eStartup-fine-tuning

eStartup-fine-tuning

STARTUP EPISODE 3: Fine Tuning

As you are (already!) used to … first, RECAP:

  • EPISODE 1: we found out that we can have a fully functional eBusiness platform for less than 200 EURO/year some work
  • EPISODE 2: we found out what we need to install on the platform

Now, after we installed everything, let’s think a little bit of what we did … 😊. Also let’s observe that the results of our work is functional but maybe the loading time is not as we want and maybe we would like to optimise the visibility of our work on the web (as the professionals will say … SEO optimisation or at least preparation for this). We need to prepare our selves in advance for these because once we will start to populate our website with quality content it may be a bit more complicated to do the optimisations and fine tuning.

Yep! And let’s not forget! We want all for free … 😊

Anyway, don’t worry, if you missed this EPISODE or you started to read the series as we all watched Star Wars (starting with EPISODE 4) there is no problem … fine tuning can be done at anytime, maybe with a little bit of extra work but without any harm to the system.

I have to prevent you about this EPISODE of the eStartup series … is a bit more technical but it is important to understand that the performance of your site can have a real impact on your eBusiness. However, don’t panic, doing what I will advise you to do in this EPISODE is only to click on some configuration options, still no advanced technical skills are required.

Asset management

Ok, what’s this? Well, this is the fancy name for everything that your website is loading when somebody access it. Some of the things are visible (such as the pictures or videos), some are not (such as the Javascript modules or styling files – so called CSS). All of these are mandatory, visible elements makes your site attractive, “hidden” elements makes your website functional so you cannot live without it. All of these are called assets. The loading speed of your site depends directly on the number and size of the assets. Be aware that it does not matter too much how attractive is your website, if it is slow your visitors will most likely never come back. It also affects the indexing algorithms used by our friend Google (the so-called SEObility of your site). So, you need to act on this.

Using the WordPress platform together with the plugins will come also with this disadvantage. The platform itself and each plugin will load its own scripts (Javascript) and styling files (CSS). As for the script files it is very likely that many plugins to use the same libraries which means that your website will load several times the same files. For CSS files, it is possible that your theme to prevent the usage of external CSS files so your website will load it for nothing. Well, yes, this is a disadvantage but if you put in balance all the other advantages of the platform you will understand that still is, probably, the best option you have. Moreover, you can improve the performance … also for free … 😊

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First of all check what’s the situation … for this you can use free SEO-ability tools. Here is one example: https://www.seobility.net/en/seocheck/. Don’t panic when you will see the SEO score … not important at this moment. Go directly to the section which shows you how many JS and CSS files your site is loading and don’t get scared … 😊 it is better to find out how you are standing before you will lose visitors or clients. Ok, now you know how many assets your site is loading … let’s do something about this!

I recommend this plugin: Asset CleanUp (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-asset-clean-up/). Even when you use the free version you will be able to do a lot of things in order to increase the loading speed of your site. Of course, there are also some other options for similar plugins but this is the one I decided to use mostly because of the fact that is more friendly with non-technical users.

This plugin will show you the full list of scripts and styling files loaded by your site. What you should do is to remove duplicates. This will require some work and a good attention to the details but you do not need advance technical skills. Just go file-by-file and see if the file is loaded more than once. If so, check the related option for not loading the duplicates.

Here is a hint for this … first look for files which are loaded from external sources such as Google. It is a very common approach for developers to use ready-made libraries offered by Google or others instead of writing their own libraries … why should they re-write something which is already functional and tested by others? So, look for these files and make sure that are loaded only once. Another important hint … when you check this, check the whole path to the source since files with same name can be loaded from different sources … the name only is not an indicator that, actually, it is the same file but the path to the source file name it is.

If you do some research on the web about this topic you may find out that the best option is to consolidate all your script and styling files in one single file and load it once. Yeah, the theory sounds great … I strongly advice you not to do this. This will require really advanced skills and at the first update of any plugin or theme or of the WordPress platform you will find out that all the files are there again and you must repeat the consolidation.

After you finish with removal of duplicates, run again the SEObility test to see the improvements … but don’t think that you are done with optimisation, there are still things that you must do.

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Compression, Caching and CDN

Ok, so you reduced the number of files. Now, what? Of course, as you expect, now is the time to reduce the size of the files. You may ask how could this be possible … well, it is, because all these files are basically text files containing a lot of spaces, comments, new lines … generally speaking, useless characters. The process of doing this is called “minify” the files and, as you can expect, there are free tools that will do it. This (and many others) will be a job for the caching tools. Of course, these are also free and are also WordPress plugins. My recommendation is W3 Total Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/w3-total-cache/) because is easy to install and configure and is doing a good job.

IMPORTANT:

If you activated WP Touch plugin for a better mobile user experience you have to check the configuration of the W3 Total Cache plugin and do some adjustments. It is easy, you can find a step-by-step guide here: https://support.wptouch.com/article/1446-configuring-cache-plugins-for-wptouch

Ok, back to the subject … activating the minify options of the W3 Total Cache plugin will reduce the size of the script and styling files with at least 10% and this is good.

So, by now you managed to reduce the number and size of script and styling files. What about the other files? Well, no problem … there are still some things to do … in fact, optimisation is a never ending story! It doesn’t mean that you have to make it a never ending story for you but believe me, always you can find something to optimise or somebody to tell you that you did not optimised enough … 😊 try to not fall into this trap!

For the rest of the files you can do at least three more things:

  • activate caching from the W3 Total Cache plugin.
  • activate compression for your whole website. This can be easily made from the management console made available for you by your hosting provider (see EPISODE 2, e.g. cPanel management console). Is just about clicking one option … nothing else. If you don’t find the option, you can ask your hosting provider to do it for you.
  • activate the so-called “lazy loading” option. This can be made from your W3 Total Cache plugin.

Using W3 Total Cache plugin you will also notice that there is another functionality available for increasing the load speed of your site. This is the CDN (Content Delivery Network) which basically means that you can use a worldwide network of servers to store copies of your web pages. This will significantly improve the speed because it is based on the geographic location of your visitors. The pages are delivered from the nearest server available, thus dramatically reducing the number of hops to pass through and using the largest available bandwidth. Unfortunately this service is not for free … is not expensive but is not for free. However, you can live without it for the moment and you can activate it at any time in the future when your business will generate enough revenue.

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Concluding on the optimisation topic, doing all the above, your SEObility score should have been increased with at least 10 points which is really good.

SEO optimisation

The best plugin that you can use to prepare your website for SEO optimisation is YOAST SEO https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/. I have to prevent you a little bit about this topic. Installing and configuring YOAST will not boost your website on the search engines. SEO optimisation is a continuous work since the popularity of the key words is in a permanent change. YOAST will only create the grounds for you and will assess the SEO score so you will be able to see at any time how you are standing and this is important. The actual SEO results will depend on different factors and on the content you will publish. Our good old friend Google can give you some hints for that … you can get inspiration form Google Trends. However, I recommend YOAST SEO because will make your life easier and will also highlight the improvements you should make.

Always Google

Yes! Cannot live without him and cannot live with him … 😊 And he cannot live without us. Some say that Google is our “big brother” and maybe they are right. But everything comes with a price in this life, sad but true. Bottom line is that Google is offering a lot for free. The price you will pay is the fact that Google will make a lot of money from the analytics collected from you and from other billions like you. But, at the end of the day, here we are talking about business and making money.

So, what is really necessary to get from Google is:

  • Google Analytics: to see the traffic on your website
  • Google Search: to allow Google to faster index your website thus increasing the ranking when somebody searches on some key words
  • Google Maps: to enhance the user experience on your website. This is not entirely free but believe me … when you will reach the number of visitors needed to exceed your free quota, you will have enough money to upgrade to a pay-as-you-go plan from Google.
  • Google CAPTCHA: this is very important in order to setup protection against bots which will try to fill in the forms you have on the site with spam

I will not enter in more details here about how to configure the Google services, I cannot do this better than Google itself, the only thing that I want to say is that for configuring the Google services you only need a Google account.

Well, that’s the end of this EPISODE. What we achieved so far? A functional eBusiness platform optimised for loading speed and for SEO, ready for starting our business. Pretty cool, isn’t it? I hope so! Stay tuned … the series will continue.

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