Speed Test Your Site For Stability

Today I’m going to take things off topic a bit and share my latest experience with our website issues.  Lately, Google has been saying that website speed is going to be considered a factor in their search algorithm.  So I thought I would do a speed test on our site to see how we compared to the big players.  I started to look more into the issue when we noticed that our site wasn’t the most stable.  As time went on, it was getting to the point where this site would actually crash for a few minutes every time we tried to edit a post.  So when we received a media mention from the Globe and Mail last week I was pretty nervous that we would crash due to the increased traffic!

Speed Test Your Website With Google

Speed Test

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have done anything because the results were pretty terrible and we needed to take some big steps in order to improve.  According to Google Speed Test we were anywhere between a 74-79 depending on the time of day.  With our site being so unstable I was beginning to wonder if a full moon had anything to do with it.  As I dove deeper into the issue I found there were a number of things wrong and went about making things right.

From the speed test sites I was able to get a good handle on what the issues were and was able to get some guidance on how to correct them.  So we did the basic stuff

  • Installed Caching
  • Decreased the size of all of our pictures
  • Installed Cloudflare (use a CDN)
  • Removed unnecessary plugins
  • Deleted Themes that we weren’t using
  • Optimized Database………..Here is where I found my 2 week headache.

WordPress Databases Will Skew Your Speed Test

Despite what Teacher Man thinks of my technical abilities, I can’t do any serious coding.  I can use WordPress pretty good, but as soon as I see more than 3 lines of HTML code I get confused pretty easily.  With that said, I’m still light years ahead of him ;).  When WordPress databases came into the picture I was immediately lost in the thousands of lines of code and tables.

On every website I found on speeding up your website, they all mention the basic stuff that fixes 80% of the problem, speeds up the site by 80%, but for us it was something a little out of the ordinary.

To break it down, whenever you leave your WordPress post open for editing it will create an auto-save every few minutes. Each time it saves, it generates a new copy; thus a new line of code in your database.  After editing 200+ posts it tends to fill the data base up with garbage that you don’t need slowing down your site.

Another annoying thing is each and every plugin you install will leave most of its settings in the database, even if you uninstall them. I’m pretty sure this applies to themes as well and when we first started out we were playing with quite a few of them. What is worse is that I sampled hundreds of plugins and throughout the whole thing I never backed up anything!

I Have A Newfound Respect For Web Designers

So after over a year of leaving posts open and sampling different themes and plugins (and whatever else we’re doing wrong and we aren’t aware of ) it was time to do something about it.  Since I’m not a coding expert and didn’t have the desire to learn it, or stare at lines of code for days on end, I thought I would try to start fresh and delete the entire site (including the database) and start over.

That’s when I learned that all 200+ posts and pages were stored in the database. After long talks with my host (BlueHost) we were able to determine that they couldn’t do anything to help me out. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly their problem and that I was to consult my webmaster…who was unfortunately…yours truly.

I figured that I would try a long shot and after testing it on other sites…. I figured it was time to take a gamble.  By using the export function in your tools tab in the wordpress dashboard I exported all of my content and saved it/emailed it/burned it on a cd/saved it on a USB stick. Once finished, I wiped absolutely everything and re-installed word press again and started out fresh.

I installed my theme, necessary plugins, and uploaded my content and with a few tweaks, the site is running faster than ever.  On top of that, I can edit this post without our site crashing!

In Closing…

Nowthat you have read my story, I want to summarize what to take away from my rant so you don’t make the same “rookie” mistakes I made

  • Backup your site often – you can never have too many backups
  • Don’t install plugins willy nilly because they look cool
  • If a plugin is version 1.0 it means it is on its first trial run and it will probably be coded poorly; consequently it is likely toslowdown your site
  • Run a speed test to see how you can improve your website
  • Optimize your database regularly to get rid of the overhead (ie: dead weight)
  • Check out Cloudflare and see if its right for you -Its pretty easy to set up and adds security to your site

Places you can speed test your site

There are more, but the first 2 options give you way more information than you can handle. Pingdom conducts its speed test from different parts of the world. If you sign up for an account, it will test your site every minute and it will even notify you via email or text if your site is ever down.  GT Metrix is similar to Google and it gives you a detailed “waterfall” description on how each part of your site loads. It is a great speed test tool because it gives detailed instructions so you can take steps to make your site load faster.

Since I know a few of our readers have their own websites I’ll make a post later on highlighting which plugins we use. After trying out as many as I did I feel my experience might help a few people ;)

If anyone has any questions or issues with their site comment below and I’ll try to help if I ran across similar issues.

