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What’s Random Blogging Tips?
Hello and welcome to Random Blogging Tips—the latest evolution of what were my semi-regular blog/podcast updates (more on this below).
This new series replaces my blog updates and will be a randomly-occurring collection of… random blogging tips! The purpose is to share all kinds of things (big and small) that I’ve learned, figured out, or discovered in my blogging journey.
Why share random blogging tips?
Since this is an FI blog, there’s virtually no chance these posts will rank at all in Google. So, I’m definitely not doing this for the traffic! Instead, I’m just doing what makes me happy: sharing my knowledge and experience with others.
In Random Blogging Tips, I’ll share things that I learned the hard way and/or I think might be helpful to you. If I can save you time, prevent you from making my mistakes, or help you grow your blog just a little, that makes it all worth it!
Why the randomness?
I used to include blog updates and tips in my monthly updates. However, they always seemed out of place in those posts. So, I decided to split them off into their own posts:
The intention was to regularly post blog updates and tips every quarter. But… after my Q2 2020 update, things went sideways and I haven’t shared a blog/podcast update since. (My annual blogiversary post excluded.)
I’ve come to realize that I can’t maintain a consistent schedule for anything on the blog—no matter how hard I try! (It’s one of my greatest blogging frustrations.) So, similar to my weekly-ish* posts, these Random Blogging Tips posts will appear irregularly.
*I’m happy to report that so far in 2021, I’ve been able to maintain a weekly posting schedule. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep it up, but I’ll keep doing my best!
Random Blogging Tips #1: How to Improve Your Site Speed
With that, let’s get started with Random Blogging Tips #1! In this edition, the theme is site speed. Why? Well, out of necessity, I recently had to work really hard on this.
My site speed improvement journey
Over the last couple of months, I was having major issues with my blog. Thankfully, the frontend was working fine, but doing anything in WordPress was painful.
It was constantly freezing, crashing, and even took down the Explore FI Canada site a couple of times. (My blog and podcast are on the same hosting plan.)
I spent countless hours with my amazing host, who tried everything to troubleshoot the issue with me. I also took care of most of the things from this very helpful article… but I was still having serious issues.
In this Random Blogging Tips post, I’ll share everything I learned from this frustrating, but ultimately successful experience. I hope it’ll save you from pulling your hair out!
Why you should care about site speed
We’ll get into the tips right after this… but first, I’ll briefly explain why site speed matters:
- It helps your site rank higher in Google searches.
- It lowers your bounce rate.
- It’s a better experience for your readers.
- It helps speed up WordPress (when you need to edit posts or make other changes in the backend).
Basically, if you want your site to grow and be seen, and have readers come back to your site, you need to pay attention to site speed! Got it? Okay, let’s dive into those tips!
Tip #1: Contact your hosting provider
Your hosting provider has access to your usage analytics, so they can provide some insight into what’s slowing down your site. In addition, they can usually suggest ways to fix the issues (or even implement the fixes for you).
My hosting provider, Web Hosting Canada, is particularly amazing in this area. (They really are—I’m not just saying it!) I honestly don’t know how they provide such great tech support while also offering such low prices.
I always turn to them when anything goes wrong on either of my sites. 99% of the time, they’re able to quickly fix the issue, explain the fix and what caused the problem. Sometimes, it’s something I did to break my site, and yet they come to my rescue every time!
In this situation, Web Hosting Canada worked tirelessly with me over several weeks to figure out my speed issues. To their credit, they suggested the best solution right at the start. But I refused to listen and stubbornly insisted we try a dozen other things first!
They humoured me all the way through until I was finally convinced to follow their initial suggestion. (See Tip #8.) Hopefully, you’re with a good host and are receiving equally helpful service. If not, you may want to consider switching to Web Hosting Canada.
If you’d like to switch to Web Hosting Canada, please consider using my affiliate link to sign up. There’s no extra cost to you, and you’ll be helping to support the blog. Thank you!
Tip #2: Update your PHP
You should try to keep your PHP updated to the latest stable version. This will keep your site secure and ensure your site continues to function properly. Many of the weird issues I’ve had on both of my sites were quickly fixed by updating the PHP.
If this task scares you (it did the first time I did it) ask your host for help. My web host was so patient in guiding me through the process. They also showed me how to roll back to the previous version, in case of any bugs the update caused.
Tip #3: Minimize plugins
Most of us (me included) probably use a few too many plugins. I’ve read conflicting info on this, but most WordPress experts advise using no more than 20. Some even say to keep it under 10, but that’s impossible for people like me who don’t know how to code!
At my maximum, I had 35 plugins activated on my blog (!) but I now have it down to a more reasonable 28. I’m still working on getting it even lower, but it’s not easy! Three plugins were mandatory for my theme, and I need two to go along with Elementor (which is a plugin in itself).
Of the remaining 22, most are critical to my blog’s functioning and the rest are nice-to-haves that make my life a lot easier. However, I do revisit my plugins frequently and delete or deactivate the ones I’m not actively using.
Another way I’ve been able to minimize my plugins is by making use of the plugins/extensions provided by my web host. I never knew this was an option, but it’s awesome!
Not only does it take the load off your site and WordPress dashboard, but oftentimes, your host’s plugins/extensions are more robust and effective than the analogous WordPress plugins.
Tip #4: Switch to lightweight plugins
Whenever possible, opt for the lightest-weight plugin for the functions you need. I’m not savvy enough to know to assess a plugin for this except by reading reviews!
But to help you get started, here are some that I use because they’re simpler and/or lighter weight than their more popular alternatives:
Tip #5: Turn off avatars
I haven’t done this myself because I like seeing little icons beside my commenters’ names. I also like that my readers can use their Gravatars if they have them. It adds a little bit of extra personality to the comments.
However, if you don’t care about avatars and/or want to speed up your site a little bit more, this may be worth considering. Another option, if you’d like to customize the avatars to match your blog, is to create your own.
Doing this, and hosting the icon files on your server further helps to lighten the load on your site. However, it requires you to either have some coding know-how or install yet another plugin (which could add more scripts to your site).
If you’re interested in doing this with coding, this helpful (though dated) article shows you how.
Tip #6: Get a site speed audit and optimization
In my October 2019 blog and podcast update, I wrote about my experience getting a site speed audit optimization done through Fiverr. (See Task 2: Optimized site for improved speed in my October 2019 blog update for all the details.)
I was thrilled with the results that Haider (my Fiverr WordPress developer) delivered. My site was speedy and ran well for over a year. However, in late-2020, I noticed my site was slowing down again, so I reached out to Haider once more.
As he did last time, he came through and over-delivered! My site went from around 70 on Google Pagespeed Insights to 96 (on desktop) and from somewhere in the 30s to 65 on mobile.
Through the entire process, Haider once again answered my endless questions and requests with patience and efficiency. He went way beyond the scope of the order, so I actually ended up paying him an extra tip to thank him for his extraordinary effort.
In total, it cost me about $50 USD—which I think is very affordable for what Haider delivered. Note: he was running a promotion when I placed my order in January, so his rates are higher now. However, he’s open to negotiation, so you can try to ask if he can give you a discount.
If you’d like to work with Haider, please consider using my Fiverr affiliate link to place your order. There’s no extra cost to you, and you’ll be helping to support the blog. Thank you!
Why did you need to redo your site optimization?
If you’re wondering why I had to have another site speed optimization, it’s because, since my last optimization, I switched ad providers and created a child theme.
These changes undid some of the optimizations that Haider performed for me the first time (or added new issues). He had to re-audit my site, figure out the cause of the issues, then implement the fixes.
Tip #7: Reduce your CPU usage
If you’re finding:
- It takes forever to log into your WordPress admin;
- Once logged in, WordPress lags when you do anything in your dashboard or when editing posts…
… it’s probably because your site is using too much CPU! This issue can be caused by many (MANY) factors, which is why it’s so challenging to remedy.
Fortunately, I found this amazing article to help me tackle the issue, one step at a time: How To Reduce CPU Usage In WordPress (And Avoid Getting Bandwidth Limit + CPU Errors Where Your Site Gets Shut Down)
It served me well as I methodically worked on speeding up my site. Here’s the list of 26 fixes the post recommends, and my comments on each:
1. Check Your Website’s CPU Usage
I never knew it was possible to do this, but indeed, I found this feature in my cPanel. (You can ask your host if you don’t know where to find these analytics.)
