They say a picture paints a thousand words, and while we’re not sure how true that is it’s definitely safe to say that without pictures your website will look dull and boring. And how many visitors are going to hang around to read a text-only site? This isn’t 1999 you know!
The problem with pictures, especially for users on low-bandwidth connections such as 3G, is that they slow your site down. As a comparison a thousand words in a DOCX file is 7.2kb whereas even a small image might be 720kb or 100 times bigger. You don’t need to be a genius to realise that the picture is going to take longer to download than the words.
So, what are your options? Well you can perform some image optimisation, trim the file sizes down and so on, but that can be tedious, difficult and in some cases impossible to do without seriously impacting on the quality of the user experience. Something that will hit your SEO badly and cause you to rank lower in the results.
Your other option is to get some help from one of the numerous WordPress plugins designed specifically for the task of compressing and optimising your images to improve your website response. So, we’ve put together a list of our top 6 for you to try out on your website.
Rated 4.5 stars on WordPress ShortPixel uses a freemium model, giving you 100 credits/month free (1 credit being one image optimisation). Once you’ve signed up and installed the plugin it will automatically optimise new pictures added to your media gallery (and you can bulk optimise existing ones if you so wish).
There are three options for optimisation – lossy, glossy or lossless. Lossy gives smallest files but loses detail, while glossy is intended for photographs and doesn’t give quite such small files. Lossless is for users who don’t want to lose any details but want to strip off extraneous portions of the file. ShortPixel will back up your images before starting work so you can always revert to the original.
Another freemium plugin – this time you get 500 optimisations/month which translates to around 100 images (as there are multiple thumbnails that also need to be compressed). Over this limit you are billed per compression per month.
TinyPNG works with both JPG and PNG files and can re-encode JPG files for progressive rendering, allowing visitors to your site to start browsing before the images have finished loading. It can also compress animated PNG.
With a choice of three levels of optimisation – Normal (lossless), Aggressive (the default) and Ultra (very small files, but more lossy) you can take control of how much your images are compressed. Imagify can create backups of the images as it optimises them and allows you 25Mb of image uploads per month (which they claim is around 250 images, but we suspect for most users that’s a maximum rather than a minimum). Existing images can also be optimised using the bulk optimisation tool and new accounts get a 25Mb bonus to get you started.
If you have your own server you can use EWWW to optimise your images for free, and the free plugin is definitely aimed more at the hosted site. Paid plans can use the EWWW cloud-based servers for optimisation requests.
The plugin can simply crunch your existing and newly uploaded files (PNG, JPG or GIF) to save space using their own lossy compression algorithms, or it can choose the most appropriate output format for the image (including WebP). The plugin is able to optimise all images on your site – including avatars and your theme and integrates with certain other gallery plugins.
Offering the option of using their CDN to speed up delivery of your images even more Optimole offers a 1Gb free plan, with power users able to pay for greater quantities of conversion and also integration with Amazon Cloudfront.
Using a choice of lossy or lossless algorithms Optimole can decide on the best level of optimisation for the image (jpg, png and svg) and size being served. Or you can choose to force a High, Medium or Low level for each image.
The big advantage of Optimole is the CDN and the ability to send a perfectly optimised image to your visitor depending on their method of accessing your site – including serving WebP images to Chrome users and keeping low bandwidth users happy with smaller file sizes.
Smush is 100% free – although with a 1MB maximum on file size – and offers a bulk option to optimise existing pictures. It can also deal with images not located in the media gallery locating GIF, JPG and PNG theme, avatar and other files in other directories.
Smush can point you towards images that are slowing down your site and constrain large images to a given height and width as well as shrinking the file size. Photographers can rest assured that while Smush removes extraneous information from the files it will also (optionally) preserve EXIF data.
The Plugins Compared
Sometimes comparing plugins is like comparing apples and bananas, but in this case it’s more like comparing Coxes and Galas. On the face of it the six plugins offer pretty much the same deal – especially for low volume users who can make use of the free plans, although even some smartphone snappers may find the Smush file limit a little constraining and need to pre-process files before uploading.
Depending on the type of source images you are uploading and the degree to which you are prepared to accept a lossy translation you can get huge optimisations, but more pertinently the same file can be optimised differently by each of the plugins as they all use different algorithms and thresholds to perform their magic.
ShortPixel – nice interface, good all-rounder
TinyPNG – simple interface, as the name suggests better a PNGs
Imagify – decent all-rounder
EWWW – better for self-hosted sites
Optimole – uses a CDN for faster loading
Smush – 100% free for small files