Just an update that I moved this site to another host, HostGator. I went with their reseller package as I have quite a few domains I want to move over to them. I had moved the domain to another host whose name involves the number 1 to improve WordPress compatibility but the load times were incredibly slow, sometimes up to 10 seconds or more to load one of my web pages which I’m sure is frustrating not just for myself but also for those trying to find information on the site.  With the HostGator account the average load time for a web page on this site via cable modem is down to about 2.1 seconds which is a huge improvement on page response time. I can tell already by looking at the statistics that the site is easier to use. The bounce rates have dropped and people are visiting more pages on the site.

The reseller package is pretty nice and it’s affordable at the 24.95 a month.  If you’re just wanting to host a couple of domains they have much lower prices for doing that as well as WordPress site hosting for a single WP site or for a WordPress Multi-User setup. With these rates pretty much anyone can get going with their own sites.

New Host = Better Performance
With the new host the website is much easier to maintain and much more responsive to what I do on my end with editing the pages, uploading photos and linking in videos, etc.  I’m glad I made the change and will slowly move my other sites over from the other host.  My house blog is still hosted with my first provider and may eventually get it’s own domain, but I’m happy where it is right now. My laser site is still on the slow host and it’s performance varies. I will probably be moving that site to my HostGator account as well.

You’ve got to check out this performance difference from switching from 1&1 to HostGator it’s unbelievable.  Remember the changes also included compression, but I promise that most of this improvement comes purely from switching to HostGator as a result.  Here’s my Google WebMaster Tools page load time graph. The last mark on the graph is the new host, HostGator.  This really shows me what I was missing. Click on the chart to enlarge it, it’s just sickening. I had contact the old host and they gave me a hard time about verifying this or that to move me to a new server/plan. I knew it would just be a big runaround.  A server switch will help short term but that will just come back on you in the long run. Find a better host that will give you the performance you need over a longer span of time. Yes, I linked up HostGator about 3 times in the past paragraph, but it’s only because I’m a believer and totally happy.. happpy.. HAAAAPYYYY!

Google Webmaster Tools say this “On average, pages in your site take 2.1 seconds to load (updated on Mar 16, 2011). This is faster than 67% of sites.”

Steps I took to Improve Site Performance
Aside from getting a new host I made some other important updates as well. I was using a gzip WordPress plugin to compress style sheets and javascript but that was actually adding a second onto the load time with fast connections so I’ve deactivated that and looked for a new plugin.  I ended up installing two new plugins the first is the Compression WP Plugin by Sonicity and the WP Minify Plugin by Thaya Kareeson.  I tested the site before and after using the Pingdom Web Page Load Time Tool and WebPageTest.  You can see the results from WebPageTest below (click to enlarge).

The Pingdom test is a great general test but the WebPageTest.org site does extensive testing and reporting which is really useful.  What I found out by running the test is that by enabling the features they recommended such as setting cache times on certain files (which I did through .htaccess) and combining my CSS and Javascript files I was able to greatly improve my performance. Changing the cache settings made a huge difference on sequential page load times.

In the image above under Before Changes you can see the  time a first time visitor to get the site completely (fully loaded) was 5.475 second with 395K downloaded in 54 requests. This includes things such as frame borders, edges, icons, images, ads, etc. The repeat view which takes advantage of caching if properly enabled and configured took 3.564 seconds with 90KB in 38 requests.

Once I installed the two plugins Compress WP and WP Minify and configured .htaccess for caching I ran the test again and saw an improvement in the results. While my ‘Report Card’ doesn’t look much improved over the original I did move from a Page Speed Score of 80/100 to 89/100 which is a big improvement for 34 minutes of work.

Looking at the second part of the image you can see that with the changes it took a visitor 5.514 seconds to load the page with 38 requests and 234kb of information.  Great reduction on the number of requests compared to the original 58 and the number of KB is down from almost 400kb to 243kb. The great part is the repeat view statistic which shows that the page for a repeat viewer took 1.985 seconds to load using 11 requests compared to 38 originally and only 64kb to download compared to the 90kB originally downloaded on a repeat view. That cuts the page load time almost in half for repeat visitors and it greatly reduces the load time as people explore the site since many of the border images, icons, etc are re-used throughout the sit.

One thing to keep in mind about the Compress WP plugin is that while it is running, in my own experience, you cannot use the automatic update feature for WordPress plug-ins, plug-ins won’t install. I’ve found the solution to be simply turning off WP Compress and then things work fine. I would like to see a fix for this in the future but I’m not sure how realistic that is. As long as you’re willing to a) manually upload your plugins or b) deactivate the Compress WP plug-in you will be ok.

Smart Phone User Support on WordPress
I’ve upgraded WPTouch Pro from BNC (BraveNewCode), the plugin which provides a mobile layout for visitors seeing the site from their smart phone.  The new version of WPTouch Pro supports the iPad now and this plugin has also done an excellent job with making the site mobile accessible. While I don’t have a huge number of mobile viewers who come to the site, the number was high enough that I felt it’d be nice to give them a proper mobile experiment.  WP Touch is a pretty low cost solution for this with good support.  There are other plugins which provide the same functionality but I don’t like them nearly as much.

Upgrading WordPress to Latest Release
Additionally I’ve upgraded to WordPress 3.1 and I’ve been making some changes to the site as a result of that. In the older versions they had a button in the editor which you would push and then paste in the URL to your YouTube videos. It was pretty easy and at first I was frustrated to see that this functionality was removed as of WordPress 3.1.  However the developers didn’t leave their users high and dry.  Now all you have to do is paste the video URL directly into a line in the editor with no link information or anything else and WordPress figures out that it’s a video and loads the proper viewer inline. I’m slowly changing the video links over to this method. You can tell the pages which have been changed because it has the newer style inline YouTube viewer which allows you to fullscreen the video and also to change the resolution of the video.

Website Support Funds:
I’ve also started adding some Amazon links here and there on the site. I don’t have banners in the common banner areas but I manually insert Amazon links and banners where appropriate to showcase products I like or suggest at least looking at, or using for comparison purposes. I’ve been using Amazon more and more for my purchasing when possible. All of my business dealings with Amazon and with sellers on Amazon have been great and the large number of reviews helps make it easier to decide if a product is for me or not. As an Amazon affiliate folks can make a few dollars from any sales they direct to Amazon and that works well to help pay for content and web hosting costs and other things.

Site Cleanup
I’ve also removed some of the AdSense links on the site that weren’t getting any clicks because there’s no point in sending extra content that isn’t being used at all.

In a continuing effort to clean things up I’ve also been going through and centering the images on the post. Originally I used the left justification and I noticed that it made things look off balance.

Improve Related Posts
I’ve also improved the ‘Related Posts’ section at the bottom of all posts using the YARPP (Yet Another Related Posts) Plugin by mitcho (Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine) for WordPress to show a thumbnail picture and part of the title instead for related posts of being just plain text links. Hopefully folks will find the thumbnails interesting and follow them to see the other kinds of content the site has to offer.

If you have any questions or comments about any of this, please feel free to interact in the comments section below.

Disclosure: The links to HostGator and WPTouch are affiliate links. Clicking on the link will take you to their respective sites and be tagged with myself as referring you to the site. If you purchase a plan or software package from them, I will receive a credit for providing a lead.  Though I am truly happy with Host Gator’s continuing service and WP Touch’s consistent upgrades and service, this relationship may be construed as me being biased towards Host Gator or WPTouch due to their affiliate program, rather than their services or software, and that should be taken into account with any purchasing decision. Thanks!

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