Of all the ways to speed up your website’s page loading speed, one of the easiest and most effective is to optimize your site’s images. That’s especially true for photographers’ websites because we tend to post a *lot** of photos. The pages on this site would load a lot quicker without images, but they’re important to me, and I’m betting they’re important to my readers. But there’s a middle ground, and that’s to make the image file sizes as small as practical without sacrificing quality. And that means a faster-loading site and happier visitors.
The ever-increasing availability of powerful and cost-effective web services means that the heavy lifting of image optimization can be handed off to a cloud service. That means that it will have little or no effect on your web server and won’t slow things down. It also saves all the hassle of configuration, setup, and maintenance. Because of that, services that offer image optimization in the cloud have proliferated rapidly.
I’ve covered some of the major image optimization services that are useful for WordPress sites before (you can find the reviews here). Here I’m focusing on one of the lesser-known ones: ImageRecycle. To be honest, I’d never heard of them until the developers reached out to me directly. And that’s because up until recently, they’ve been focusing their efforts on working with agencies rather than end-users.
In broad strokes, the service does fundamentally the same thing as the other cloud-based image optimization services. They use the same core scripts to extract extraneous information from image files, with your images being sent from your server to the cloud service, crunched, and then the smaller, optimized versions are sent back to your server to replace the pre-optimized versions. And it can be set up to be automated, so it happens in the background whenever you upload new images to your WordPress site.
It’s compatible with the usual JPG, PNG, and GIF formats. It is also one of the few optimization options to work with PDFs.
Both lossy and lossless compression are available (as is no compression, if you like), and the maximum filesize for each image is 30MB, which is higher than many of the other options.
The pre-optimized versions of your images and PDFs are also kept for a month, so you can safely roll back the optimization if you like.
There are two parts to the service: a WordPress plugin that you install on your site (or sites) and the cloud service.
The WordPress plugin installs just like any other plugin. You can find it here.
The plugin itself is free, but it won’t do much without setting up the cloud service online. So you’ll also have to do that here. You can also access the signup page through your WordPress dashboard after you’ve installed the plugin by going to Media > ImageRecycle. It will prompt you through the steps to connect the plugin with your ImageRecycle account.
Once you’ve done that, you can dive right in if you like. There are two ways to optimize your existing images. If you go to Media > ImageRecycle, you’ll get a list of all your existing images and each of the derivative thumbnails. You can hit the Optimize button next to each line to do individual images or hit the Optimize All button at the top to, well, optimize them all.
Alternatively, you can optimize individual images using new buttons that now show up in your Media Library panel. You won’t see all the individual derivative versions of each image on this screen–just the main, original one.
After they’ve been optimized, you can see the results in percentage form. You’ll also have a “revert to original” option if you want to roll back the optimization (originals are kept for one month).
After that initial setup, all new images that you upload will be automatically optimized as part of the upload process, so you don’t need to go back and manually optimize them.
By default, ImageRecycle is set to use lossy compression. This shouldn’t result in any visual degradation of your photos, but photographers tend to be pretty picky about image compression. So if you want to change it to lossless or change any of the other options, in your WordPress dashboard, head to Settings > ImageRecycle.
Here is what it looks like with the default options.
To switch to lossless compression, change the drop-down menu item under the Compression type lines to Original Quality.
I like that it allows you to include other folders to process images–not just one of the ones in your media library. The folders don’t even have to be under the wp-content folder. But I don’t like that it doesn’t give you any options about the level of lossy compression or controls over stripping metadata.
The ImageRecycle settings panel in the WordPress dashboard will give you your basic quota usage report. For things like managing your billing profile, etc., you’ll need to log into your account on the ImageRecycle website.
They offer various pricing structures, all of which are based on the amount of data. The pricing table offers a number of images for guidance, but that’s just an approximation of how many images one might expect based on a given amount of data. If your images are larger than the average figure they’re using, you’ll get fewer images processed before you hit the data limit (and, conversely, you’ll get more images processed if the average size of your images is smaller). So the key figure when looking at the pricing tables isn’t the number of images but the amount of data.
It’s also very important to remember that it’s not just your original image that you’re uploading that’s being processed. When you upload an image to WordPress, it generates derivative thumbnails at various sizes. By default, there are three thumbnail sizes, but you can also add more. So the same original image will have three or more derivatives that are also going to be processed, and all of those use the same data quota when it comes to optimization.
The pricing options aren’t as simple as some services, but there’s reasonable flexibility depending on your needs.
The first option is to make a one-time payment for a specific amount of data. You can use this quota on any number of websites, and you have a year to use it up before it expires. These plans start at $10 for 1GB of data, and there are plans all the way up to very high volume needs.
The other option is a monthly subscription. These plans start at $7 per month for 1GB of data per month. Again, you can use these plans on any number of your websites. The data quota resets at the end of each monthly cycle–it doesn’t roll over. You can also pay for these monthly subscriptions a year at a time and get a discounted rate.
ImageRecycle isn’t one of the better-known image optimization services for WordPress, but it accomplishes much the same end result as other services. While I haven’t used it as extensively as I have others, the optimization appears to be on a par with other services (which makes sense, since many of them use the same set of underlying tools to perform the actual optimization). How much actual savings you’ll get on your site in real-world use depends on a lot of different things, from whether you’re using lossy or lossless compression to how well optimized your images are before you upload them, and even the content of the images themselves.
ImageRecycle is clearly aimed at the simpler end of the spectrum and is very designed as a set-and-forget service. There are some basic options you can set, but it lacks some of the sophisticated and fine-grained control of something like EWWW Image Optimizer. That simplicity, of course, can be a virtue–not everyone wants or needs a lot of options to deal with, so it depends on your personal preferences.
I can’t find any mention of ImageRecycle’s use of encryption in transporting the documents between your server and the cloud service nor on any special security policies in place while they’re storing your data on their servers.
For most users, ImageRecycle will end up more expensive than something like Optimus, but it has a couple of things that Optimus doesn’t, such as processing of PDFs and a much larger maximum filesize (35mb vs. 5mb). The closest direct competitor is probably Kraken.io, which shares many similarities–Kraken.io is a bit cheaper but doesn’t work with PDF files.