My Web Host Penalised Me Yet Helped Speed Up My Site
This site used to be hosted on Site5, in Texas. I had a shared web host account, about the cheapest there is on Site5 though by no means the cheapest around (I’ve had experience of really cheap hosts….). It worked alright, site management was good. Then, I got hit by spammers. Twice. Big time.
Each time, this slowed the site down, made life hell for other shared accounts, especially when I introduced WordPress plugins to counter this.
Naturally, Site5 advised me to stop the hits or they’d pull my account (they’d already temporarily disabled it). They advised me to cut the plugins, using GoDaddy’s plugin testing tool, WordPress Plugin Performance Profiler (P3). So I did this, and after some trial and error, got the running processes down. Of course, I lost a bit of neat functionality.
Apart from internal WordPress testing, it pays to test your site as if you are someone else somewhere else. Pingdom have a set of tools that does just this, testing from various global locations and I can recommend it.
I used an iterative approach, testing various combinations of plugins and systems to end up as being in the top 8% sites for speed in the world! Not bad for free is all I can say! You’ll see in the screenshot above, that 92% of websites are slower than mine…. So is it really free? Here goes…..
- Web Hosting. Shared.
- My domain registration.
- WordPress and all the LAMP functionality
- WordPress plugins
WordPress (which this site uses) is built by the Automattic team and naturally have expanded over time. I’ve used their plugins for many years, Akismet from the off, which is a comment spam blocking system. Latterly, they came out with Jetpack, where they say,
Supercharge your WordPress site with powerful features previously only available to WordPress.com users.
Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.
This is all well and good, except when I tested it using the P3 plugin profiler, Jetpack was the biggest drag on everything! The worst part of it, was that actually, I was only using a small part of its features and it was still the biggest suck on performance.
- I didn’t use Carousel for photos since I had an old solution, NextGen Gallery, that I’m loathe to change.
- The comments system mucked up all other comment plugins, grabbing all for itself (a bit like Microsoft here!)
- I used the stats, and that was about all, yet they were very slow and not that informative, actually.
- Nearly all the other stuff I looked at, tried and ditched for similar reasons.
So much for the awesome cloud power. On top of this, you’re now supposed to pay for parts of Automattic’s offerings, like Akismet, the comment spam blocker while a major offering of theirs was actually slowing my site right up!
What Did I do?
Well not initially, actually, though the heavy-handed Site5 approach got my ire a bit I must admit. I did do loads of tests with a host of caching, anti-spam and page load improvement plugins first…
I now use Vidahost in the UK. The site is faster to manage (along with my others) since the servers are in the UK with me, and it’s cheaper, providing almost the same functionality and tools as Site 5. I took the opportunity to clean out a few dead files in the process, but essentially, all was moved, database and files. The lot. Just twiddled config.php and the .htaccess file a bit.
I did worry that my American visitors, who are actually in the majority, would suffer slower speed and thus I’d get hit in Google rankings, but hey, wait for later…!
I got it all working and as part of the whole “thinking” process since the very first warnings from Site 5, I’d been looking for better things.
Looking at Things Closely
- I like Related Posts. Related Posts plugins do just that. I love the idea of pulling out meta-data relevant stuff from a website. Site 5 had said, as have others on the web, that this sort of plugin makes big hits on a site. Some of them really do! I use YARPP, with a limited subset of features enabled which cuts down processing.
- I also like Andrew Ozz’s Shutter Reloaded which shows images nicely. I also like his post editor, TinyMCE Advanced, it being the best of many I’ve tested over the years.
- I like NextGEN Gallery having used it since before WordPress got all image fancy. I haven’t got time to fiddle with thousands of photos now…
- I’d like some statistics within WordPress.
- I’m not that interested, any-more (though I was) in Social Networking sharing features. Truth be told, if someone wants to share, they will.
- I’ve read a lot on image improvements. I’ve always shrunk images manually before uploading using the excellent IrfanView application. But during this enforced research, other things like sprites and delayed image loading popped into the equation.
So I like certain plugins or functionality. I try and use the one that works best for me. Too many plugins make a big hit on the server and thus website loading.
A way round this is caching. e.g. If a post is created and has related posts clagged on the bottom using YARPP, then the post is cached and YARRP is only running once. How and where the caching is done is the crux of the issue…
Site 5 suggested W3 Total Cache as a better alternative to Wp Super Cache, which I’ve used for years. Naturally, I’ve tested this and my conclusion was that it could be fast, and it was fast for a while, but over time on each of my sites I got issues around lock-ups and the huge and complex caching system around files, databases and sprites. This list is long.
I’ve also tested various database query caching plugins likewise over the years. W3 Total Cache incorporates this method too, but ultimately, it made too much work for not a lot of difference IMHO, since I’m lazy.
