All posts by Chris Koerner

Quick WordPress Optimizing Tips

Last week I sat in on this great A List Apart: On Air event titled  “Designing for Performance” It was their first online-only panel with four great presenters. Along the way I picked up a few tips and tricks I wanted to share with you all.

Here’s a few quick things you can do to improve the performance of your WordPress site.

Introduction

Before we begin, if your site is accessible from the web, punch in its URL into one of the following tools (or both!).

Make a note of the scores you’re given. We’ll compare them at the end.

Use a caching solution

The first thing you can do? Install a caching plugin or setup an in-memory cache. For folks on shared hosts (Bluehost, Hostgator, etc) the easiest (and often only) option will be going with a plugin. My plugin of choice is WP Super Cache.  Why this one in particular? It’s been around for ages, is super easy to use while still being customizable, and it’s authors include Donncha O Caoimh and Automattic. A pretty good pedigree if you ask me.

If you don’t want to do much mucking around, just install the plugin and turn on caching. This will allow your site to serve static version of your pages. This make your site quicker as WordPress (and the PHP/MySQL behind the scenes) doesn’t have generate a new page for each visitor.

Advanced options that I like to use are in the screenshot below. I like to make sure I enable  compressing pages as less data has to get tossed around. “Don’t catch pages for known users.” is handy if you’re an individual editor (or have a small team). This tells WordPress to alway serve up a new page to folks who are logged in to your site. This way you always see your updates without having to clear the cache.

WP_Super_Cache_Advanced

Compress your theme’s images

Let’s say you’re building a theme from scratch, using a child theme, or even just uploading a nice crisp PNG for your site’s header image. In each case WordPress  will use images within the theme to display common elements – like that header image. When these elements appear on every page your site has to serve up that image to every viewer, every time.

One way to speed up your site is to make sure you compress these common images as much as possible. This doesn’t mean degrade their quality with heavy compression like jpg images, but to remove as much metadata and use more advanced compression algorithms as possible.

Side note: Another big win for leveraging smaller images is to make sure you’re not uploading giant images to only have them displayed at small sizes. That’s a whole ‘nother post on its own!

How do you do this? Grab an application like ImageOptim or RIOT.

With either of these apps you can drag and drop in your images and let the tool do its magic. This includes background images, header images, or even icons used across your navigation and widgets.

Here’s an example of a recent optimization from a theme I optimized. This is using ImageOptim. Either tool uses a whole suite of tools behind the scenes to make the best optimization quickly and with great results. imageoptim-example

I saved a whopping 47% on average in this theme. In the case of my background tile image I saved a whole 80%. Not to bad. (Here’s another example with less impressive, but still good, results.)

 

Set up a caching rule

Even with something like WP Super Cache in place you still might need to set up some rules about static content. Static content is things like images, documents, multimedia files, etc.

For these files, WordPress delivers the file for a visitor every time. Even if they leave and come back five minutes later!

The easiest way to do this is to modify your .htaccess file and add a few rules for static content. The .htaccess file tells your site to give folks a locally cached version of the file and to ‘expire’ the item in the cache after so many minutes. This greatly helps in the loading of those (newly optimized) theme images I mentioned in the last tip, and any other files visitors consume on a regular or repeat basis.

I’m going to direct you to this post that has the handy steps on caching static content.

 

Minify your CSS

You’re using a child theme, right? Or maybe a custom theme built from a starter framework? Once your site is ready for production you can shrink your CSS files to make things a little quicker.

Minifying your CSS takes the human-readable version of your CSS file, with all it’s great inline comments and indents, and strips all that junk out. The computer doesn’t need any of that!

Now you’ll want to keep an un-minifed version around for future changes. Take a copy of your style.css file in your theme directory and rename it. Call it style-original.css or something and set it aside.

Now, copy and past the content of your style.css file into a tool like CSS Minifier or CSS Compressor. These tools will strip out any comments or spaces (making your file pretty much unreadable by humans) and reduce the file size (and therefore load times) of your CSS.

Copy the minified CSS back into style.css and save. If you have to make new updates down the road (always in your dev environment first, right?) you can re-load your human-readable CSS file, make your edits, and minify again.

On a few sites I manage I was seeing upwards of 60% file size savings. When were talking about mobile devices in not-so-good coverage areas that could be the difference between your site loading and a visitor leaving.