2. Ditch Shared Hosting
It’s hard to justify paying for expensive hosting on dedicated servers, so this suggestion isn’t helpful for most of us. However, it prompted me to look into alternatives. Through that research, I found a very affordable solution. (See Tip #8 for more on this.)
3. Eliminate High CPU Plugins
This was a tough one. I’m already quite a minimalist when it comes to plugins (and yet, I still have close to 30)! Every plugin I have serves a specific, important purpose, so it’s hard to do much in this area.
However, it was still helpful to install (yet another) plugin called Query Monitor, which helped me understand which plugins were hogging all the CPU. A lot of it was system-required plugins, but I also found that Wordfence was consistently on the list.
This prompted more research and led me to get rid of Wordfence in favour of ModSecurity—the security plugin that came included free through my host. There’s less load on WordPress with ModSecurity since it runs off my web host’s server instead of my WordPress installation.
4. Rethink Your Page Builder
This was a really tough one to get around because I LOVE Elementor and the level of control it gives me over my layout. But I was hellbent on speeding up my site, so I was willing to consider ditching Elementor if needed.
The two best alternatives were plain old Gutenberg or Oxygen. But Gutenberg still isn’t good enough to replace a page builder like Elementor. (It’s not truly WYSIWYG and doesn’t offer as many advanced features as Elementor.)
Oxygen would be amazing if I was an experienced web designer with strong coding skills—but that is not me. I simply don’t have the know-how to rebuild my site from scratch or deal with updates down the road.
In the end, I learned that Elementor is one of the better page builders out there. It’s not perfect, but it does a decent job at optimizing its scripts and not adding a ton of bloat to sites. For now, I’ll stick with it (even if a Gutenberg or Oxygen-built site would be way faster).
5. Clean Your Database
This is really easy to do if you have a caching plugin like WP Rocket. I schedule database cleanups to run regularly, and often manually initiate one after I’ve done a lot of editing in WordPress. Database cleanups definitely seem to help with backend site speed, so be sure to do them often!
6. Upgrade To PHP 7.4
I discussed this earlier in the post—jump back up to Tip #2 for more info.
7. Offload Resources To CDNs
I often curse my use of my CDN (Cloudflare) for complicating things for me in the backend (that’s a whole other post) but I still use them because the benefits outweigh the hassles. It does speed up my site and makes it more secure.
I use the free version of Cloudflare, which is good enough for me. It isn’t the easiest to use, and the tech support is non-existent. But it’s integrated into many WordPress plugins and hosting providers, so it’s the best choice for most bloggers.
8. Disable WordPress Heartbeat
I didn’t know WordPress had a heartbeat until I read this article! Luckily, Heartbeat control is built into my caching plugin (WP Rocket) so it was really easy for me to reduce its activity. Disabling it completely requires a whole other plugin, so I opted against that and just went with whatever WP Rocket could do.
9. Disable Usage Tracking From Plugins
I don’t usually allow plugins to track my usage, so this wasn’t an issue for me. However, if you do allow this type of tracking, you may want to reconsider. I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but it’s an easy thing to change, so why not?
10. Disable Unused Plugin Functionality
This tip is for plugins with multiple functions (e.g. Jetpack, Elementor). If there are any extra functions included with these plugins that you don’t use, turn them off! Again, it’s not going to make a huge difference, but every little option adds up, so it’s worth doing.
11. Disable SiteGround’s SG Site Scanner
I don’t use SiteGround, so this didn’t apply to me.
12. Disable Resource-Hungry WooCommerce Features
I don’t use WooCommerce either, so this also didn’t apply to me.
13. Check For Errors With Your Cache Plugin
Thankfully, I was already using the cache plugin that this article recommends: WP Rocket. However, I didn’t know that I could further optimize WP Rocket by changing some settings.
14. Reduce Bloat
I didn’t do this. I’m not sure why, but it just sounded kind of scary and overwhelming! I probably should read more about it and take care of it at some point. (After all, much of my CPU usage is due to the bloat that’s built into WordPress.)
