Optimising the speed of my websites is something that I have been looking at very closely recently. During my research I came across DIY WP Blog, a WordPress blog that shows you how you can optimise your WordPress website.
The owner of the website, Matthew Horne, optimises WordPress websites for a living. He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer some questions about himself, his business and the process of speeding up the loading time of a website. I hope you enjoy the interview.
For those who don’t know you, can you briefly tell readers who you are and what you do.
I am a veteran of the Iraq war turned Web developer. After leaving the army due to my stance on the war as well as foreseeing the damage I was doing to my body with nonstop training I tried to find employment back in the real world and found this task to be very difficult. I applied for BT (British Telecom) which seemed fitting as I spent 4 years as an Infantry signaller. I thought I would be accepted, however because I did not have GCSE maths (high school maths) I was rejected. This annoyed me as my experience was disregarded and I came to realise that we live in a world where paper means more than experience and work ethics.
Eventually I found myself at home looking for work and realised that considering where I lived and the economic climate at the time, it was going to require one giant leap of faith. So I took my skills as a telecommunications specialist and quickly adapted them to servers as they are very similar. Whilst working on servers I realised that almost every website I came across was highly inefficient and so I started to offer a service to improve people’s websites. This naturally led to becoming highly competent at building websites which I also offer. The difference is I build websites with the server in mind, so speed, efficiency are crucial aspects of my build process.
When did you start working online and what did your first website focus on?
I first started working online early 2012. My first service was based on server optimization and front end optimization for WordPress based websites. At the time, I believe there was only 2 other sites around offering this service, W3 and Gtmetrix. Nobody seemed to pay attention to the fact that efficiency was a key part of building a website. Today though there are many others sites offering this service but I cannot comments on the quality of their work. I only know that I have had many clients come to me after having their site serviced by W3.
How did you get involved with optimising people’s websites and servers?
I started using Odesk in the beginning. I would search constantly for people looking for optimization. At the time I charged very little for this service because I was looking for feedback more than income. Even though I had no money and debts I could not pay, I put feedback and experience before income because I was new to the online world and felt that I had to first prove I was more than competent at my job. Again, as we live in a world where paper is more important, it requires a lot of work and effort to gain trust and reputation amongst people.
What do you think are the three main benefits of optimising a website and ensuring it runs quickly?
The three most beneficial reasons for optimizing your website are:
- Improved user experience – Users benefit subconsciously from a fast site, we are naturally impatient in this day and age, and a single second online is a long time. So a site that takes 4 – 5 seconds before it even loads something would lose user confidence as their experience of the site simply becomes frustrating.
- Increased Traffic – You can increase your overall traffic and retention by simply having a snappy site. People are far more likely to browse a site that loads quickly than a site that loads slowly or sluggishly. Again this is because we become impatient and eventually frustrated, leave and go to another site to seek their needs.
- Improved Revenue – Naturally, happy users and increase traffic can bring you more income from your site. Income can be generated in a variety of ways, whether you’re selling something, offering services or using advertisement. Yahoo did a study which showed for every 100ms of load time added, they lost 1% of their revenue.
- Bonus – If you are a business that sells products or services then you most definitely should invest in the infrastructure for your site. You will lose a tremendous amount of potential and slow down your growth as well as lose income to competitors.
You improve the speed of websites for people every day. What common problems do you frequently that slows down a persons website?
The most common issues I find are in regards to images, caching and compression.
What quick changes can a user apply to their website to improve the speed of their website?
Users can improve the speed and efficiency of their sites by uploading optimized images rather than letting WordPress do the job. Images should also be scaled correctly, one image that is not scaled correctly can take up to 10 times longer to load than an optimized image with the correct dimensions.
With WordPress uers can install caching on their site, but it needs to be configured, it is not an out of the box plug and play plugin. W3 Total Caching requires some setting up and I have a post to show people the basics of what is needed. You can check that out here. W3 will also take care of Gzip compression if the server allows it.
Finally users should be aware of the limitations of their server, shared hosting is not designed for complex and well established sites. Once you have your foot in the door, it’s time to get serious and get a mid-size VPS with at least 2GB RAM.
You also optimise servers for customers. In your experience, how much of a website’s speed is down to the website itself and how much is down to the way a server is configured?
There is no real figure that I could give for how much of the websites speed comes from the server, it all depends on what the server is going to load. The more complex the site, the more power it will need to run it. In my experience the server can improve load times once optimized, but more importantly is provides you with capacity. Once the server is tuned, you will get more “bang for your buck” as it will be able to handle more simultaneous traffic. Server optimization only applied to VPS and dedicated servers with full root access.
In your opinion, what could WordPress do to improve the core version of WordPress so that loads quicker?
Wordpress could drop the template based system that it uses. It is inefficient and has security flaws. I build websites with Thesis 2 because it is based on object orientated programing, this is much faster, far more efficient and provides you with almost unlimited options for customizing. I offer a PSD to WordPress service, but I always try to use thesis simply because it is the most efficient framework around.
You offer a free optimisation guide on your blog. What does that cover and how can readers get it?
This E-book is not yet complete as I am trying to make it as informative as possible because I firmly believe that users should be aware of the reasons for doing something. Why do something if you cannot see the reasons for doing it. People are motivated by rewards for their efforts, which is what I want to include in this E-book.
The guide will cover all the key areas for managing and maintaining their website. I expect it to be released this year. I am offering it now so I can see how much interest there is and so far it is looking positive.
Although I have had a few angry emails about offering something that isn’t complete, but one must market something in order to find interest, otherwise you can work very hard and find little interest at the end of the road.
Out of the 100s that have so far subscribed for the guide, only 2 have responded negatively.
Also subscribing to my email list allows me to send people offers about deals, discounts, my eventual affiliate program as well as deals I make with hosting companies for coupons that I can offer.
Last but not least, what services do you offer to people and what benefit will they get from hiring you?
I offer 3 services.
- WordPress Optimization – This covers the front end optimization of a site which you can check out here.
- Server Optimization – This service more often than not is added to the front end optimization, most people want both the front and back end of their server optimized.
Together the above 2 services guarantee improved efficiency for their sites. After the work is complete and a few weeks or months have passed most people see improvement across the board in terms of reduced bounce rates, higher levels of traffic and retention as well as improved income for those that have some form of monetization on their site.
The final service I offer is PSD to WordPress conversions.
This service is more selective as it takes time to build an efficient website but everyone is welcome to enquire.
There are a number of benefits to having someone like me build a website.
I use only the best foundations for the job, in this case for WordPress that would be thesis 2. You will find that only resources required on a page will load, I steer clear of plugins unless I know they are efficient. Building a website that is optimized from the get go will provide you with an immediate advantage.
That vast majority of pre made themes are simply inefficient because they are attempting to cover a wide area. What if the user needs this or that? A custom made theme from a PSD means that the finished product will only contain what is needed, so it will be lighter, faster and more efficient than any premade theme.