You know, the beauty of systems like WordPress, is that any bell or whistle you can imagine for your website is available at whim through their extensive plugins repository.
Of course, the downside to this “Band-Aid” approach is the effect on your website’s load time, even its security. It can drag down your users experience and cause them to leave without really learning about you and your company or product.
Search engines, and people too, love fast and secure websites. So, do yourself a favor and watch this week’s “If I had a Nickel” discussion to learn:
- What causes “bloat” on a website?
- How you can improve your website’s performance
- Our (current) favorite plugins
The complete “If I had a nickel” series:
- Transitioning to a new web provider
- Everything you need to know about Local Search
- Making the most of analytics and web stats
- What you need to know about plugins, site performance, and security
- Image copyright, licensing, and doing the web & social the right way
Stephan Hovnanian is a web strategist and email marketer for Shovi Websites, author of the Google+ Pro Tips series of ebooks on Amazon, and host of a weekly webcast called Google+ Business Spotlight. Stephan distills the content and advice out there on the Web into useful and applicable ideas to help your business make the most of its online presence.
Susan Finch of Susan Finch Solutions has a background in public relations and advertising since 1986, and is a “gentle guide for clients trying new venues online.” She engages those skills as she helps create an online presence that will appeal to existing and future clients and/or investors. All these factors are considered before she constructs a suggested plan for clients. It goes way beyond an online presence.
Featured Expert: MaAnna Stephenson – BlogAid
MaAnna is a geek who can still speak in plain English and helps solopreneurs, small businesses, and non-geeks create sites that gets noticed by search engines and readers. Whole-site setup, consultation and training including WordPress, SEO, content, conversion, security, performance, MailChimp, and memberships.
Watch: If I had a nickel…
Section 1: What causes “bloat” on your website?
MaAnna: Anything that pulls from the outside world, like social shares and external libraries. Pay attention to the order in which these things load, putting the most important parts of your website first (what it should look like, what content is on the page), and then the bells & whistles load later.
Stephan: Extra code from your stylesheets. Let’s say you have a website theme with five different color choices available when you bought it. Choose the color you want, delete the rest. You’ll save thousands of lines of code and make the file size of the CSS files much smaller.
Susan: Repeat scripts and duplicity for these systems that we basically piece together can cause a site to slow down. Conflicts between scripts can do this too.
Can we simply move scripts and code from one part of our page to another?
No, because some scripts are dependent on each other, but at the same time, some scripts are asynchronous, meaning they are smart enough to wait until everything else loads before loading themselves.
If you use services (pingdom, Web Page Test, GT Metrics) that display and measure the speed of your website, they should show you a “waterfall” of all the elements on your page and when they are loading.
Do I just test my homepage?
NOOOOOO! Test every type of page you have: blog pages, homepage, landing pages, etc. In addition, be sure to optimize the load time, and what scripts, plugins, and stylesheets are being added based on only what needs to be added to the website.
For example, let’s say your homepage has a slider plugin and that’s the only time the slider is used. You do not need that slider plugin to load up on every other page. Carry this idea through to each type of page. I’m reminded of a line from the movie, Spaceballs, where Lonestar says “Take only what you need to survive.”
If you can create separate headers for each page type, you will be light years ahead.
Remember to optimize your site based on conversion, not just load time and aesthetics. Who knows, you might need that slider because it converts, or that social sharing plugin because you are a social media rockstar, but if they aren’t converting, drop it or figure out something else to use.
Section 2: What are the biggest culprits for plugin bloat, and what are some alternatives?
Stephan: Social plugins, for me, are the biggest culprits. This includes social sharing, social following, and embedding. Each of these buttons (or posts, in the case of an embed) is going to probably use the same API call. You can check this by looking at the script that you are given to place on your website. If they all use the same scripts, you have some options instead of using a plugin or always pasting the code given to you by the sites. My recipe would be to hard-code your social sharing buttons, your social follow buttons, and then create a custom function for your website that allows you to do any embedding. You can use this handy tool to create custom functions and shortcodes for your WordPress site.
Big takeaway: If you don’t need a plugin, don’t use a plugin.
SEO and Social Plugin Overlap
WordPress SEO by Yoast is hands-down the best SEO plugin, and includes a number of extra features you do not need another plugin for (but can be disabled or ignored if your website already has this built in):
- XML Sitemap
- Open graph
- Google Authorship
- Breadcrumb navigation
And another reminder that the social sharing plugins generally have open graph in them, which means you may find yourself with duplicate blocks of code for the same thing.
Settings make all the difference
Your hosting, website goals, optimization strategies, all play a part in optimizing the plugins and their performance. Remember that plugins may leave security holes even if you remove them, and that the generic guides are not going to be much help for you because your situation is always going to be unique.
Consider hiring someone to do a Site Audit so any advice to optimize your website is unique to you.
Removing plugins and keeping a clean house
MaAnna: When you aren’t using a plugin, remove it. However, just because you deleted a plugin, doesn’t mean that it is completely gone from your website. The plugins that write tables and entries to your database may still have those tables and entries when the plugin’s files are gone. That’s actually a problem because at some point, your database will max out, and because there are no files from the plugin to tell you what was added, you don’t know what to remove.
Again, consider hiring someone to do a Site Audit to catch these things, and help you remove the orphaned things that build up over time. The tools mentioned above will help, too.
(Hey, WordPress people! If you’re listening to this, start requiring “uninstall” instead of simply removing the plugin)
Section 3: Our favorite plugins
So, earlier in the show we said not to use plugins just because everybody says to use them, since your specific needs, goals, and hosting environment may dictate one over another. Having said that, though, we have some “best in class” plugins that we want to recommend, so here you go:
Stephan: I use Genesis as a framework on top of WordPress as a standard practice simply because it’s a smart thing to do. Genesis itself is best in class as far as frameworks go. While I’m normally one to hard-code things, the only plugins I use for Genesis itself are the Genesis Simple Edits and Genesis Widgetized Footer. I could just as easily write these as custom functions, they don’t add any extraneous scripts but I’m a tad lazy on this one.
Beyond these, my favorite SEO plugin is WordPress SEO by Yoast, and I like WP Social SEO Pro for social sharing ($). For Google+ Comments on my site, I prefer this one by Alex Moss, and DISQUS for regular comments.
Susan: I also like DISQUS, and try to look for plugins that do one thing, and do it well, not all-in-one solutions. WP-Filebase Download Manager is another one because I have a lot of clients with PDF’s and other files on their websites.
MaAnna: My three favorites are Backup Buddy, Backup Buddy, and Backup Buddy. WordPress SEO by Yoast is also a favorite, as is Genesis. Make sure you get TinyMCE Advanced to replace the WYSIWYG editor built into WordPress.
Thanks for watching this episode of “If I had a nickel”, we hope it has been helpful! Be sure to check out the others in our series below!
The complete “If I had a nickel” series: