When Google is assessing the quality of your site, it’s not just a question of the link pattern and the content; it’s also about how fast users can access your content. Page speed is an important metric and it’s where many sites fall down.
In How to Make Sure Your Site Loads Like Lightning, I looked at how to avoid some of the major causes of site slowdown. Now it’s time to look in more detail at one of those options: a content delivery network or CDN.
Defining a Content Delivery Network
So what exactly is this a Content Delivery Network (CDN)? The three words that make up the name give a clue to its three key features. To start with, it includes a set of computers or servers linked together to form a network. In general, these are located in different countries around the world.
When you sign up for a CDN service, it caches or stores copies of the content of your website on these networked computers. (Don’t worry, this does not result in a duplicate content penalty, as SEO roundtable points out.)
The point of having copies of your site on different network computers around the world is that when people try to visit your site the CDN serves up the copy of your content that is closest to them. That’s the delivery part. Using a computer close to the location where the request is made means that users get the content faster and that improves your page speed ranking.
Other CDN Benefits
But page speed is not just about Google ranking, but about user experience, and a CDN can help with that too. We all know that when we visit a site that takes a long time to load we will leave very quickly (if you have a high bounce rate that could be one reason why). Most web users expect an almost instant response and if your site doesn’t deliver then you will lose them.
If you’re using shared hosting, like many individuals and small businesses, a CDN offers another advantage. The thing is that for shared hosts to remain in business they have to parcel out the resources they have among all their users. If one site is using excessive CPU resources then the host may throttle (or slow down) the site to keep usage patterns under control. Since a CDN hosts copies of your site on its network, then this reduces server load.
And there’s another advantage for WordPress users who have extended their sites with multiple scripts and plugins or who are running image- or multimedia-heavy sites. CDNs often include tools to compress images and optimize script loading to speed up your site. Or you could configure your CDN so it just caches the resource-intensive parts of your site which slow down page load time.
As well as site speed, CDNs have other advantages for site owners. Many of them can make your site more secure by banning bots and suspected malware and fighting spam. They may also provide useful web statistics for your site.
How CDNs Work
If you update content regularly, for example on the home page or the blog, you can set different cache refresh options for parts of the site that are likely to change. For static pages, you can set a longer cache expiry time.
If you are used to tinkering with your site quite a bit or you plan to change your WordPress theme, then you have a couple of options. You can turn off caching for a while, you can set your CDN to always show logged in users the actual page or you can flush or refresh the cache so you can monitor the site changes you are implementing.
Do You Need a CDN? The Bottom Line
What will a CDN cost you? Unless you need premium services, in many cases using a CDN is free. A couple of options that work well both for WordPress sites and others are CloudFlare and Incapsula, both of which offer a free service. There are also paid services at varying price points including MaxCDN, Amazon Cloudfront and Amazon S3 All of these integrate easily with popular WordPress caching plugins.
If you have site speed problems, a CDN could be the answer. Check out these resources for addition help with making the decision:
Mobile browsing is taking over, according to all the predictions. So it’s a no-brainer that your site needs a mobile interface. But within a couple of years, more people will be using tablets and mobile phones than desktops to access the web. As the number of different screen sizes increases, how can a site owner keep all users happy? By having a responsive design.
What is Responsive Design?
A responsive web page design automatically resizes to adapt to the screen size that you are looking at it on. That means that whether you look at a site on the huge monitor that came with your latest desktop or on the smallest mobile phone screen everything will move around so that users can access the important information.
The User Experience
Here’s a true story that tells you why this is important. The other day I was browsing the web on my Android smartphone, a Galaxy S2, with a decent enough screen. But I had a problem. I went to a site and no matter what I did, I couldn’t see anything on the right of the page. In fact, navigating around the site was a total pain so I soon abandoned the site completely. If the site had had a responsive design, I might have stuck around.
Some sites have a standard mobile interface, delivered by a WordPress plugin or third party site such as DudaMobile. If you already have this, then that’s a good step, but consider this: some of the default interfaces are ugly, boring and have limited functionality. Navigation can be poor too. And sometimes users can get stuck in a loop and find themselves unable to access the main site. This gives a poor user experience and can drive users away. (It’s happened to me.)
Web users basically want to have the same experience on your site whether they are using a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop computer. A responsive design is one of the best ways to deliver this unified user experience. Tech sites like Mashable, ReadWrite and TheNextWeb have all recently implemented designs that provide this type of experience.
If you want to implement responsive design on your site, then you can try a responsive WordPress theme or use a CSS media query (explained in more detail in this StudioPress article) to determine what will happen on your site based on the screen size is of the device being used.
Responsive Design – Good or Bad?
An article on WebDesignShock highlights some common problems with responsive design, including the issue of resizing images in the browser. The trouble is the original images are still there at the original size and it will still take your mobile browser a long time to download them. That writer concludes that it’s better to design a mobile site than a responsive one. My experience, as highlighted in the examples above, tells me different. I have had a far better experience browsing sites with responsive mobile themes than on those that either didn’t have a mobile interface with those that had a cut down mobile interface where all I could see was the text.This consistency is one of the advantages of a responsive web design cited by Web Designer Depot. Not only is it good for usability, but for brand identity.
Another advantage of a responsive design is that it can give different users exactly what they are looking for when they need it. A mobile user visiting a site may want information about whether the business is nearby and whether the product they need is in stock. A desktop user may be interested in a wider view of the same business, product or service.
Responsive design is also recommended by Google. This type of design allows you to preserve all page authority and link juice for your main site without losing it all when you develop a mobile version. Google recommends this option because you only need one URL for a page, there’s no need for redirection and it saves site and crawler resources.
Is It Right for Your Site?
So, is responsive design right to your users? Dan Israel believes that another reason to have a responsive site is if your site relies mainly on content rather than e-commerce. If you’re running a blog, producing news, producing marketing materials and your site visitors are basically using your site the same way all the time then responsive design is a must, he says, and Eric Savitz of Forbes agrees.
However, as go cardless found, responsive design is not the answer for everyone. It’s a good idea to look at your web analytics to see how large your mobile browsing audience is and what they are doing on your site. If you don’t have many users taking up your main offerings then it may be the wrong option.
Only you can decide, but if you DO decide to go for a responsive design, here’s some inspiration, courtesy of SixRevisions. Have you already implemented a responsive theme or design?
In the US alone, 69 percent of adults who are online use social networking sites so you can imagine how many social media users there are worldwide. That’s a key reason why anyone with a business should be there. Let’s be clear: your website should be the hub for your online marketing efforts, but once you have created content on your own site, you need to promote it somewhere to attract people to what you are offering. The good thing about promoting on social media is that it doesn’t cost anything to set up a basic account and run it , all you need is the time to do it. Assuming you have the time, which sites should you be on?
Facebook – Potential Market with More than a Billion Users
However you may feel about it, you can’t afford to ignore Facebook. With more than a billion users, that’s a huge potential market for your business. As well as leveraging your personal profile, you can set up a business page, or a group (choose from open, closed or secret) and share content there. Facebook wants you to buy additional services such as ‘promoted posts’ but you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. You can still get some visibility by sharing resources manually and if you have a large network of contacts who are willing to reshare you can really do well on Facebook. Want the skinny on promoting with Facebook? Check out MariSmith.com.
Twitter – Use Hashtags and Search Cleverly
You might think that a site where you can only post updates of 140 characters is a waste of time, but when it comes to Twitter, you’d be wrong. The site is hugely popular with more than 100,000 tweets per minute according to Mashable and businesses are already using it to provide quick customer service. On Twitter, the big problem is cutting through the noise to get meaningful interaction. The way to do that is by building lists around your main interests and topics, and using hashtags and search to identify conversations that are relevant to your business. This article in the Daily Telegraph gives additional tips on using Twitter for business.
LinkedIn – Join The Group and Start Interacting
If your target market is other businesses, then you must be on LinkedIn, one of the most popular business networking sites there is. There are several levels of membership with additional features, but you can do quite a lot with a free membership. LinkedIn provides plenty of on-site advice on filling out your profile fully, but here are more tips from Social Media Today and Forbes. My top tip? Identify the groups where potential clients hang out, join them and interact, you will soon have a thriving network of business professionals.
Google+ – If The Search Giant Thinks You Should, Why Shouldn’t You?