Image Credit

About

Justin is the co-owner and grammarly impaired author of My University Money and Young and Thrifty. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

15 Responses to Speed Test Your Site For Stability

  1. Probably the best thing you can do is get a book on WordPress optimization and read through. From past experience, I knew that getting things right from the get-go was much more efficient than trying to fix things later. So I read everything I could before starting Earth and Money. You can set your WordPress installation up to automatically delete old drafts after a certain number of days, or only ever keep a certain number of drafts in the database at any given time. This goes a long way towards eliminating database clutter. By the way, speaking of WordPress plugins, your CommentLuv plugin is giving me an error message :)

    • JB says:

      …Nothing is ever easy… It works for me when I log out… man this is frustrating! I actually use Revision control to make sure WordPress doesn’t auto save me a pile of revisions. I’ll have to look into commentLuv….or get rid of the darn thing….Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Theresa says:

    Thanks for the tips and warnings…..I’ve been bad as far as “trying new plugins”.

  3. tinafreysd says:

    You can test your upload and download speed to verify that your ISP is giving you the transfer speeds you pay for. Internet speed test utilities download a data packet from a remote server and re-upload it to determine speed..

    • JB says:

      Ya its a good way to tell if those premium internet packages that they sell are worth it. I did that with mine as soon as I upgraded, seems to work pretty good.

  4. @JB – thanks for the illuminating post. AFAIK the only way of cleaning your database is to to what you did, which can be messy. As all plugins and themes leave unwanted visitors in your tables and sometimes their own tables, this can be a bit of a pain but as long as the database is reasonably healthy this should not matter too much. Databases are built for industrial level access and are really fast.

    Firefox Firebug NET shows the sizes and delay in all the components of a site. Or you can try http://www.site-perf.com which does similar things. This shows that the big thing on MUM is the header graphic which is 278kB – rather too large. I suggest you reduce image depth – our logo is a similar size but only 60kB. You also have a lot of inline styles and scripts plus style sheets should be before scripts because the browser will stop to parse the javascript. In total your download is still 860kB (270kB compressed). Inline stuff always has to be downloaded but links can be cached by the browser.

    You have added site caching, which is a good idea although make sure everything is switched off when logged in. At the moment we do not have caching enabled because it caused a problem with Maria’s computer (I can’t see why) but we do have compression and our page speed score was 93%, which is not bad considering it is running on a very skimpy server.

    The big problem we have is (a) alt-tags on images which if you don’t set when you add the image to the post, is very messy to do later and (b) the iframes that Facebook, Twitter etc generate. These do delay loading properly (yes you can read the text but it isn’t completed) and quite often show errors in the log. These are SEO-unfriendly.

    HTH

    • JB says:

      I hear you John, we’re actually in the process of changing up our header/design of our site so hopefully that will be fixed soon. Caching is just as bad as it is good. I am debating getting a different one. Although I heard quick cache is pretty easy to use.

      As for the ALT tags…I just went through every article to add them in and that took a while. Hopefully I’ll learn more as I continue this in my travels so I don’t have to do it later again!

      • @JB – Good your on the case! Under 60kB if possible!

        .gifs that jump all about are bad news as they have layers and each layer can be big. I find them very distracting anyway!

        Our logo was done for us by Jai Catalano and I reduced the depth a bit before implementing it but I did find that as I had moved from a background image to a foreground image that is clickable. the background was still being downloaded for legacy IE which I had forgotten to remove. Firebug NET is very useful!

        Alt tags are a pain but of course this won’t affect the load speed! You must have a lot of patience to go through and alter them all from the dashboard – you have to do it from the post editor because otherwise it doesn’t rebuild the post if you just change the tag in the media library…. One day this will improve!

        The problems with caching are almost certainly as Blue Host has compression switched on and maybe your setup isn’t perfect :-) I see you are using W3T which can be a pain to set up. The key is to ensure that no caching is allowed for anything (including database access) when you are logged in. Then it should work smoothly. I need to clean the cookies out of Maria’s browser which is I think the source of the problems so if you find something nasty, do the same. But visitors will see the cached version.

  5. PK says:

    Keep us posted on CloudFlare – I used it for a while, but I think it’s all about what server you’re on. Since it attracts controversial sites, CF becomes like a honeypot for DDoS attacks, and our server kept getting knocked offline (even though it was admittedly much faster).

    I wish Amazon would do something like that, haha.

  6. JB says:

    Ya I’m on the fence about it, I just switched servers and no longer use CloudFlare. Its kind of like using Norton Antivirus…sometimes you’re better off using something off the beaten path because there is a bulls-eye painted on Norton.

  7. John @ Married (with Debt) says:

    I tweaked my W3TC browser caching and got my score there from an F to a C, so maybe that will help me out. I still feel like my site is slower after installing W3.

    • @John – you weren’t logged in were you?

      Caching is only faster when you are just a visitor unless it is very clever and you have a very busy site with lots of users. You should see a gain of about 50% – they claim more. To measure this of course you have to ensure that browser caching is temporarily off.

      Given the choice and if they are alternatives, I would go for compression over caching but MUM has that on anyway. If you can get to the .htaccess file and mod_gzip, it is easy to switch it on.

      But compression can interfere with caching so be careful!

  8. I hadn’t really considered loading times until recently – this is definitely something I’ll have to take a closer look at, especially when images are probably one of the things that affect performance.

  9. Christine says:

    Great post – trying to fine tune my site as we speak. Thanks!

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