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The Internet Emperor says faster, so I turn to the Optimizer

In other words, Google told me that my page speed was too slow, so I used some software to make it faster – but what sort of headline is that?! 😉

If you’ve read my eCommerce posts, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to design. It’s not that I think design is unimportant but rather there are so many more important things a wine retailer could be focused on.

So why have I redesigned my site? Ares I-X Rocket: A Beautiful Launch

Speed and Search Engines

…is the main reason. Together with content constipation, messiah movements and WordPress politics.

But first let’s look at website speed and Google.

The Internet Emperor says faster

Earlier this year Google announced that the speed of your website was one of the factors taken into account when deciding search engine ranking. Note the qualifier, “one of”. How Google decides to rank websites, it’s “algorithm”, is a source of much speculation and confusion. The algorithm has many super secret parts that constantly change to improve quality and to stay ahead of the spammers.

So when an announcement is made the SEO community listens intently. Their verdict was that it matters a little but other factors remain much more important.

In perspective

Indeed external links from relevant high authority sources probably remains the most effective strategy for ranking well in Google – as well as the hardest.

My main strategy for doing well with Google is to write the best blog posts I possibly can. You, dear reader, decide how well I do this by linking to them. And if you’re from a relevant high authority website then Google regards this as an important indicator of authority and bumps me up the rankings. If you’re just a small blog then I still appreciate the link! but in appreciative human rather than business terms. 🙂

So that is the MyLocalWineStore search engine strategy in a nutshell. I combine it with social media and email marketing (and do a similar thing for my clients).

With my content progressing well, I’ve looked at the peripheral SEO areas one of which is site speed.

Google Webmaster Tools and site speed

Google Webmaster Tools is a free service that provides you with detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google.

It tells you: Google webmaster tools logo

  • what terms you are ranking well for
  • how many impressions those terms have on Google Search Results Page
  • any specific problems Google has in crawling and indexing your site
  • formally tell Google where to start crawling your website (sitemap.xml)
  • and lots more…

… including Site Performance.

Google told me that my site was, “slower than 83% of sites”. Gulp.

I checked this using Firefox Firebug Speed extension, and the much more intuitive service offer by WebsiteOptimization.com.

They also said YOUR SITE IS SLOW. Capitals intended – and the message was heard loud and clear.

WebSiteOptimization.com told me a person on broadband (1.44Mbps) would take 8.02 seconds to load my home page. Stop. Count to Eight… Slow Snail
one thousand and one
one thousand and two
one thousand and three
one thousand and four
one thousand and five
one thousand and six
one thousand and seven
one thousand and eight

… long time huh?

So I fixed it. And got it down to 5.12 seconds (EDIT: about a week later got it to 3.7). Still too long, still needs some more work, but I’m trading speed for functionality – more about that trade-off later.

First here’s how I got the speed up.

Optimizer software

What’s that? One optimizer software vendor puts it this way:

Here’s another video with a slightly more technical description for you fellow geeks (note my server is in Michigan, a comment which will make sense if you watch the video above).

A good analogy is a turbo charger

A turbo charger compresses the air flowing into the engine cylinders. More air means more fuel, which means a bigger explosion, which means more power.

Put simply an optimizer compresses your website code while still on the server, then sends it in a smaller number of files, through the narrow internet pipes, to your computer.

There are so many parts to a web page (html, javascript, css, images etc) that the usual process is very bloated and sporadic. You type in a website address and the browser asks for some code, which the server delivers, then the browser asks for more code, which the server delivers… and it goes on for 68 times in my old website.

The optimizer software cut that down to 48 times, and reduced the size of the files (20 would have been better, have to work on that).

The optimizer I use (for WordPress) is called W3 Total Cache, the same as mashable.com’s, but there are other software plugins you can use as well. For example WP Super Cache is also popular, and Magento eCommerce software has an optimizer built into it that you turn on. Both of these are free, unlike the rocket science Aptimize software (in the video above) which charges the likes of Microsoft and Google mega bucks.

