Archive | November, 2014

Website Performing Badly? Speed it Up With These Tips

Optimizing your website for maximum speed when loading pages in a browser is extremely important if you want to retain visitors to your website. Statistics show that the average Internet user will wait 3 seconds or less for a page to load before they venture off of your site and go browse somewhere else.

Before you can engage your website visitor with your valuable content, you must first insure that they stay on your site long enough to see your content. You can do that by insuring your Home Page loads fast and that load speed is consistent throughout the rest of your pages.

There are specific tasks that you can complete to insure that your site loads fast and remains that way. None of these tasks are particularly difficult nor expensive. You do NOT need to work tirelessly on SEO to accomplish good page loading speed.

Let’s look at some of the most important page load optimization strategies and then I’ll show you where the “tweaks” can be found in your back-office.

In these examples, we will be using a WordPress website since WordPress dominates the content delivery platform on the Internet.

Visitors to my website blog frequently comment that the site that you are on right now, ScottAlanReed Dot Com, loads extremely fast. And they wonder if I’m doing some tricks to make that happen. I’M NOT! I’ll show you in the video, exactly what I do to insure fast load time.

 

Get an IP Address That Is Yours, and Yours Alone

 

By default, when you sign up with a web hosting company, your site shares an IP address with any number of other websites at the same hosting service. That means that your web traffic is competing with the web traffic of other websites that are sharing the same IP address that your site uses.

If those other websites are getting a lot of traffic, yours slows down and vice versa. This leaves your load time at the mercy of whoever is sharing the same IP address as you. So stop sharing your IP address with other websites so that the speed of your website is not dependent on theirs.

Think of an IP address as being the highway into and out of a web server, and one to many domains . You share that highway with other websites; but you don’t have to. My hosting company (Bluehost.com) offers a dedicated IP address to my website for about $4.85/month. My IP address is mine alone. I don’t share that highway with anyone. I share the web server with others. But the highway into and out of my website belongs to me.

If my website ever slows to a crawl, I would want to consider getting and paying for a dedicated server so that I can monopolize the memory and CPU power of the server for my needs alone. That would be expensive at $125/month. That time will arrive soon enough. For now, I recommend a dedicated IP address for your website in order to boost your sites page load time.

 

Run Your Domain On CloudFlare – It’s Free

 

CloudFlare is a CDN or Content Delivery/Distributed Network. A CDN is a large distributed system of servers deployed in multiple data centers around the world and Internet. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end-users with high availability and high performance.

CloudFlare works just like Amazon.com. Amazon owns hundreds of data centers around the world.

Amazon handles an incredible amount of traffic quickly by recognizing the visitor’s geographical location and then by connecting the visitor to the Amazon data center that is geographically closest to them in order to maximize the speed of the Amazon website.

I use CloudFlare for ScottAlanReed.com and several of my other websites. I don’t pay anything for this service. Use of CloudFlare speeded up my blog website dramatically and is the primary reason why I am able to achieve fast page load times.

I’ll show you how to add your website to CloudFlare in the video below.

Also there is a CloudFlare plugin that you must install, but it’s also free and there are no complicated options to set up. All of the plugins that I mention in this article are free from WordPress.org and can be found in Plugins | Add New | Plugin Name (or search).

If you have heard a rumor that the CloudFlare network is rife with spammers, don’t believe it. I heard the same rumor a year ago before I started using CloudFlare. My sites are not getting spammed nor attacked. So much for rumors.

Use a Caching Plugin

 

You absolutely must have a cache plugin on your website. A cache stores the most frequently accessed pages and page elements of your website in memory so that they can be retrieved quickly the next time the page is accessed. If you are not using a cache, every single page on your site that is accessed is being fetched from disc or the server HDD. Fetching something from disc is a slow process.

