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Website Performance and Lessons Learned

By Garth Jones

In the first post of my blog post set on website performance, I talked about HTTPS and why it is important. Google and other search engines give higher rankings to sites with SSL certificates (what you need for HTTPS). More importantly, though, end-users tend to trust sites with an SSL certificate more than those without this certificate.

In the same post I also talked about Content Delivery Network (CDN) and how this helps websites load faster. If your site is slow, end-users will be more likely to abandon it. In the end a slow site will cost you money as you lose customers to your competitors!

My next blog post (to be published on LFC Hosting) will show you how tools such as, YSlow, can be used to help locate problems on your website. Knowing what problems you need to fix is important because ultimately you want visitors to your website to have the best experience possible.

In that post I also will show you how to setup a cookie free domain with an SSL certificate. This procedure varies from web hosting company to web hosting company, so since we use LFC Hosting that’s why the post will be published there. You might, though, want to check out my tip on how to configure a cookie free domain within WordPress.

The third blog post in this set tested the existing site’s website performance. I thought it was important to show you the before picture. Without it you wouldn’t be able to judge the difference.

Website Testing Software

It took me several months to write these posts and in the process I learned a lot. One of the things that I learned was that there’s a lot more to testing a website. In my original post I only showed you two testing tools. Here is a more complete list:

Google’s PageSpeed

WebPage Test

GTmetrix – Tests both YSlow and PageSpeed at the same time.

YSlow – Add-in to various browsers.

bdc – Great report feature, but in my experience it has some issues picking-up social media links.

Mobile-Friendly Test – Mobile page testing for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

LikeAlyzer – Analyzes Facebook.

Bing’s Webmaster Tools

Google’s Webmaster Tools

This is only a small sampling of website testing tools. There are so many out there that you can easily be overloaded with what they are telling you.

In the next blog post, I discussed the different types of SSL certificates and provided a step-by-step guide on how to order an SSL certificate from Go Daddy. In the intervening months, however, I learned about Let’s Encrypt. The SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt are great to use with personal and cookie free domain websites. I wouldn’t use the Let’s Encrypt certificate with a business site. Instead, if your business is looking for an SSL certificate then I’d suggest getting an EV certificate. The EV certificate will give you a green bar in the web browser. This will increase your website’s trust factor.

I encountered the most problems on my quest to improve website performance when I tried to get Azure CDN up and running. I could never get it to work. What a shame as I use Azure for other things. In the end I turned to Amazon CloudFront. It was relatively easy to setup, so in my fifth blog post I provided a step-by-step guide on how to create an Amazon account and then I showed how to setup CloudFront Distributions.

In blog post number six, I showed you how to complete the process of installing Amazon CloudFront on a WordPress site, and then how to setup WordPress to leverage CDN. I setup WordPress by installing and configuring the W3 Total Cache plugin.

Finally, in this the last blog post in the set, I will show you if I improved my website’s performance.

Website Performance Update

If you recall I only performed two speed tests to judge my website’s performance, so here are the before and after results:

Website Performance and Lessons Learned-Test Results

I think that these results are great! They can only help with our end-users’ experience visiting the Enhansoft website. Sure there is always room for improvement, but for now I’m happy with the results.

Here are screenshots of the test results:

PageSpeed

Website Performance and Lessons Learned-PageSpeed

WebPage Test

Website Performance and Lessons Learned-WebPage Test

Lessons Learned

In closing, this was a lot of work, but I think it was beneficial as we now have a faster website with fewer technical glitches. Also, having the EV SSL certificate means that more people will trust the Enhansoft website when they see the green address bar!

If, however, you don’t know what you are doing, this process can end up costing you a lot of time and aggravation. How much is your time worth? My suggestion is to turn to an expert, but where do you look?

Upwork – This is a good site for technical stuff.
freelancer – This is a new site that I’m exploring.
Local Web Experts – I’ve had good success with local experts, but they can be pricey. The upside is that they may be more available to answer your questions.

In the end you get what you pay for, but use what makes sense for you.

Along this journey I discovered that speed was only one factor effecting website performance. In reality there are a number of other factors, such as:

Java rendering blocks. This occurs when a Java script blocks the rest of the webpage from downloading until the script completes.

Image Sprites. This occurs when many small images exist on several web pages (for example headers and footers). The suggestion is to combine these standard images on your website into one large image, thereby saving download time. Social media icons in headers or footers are good candidates for Image Sprites.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a very important factor effecting website performance and I haven’t even touched on it. The short answer about SEO is to remember that content is king! Keep updating your website with new blog posts, articles, etc.

If you are creating a new website, keep an eye on performance! At the end of the day a well-built website will allow you to focus on the business at hand.

Blog Post Set:

Setting-up HTTPS and Content Delivery Network
Creating a Cookie-Free Domain with an SSL Certificate on LFC Hosting
How to Test Website Performance before CDN
How to Order Your SSL Certificate
Signing-Up for CloudFront
Installing W3 Total Cache and Amazon CloudFront on WordPress

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me @GarthMJ.