Note optimization is where you’ll get most of the your performance increase.

But I also had an image problem

Well not me personally you understand, my website did.

It had a large 20 Kb logo image on every page (Kb means kilobyte, 500 characters takes up 1 Kb):

MyLocalWineStore Logo

I like my logo but it is way too big. So I cut it down to 2 Kb by splitting the graphic and text, and making the graphic smaller:

MyLocalWineStore small-logo

Phew, that sped things up, should have done that ages ago :roll:.

Speed’s important but…

…it ain’t everything.

At the bottom of this page you can see a “wibiyatoolbar with social media and search buttons splashed across it.

I was getting lots of speed warnings about this toolbar. In the end my testing showed wibiya added 0.1 seconds to the download speed. Significant, but I decided the functionality it provided to readers was worth the extra download time.

DesertLikewise I always make sure that I have lots of pictures on my posts. I want this blog to be readable, not dry and sterile, so I accept a drop in speed for this reason. It’s a typical SEO issue you face.

If you only wrote for Google then your posts may be full of search phrases that turned Google on but your human readers off. The trick is to start with the humans first and then subtly adjust for Google without ruining readability.

The next change I made was to help my readership find the content they need.

Content constipation and a table of contents

I don’t have a problem with writing. Sure, like most people I sometimes get writer’s block and struggle, but if it’s a topic I like such as wine internet marketing then I usually have no problem writing a post.

My problem was, that over the last 6 months I have virtually written a book on selling wine online but it was hard to intuitively search for relevant information. I would receive an email from a reader with a question, I would suggest he checks out such and such a post, and wonder why he hadn’t seen it.

I decided I needed a sort of blog table of contents that you could skim over. So I created a new home page. It lets you more easily find answers to your internet wine business problems.

Note it’s probably not good SEO practice to have so many links from your home page, so again I’ve chosen functionality over SEO best practice.  I luv ya Google, but not that much.

Messiah Movements and WordPress Politics

Lastly my WordPress radar was sending me warning signals (WordPress is the software I use for this website as well as for clients’). I was using a template called Thesis, but things just didn’t smell right. Here’s why.

In an earlier post I outlined the three elements of a website:

  • the content e.g. a blog post or a photo
  • the presentation e.g. colors, fonts, and columns
  • the code (or logic) e.g. software that says take this photo, use this font and send it to the internet browser (explorer or firefox etc)

The only thing that I changed in this website is the presentation i.e. the design. The content and the code remains the same (er… ignoring the optimizer).

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg

I was using Chris Pearson’s Thesis for the presentation element. Then back in mid July the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, and Chris Pearson got into a fight over something called GPL.

It all happened in a telephone call moderated by a business blog which titled the call, “Would WordPress Sue The Maker Of Thesis, A Leading WordPress Theme?“. And it was a doozy of an argument with Chris completely losing his cool.

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Chris Pearson's sense of humor wasn't enough for him this time.

A few weeks later he backed down. But by that stage a group of messiahs of the business social media world had already made their minds up and moved to fully compliant GPL licensed WordPress themes. Social media experts will recognize the names of Brian Clark and Chris Brogan – the “messiahs”.

I liked Thesis and wasn’t worried about any license issues. But what worried me was the reaction of the community.

WordPress is arguably the world’s most popular website software (11% of sites is one figure I heard on a recent podcast). It’s done well because of this huge amount of community development and support.

If Chris was going against the community and the messiahs were moving, then my feeling was his theme would slowly lose community support. Loss of support means less development and less assistance when I need it.

For that reason I moved to Genesis. Here’s a non affiliate link. It works well, so far.

So that’s the background to why this blog looks a little different today than it did yesterday. I hope you like it.

If you have any comments about the site please let me know.

Photos courtesy of: Ares I-X Rocket: A Beautiful Launch, Mirage in the Desert, SlowJochen Siegle/TechShowNetwork, Save Button

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