There are good cache plugins and not so good cache plugins. I recommend WP Super Cache created by Automattic, W3 Total Cache, or WP Super Cache – Clear All Cache.  Yoast has a caching plugin that is good but it has a ton of settings. They can be complicated to set up. But the one that I use isn’t too technical. And it gets the job done. This speed enhancing strategy is likely the second most effective page load speed booster, second only to CloudFlare.

 

Keep a Handle on Article Revisions, Visitor Comments, and WordPress Databases

 

In the course of composing new article content for your website, you create multiple revisions of the same article. Every time you save your work, you create another draft copy of the article that you are creating.

I have over 60 articles on my blog. It’s not uncommon for me to have 10 revisions of one article before I am ready to publish that article. If that were true for all articles that would be 600 copies of content of which I am only concerned with the final published draft of 60 articles.

Get rid of the old revisions. They drag down the performance of your website.

User Comments can do the same thing. It’s not unusual for me to have 4-6 thousand SPAM comments every couple of days residing in the SPAM queue waiting for my review and approval.

Not all of these comments are really SPAM. A SPAM comment on my website is any comment that contains more than two links. The primary link in a comment is the name of your website. Your e-mail address is another link. If you put something in the body of your comment like “please visit my blog at this link and tell me what you think”, that is a third link and your comment will fall into the SPAM queue.

Many websites automatically delete SPAM sight-unseen by the site owner. Most SPAM must be deleted manually. Since not all SPAM is really SPAM, I review most SPAM quickly and look for the comments that were made by the visitor who never intended to SPAM my site. It is easy to accidentally create SPAM. I have found some of my best and most constructive comments in SPAM. It’s obvious that the person who created the comment did not intend to create SPAM. And it’s a simple matter to weed out the offending link and approve the comment.

However, no one has the time to review and edit 6,000 SPAM comments. I’ll peruse a half-dozen pages of SPAM and delete the rest. Leaving massive numbers of unapproved comments in your comments queue will drag down the performance of your website. I’ve seen SPAM comments occupy 166 pages in the SPAM queue. That’s like pulling an anchor around your website. Get rid of that dead weight and do it often.

Fortunately, there is a handy WordPress plugin called “Optimize Databases After Deleting Revisions” that will handle this. The plugin not only keeps your WordPress databases clean, it also deletes all old article revisions (except the most recent revision) AND empties the SPAM queue for you.

I’ll demo this plugin for you in the video below so that you will see the actual size of my website in megabytes before and after optimization. There’s a big difference. The larger your website in megabytes or gigabytes the slower it runs, unless you have taken steps to compensate for this, like moving your site to a dedicated server. It isn’t necessary to do that with most sites. And as I said before, dedicated servers are expensive.

Getting back to the “Optimize Databases After Deleting Revisions” plugin,I run this plugin after reviewing comments in order to keep my site running on all cylinders. You should too.

 

WordPress Plugins Can Impede Performance

 

This is kind of a touchy matter. You need plugins on your site. But too many or the wrong plugins can be a drag on performance. It’s a judgment call. You will have to decide if the plugin functionality is worth the drag it puts on performance. Just don’t get “plugin happy” because plugins will come with a price in lost performance for your site.

Really “heavy duty” plugins should be tested in advance of use. If performance has been affected, your visitors will let you know in their comments when page load times are slower or are getting intolerable. By “heavy duty” I mean plugins that are described as doing just about everything you can imagine except shine your shoes.

If you are not using a plugin, deactivate it and then choose to delete the plugin’s files. Deactivation does not remove the plugins files, which means that the plugin PHP code still resides on your website. When WordPress prompts you with “Delete Files?” upon deactivating a plugin, choose “Yes”. If you change your mind and find a use for the plugin you can always reinstall it.

 

Don’t Host Your Own Videos

 

Most video files are huge. Do not store them in the Media section of your WordPress website. There are plenty of free video hosting websites available. YouTube is the most obvious one. Wistia.com will also store videos for free with their free plan. Vimeo also offers free video hosting accounts.