 

Conclusion

This is just a few things you can do quickly to improve the performance of your site. Making your site load quickly for visitors make them more likely to hang around and helps with your search rankings.

How much of an impact does it make? Remember those tests I asked to your run at the beginning of this post? Here’s a before and after (totally unscientific) comparison to a site I manage. I ran the default tests from webpagetest.org. Just using these tips made one score go from a C to a B and another from an F to a B!

webpagetest-beforewebpagetest-after

If you have tips or tricks you use to make your site’s a little quicker, let me know in the comments below. Thanks for visiting and I hope to see you at one of our upcoming meetups!

Photo by _chrisUK – Licensed under Creative Commons

December General Meetup Notes – WordPress Custom Post Types with Nile Flores

December’s General Meetup was lucky enough to have Nile Flores present on Custom Post Types.  Here’s Nile’s presentation.

Nile is a professional web designer and developer from Centralia, Il about an hour east of St. Louis. She covers it all, WordPress, design, SEO and more.
She’s a very active member of the WordPress community and a co-organizer of WordCamp St. Louis.  We thank Nile and everyone who came out for helping to make it yet another great meetup.
For our January meetup we’re going to be talking about theme structure and creating custom themes. Join us!

November 2014 General WordPress Meetup Notes – “How to Get in Trouble with CSS”

I put together some notes from our General Meetup last month. Thanks for everyone who braved the cold and came out. I had a blast putting this together and am looking forward to Nile’s presentation later in December.

Box Model

First, let’s talk about the Box Model. The best way to approach CSS is to understand that all it does is apply rules to the boxes that make up our webpages.

All HTML elements are containers or boxes. I demonstrated this by using the 3D view in Firefox. (Right-click on any webpage, and select “Inspect element”. The 3D view is the cube icon in the top right of the inspector pane.

CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, allow you to define the style of those boxes. Everything from the fonts being used inside, to images, borders, padding, margins, colors, even how text behaves alignment, size, orientation, etc.

Rules

You make these changes this by defining ‘rules’ to those boxes or elements in your CSS.

So let’s say we have an element. It’s a simple div and I want to give it some rules.

<div>
<p>Some text inside that’s a paragraph.</p>
</div>

First give element a name – either an ID or a class.

That element name is called a selector in CSS parlance. We’re saying, for each element named X select

<div class=''demoDiv">
<p>Some text inside that’s a paragraph.</p>
</div>

I can apply rules to that selector in a few different ways.

Three ways to define CSS (There are more, say with JS)

Here they are from worse to best

Inline

<div class=''demoDiv" style="background-color:green;">

In the <head>


In a separate file (also referenced in the head)

<link rel="stylesheet" media="all" href="demoStyle.css">

Why is this the best? You separate the presentation from structure (HTML) from content (in the case of WordPress, what’s in your database). You also can have both documents open side by side. You also don’t have to scroll up and down and up and down. And most importantly, because of CASCADING!

Here’s two examples of valid CSS rules being applied to a class and an ID respectfully.

.demoDiv {
rule:options;
rule:options;
}
#demoDiv {rule:options;rule:options;}

Difference between a class and an ID

See that “.” and that “#” – that tells us if something is either a class or an ID.

Does it make sense to identify multiple elements by the same ID? I think not. That’s what classes are for – to classify similar elements.

Cascading

The name Cascading is important! It’s how the browser determine which rules to actually apply. There are many factors at play, and that’s ok. There’s some logic to it al.

We’re going to talk about specificity and inheritance

At this point I’m going to let someone far smarter than I explain it. Check out this article on Smashing Magazine.

The order you put your elements and their styles in your style.css don’t matter.

However it’s best practice to do high-level or ‘global’ settings at the top of your sheet, and put comments in as you go for the various sections.

At the top have global attributes like body, p, a, h3, etc.

Then sections:

  • header
  • navigation
  • sidebar
  • etc.

Order does matter in your rules!

One thing that does matter is the last rule of  a type will over ride the previous.

Example:

background-color: #000;
background: #FFF url(image.jpg) 0 0 no-repeat;

The color (should the image fail to load) will be white because it came last in this set of rules

Ok, what about WordPress!?

Let’s take a look at a CSS file from a theme like Twenty Fourteen

First, inspect and find an element in the stylesheet (using Chrome dev tools)

Child Themes

Even if you want to do nothing but tweak a few styles to an existing theme, USE A CHILD THEME. It’s easy.

If you assume you’re using Twenty Fourteen:

  1. Make a folder in your wp-content/themes/ directory. Give it a unique name.
  2. Create a file called “style.css”
  3. Edit header info to reference the parent theme.
  4. Activate your child theme.
  5. Edit CSS in that child theme’s style.css file to change (overwrite) the parent theme’s rules.

CSS Preprocessors

CSS Preprocessors were touched on at the very end of the night. Basically things like SASS and LESS allow you to define variables to your rules. When you’re ready to publish the preprocessor will render valid CSS from those variables.

Example:

@col-red: #f00;
@col-blue: #00f;
@font-family: Arial, sans-serif;
@font-s: 12px;
@font-m: 14px;@font-l: 16px;
h1 {color: @col-blue; 
font: @font-l @font-family;}
.blockQuotes {color: @col-blue; 
font: @font-m @font-family;
}

Preprocessors also allow for math functions to compute sizes across your entire stylesheet.

@base-size: 10px;
.small {
font-size: @base-size;
}
.medium {
font-size: @base-size * 1.2;
}
.large {
@_large: @base-size * 1.5;
font-size: @_large;
line-height: @_large + 4;
}

A few good reference articles:

  • http://alistapart.com/article/why-sass
  • http://blog.millermedeiros.com/the-problem-with-css-pre-processors/
  • http://blog.blakesimpson.co.uk/read/37-less-sass-the-advantages-of-css-preprocessing-explained

Additional Resources:

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS

Photo by Mikel via Flickr – Licensed under Creative Commons

WordCamp San Francisco Viewing Party

We’re going to host a free viewing party for WordCamp San Francisco! They’re streaming all presentations across their two-day WordCamp. October 25-26.

This is one of the biggest WordCamps and their schedule is full of awesome presenters.

We’re going to use the amazing public space at Nebula Coworking at the corner of Jefferson and Cherokee St.. There will be two rooms, one streaming the Developer-focused track, the other the User-focused track.

We invite you to join us for both days. The presentations start at 11am (9am Pacific) each day so get there early! You can stay all day and hang out in between sessions, just like an in-person WordCamp. Check out the full schedule and RSVP today!

We’d like to have light breakfast options, snacks and drinks. If you can pitch in, please let us know. We’re also working on finding appropriate sponsorship.

For lunch we’re going to hit the town and enjoy the amazing restaurants along Cherokee. We’re working on getting some recommendations and menus for some of our favorite haunts.

This is a low-key event. Come as you are, relax, and soak up some amazing knowledge.

More details coming soon. Volunteers are needed. Sponsors are needed. Get in touch!

STLWP Code of Conduct

A Code of Conduct for a community as vibrant and successful as ours might seem rather strange, but we want to put in writing our intent and make public our thoughts on inclusion and equality.

We want to ensure that folks from all walks of life feel included in any of our events or activities.

In the hopefully rare occurance that a jerk sneaks in, we can also point to this in order to help deal with unpleasant situations.

Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the St. Louis WordPress Community Code of Conduct.

This is a living document and is open to feedback.

August 2014 General WordPress Meetup Notes

We had a great turnout this month – even with the Cards game happening just a few blocks down the street. Thanks to everyone who came out!

Main Event

The main topic of the night was covering some handy tools that help you keep tabs on your WordPress site. We covered Uptime Robot, Infinite WP, and Google Analytics.

Uptime Robot

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.56.48 PMThis handy website lets you know when your site is down. When a site is down that means that visitors aren’t able to see the site and won’t know why! By using Uptime Robot you can setup alerts to be notified via email or SMS when your site is inaccessible.

This is a free service and you can track up to 50 sites! They don’t have to be WordPress sites at all – this works for any site you’re interested in tracking. The service is hosted, so there isn’t even an installation process. Just sign up, add your sites, set how frequently your site should be checked and wait!

It’s also super handy if you have multiple sites across clients. You can know before they do when a site is having an issue. You can quickly figure out what’s going on, and let your clients know preemptively!

Infinite WP

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.58.41 PM

Infinite WP makes managing plugins and theme updates across multiple separate WordPress installations a breeze. You install a simple client on your web host, a plugin on each of your sites, and away you go!

Infinite WP will let you know when your sites have an update available and you can update by site (all plugins at once), by plugin (this plugin on all sites where its installed), or even piece mail – one at a time. There are a ton of add-ons for Infinite WP that extend it’s capabilities even further.

