I used a very sinmple wp_query to retrive 10 posts on site with more then 100k posts.

This query run on wp-multi site, same query against small site in same network (same db server) took very few milisec (0.032888 | 0.021731 | 0.020796 | 0.02127)

Main issue is when try to run it on huge site (+100k posts).

The wp_query dump is:


// output
    [post_type] => post
    [posts_per_page] => 10
    [paged] => 
    [orderby] => date
    [order] => DESC
    [meta_query] => Array
            [0] => Array
                    [key] => city
                    [value] => Las Vegas
                    [compare] => =


    [cat] => 2

dump of $wp_query->request:

FROM   wpui_2_posts 
       LEFT JOIN wpui_2_term_relationships 
              ON ( wpui_2_posts.id = wpui_2_term_relationships.object_id ) 
       INNER JOIN wpui_2_postmeta 
               ON ( wpui_2_posts.id = wpui_2_postmeta.post_id ) 
WHERE  1 = 1 
       AND ( wpui_2_term_relationships.term_taxonomy_id IN ( 2 ) ) 
       AND (( wpui_2_postmeta.meta_key = 'city' 
              AND wpui_2_postmeta.meta_value = 'las vegas' )) 
       AND wpui_2_posts.post_type = 'post' 
       AND ( wpui_2_posts.post_status = 'publish' 
              OR wpui_2_posts.post_status = 'private' ) 
GROUP  BY wpui_2_posts.id 
ORDER  BY wpui_2_posts.post_date DESC 
LIMIT  0, 10 

Explain query from MySQL:

ID  select_type table   type    possible_key    key key_len ref rows    Extra
1   SIMPLE  wpui_2_term_relationships   ref PRIMARY,term_taxonomy_id    term_taxonomy_id    8   const   59097   Using index; Using temporary; Using filesort
1   SIMPLE  wpui_2_posts    eq_ref  PRIMARY,type_status_date    PRIMARY 8   wpdb.wpui_2_term_relationships.object_id   1   Using where
1   SIMPLE  wpui_2_postmeta ref post_id,meta_key    post_id 8   wpdb.wpui_2_term_relationships.object_id   3   Using where

this query took very large time (5.715333 | 6.295236 | 5.110536 | 5.138607 | 5.164155)

Current amount of rows

  • wpui_2_posts 209548
  • wpui_2_term_relationships 118156
  • wpui_2_postmeta 2087567

Any suggestion is really appreciated

  • 2
    For a query like this you’d probably get better performance if city was a taxonomy and you looked up by ID. – Jacob Peattie Dec 15 '17 at 15:15
  • Meta queries are super, super slow – Tom J Nowell Dec 15 '17 at 15:42

Here's the culprit:

[meta_query] => Array
        [0] => Array
                [key] => city
                [value] => Las Vegas
                [compare] => =


Meta queries are slow, and the only way to speed them up is to not use meta queries.

The post meta table is optimised for fetching key/value pairs where the post ID is already known. That's why get_post_meta is fast.

But for searching and filtering out posts, or finding/searching posts by their meta, the performance is extremely poor. This is by design, so that fetching post meta is fast.

So how do you filter/search/find posts based on their data?


The taxonomy tables are designed for finding posts when you know the a term ID/name. This is how tags and categories are built, and why they're so much faster than meta queries.

The root problem is that your city post meta should have been a custom taxonomy. Moving to a custom taxonomy will improve your query speed by orders of magnitude.


  • If you need to list search query group or filter for posts by information, use a custom taxonomy
  • If you are only using the information when you already have the post, e.g. you're displaying a post, and you don't need to filter/query for that data, use post meta

And don't be afraid to use both or approximations if you have a more complicated value such as a price

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