellent image-optimizer alternative:
ShortPixel Image Optimiser (64.3k download)
ShortPixel is an image compression tool that helps improve website performance. The plugin optimises images automatically using either lossy or lossless compression. We suggest you use “lossy” settings. Resulting smaller images are no different in visual quality from the original. The plugin can do this as images are loaded or can retrofit your image library. Retrofits can take about 20 minutes of computer time. So go make a sandwich. The savings results are shown in your media library for each image.
6Hummingbird Feature: Uptime Monitoring
Monitor your sites uptime, downtime and average response time and receive alert email notifications if your site goes down.
Free plugin alternatives for monitoring uptime.
We don’t do monitoring of our website. But if we did, we’d use one of the free plugins listed below:
WP Really Simple Health (40.5k download)
tagBeep uptime monitor (30.9k download)
SensorPress (24.4k download)
Uptime Robot Plugin for WordPress (23.0k download)
requires free signup at http://uptimerobot.com/
Practice what you preach.
As a demonstration of irony (and perhaps expose), we include some performance numbers for the Hummingbird product page. They obviously do NOT practice what they preach when it comes to performance optimization.
On Google PageSpeed Insights, the Hummingbird product page fails the usual :
But the plugin authors claim Hummingbird fixes that problem. Oops!
From WebPagetest Test Results
First View: 10.375 seconds, 121 requests
Repeat View: 7.675 seconds, 46 requests
The visitor-expected wait time for page loads is 2 seconds. This is accepted web best practice. This product page, with a 10-second load, doesn’t demonstrate the values they’re selling with the Hummingbird plugin. It’s another fail!
Both of the above tests say image optimization fails. What? Incredible.
So we then take a look at a Yslow evaluation using the extension in the Chrome browser. Total page weight is 2.499M. Yes. Megabytes. Overall performance score 84 – a “B” rating. Again, unacceptable performance. (The performance score recently dropped even lower on Google PageSpeed Insights: mobile 67 and desktop 79).