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10 Fixes to Speed Up a Slow WordPress Admin Dashboard

Trying to work with a slow WordPress admin dashboard is like skating on mud. You have the ability but lack the supporting base.

So, I can understand your pain when your WordPress admin backend takes forever to load and you have urgent tasks to complete. I have been in that situation on more than one occasion.

In this guide, I will share the exact methods I used to resolve my slow-loading WordPress admin panel problems to help save your time and effort.

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Tips to Fix Slow WordPress Admin Dashboard

You can simply follow these 10 tried and tested tips to speed up your WordPress admin backend in no time.

1. Cut back on resource hungry plugins

Do you know what’s common between all WordPress plugins? PHP, which is the programming language that powers WordPress. Unfortunately, not all developers optimize the PHP code used to create WordPress plugins.

This has resulted in many sub-optimal plugins that are resource sharks and slow down the WordPress backend when given a free hand.

The solution then is to identify such bloated plugins and remove them before they slow down your WordPress backend further.

There are a couple of ways to identify slow-loading WordPress plugins.

Use Query Monitor

The first method is to use the excellent free plugin called Query Monitor. Upon activating the plugin, while staying within your admin dashboard, hover over the Query Monitor menu in the top admin panel.

Now click on Queries > Queries by Component

You will see a list of components, including the plugins and the parent theme, that are running in the backend. The panel also displays the number of queries plugin-wise and the total execution time of each plugin.

This way you can identify the plugins with the highest number of queries and more importantly, take the longest time to execute. Once you have identified such resource-intensive plugins, you can deactivate these upon finding better alternatives.

Use WP Hive plugin insights

Most of the plugins used on our websites are installed from the WordPress.org plugin repository. But there’s no way to get an overview of the performance insights of the plugins listed there.

Fortunately, a solution is available in the form of WP Hive’s Chrome extension that provides a performance overview of each plugin listed on WordPress.org.

You can use it to skip plugins that are high on functionality but low on performance.

2. Remove unused plugins and themes

By now you must’ve identified and removed plugins that are hogging most of your resources. Another related task is to remove unused plugins and themes.

There may be some themes and plugins that are deactivated and you no longer plan on using them. You should remove such themes and plugins since they consume precious system memory, howsoever small.

Moreover, all plugins store their data in the WordPress database. Even after deleting a plugin, the plugin tables that are stored in the database are not deleted by default.

This is done in order to store your plugin settings and data, which can be easily restored in case you wish to reinstall the plugin at a later date.

Since you are removing only those plugins that you don’t plan to reinstall later, you should remove their tables from the database as well.

To do this, you can use the free Advanced Database Cleaner plugin. Navigate to the Tables tab and select and delete the tables left behind by the deleted plugins.

3. Cleanup the database

The next task for speeding up your admin panel is to regularly clean and optimize your database.

Over time, your database bloat increases owing to the following :

  1. post revisions
  2. expired transients
  3. auto drafts
  4. trashed posts
  5. spam and trashed comments
  6. trackbacks and pingbacks
  7. orphaned meta data

This database bloat contributes to slowing down your admin backend. To resolve this issue, you can use the Advanced Database Cleaner plugin to clean and optimize your database. You can also schedule auto cleanup of your database in the plugin settings.

Note: The database cleanup option is also available in WP Rocket, the best cache plugin by a longshot. You can check out my WP Rocket settings guide for more details.

4. Disable the unused admin widgets

When you log into your WordPress dashboard, you will notice a number of widgets on the admin home screen and in the sidebar under the Appearance menu.

Some of these widgets like WordPress News and Events are not really useful but are just taking up your space and resources. You can safely disable these unused widgets from your admin backend using the Widget Disable plugin.

You can also manually remove the dashboard widgets by inserting the following PHP code in your theme’s functions.php file:

//Code to remove dashboard widgets from the admin backend

function remove_dashboard_meta() {
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_incoming_links', 'dashboard', 'normal'); 
//Removes the 'incoming links' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_plugins', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the 'plugins' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_primary', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the 'WordPress News' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_secondary', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the secondary widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_quick_press', 'dashboard', 'side'); //Removes the 'Quick Draft' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_recent_drafts', 'dashboard', 'side'); //Removes the 'Recent Drafts' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_recent_comments', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the 'Activity' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_right_now', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the 'At a Glance' widget
    remove_meta_box('dashboard_activity', 'dashboard', 'normal'); //Removes the 'Activity' widget (since 3.8)
}
add_action('admin_init', 'remove_dashboard_meta');

Remember to only remove only those widgets that you don’t use.

Fix slow WordPress admin panel

5. Switch to a fast web host

All the optimizations that you carry out cannot compensate for a slow web host. If your overall site speed is slow then the admin dashboard will not be an exception.

To fix this, you should switch to a fast web host post haste.

I will only make a couple of recommendations based on my experience and reliable reviews collected from around the web.

1. Dreamhost

We have been using Dreamhost to host PassionWP for close to a year. It’s a shared hosting that does not burn a hole through your pocket without compromising on features or speed.

Here are the Google Page Speed Insights test results for mobile and desktop.

PassionWP speed test results

And here’s the GTmetrix test result:

PassionWP GTmetrix results

I should also mention that Dreamhost is one of the three hosting companies recommended by WordPress.org.

👉 Check out all Dreamhost plans

2. Cloudways

If you want even more speed, features, and outstanding support, you should check out a managed hosting provider like Cloudways.

Their plans start from just $10 and come bundled with free CDN, dedicated firewall, automated backups, staging environment, and much more.

Here is their Trustpilot score:

And this is how they fare on G2:

Apart from this, you can go through many Facebook groups to read real customer reviews about Cloudways and their outstanding support. The overwhelming majority speak about this managed hosting provider in glowing terms.

👉 Check out all Cloudways hosting plans

6. Use WordPress optimization plugins

WordPress speed optimization plugins share a common objective: to speed up your web pages, including your website’s backend.

Now, you don’t need too many plugins to fix a sluggish admin area. But the following two plugins can really help, based on my testing so far.

1. WP Rocket

Earlier, we used to use a free cache plugin to speed up PassionWP. While they did a fairly good job as far as free plugins are concerned, we didn’t want to compromise on website speed.

So, we switched over to WP Rocket and have managed to score a perfect 100 on the Google Page Speed Insights tool. The best part after switching to WP Rocket?

We went from orange-colored URL warnings to green-colored URLs for Core Web Vitals performance report in Google Search Console.

PassionWP Core Web Vitals

I have already mentioned that the WP Rocket settings include database optimization that improves your backend performance in multiple ways.

WP Rocket also includes an option to enable caching for logged-in users. This will cache the wp-admin area as well and improve its load times.

2. Perfmatters

Sometimes you need the extra 10 percent to give your best performance. The same is true of your website as well.

I am extracting this 10 percent from a performance plugin called Perfmatters. It’s not a cache plugin but shares many features with a cache plugin.

What is of our interest is the WordPress backend-specific settings in Perfmatters. I will just provide a glimpse of the Perfmatters features that can boost your admin area speed:

  • Disable emojis
  • Disable dashicons
  • Disable XML-RPC
  • Disable pingbacks and trackbacks
  • Disable or limit REST API
  • Disable or limit Heartbeat API
  • Limit post revisions and autosaves
  • and many more….

If you need to know how to configure each option in Perfmatters, you can check out my Perfmatters review and settings guide.

7. Update PHP

PHP is the programming language with which WordPress is written. Think of it as the heart and soul of WordPress.

Like any other programming language, PHP is also updated regularly. The latest versions of PHP are 3 to 5 times faster than the previous versions.

Unfortunately, many WordPress websites run legacy versions of PHP that slows down the admin backend besides causing other theme and plugin conflicts.

For this reason, WordPress recommends updating your PHP to the latest version, which is 8.0x. If you’re hesitant to upgrade to PHP 8.0 right now, you should definitely upgrade to at least PHP 7.4 version.

How to update your PHP?

Before updating your PHP, you need to find out the current version of PHP running on your website. This can be found out by navigating to Tools > Site Health > Info

Then click on the Server dropdown and look for the PHP version.

After this, you need to update your PHP if it’s anything older than version 7.4.

Fortunately, updating PHP is usually a one-click affair and can be done from your web hosting panel.

For example, in the Dreamhost web panel, you can easily upgrade or downgrade from the latest PHP version.

Dreamhost control panel

Now, let’s move on to the next fix.

8. Limit Heartbeat API

The WordPress Heartbeat API facilitates real-time communication between your web browser the admin backend while logged in. It makes a call to the webserver every 15-60 seconds.

The problem is that frequent calls to the server can make the admin panel sluggish since the server is busy handling API requests.

The solution lies in limiting the frequency of the Heartbeat API calls. You can use the free Heartbeat Control plugin for this task.

But adding another plugin to your site for a minor task is not the ideal solution since every additional plugin adds further overhead to your backend.

That’s why I suggest that you use the built-in functionality in WP Rocket to control the Heartbeat API.

Heartbeat API control in WP Rocket

9. Increase the PHP memory limit

If you navigate to Tools > Site Health > Info and click the Server dropdown, you can check the maximum PHP memory limit allowed for your WordPress installation.

If it’s less than 256 MB, you should increase it to at least 256 MB by adding the following snippet in your wp-config.php file in the root WordPress directory:

Define('WP_Memory_Limit', '256M');

Increasing this limit provides more dynamic memory for the admin backend processes on your site. This is in turn will help fix a sluggish admin panel.

10. Limit the dashboard information displayed

WordPress allows users to set the number of pages and posts displayed in the admin dashboard. The default number is 20.

Apart from the number of pages and posts displayed, you can also decide which columns are displayed on different admin panels like the media library, posts, pages, categories, home screen, etc under the Screen Options pull down.

WordPress screen display options

If you want to keep your backend light and peppy, limit the information displayed on the screen, including, the number of items per page.

You can easily tick off the items that you don’t need to see. For instance, if you don’t use tags on your pages, you can turn off the tags display.

Although this won’t make a big difference to your admin panel loading speed, every optimization counts in the final tally.

Summary

The WordPress admin backend is a place where website owners hang out the most and if it loads very slowly then it could ruin your blogging experience. The good news is that it’s not rocket science to speed up a slow admin panel and can be easily achieved by following the 10 tips that I have listed here.

Did you try out these fixes and did it make your WordPress dashboard load faster? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Trishan Mehta

Trishan Mehta is a WordPress fanatic since 2009. When not WordPressing, he is busy exploring hidden natural getaways whenever he can grab an opportunity.

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