Over the years I’ve tried a number of optimization plugins trying to both get fast (2s or less) load times and good Google PageSpeed scores. Here’s my breakdown of the Autoptimize plugin vs the Hummingbird plugin.
What is an Optimization Plugin
First off, let me explain what an optimization plugin is and how it works to speed up your website.
When a visitor visits your website their computer is actually sending a request to your web server for information. A typical website response includes the basic HTML of the website AND a list of all the resources that need to be loaded to render the website. Those resources include images, fonts, CSS files, JS files, and sometimes a few other things.
Once the visitor’s computer has a list of the resources, it then has to go request every one of those resources to be sent over. Between all of the little items, that can easily be over 100 requests.
In general, the more requests, the longer it takes to load the website. This is where optimization plugins come in. These plugins can combine several items into one item. That means reducing the number of requests needed. These plugins can also compress many of the items so that they transfer faster.
So basically, the optimization plugins modify your website so that it can be sent to a visitor with fewer items to send, and with those items being smaller. Fewer and smaller items generally mean faster load times.
Autoptimize is strictly an optimization plugin. That means it will shrink the size of your HTML and combine & shrink your CSS & JS files.
Autoptimize is the easiest optimization plugin I have used, in that for 90% of the sites I’ve worked on I can set it up in a few minutes with 4 checkboxes and a little testing to make sure nothing broke.
If you are seeing the following items on your PageSpeed as needing improvement, it will probably help with them:
- Reduce server response time
- Minify HTML
- Minify CSS
- Minify JS
Hummingbird is an optimization, compression and caching plugin in one.
The biggest advantage of Hummingbird is the amount of granular control you have. You can decide exactly what should be done for every single CSS & JS file. You can decide exactly types of pages are cached.
There is a huge amount of control that you have, but with that control comes a much longer setup process. In fact, with a fussy website, you can easily end up having to set about 200 different options. On the plus side, if you have a WPMU subscription, you can just have them set it up for you.
Hummingbird can help with the following PageSpeed complaints:
- Reduce server response time
- Minify HTML
- Minify CSS
- Minify JS
- Leverage browser caching
One of the big drawbacks to Hummingbird is the lack of ability to reduce the size of your theme’s stylesheets. It can reduce the size of plugin and WordPress core items, but not your theme’s main stylesheet.
Which plugin is the best?
Like most things in life, it depends on your situation.
If you want a very simple plugin which will have most sites well optimized in about 3 minutes, go with Autoptimize.
If you have a fussy website or you need some of the additional features of Hummingbird like gzip compression, CDN use, or caching, then try Hummingbird. Just understand that you’ll be spending an hour or so getting it configured.
Optimization vs Caching
The other main type of plugin is a caching plugin. Caching is basically storing recently used information. If the information is stored and ready to go, then the next visitor to request the information gets it very quickly. If it’s not stored in a cache, then the server has to go look up the info again which takes longer.
Whether or not you need a caching plugin will depend on your hosting provider. There are several hosting providers out there which include all the caching you need. Providers like WP Engine, Kinsta, Flywheel, and SiteGround handle all of your caching for you. In fact, trying to use a caching plugin with these providers will generally make your website perform poorly.
If you are using a generic Linux cPanel provider, then you will probably need to use a caching plugin. If so, I recommend Cache Enabler. It is by far the simplest caching plugin to use, and I’ve run it in performance tests against the other big names and it wins every time.
I’ve tried a lot of caching plugins over the years including W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, WP Rocket, WP Comet Cache, WP Fastest Cache. They all have a lot of complex settings, can easily take an hour to configure, and in the end get worse performance.
The majority of the sites I work with are on one of the solid hosting providers which handle all of the caching for me. This saves so much time & aggravation.
11 thoughts on “Best Optimization: Autoptimize vs Hummingbird”
Can I use hummingbird with WP Rocket?
You can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’d just use WP Rocket.
If I use Hummmingbird, what would you recommend for a plugin to reduce the size of the theme’s stylesheet if there is one out there? I have using Flatsome theme, thanks.
Hummingbird can combine, minify & compress CSS. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination. It’s available as a setting under Asset Optimization.
Thanks so much for this. I really like the way you explain things. It’s easy for the layman to understand.
Here’s my situation: Speed is not my top priority. I’m more concerned with the phone view looking good after I’ve put so much into making the desktop view look as good as I can. I’m using a responsive theme (Westview) and a responsive page builder (BoldGrid), but I’m less than delighted with the way the front page is rendered in the phone view. I can tweak it, of course, but then the desktop view changes some too. (I was led to believe it would not.)
So the question for me is, will an optimization plugin help things look better across devices?
Alan, these optimization plugins are strictly designed to modify how your website load files, they are not designed to change your website’s appearance in any way.
Can I use both Autoptimize & WP Fastest cache plugins at the same time
George, yes you can use plugins together. Just check if they have any overlapping functionality that only one of the plugins is performing that task, otherwise you can get conflicts.
Hi, thanks for the clear and precise explanation.
I still have a question, does it make sense to use Autoptimize AND Hummingbird together on a site? Might the two, on the contrary, conflict?
Thanks in advance! Sergey
I would NOT use both Autoptimize & Hummingbird on the same site. They overlap too much in functionality and could cause some serious conflicts.
Thank you Gen,
This was very helpful. Keep up the good work.
Best regards from The Netherlands.