15. Add A Firewall
I was using Wordfence for this. I was very happy with it, but when I discovered how much CPU it used and that my host’s security plugin (ModSecurity) was a faster option, I replaced Wordfence with it.
16. Increase Connection Limits
I don’t understand the purpose of this or what it is, so I didn’t do it.
17. Block Bad Bots
I was using Wordfence to do this. But it’s a slow plugin, so I replaced it with ModSecurity, which is provided by my web host. I’m not 100% sure if ModSecurity protects against bad bots, so I should probably install Blackhole For Bad Bots as the article suggests.
18. Replace WP-Cron Jobs
It was a bit scary, but I actually did this! It turned out to be really easy. Unfortunately, one of my favourite plugins, Revive Old Posts, couldn’t function with an infrequent cron job frequency. So I had to undo the changes and leave wp-cron as it was.
19. Optimize Images
My Fiverr guy, Haider, taught me this and I’ve been very diligent about it since. I size my images properly in Photoshop, then use Shortpixel to further optimize them.
20. Block Comment Spam
I use Anti-Spam Bee for this but might switch to the plugin recommended in the article.
21. Protect Your WP-Admin
This was another scary-sounding thing that I didn’t do. But I should do it because it helps page speed and I don’t want hackers breaking into my site.
22. Minimize Third Party Requests
This is a tough one because many of these third-party scripts are necessary. However, I do my best to minimize them. I still have more work to do in this area, particularly with Google Fonts and Font Awesome. Those are on my to-do list.
23. Avoid Resource-Hungry Themes
I think my theme (Redwood from Solo Pine) is pretty lightweight. However, Haider mentioned it has some extra elements I’m not using—and they can’t be removed. These elements could be slowing down my site, so I may want to eventually find a lighter theme.
25. Delete Unused Plugins + Themes
This is one of the easiest things to do, so be sure to keep on top of this!
25. Host Download Files On Dropbox
I don’t think I have any downloadable files on my site at the moment. But I may eventually create freebies to download, so this will be a helpful tip to keep in mind.
Tip #8: Upgrade your web hosting plan
I saved the best tip for last. This was what made the biggest difference in resolving my WordPress speed issues. My web host gently tried to tell me this was likely the solution to all my issues, but I refused to listen!
I rationalized: My site’s still tiny… nothing much has changed in the two years since I started blogging… it’s impossible that I would need a better hosting plan!
As it turns out, I was wrong. My site has changed:
- I’ve joined a premium ad network (Monumetric).
- I run more ads with Monumetric than I did with Google AdSense.
- My posts are getting longer and more media-heavy.
- I use Elementor to edit those posts, and that requires a lot of CPU usage.
- My traffic is overall higher than when I started my blog.
Why I finally upgraded
I tried just about everything listed in this post, but WordPress continued to freeze and crash on me. I wasted hours every day waiting for WordPress to load, researching fixes, and troubleshooting on my own and with Web Hosting Canada.
It was time to upgrade, and I’m so glad I did. I was happy to stick with Web Hosting Canada, but upgraded to the WP Pro Plan and prepaid for three years.
Once the migration happened and my site switched over to the new server, all my problems went away. I couldn’t believe the solution was there all along, but I refused to take it!
If you’re struggling with site speed issues, don’t be cheap like me! Consider upgrading your hosting plan—it could be exactly what your site needs.
More to share
The WP Pro plan I upgraded to is what’s known as managed WordPress hosting. WHC’s plans are waaay more affordable than any other managed WordPress plan I could find (while still providing quality service and speed).
I have a lot more to say on this topic, but this post is long enough! I’ll save my full commentary for Random Blogging Tips #2.
If you can’t wait and want to learn more, I’ll leave you with these posts, which explain why I chose managed WordPress hosting through the WP Pro plan at Web Hosting Canada:
Improving site speed is critical if you want a successful, growing, and properly-functioning blog (both on the frontend and backend). There are lots of big and little things you can do to help your site perform better.
I hope you learned a thing or two from this post and that I saved you from some hair pulling and late-night headaches! If you have additional tips to share, have alternative suggestions, or catch any errors in my tips, please leave a comment!
Also, feel free to ask questions if you have any. I can’t promise that I’ll know the answer, but I’ll try my best to help!
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