Put A Rocket Under Your Website

It’s taken a few years putting together this 40+ page website and carrying out ongoing site updates and maintenance. Gradually, the website became slower and slower to load and that fact didn’t really dawn on me until I recently received a tweet from a long-time tweep colleague, Cinnamon Carter (@Cinnamon_Carter). Always succinct and to the point she said something along the lines of “Hey, your website is really slow. You need to fix it up!”.

Now when Cinnamon speaks I listen. She has over 58,000 Twitter followers and with good reason. She’s heavily into the latest science and technology issues, with an emphasis on cybersecurity as well as tackling ‘rogues and charlatans’ head-on.

As a result of her wakeup call I started digging into the underlying reasons why websites were slow, and I learnt a lot of stuff I just didn’t know before. I confess to becoming a bit obsessive when faced with a new area of knowledge and a steep learning curve and this was one such situation. It resulted in me spending weeks digging deeper and trying out different approaches to speeding up websites in general and this website in particular.

This is not intended as an in-depth review and comparison of all the different speed-up techniques and products that are available – the use of Google search is much better at that and there are many excellent sites and blogs out there that cover such things in far more detail than I could. Rather, this is a summary of my conclusions and the specific things I did to try to speed up this (and in fact any) WordPress-based website.

WordPress websites rely on the use of a theme, and WordPress itself has its own free themes available. I investigated themes four years or so ago and I decided to use the family of themes from StudioPress, by CopyBlogger, which are based on their Genesis Framework. I’ve been very happy with this (I use their Corporate Theme here) and see no reason to change it. For those interested here’s a link to StudioPress Themes for WordPress.

Website Cache
Whichever theme one uses there are many plugins available to achieve almost anything you can imagine doing on a website. From the perspective of website loading speed the key thing to implement is the use of a cache, and there are free as well as paid alternatives. Two common free ones are called WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. Both receive good reviews and I implemented and investigated WP Super Cache. I also implemented a paid one called WP Rocket, which is in use on over 31,000 websites at the date of writing this. WP Rocket was definitely my preferred option and the one I’m using now. Hence the title of this blog post!

There’s a comparison of the features of these three alternatives here => Comparison of Features.

WP Rocket does much more than just caching and it requires zero setup and works right out-of-the-box. In addition there are lots of ‘fine-tuning’ options as well for those who want to squeeze even more speed out of their website. It’s very flexible and customisable and their documentation and support are excellent.

Content Delivery Networks
So you think you’ve got everything covered by using a caching plugin? Not quite. A caching plugin significantly improves the performance of your website on the server upon which it runs, but what about accessing that server from anywhere on the planet? If your server is in Hong Kong, for example, how long does it take when a user tries to access your website from, say Amsterdam?

This where a CDN or Content Delivery Network comes in. Broadly, a CDN takes your website content and places it on a number of very fast servers located at strategic internet nodes across the planet. This means that your website is very close to users anywhere in the world, making it very fast indeed for everyone, anywhere.

I chose a CDN called MaxCDN. It’s dead easy to set up and interfaces seamlessly with WP Rocket. MaxCDN’s documentation is very good indeed and their support, in my opinion, sets a gold standard for support from any software company. I’m so impressed with it that I’ve put a link to it right up in the website’s header, above, as well as here:

In conclusion, after spending weeks digging into the ins and outs of improving my website’s speed I’m extremely happy with my choices. And if you think my website is still a bit slow please bear in mind that I’m still tinkering with some of the finer points of the setup …

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