WordPress is more than just a content management system (CMS), it's the platform of choice for blogs maintained by prominent companies with a strong internet presence, such as CNN, TechCrunch, Sony, UPS, and The New York Times.

It's estimated that 20% of all new sites coming online are powered by WordPress. If you have already made the wise decision to use WordPress to power your site, you may have noticed intermittent issues of lag, load times and overall performance.

A poorly performing WordPress installation could lead to problems such as slow-loading content, crashing pages, increased strain on the server CPU, and memory leaks. While WordPress requires minimal maintenance, each installation should be thought of as an operating system, which needs to be reviewed and updated regularly.

A sluggish WordPress can be unnerving and disruptive, but rather than resorting to drastic measures, like moving your blog to a different platform, you should review the steps below to ensure that WordPress runs at its optimal best.

1. Regular Updates

WordPress is an open source blogging platform which is subject to constant development, improvement and upgrades. Keeping your WordPress installation up-to-date is crucial if you want to ensure that it is running at its finest. Upgrading can be as easy as visiting the WordPress site, downloading the current version and following the instructions. If your site is hosted on a Linux environment which is managed via a control panel application such cPanel, you should login and look for an auto installation script library such as Fantastico in order to upgrade your WordPress version. The current stable version of WordPress is 3.2, codenamed Gershwin. The previous major upgrade was 3.0, released in June 2010. There have been over a dozen WordPress upgrades since 2003, a number which underscores the need for periodically checking up on the availability of upgrades.

2. Plugins

One of the major attractions and benefits of using WordPress as your blogging platform is the generous amount of plugins available to expand the platforms capabilities and functions. Just like the WordPress installation, these plugins are subject to constant upgrades. Rather than having to worry about updating each plugin individually, newer WordPress versions make it easy to check for plugin upgrades.

Plugins can be wonderful tools to keep site visitors engaged; however, it's important to remember that each plugin installed will take up a certain amount of CPU resources. It may be tempting, especially to novice webmasters, to install every single new cool plugin and widget developed for WordPress. But an excessive number of plugins is the most common reason behind slow loading WordPress pages. If your WordPress site is running sluggishly, try to disable some plugins to find out the culprit. Plugins must also be chosen wisely, as some chat and geo-location plugins which pull data from third-party sites are notorious for being problematic on virtual private servers (VPS's) or shared hosting installations.

3. Page Caching

WordPress relies on dynamic PHP scripts to displays web pages, something that can quickly consume memory and CPU resources. WP-Super-Cache is a particular plugin that does not use up many resources or memory, and which actually speeds up load times by storing WordPress pages as static HTML files. This strategy allows faster page loading and reduces the amount of MySQL queries, thereby speeding up the page display process. The caching process is seamless, as it concentrates on calling up static pages for users who arent logged in or who are not otherwise engaged in commenting on a blog post.

4. Avoid Over-stacking

While it may be tempting to call up a lot of blog posts and stack them on your homepage for all new visitors to see, a large quantity of posts will result in a page that takes a long time to load. This is further exacerbated by posts which have a lot of multimedia content, such as high-resolution pictures, mp3 files and videos.

The default setting for WordPress allows the eight or ten most recent posts to be displayed on the homepage. A webmaster may want to consider reducing this default number to just a few meaningful posts. The same goes for too many Flash animations or JavaScript routines.

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