However, it did point me to one thing! CloudFlare.
Ah. The power of the cloud is back!
Not only that – it works!
You re-direct your DNS at your domain registrar (joker.com in my case) to CloudFlare’s DNS servers, set up the site malware protection level you want – then after a few hours your whole site is cached and protected. Best of all, it’s free for a little site like this!
In fact, using CloudFlare speeded everything up even before I got caching going again…
Further Plugin Work
Now, I went back to Wp Super Cache from Doncha and it all works fine. Site speed good. I then ditched Jetpack after testing it again. It really does interfere with all comment plugins, and I really like this comment one as do people who comment here:
It works great and does everything I want. So Jetpack, it’s bye bye. Take all your fancy commenting system, your stats, your social media and fancy image handling.
But What About Comment Spam?
I’ve found the best solution is a plugin called Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin. It needed a bit of fine tuning and a re-activation of Akismet to whip out a few wisps of spammer, but it works and seems to trap and report more spammers than ever Akismet did alone. Akismet, by itself, does the commenting bit in tandem with the plugin, rather well.
Unfortunately, during testing, a few unwanted visitors managed to register on the website. They can’t do real harm since I use the lowest role level at registration time. So I re-enabled SABRE and since then, no more unwanted visitors. I’ve tested SABRE as a visitor and the settings I’ve chosen are just about right – I’ve had issues with it previously when it blocked registration! But reducing the feature set and re-uploading a clean plugin fixes that.
CloudFlare and the CDN Issue
I toyed around getting a CDN to host images. But they (can) cost and anyway, I’ve gone off Amazon and others because of their anti-Wikileaks actions plus they don’t pay UK tax…
Delayed Image Loading
However, in the course of my reading, I found that images can be loaded just as the page comes into view, which speeds up page loading, and as a consequence the perceived nippiness of a site. The plugin BJ Lazy Load does this for me and works brilliantly. Check this last post about Australia which has a lot of medium sized images to see them pop into view!
Well, Jetpack is gone. I won’t be using it unless some serious improvements are made, it being the prime reason for the server load that brought me to this position in the first place. As soon as I disabled it (and simultaneously blocked all comments to the site, which isn’t the best thing, this being a blog after all), all server loads went away.
I now use SlimStat and it works very well. I’ve tried many over time, including Google’s analysis tools, my webhost’s stats tools, Wassup and more, but for now, this is it.
My site works pretty fast and is pretty protected from the bad guys. I actually still use more plugins than what is usually recommended – 50 is a huge lot according to web gurus and sages. Currently there are 31 in active operation with 8 inactivated. I love trying new ones, it’s like that, that’s just the way it is.
The delayed image loading is particularly apparent on a post with a lot of images, say this recent one. The post loads fast and you see the first images load, and as you scroll down you’ll see other images appear with a slight delay.
All the other stuff is incremental improvement, with the biggest, by far, being the free CloudFlare service which I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s a no-brainer, go and do it?
My Full List?
These are the plugins currently running that help my site work. Many are for security, which demonstrates the state of play versus the bad internet guys full well.
- Akismet by Automattic.
- All in one Favicon by Arne Franken.
- All in One SEO Pack by Michael Torbert.
- Artiss Plugins List by David Artiss.
- Audio player by Martin Laine.
- BJ Lazy Load by Bjørn Johansen.
- Block Bad Queries (BBQ) by Jeff Starr.
- Blog Copyright (by BTE) by Blog Traffic Exchange.
- BWP Google XML Sitemaps by Khang Minh.
- CloudFlare by Ian Pye, Jerome Chen, James Greene (CloudFlare Team).
- Extended Comment Options by FullThrottle Development.
- Google Analyticator by Video User Manuals.
- jQuery Vertical Accordion Menu by Lee Chestnutt.
- NextGEN Gallery by Photocrati.
- P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) by GoDaddy.com.
- SABRE by Didier Lorphelin.
- Shutter Reloaded by Andrew Ozz.
- Simple Tags by Amaury BALMER.
- Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin by Keith P. Graham.
- Strictly Auto Tags by Rob Reid.
- TinyMCE Advanced by Andrew Ozz.
- U Extended Comment by Taehan Lee.
- Use Google Libraries by Jason Penney.
- WP-DBManager by Lester ‘GaMerZ’ Chan.
- WP-Optimize by Ruhani Rabin.
- WP Security Scan by WebsiteDefender.
- WP SlimStat by Camu.
- WP SlimStat Dashboard Widgets by Camu.
- WP Super Cache by Donncha O Caoimh.
- YARPP Experiments by mitcho (Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine).
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin by mitcho (Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine).