Tips on how to reduce the carbon emissions of your WordPress website

November 25, 2019

Internetdagarna 2019, Stockholm, Sweden

This week I have been at InternetDagarna (IND19) in Stockholm, Sweden. I came to give a talk at the ‘PHP, WordPress and Beyond’ track and I chose to speak about ‘Tips for reducing the carbon emissions of your WordPress site’.

As always I learned so much from the audience’s many questions and comments at the end, and have had lots of interesting conversations following it with many people sharing interesting resources and ideas.


Some of the audience’s questions

Q. Do you think there is a smaller carbon impact on custom themes or off-the-shelf themes?

I think that’s a really interesting question. I’m not convinced that off-the-shelf WordPress themes are all that good as I think they always have features that aren’t needed. They are nearly always created to serve mutiple purposes and for someone with a low technical experience level to use, so that means there will be code bloat.

I think the cost of developing a custom theme is higher at the earlier stages but in the longer term you get a very finely tuned theme that meets a business’s exact needs.

However, ever though there are some themes out there that perhaps are specialised to do a smaller number of things, I still think human nature means that clients will always pick themes that show off more features as they feel they get better value for money.


Q. What do you think of auto-play videos on a homepage?

Honest answer is I think they are rubbish. Not only are they bad for the environment but I don’t think they add much for the user. I find them distracting and generally want to navigate away from them as quickly as possible. However, I know there is a ot of research out there that suggests that videos increase your engagement with users.

I’m also not a fan of pages that feel the need to animate all the content boxes in. I recently was on a site that had so much stuff whizzing around on it, it made me kind of mad. I actually asked them if they could provide me with a pdf version of the content on the site, the videos and animated everything annoyed me so much!


Q. You talked about uploading the right sized images, but I recommend to my clients they upload the full size in case we can display them at a greater resolution at a later date. How do you handle that?

I don’t recommend my clients use WordPress as the place where they store their images in the long term. It’s not what a website is for. I advise they have a separate repository of their images that they use for marketing purposes elsewhere, like on Dropbox or Google Drive. I’m also not a fan of having huge images everywhere, I think there are a very small number of places where that works and creates an impact. The majority of the time I think images should be constrained in size and that good copy writing and clever UX should be more of a focus.

I also didn’t mention this on the stage, but if I got asked this again I would also mention the following: I think the cost involved of having an online server look after all those images is unnecessary, especially given how often I create staging or dev sites to work with. That’s a lot of data to transfer around unnecessarily.