When Researching a Problem Uncovers Even More

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When Researching a Problem Uncovers a TON More

February 15, 2016

This month one of my main goals was to focus on my website and improving my SEO. I’ve done an extensive amount of research on this topic for the past several years and it came to no surprise that things are constantly changing and improving. For a while I felt like no matter what I did to stay on top of it, I was fighting a battle that just couldn’t be won. In all honesty, I wanted perfection and I spend countless hours working on it. SEO also intrigues me because I’m able to easily locate a problem and then work on figuring out a plan to solve it. So I had no issue with trying to fix things. And round and round I went.

Do you see the constant cycle I found myself in? (Typical INFJ, if you ask me!)

Ultimately, I learned a really valuable lesson this weekend. No matter how much code I added, no matter how many new plugins I found, no matter how often I ran tests on my website – it wasn’t ever going to be 100% perfect. BUT I still got a thrill when I fixed a problem, until I uncovered another problem that was connected to the first problem I thought I fixed.

Following me?

 

When Researching a Problem Uncovers a TON more

 

It all started when Google sent me an email a couple weeks ago telling me it found an unbelievable amount of broken links on my website. Of course the broken links were a problem – but the bigger issue was that if I didn’t fix those broken links then it would directly affect my SEO ranking, which I’ve worked extremely hard to get. I jumped into action. Two days later I had 500+ broken links on my website fixed. Shortly after I fixed those broken links I decided to test the speed of my website. This unearthed several more serious problems that could also directly screw up my precious SEO. This was when researching a problem uncovers a TON more!

According to Kissmetrics, almost half of web users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. And if the loading time takes longer than 3 seconds, people are more likely to bounce off of your site without ever seeing any of your content. This was SERIOUS problem for me because when I performed my first speed test this weekend my site was loading in around 9 seconds. In the eyes of someone who had NO idea people bounce in 3 seconds or less, this might not seem like a big problem. But my analytical, problem solving, perfectionist brain insisted I do some research to figure out the following:

  1. WHY my website was running so slowly, and
  2. HOW can I improve my speed, and
  3. WHAT do I do to get things moving faster.

When Krista sent over my final email letting me know my brand new website was up-and-running, the first thing she said to me was that my image file sizes seemed really large and I should probably do something about that. Walking into this research, I knew my images were an issue. But I wasn’t prepared to find everything else I found!

 

website speed tests and how to fix it

Finding and Fixing Site Speed Issues

The first you should do is run a site speed test. There are several reliable places to do this, and I found myself using GTmetrix more than the others. Pingdom Website Speed Test is another. And don’t forget about Google’s own PageSpeed Insights. One important thing I learned using these tools is that you will almost never return identical results when using multiple testing sites. Don’t get frustrated and just use these tools as a good starting point so you know what to fix on your website.

GTmetrix was a great resource for me because of the detailed report it provided showing me exactly what my website’s issues were. Diving into researching how to fix these things resulted in uncovering several WordPress plugins that I had no idea existed! What’s even better is that most of these plugins are extremely easy-to-use and provided immediate results.

Things to Consider

I don’t know why I never thought my web host would be directly tied to the speed of my website, but it is. Bluehost is who I was using. (WAS being the operative word.) I’m in the process of switching over to a different hosting company for various reasons. However, I noticed over the course of the past year that my website was experiencing a higher volume of outages more times than it ever has in the past. It was also running much slower than it has in the past (for various reasons, I know). Hosting isn’t a high priority item that you absolutely have to fix right now. But if you’re noticing multiple outages during high-traffic periods of the day, or atrociously slow speeds then you may want to seriously reconsider who you’re hosting through.

Download Plugins and Use Them

WordPress offers a large amount of plugins to choose from that work in a way that allows you to avoid having to mess with code. Code can be confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing, and there’s a high possibility you could end up screwing up your website. There’s no wonder most people shy away from coding! Thankfully, these plugins make it easy!

Optimizing Images – When I first received my brand new website I was warned that my images needed to be updated just because of the sheer size of them. The larger the image files you have, the longer it takes to load them. Thus drastically slowing down your website. WP Smush is a magical little plug-in that will reduce the size of your images and improve your loading time. The free version of this plugin has worked great for me so far! But if you’re wanting to invest a little more into the Pro version, you’ll get lots of great upgrades. So far, Smush has optimized almost 4k images for my website!

Minify CSS/Javascript – I failed this test horribly! Apparently the theme I am using on my website requires a huge amount of CSS code and HTML. There are ways you can improve your site speed just by choosing a lighter, faster theme. So that is something to consider if you’re working with a designer any time soon. But now that my website has been freshly updated I needed to figure out a way to speed things up. You’re able to do this with another simple plug-in called W3 Total Cache. It combines your CSS and Javascript files and minifys them so your speed improves. But it does MUCH more than that by connecting to a CDN (if you have one), while also caching your objects, databases, pages, etc. Minit is another plugin you could use that essentially does the same thing, by combining these files.

Remove Query String – I had a serious problem figuring this one out. Everything I was reading in the beginning of my research all pointed to messing with the code. I don’t have issues with adding strings of code if I have clear instructions on how to do it and where to properly place it. But I just couldn’t figure this one out on my own. Then, I found the Remove Query Strings from Static Resources plugin. It can’t get easier than this one!! All you do is load it to your plugins page and activate it. That’s it! As soon as I loaded this plugin my pagespeed alert for query strings disappeared.

HTML Compression – This is another problem that was flagged on my speed test with horrible results. WP HTML Compression says that the use of this plugin will improve your speed while also increasing your Google rankings. Can’t go wrong with that! I actually found this plugin after I fought with the code last night. Fighting with the code actually required me to use a program to access my host’s server where my website is housed, locate my hidden .htaccess file, and edit the code using a text editor. If you do that wrong you can essentially shut down your entire site by mistake. It took me HOURS to do it that way because I wanted to make sure I was following the instructions perfectly. Instead of going that route, I highly recommend just downloading this plugin instead. Once you activate the plugin it automatically starts compression, so there’s no extra work for you to do. (SIDE NOTE: This plugin hasn’t been updated in a couple of years and you may notice some compatibility issues. IF you’re having trouble using the plugin you may have to end up going the route I did by editing your code. Proceed with caution.)

Keep WordPress Clean – Delete widgets and plugins that you’re not using. Don’t just deactivate them and let them sit. The extra files inside of those plugins are still associated with your website and may end up slowing you down. Clear out spammy comments, any trash bins, and remove pingbacks. You can do all of this yourself or you can download a simple plugin! (Although, you will need to get rid of the unused or extremely large widgets and plugins yourself.) WP Optimize is what you’ll want for this job.

Now What?

Now that you’ve run your first test, recorded your results, researched and downloaded a few plugins – do yourself a huge favor and run one more test on your site’s speed and see if any of these recommended changes improved your speed results. Since I started working on improving my plugins, changing code, and getting rid of unnecessary trash I’ve been able to bring my page loading stats from around 9 seconds down to 3.5 seconds!! It’s still not “perfect” and there is still room for improvement for my website. I still have more images to smush and a few other things that need to be addressed. However, I think that the improvement I’ve seen so far on my page speed test results were pretty drastic.

I would LOVE to hear from you!! Please comment below and let me know whether or not you’ve ever considered the loading speed of your website to be an issue. Did you have problems you didn’t know needed to be fixed? Are you now seeing improved loading time with the use of some of the plugins I listed above? Let me know!

DC MARYLAND VIRGINIA WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER, (410) 231-8692