 

Be Conscious of Image Sizes

 

Using photos on your website is important for illustration and engaging your audience. But the use of too many photos, or photos that are too large can drag down page load times. There’s no sense in loading a 20MB image file when you’re only going to display it as 300×300 pixels! Image quality is important, but only if it is noticeable. Image quality is achieved by using higher pixel concentrations (resolution). But resolutions in excess of 72 dpi (dots per inch) are not appropriate for the Web.

There are some plugins that will help you control the impact of images on your page loads. The WP Smush.it plugin will optimize JPEG compression and strip the unnecessary metadata to make photo files smaller. You might also consider the Lazy Load plugin, which will only load images when they are visible to the user.

 

Optimize Your JavaScript and CSS

 

If you still cannot get a handle on slow page loads, you might consider plugins to optimize your JavaScript and CSS. I do not use these plugins because my page load speed is good. But as websites increase in size (and they will as you add more content over time) these plugins will help speed things up.

 

For the longest time, one of the most trusted solutions for shrinking down your CSS and JavaScript files was a plugin called WP Minify. It’s still pretty good at making those files far more compressed and efficient, but the plugin hasn’t been updated for over two years. A more up to date solution would be Autoptimize, which effectively performs the same kinds of actions to your JavaScript, and CSS.

 

Summing It All Up

 

This is how I achieve fast page loads on Scott Alan Reed Dot Com. No tricks.

  • Get your own dedicated IP address.
  • Subscribe your website to CloudFlare. It’s free and it makes a big difference.
  • Use a caching plugin to cache pages and other elements that are accessed or viewed most often.
  • Use a plugin to clean your WordPress databases, the SPAM queue, and old revisions of posts.
  • Minimize plugin use. Delete plugin code that you are not using.
  • Do not store video files on your website. Use a service. Many offer free accounts.
  • Avoid huge photo files. 72 dpi resolution is sufficient for the Web. If unsure about resolution, look at the file properties.

I have not had a need to implement the following for faster page loads.

  • Use a plugin to optimize your JavaScript and CSS files.

If you have implemented all of the above steps but are still facing unacceptable page load speed, I would first consider looking around for a better hosting service. And if that doesn’t resolve your problem, you may need to consider putting your website on a dedicated file server.

Most web hosts offer several packages for improving website performance. Some hosts have optimization consulting experts on staff and available for a nominal fee. They will evaluate your website to insure that it is running at peak performance.

Web hosting is highly competitive. And because of competition, these companies use special service offerings to  compete against each other. Take advantage of these services. Since competition is stiff, these services are often offered to you at bargain prices.

10

We’re Mad as Hell! And We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore!

I rarely write about politics. Primarily for two reasons. My feeling has been that government is just too big and complicated to deal with anymore. So there’s nothing one person can do about political issues except vote.

Secondly, it’s easier for me to be apathetic and look the other way than it is to complicate my life with daily worrying about political issues that I can do nothing about.

So I’m guilty; guilty as hell. I’m guilty of not giving a rip about what goes on in Washington D.C..  And it’s that kind of attitude that has got us where we are today. I contribute to that mess. And I’m sure that a lot of other folks do too.

However, I have some good news and some bad news……..

First, The Good News

The good news is that  it’s no longer a secret what is wrong with our economy and government. Some say it’s an Obama problem. It isn’t. Some say it’s a problem with Democrats in general. That’s not true. Others say we didn’t have these problems until we pushed this “global economy” thing and now that the whole world is just one giant economy, our political/economic affairs are in shambles.

But everyone seems to know that a big problem does indeed exist. That’s good. That’s a start….

The White House

Neither party seems to be able to put forth true leaders for President. What ever happened to the Abe Lincoln’s, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s, and the John F. Kennedy’s of the world? You know; people who could lead and had vision. We’re in a leadership vacuum with only a 40% approval rating for the current President.