You may wonder whether you really need to be present on yet another social network. The answer is that if it belongs to Google you certainly do. The search giant has invested heavily in Google+ and everyone with a Gmail account now automatically gets a profile that is a huge potential audience for your business. Even if you don’t plan to be active, set up your profile and link to your online properties to increase your presence in the search engines. And if you publish regularly, then use Google Authorship to help boost your authority. Business2Community has a great article on content marketing and Google+ but if you want to keep up with Google+ news, then check out arch-curator Jaana Nystrom.
Pinterest – Best For Retail Businesses that Have Product Images
Pinterest isn’t for everyone, but if your web business is retail then as one of the fastest growing social networks of 2012, and counting, it’s where you need to be. Pinterest is a major traffic driver for sites that have something to sell because of its huge images and the conversation that springs up around them. It’s a very visual site and many businesses have used it to host contests to increase client engagement. If you want to market with Pinterest, then Hubspot’s guide is a great starting point.
Instagram – Tap Into The Mobile Market
Instagram was the other big social media story of 2012, especially after getting acquired by Facebook. Unlike the other sites mentioned, it’s a smartphone app (though it has recently introduced web profiles) for sharing photos, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. You can tag photos, comment on them and use location features, something which many businesses have used for local marketing. If you want to promote your business with Instagram, then try this Rookie’s Guide on Unbounce.
These six sites provide a great starting point for online social media promotion. If you want to spread your wings further, then check out this list on the eBiz MBA Knowledgebase.
As a business owner, it can be tempting to run after the next big thing in social media and pin your hopes on it for business promotion. But that’s almost always a mistake. Remember how big MySpace was – and how far it fell? That’s a typical internet life cycle, as this infographic shows. That means that even the hot social media sites of today could be far less influential in a couple of years or even disappear altogether. That while leave you nowhere if your whole online presence is on those sites. What should you do instead? Have your own website as a hub, of course. Here are five things you can do better when you have your own domain.
Be a Control Freak
We’ve already touched on the first one – having control of your online presence. You wouldn’t give someone else the keys to your bricks and mortar store, would you? So why would you do that online? Social media sites often change their rules which means you can’t use the sites in the way you want. Or you might find that the content you think is yours is being used for other purposes. Facebook is famous for this, but it’s not the only one. Sudden rule changes can damage your interaction with customers, so avoid letting other people control your web space. Instead, buy your own. That puts you in the driver’s seat, whatever changes those sites impose.
Have Your Own Professional Base
Speaking of spending, it doesn’t cost much to buy a domain name and web hosting. Once you’re paid up, you own those web properties. That means that people always know where to find you. C’mon – what looks better – a site on a subdomain of WordPress or Blogger or your own branded website? You know the answer – your own space is infinitely better, allowing you to showcase products and services and have a branded email address where potential customers can contact you. It’s simply more professional. That doesn’t mean you can’t use social media sites, but be smart and use your social media posts to send people back to your own online base.
Build Your Brand with Content
When people come to your site you need something to offer them to turn those one-time visitors into repeat customers and loyal fans. That’s where content marketing comes in. Pillar blog content, ebooks, infographics, presentations, webinars – you choose. This is a proven strategy – just look at Hubspot.
When you create content, there’s only one good place to host it – on your own site. If you don’t own the site and the person who does thinks you have violated their terms of service, your content can be gone before you can blink. It happens all the time. But if you own your own site, you don’t need to worry.
Boost Your Business with a Blog
Did you know that blogging helps you get business? It’s true; just check out this research. More traffic, better branding and a louder message – all of these are benefits your business can use. And the only way you will get the full benefits of this is by blogging on your own site. Let’s face it: WordPress.com and Blogger don’t need the additional traffic – your business does, so help yourself by creating an authoritative blog on your own web domain.
Let’s Talk About Search, Baby!
When you own your own domain, people can find you, but that also means you have to be visible in search engine results. The good news is that Google loves good, relevant, quality content. And you can make it even easier by registering as a site publisher and content author using Google Authorship. That puts a nice little picture next to everything you publish when it appears in search engine results. It’s another way to build authority – and all you have to do is grab and install the code.
As you can see, owning your own domain means you have full control of your online business presence – and it gives you a hub for all your online marketing efforts. What are you waiting for? Buy a domain name and hosting now and start building your online business presence today.
This is the third and final part of our megalist of WordPress resources for your site. In part 1 we looked at resources from WordPress itself, as well as themes. In part 2, we examined SEO plugins, videos and hacks. Today, we look at integrating slideshows, mobile and social media into your WordPress site.
