Tweaking default themes for speed on old HDD – not SSD hosting.

WordPress Mobile Speed


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Some people complain the WordPress Twenty-sixteen theme is old-fashioned or plain. We think it’s fine for certain jobs. If the goal is to communicate and not impress with any animation, we think Twenty-sixteen fits the bill.

It’s not the year 2016 any more – but even today, we recommend Twenty-sixteen theme for speed. We’ve achieved page load times as low as a half second using this theme on cheap magnetic shared hosting.

Hard disk drive. Mechanical parts exposed.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]agnetic hard disk drives (HDD) are one of the most affordable ways to store large amounts of data. It’s old-school and used on cheap hosting like GoDaddy. The usual alternative is a Solid State Drive (SSD).

Solid State drive has no moving parts.

An SSD has no moving parts whatsoever. SSD storage is much faster than its HDD equivalent. HDD storage is made up of a magnetic spinning disk and has moving mechanical parts inside. HDD is physically larger than SSDs and much slower to read and write. In our experience, this still make insignificant difference in Time To First Byte (delays). There is no benefit for a website owner in reality. It’s all theoretical.

Many hosts brag about providing SSD servers. Yet, actually get worse TTFB than traditional magnetic servers.

So why do hosts offer SSD and claim it’s superior? It is superior but it doesn’t make a difference to the cyberspace “renter.” It enables drastic reduction in power consumption, maintenance, and lowers expense from air conditioning to cool overheated hard drives. SSD consumes a fraction of the rack space meaning lower square footage – less real estate is needed. These overhead cost savings are benefits not passed along to you the user. The benefit is long-term profitability for the hosting company. Not you.

SSD hosting is a cost effective way of differentiating a hosting service for marketing purposes. It’s pure specsmanship. It’s inappropriate use of component specifications to establish presumed competitive superiority. No such superiority exists in real-world speed tests of the whole system. The component specs are good. But the change didn’t remove the punitive delays caused by oddities. Thing such as Google-mandated HTTPS/SSL handshaking for pseudo-security or innate latency from distant geographic location.

Back to the real topic of Twenty-sixteen theme quality. We liked the look for what our goals were but … the load time was 3 seconds. Too long. We decided to track down the speed culprits and eliminate them. We got the load time down to 1.5 seconds with just a few simple adjustments. The examination tool we used was online website performance tester. Here are the things we discovered and some of the possible fixes:

[dropcap]1[/dropcap]Watch out for automatic image resizing.

When we placed the custom header image, the size increased from a 30k PNG to 96k. The solution was simple. Just skip cropping. WordPress automatically saves files to it’s own preferred specifications. Cropping can work OK for speed with JPEG images – but rarely for GIF and PNG images. This sometimes makes the file size bigger – instead of smaller. That’s poor web engineering but as long as you double check image sizes for aberrations like this one, you’ll always have a fast site.

[dropcap]2[/dropcap]Comment out Genericons in function.php or use a plugin to do it.

Genericons are a special font symbol. They aren’t really used by this theme. Genericons are a bloated bane we have written about before. Commenting out a single line of code in the functions.php file is one solution. Find the file using the Editor. Use the symbols /** in front and **/ on the other end of the single line that has the three words “genericons” in it. That gets rid of almost 40k of deadwood page weight.

Or even simpler: use the plugin Asset Queue Manager. Dequeue Genericons.

[dropcap]3[/dropcap]Remove Google fonts.

Get rid of calling Google Fonts from their remote server and load local websafe or mobile-system-stack fonts instead. We confess Merriweather slab-face Google font has more class but there’s nothing wrong with using resident “Georgia” and “Helvetica Neue” – the fall back fonts in the theme stack. We used “Disable Google Fonts” plugin first. But it failed to remove all offending instances. We then installed “Remove Google Fonts References” plugin instead. It worked great. All font calls were removed.

[dropcap]4[/dropcap]Install a caching plugin.

We used to install the free WP Super Cache plugin and enable all recommend settings. We don’t recommend this plugin now. It’s complicated and slow loading. We recommend using Cache Enabler plugin. It’s faster and simpler.

[dropcap]5[/dropcap]Get rid of the funereal black border.

Under Customize, we changed the background color to #125faa blue for our border around the page. No change in page weight – but much easier on the eyes.

There you have it. We cut the page weight significantly and reduced the load time in half.



thumbnail of THEME-ME-10-v1.compressed
THEME.ME: What is the fastest free theme? There are 5,100 free themes in the WordPress theme directory. Of those, only 1,602 are responsive. All the rest are fixed-width junk. How did we sort the remaining 1,602 free responsive themes to find the fastest loading?


Twenty-seventeen Default Theme Tips Read our torture-test results of this popular free theme. Don’t get locked in for recurring *annual renewal* theme memberships. Save your money. The Twenty-seventeen Torture-tested Themes ebook contains honest and common-sense reporting and tips about mobile WordPress speed!


Steve Teare
performance engineer
May 2022


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