The Congress

What happened to our representation in Congress? We elect a bunch of “no-bodies” that no one ever heard of and then once they arrive in D.C., their only interest is in getting rich on our tax dollars and spending whatever is left over. Have you ever wondered why one candidate would spend $100 million dollars in order to gain a seat in Congress? That new record was set in the most recent mid-term election by a candidate for the U.S. Senate, who would represent North Carolina, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

What is it that causes candidates to desperately risk anything and everything in order to get a seat in the federal government? I don’t think that it has anything to do with representing the issues that most concern you and I.

The Judicial Branch

The judiciary branch is supposed to be non-partisan. But the judges on the Supreme Court are appointed by the sitting President, and the President takes care to appoint a “good ole boy” whose philosophy is closely akin to that of the President and the President’s party. So much for the non-partisan part.

How many more years is the Court going to debate abortion? That debate began in 1973. How long will gay rights be debated? The debate started in 2003 with Lawrence vs. Texas. That was eleven years ago. Is there anyone in our government who is capable of making a decision?

Oops! There’s Also Bad News

Now the bad news…. We let all this happen. By we, I mean all of us. We have been apathetic all these years about what takes place in Washington D.C. primarily because we all feel that there’s nothing to be done about it.

Like I said, I’m just as guilty as you are. But as the old adage goes, “you can try the patience of a saint”. I’m not a saint but I’ve been told more than once that I’m pretty short on patience. Now I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. You may feel the same way once you watch the following video.

I don’t know where this video came from. Somebody uploaded it to YouTube in March 2009. Our current President took office January 1 of the same year. One of my wife’s good friends sent the video to us in e-mail and my wife asked me to watch it.

It’s easy to be apathetic about politics and then go on with your life. But when someone throws everything that is wrong with government in your face in 6 minutes, it’s pretty intense. I was livid. I was aware of the issues. But, due to my disinterest in politics, I try not to think about them.

  1. Why are our “public servants” in Congress exempt from Social Security when the rest of us are expected to live on a puny S.S. check once we turn 62 years of age?
  2. Why do our “public servants” get to retire on full pay for life when the majority of the people that they represent cannot even make ends meet in retirement? After the Great Recession,  many “baby boomers” can no longer afford to retire.
  3. Why do our “public servants” get fee medical/dental insurance for life when the rest of us get “Obamacare”?
  4. Why do our “public servants” vote on their own pay raises in secret when their constituents haven’t see a pay raise in years? (Caterpillar Tractor Co. comes to mind. Bloomfield Business Week Magazine recently reported that workers at Caterpillar haven’t seen a pay raise in over 10 years).

Now Let’s Cut to the Video!

I’m going to stop jabbering for fear of getting myself into more hot water. WATCH THE VIDEO! It’s good and it’s well done. How good, you say?

I’ll share this with you. I received unverified information that a White House staffer discovered the video on YouTube and made Mr. Obama aware of the video. Obama watched it and was deeply disturbed by its content. So much so that he secretly summoned the video creator (a civilian) to the White House. Before doing that, he instructed his staff not to mention or talk about the video or the meeting with the video’s author. There was to be no press or even an acknowledgement that the White House knew anything about the video. As I said, I cannot verify this information. Take it for what it’s worth. It came to me via an e-mail stream from people that I know and trust. WATCH THE VIDEO.

So how did that feel? I was pretty much left speechless. How much of our money do you suppose is being wasted in Washington D.C.?

Don’t even attempt to answer that. So what now? I’m not feeling quite so apathetic anymore. I seem to have been shaken out of my political stupor. Or maybe it was the video in combination with the most recent Congressional mid-term election fiasco.

Time to Take Action!

Here’s what I intend to do. First, I’ll send that tea bag to my Congressmen. I have plenty of tea bags. They need to get tea bags in the mail year round.

Then I will bookmark the contact information for the two Senators from my state (Wisconsin) and the House representative from my district. And I will be more vocal about what they are doing (if anything) in Congress.