A recent update also brings easy backups to your sites. So your workflow could be something like:

  1. Get a notification of an update via Infinite WP
  2. Backup your Dev/Test site.
  3. Update your Dev/Test site to make sure things are hunky-dory.
  4. Backup your Production site(s).
  5. Update your Production site(s) without leaving your beach chair.

All of that without leaving Infinite WP.

Google Analytics

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 10.05.20 PM

We could have easily spent multiple evenings covering the various ways you can leverage Google Analytics it’s that powerful. In a nutshell Google Analytics allows you to keep track on how visitors get to your site, what they do on your site, and some demographic information like geographic location and what browser it uses. It becomes even more powerful when you get into developing campaigns and set goals for your visitors.

Say for example you’re promoting a big event or a new item in your store. You can send out emails, tweets, and Facebook updates with a specific URL that will tell you, in Google Analytics, which outlet lead to that person arriving at your site, and what percentage of visits turned into ‘conversions’ – someone did something you wanted them to do like sign up for a newsletter or buy something.

Google has some great resources on getting started with Google Analytics. Integration with WordPress is a snap with numerous Google Analytics plugins. My particular fave is Google Analytics for WordPress by Joost de Valk.

Bonus Tools

A few other tools that were mentioned in the similar vein that we didn’t get to spend a lot of time on are listed below. Take a look and you might find a handy addition to your utility belt.

IFTTT – Hook up WordPress to hundreds of other services all with simple to create ‘recipes’. Want your Instragram photos to automatically publish to your blog? Easy peasy .
 

Piwik – Don’t like Google? Want to host your own analytics? Pwiki’s your solution.

Woopra – A real-time analytics package. See who’s on your site right this minute. Some say better than Google Analytics!

Next Month

In September we have the talented Gregory Ray taking us through the best practices and dark art secrets of Hardening WordPress. Join Gregory and the gang on Wednesday, September 17th at Lab1500.

Photo by Dean Gugler – Licensed under Creative Commons

More WordCamp St. Louis Videos

Two more videos have been published from WordCamp St. Louis 2014! This time we have Konstantin Obenland talking about options, transients, and theme mods – Oh My!

We also have the delightful Tom Harness and Leigh Caldwell who share their experience and advice on how to leverage your business’ blog like a rock star.

Keep track of all our great presentations as they come online at WordPress.tv!

Video Of the July General WordPress Meetup

We’re famous! Well, famous enough to have the talented Benjamin S. Hammond record our last Meetup. This impromptu recording in our new space was done by the fine folks over at STLTechTalk.com.

You can check out the first part below, and the rest on STL Tech Talk’s site.

They wanted to help us spread the word and we appreciate the support. Be sure to check out the rest of STLTechTalk.com and their podcasts!

Thanks to J.J., Ben, and everyone for coming out, we had a great meetup and look forward to seeing you all in August!

P.S. Benjamin, the fine gentlemen behind the camera, is a film producer and director. Check out his short film “Misery Mountain“. It’s a bit spooky, so make sure you watch it with headphones late at night – after the kids have gone to bed.

Fall Community Check-In and Survey

Since we recently changed venues for the General Meetup, and we haven’t asked in a while about our meeting times, we put together a short survey to check-in on how things are going. 

It’s 3 short multiple choice questions and a giant text box to share your thoughts. Please be honest and only reply if you actively attend our Meetups. For all you lurkers – don’t be shy, come join us!

Take a moment to let us know if our meeting time, date, and location work for you. It’s our only way of making sure our community grows and is successful in helping our fellow WordPressers.

http://wpstl.polldaddy.com/s/fall-community-check-i
n

WordCamp St. Louis 2014 Videos Coming Online

We just got an email from the fine folks at WordPress.tv letting us know that the first of the recorded sessions from WordCamp St. Louis 2014 are now online.

The first one is from Chris Koerner and covers How to Get Involved in the WordPress Community.

As the rest of the videos are edited, uploaded, and approved they will show up under the WordCamp St. Louis 2014 page.

A big thanks to Chris Miller for agreeing to help edit and produce the videos. A hearty thanks to all the volunteers who helped to record the sessions throughout the day. Last, but not least, a big hug to the folks at WordPress.tv for hosting our videos for the world to see.

If anyone is interested in adding subtitles or translations for not only these videos, but any others on WordPress.tv, you should get involved!