Using Slideshows on Your WordPress Site
Web content has become more and more visual and many site owners want to show off their best content with slideshows and galleries. Some themes have the functionality built in, but if yours doesn’t, here are some resources to help you.
- Using Slideshows on WordPress.com – a video showing how to add a slideshow to a post.
- Build a Slideshow Plugin for WordPress – a tutorial explaining how to create your own slideshow plugin, including the code you need to get started.
- How to create a header slideshow in WordPress – another video; this time about putting your slideshow in the header.
- 5 Best Slideshow Plugins For WordPress – a list of popular slideshow integration options, including NEXTGen Gallery and SlideDeck
- 20+ Beautiful WordPress Slideshow Plugins – it’s a little dated now, but this roundup from DynamicWP still offers some value. The articles on Jquery sliders and slideshow-enabled themes are also worth a look.
- Add a SlideShare Presentation to Your WordPress Site from WPMU is worth a look if all you need to do is embed content from the popular presentation sharing site.
Making Your WordPress Site Mobile Friendly
When it comes to browsing or surfing, mobile is where it’s at, so it’s a trend site owners can’t afford to ignore. Here are some tips on making your WordPress site mobile-friendly. First of all, let’s take a look at why it’s important to do so.
- Optimize Your Website for Mobile Devices – Kim Ann King cites facts and figures about the mobile trend and makes recommendations for site owners and marketers.
- How Important Is a Mobile-Optimized Site for Your Business? – this article on Mashable highlights the effects of ignoring mobile for business and branding.
- Understanding Mobile Users – a think piece from Google on the mobile trend.
Next, here are some tips on making your site mobile-friendly:
- Make Your WordPress Site Mobile-Friendly – Dave Zille’s WordCamp presentation includes the history of mobile, as well as tips and tools.
- How to Create a Mobile Friendly WordPress Site, in Under 5 minutes – this video shows how using the WP Mobile Detector plugin can give you a headstart on mobile readiness. There’s also a detailed plugin review on WPMU.
- 5 Ways To Optimize Your Site For Mobile Devices – tips on stylesheets, screen display, markup and graphics for site owners.
- 3 of the Best WordPress Plugins to Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly – in addition to WP Mobile Detector, this Sitepoint article looks at the features of WordPress Mobile Pack and MobilePress.
- Creating Mobile-Optimized Websites Using WordPress examines mobile themes as well as plugins. In particular it looks how to make your theme responsive or how to include a mobile or responsive theme.
- 11 Ways to Create a Mobile Friendly WordPress Site – WPBeginner adds some new options to the mobile mix by providing mini-reviews of some free web services that provide a mobile version of your site.
Socializing Your WordPress Site
Our final section looks at integrating the social media into your WordPress site. One aspect of this is making your site more shareable and more conversational, as some of these articles suggest:
- 5 Tips for Making Your Website More Social – there are several tips here, including the importance of getting feedback from visitors on your site.
- Building Community Sites with WordPress: 15 Plugins to Get Started – the community aspect is also important for writer Cameron Chapman, who suggests a number of plugins for including user-generated content on your site.
- Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social – there’s a word of warning from Search Engine Journal about the toll that plugins take on site speed and therefore on the visitor experience.
- On the other hand, if you do want to integrate social media with plugins, Mashable’s list of 30+ Plugins to Make Your WordPress Blog More Social is a good place to start. This was first published a while ago, though many of the plugins are still being updated.
- The Top 8 Social Media Plugins for Your Blog or Website is a good place to start with getting social and it includes plugins like CommentLuv and Tweet Old Post for improving conversation and sharing.
There are dozens of tutorials on integrating Facebook and Twitter into your WordPress site. Examples are Smashing Magazine’s How To Integrate Facebook, Twitter And Google+ In WordPress and Connect Your WordPress Blog With Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr from Mashable. So instead of looking at those, here are some tips on linking your WordPress site to some of the more recent hot social networks: Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.
- Integrating Instagram Photos into WordPress – tips on using custom post types to get your Instagram photos onto your blog.
- Adding an Instagram feed to a website – a detailed exploration of several methods of adding Instagram to your site, including the use of jQuery.
- How to Integrate Pinterest into Your WordPress Layout – this article rounds up the integration options offered by Pinterest itself as well as a couple of useful plugins.