Do you have any idea how easy it is to get on-line, click on a bookmark in your browser, and fire off an e-mail to your Congressional representatives to let them know how you feel about the issues at hand? I can do that. Heck, I send and receive all kinds of e-mail in the course of a day. Why shouldn’t I pop off a couple of e-mails and let my guys in Washington know what I think about the way that they are behaving?

What would happen if all of us did the same? Now that’s a pretty scary thought.

  1. How much money do you think this country could save if we asked Congress to retire on the average retirement stipend of their constituents instead of full pay for life?
  2. And as a bonus for our government representatives, let’s require them to pay into Social Security, just like we do. So that they can enjoy that Social Security check when it arrives every month after the age of 62. But they must be careful not to let greed overtake them. Because if they have any ideas about retiring rich, that puny little Social Security check gets taxed so that what’s left can barely buy a tank of gas. I know that from first-hand experience.
  3. How much more would our government save if we asked our Senators and Representatives to reduce their monthly pay to the average monthly pay of their constituents? No need to vote on raises anymore. If average monthly pay for their constituents goes up, so does the pay of Congressmen from that state or district. If it goes down, same deal for Congressmen. Maybe they would give a little more consideration to raising the minimum wage IF IT DIRECTLY IMPACTED THEIR PAY!
  4. How much more would this country save if we asked Congress to locate and buy their own medical and dental insurance, just like we do? Do you think that would change their opinion of ObamaCare, which the majority of the people in this country hate?

Why is it that our representatives in Washington D.C. do not live under the same set of laws and policies that we do?

Take Action With Me. I Did the Leg-work Below For You

I’ll stop pestering the issue now. I think you get the point. In order to make your life easier, here are the bookmarks that you need in order to fire off an e-mail to your Congressmen whenever the urge strikes you.

The House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov/)

  1.  In the upper right hand corner of the Home Page, just below the search bar, note that is says “Find your Representative”.
  2. Enter your zip code and click on Go.
  3. On the next page you’ll see a thumbnail photo of your representative on the left.
  4. Next to the thumbnail photo you’ll see a little envelope icon. Click on it.
  5. Now you are ready to type your e-mail and let your representative know what is on your mind. How hard was that?

(Hmmm. It says the House is not in session now, November 8, 2014. What a surprise! Did I miss a holiday or something?)

The Senate (http://www.senate.gov/)

  1.  Again, in the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page, you will see a drop-down menu where all you need to do is pick your state and click Go.
  2. Bingo. The next page displays your senators information.
  3. No thumbnail photos this time. But note that each Senator has their own website. Click on the link.
  4. That will take you directly to their contact page on their website where you can compose your message right on their page.
  5. Note that there is a check box so that you can request a response to your message from your Senator. How cool is that?

Now when writing to your Congressmen, there’s no need to be eloquent and proper. You are exercising your right to free speech. The contact information is there specifically for your use. Just be you. There’s something about being you that makes what you write become real. Does that make sense?

Be nice and be polite. Being nice gets results. Being rude, disrespectful, and going into a rant tends to get ignored.

Summing It All Up

I found the video to be so compelling that I had to do something. I hope that you feel the same way. I promise not to write about politics anymore.

My tea bags are on their way in the mail to my one Representative and my two Senators.

My bookmarks are saved in my browser. I think the first issue that I will raise in e-mail with my Congressmen will be about pay. I want to know how much I am paying them and how they feel about reducing that amount to the average pay of the constituents in their district or state.

And I think it’s only fair that I mention that I support performance raises. Their constituents can vote on their congressmen’s performance each year and also vote on what percentage increase/decrease they feel is warranted based on the performance rating scale. Let’s make this easy and do the voting online based on sufficient e-mail reminders from our representatives. We’ll work out the details later.

Did you watch the video in it’s entirety? Did you send your tea bags? Did you bookmark your representatives web page or website? Good for you! Now we’re doing something about the problems identified in the video, and we’re no longer sitting on our “bums”.

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