When to Automate Image Compression

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Image compression plugins for WordPress are exploding in popularity as marketers prioritize page speed. There are dozens of popular plugins available that do essentially the same thing. The most popular, Smush by WPMU DEV, has more than a million active installations.

How does image compression automation work?

When a compression plugin is activated, JPG and PNG image files uploaded through WordPress are automatically scaled down in quality just enough that it’s almost unnoticeable to the human eye.

The plugins use various methods, some of which can potentially bloat your database with junk files and even make your site slower.

Are image compression plugins worth it?

It really depends but usually not.

I only recommend using plugins as a last resort. If there isn’t a reason to install one, it’s better to not.

At the same time, I’m saying this as someone who can, and has, spent all day playing in Photoshop. If I wasn’t already so familiar with Photoshop, I’d probably just use a plugin too.

For sites that I manage, it’s just easier to compress images manually. I can manually compress a few hundred images in an afternoon. By no means is this fun but, with some headphones and good music, it can be oddly soothing.

When is it worth it to use image compression plugins?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to rely on image compression plugins. I’ve definitely used them in the past and would do it again because of the time savings. Compressing images shouldn’t be anyone’s job description. If it’s actually hurting your productivity then of course you should automate.

Managing large teams of contributors

Anyone who’s managed a large site with multiple authors/editors before knows how hard it can be getting everyone on the same page. This gets even trickier when dealing with an international team with contributors speaking multiple languages.

It’s hard enough getting editors to stop pasting content directly from Microsoft Word. So if it’s a constant battle, I’d definitely just install a plugin and focus my mental energy elsewhere.

Large site migrations

If you’re taking over an existing WordPress site with thousands of images, manually compressing and replacing them is a poor use of your time. Just install a plugin and be done with it.

You’ll have to invest in a premium service for massive bulk uploads. If you no longer need to batch compress images when you’re done, uninstall and delete it just like any other unused plugin.

What’s the alternative?

For the sites I manage, I compress via PhotoShop and then upload them to tinypng to make them even smaller. This is only one extra step, and it eliminates the inherent risk of using a third-party plugin. After compressing this post’s featured image with Photoshop, tinypng still managed to reduce the file size by 16% without sacrificing picture quality.

TinyPNG image compression screenshot

If you don’t have Adobe access, there are open-source alternatives. I’ve used the GIMP GNU Image Manipulation Program previously. I definitely prefer Photoshop but it has about the same functionality.

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