- How to Integrate a Beautiful Pinterest Board into WordPress – FreshMuse provides tips on using IFTTT with Pinterest.
- How to Add Pinterest’s Buttons & Widgets to Your Website – advice from Hubspot on configuring your Pinterest goodies.
- HOW TO: Integrate Google+ Into Your WordPress Site – buttons, badges and themes all feature in this tutorial from Mashable.
- Top 30 Google Plugins for WordPress – a useful list from WPMU.
That’s the end of our huge list of WordPress resources. If there’s another category you want to know about, please let us know in the comments.
Did you know that if your site is slow it could rank lower in the search engines? Page speed is one of the metrics Google uses to assess site quality and if your site doesn’t pass the test you could be penalized. So how do you know if your site is slow? There are lots of ways:
Image credit: veggiefrog
Is Your Site Slow? How to Find Out
You could visit it yourself or get friends to visit and see how long the pages take to load compared with other sites you visit. That’s not scientific, though, because if your internet service provider is slow, you will never know for sure where the fault is.
You can check out Google Webmaster Tools – add your site following the on-site instructions, add the HTML snippet to the root of your domain, and use the included tools to assess the health of your site. That won’t tell you explicitly about speed, but it will help you find some of the causes of site slowdown, such as the presence of malware.
Visit Google Analytics and check out the site speed report to find average page load time and other useful metrics. You can even see the load time for specific pages. Check out the relationship between page load time and bounce rate and you will see that the longer a page takes to load the less likely people are to stick around to see it. Since you want people to read your content, that’s another reason why site speed is important.
But the problem with all those tools is that even if you know your site is slow, you don’t know how to fix it. That’s why one of my favorite tools is the GTMetrix site. Just input the URL, run the text and you get both a page speed and a YSlow grade, with a detailed list of what’s slowing your site down and how urgently you need to fix it. An A-C grade means your site is pretty OK; a D-F grade means you’ve got serious work to do. Luckily the GTMetrix site also gives you a prioritized list of what you need to fix.
Site Speed – The Major Offenders
Here are some of the key areas to look at if you want to speed up your site. Since there are more than 59 million WordPress sites worldwide, and counting, let’s focus on this platform, though much of the advice also applies to other platforms and to static sites.
Large images are another common offender. The golden rule is that images should be the size they need to be and no larger. So the humongous hi-res photo you took on your phone or camera needs to be manually resized so it fits within your theme. Almost any image editor will let you do this or try an online picture resizer. Small file sizes mean faster loading. WordPress sites can use WP-Minify to reduce image sizes and caching plugins and CDNs usually help with this too. You can even host images on other sites to avoid server load.
WordPress sites have a couple more potential causes of site slowdown. At the heart of your installation is a mySQL database and everything you do on the site affects this. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep your database in tip top condition. In your web hosting control panel you can check out the database via PHPMyAdmin and repair it with a single click. You can check out the database issues in this guide to see what might be affecting your site and you can also install a database optimization WordPress plugin.
Plugins and Themes
Speaking of plugins, they are another major cause of site lag. We need them, but not too many of them. If your site is slow, try running it without any plugins for a while. If it speeds up, you know that a plugin is causing a problem. Enable each plugin in turn to see which one it is or use the Plugin Performance Profiler as a shortcut to identifying plugin problems. Remove or replace any slow plugins and you should notice an immediate improvement.
Let’s not forget about the theme you are using on your site. Some themes require more database calls than others or may make heavy use of images and scripts, increasing page load times. It’s a good idea to choose a fast loading theme or one that is well designed, such as many of the premium themes and theme frameworks.
Is Your Web Host at Fault?
If you have addressed all these areas and your site is still slow, then visit your site control panel to see if your host is throttling your site. Some hosts do this if your site is overusing CPU resources and you might not find out till it actually happens. If it does, talk to them, get their recommendations and implement them or move to a less restrictive web host , or both.
An All in One Solution
Most people don’t want to spend time digging into the inner workings of their site. If this is you, then you have two options, which you can use separately or together. The first is to use a tool like Cloudflare to improve the causes of site slowdown with a couple of clicks in an easy to use dashboard. The second is to use a caching plugin like WP Super Cache to make sure scripts, images and other parts of your site function as quickly as possible. Then you too can have a lightning-fast site.