This isn’t another “essential plugin list” for WordPress websites. This is however a list of things you need to know about, and links to the resources, methods, and plugins that will deliver the results you’re after.
We think it’s always best practice to start out with the problem you’re trying to achieve, and then find an appropriate solution, or set of solutions. However, the way we’re continuously marketed and sold “stuff” for our wordpress websites means we most often start with solutions – not problems.
The problem about problems is that until you build up your knowledge about a subject, you don’t even know a problem exists! Or said another way, as said by Donald Rumsfeld…“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Donald Rumsfeld 2002
It’s those last one’s that will bite you in the behind, the “unknown unknowns”. These are most common when the environment is continuously evolving and the goal posts changing. This is very much the case for the online world, the pace at which it moves being monumental and when it comes to search engine algorithms, often quite sudden.
So as a wordpress website owner, you need to continuously build your awareness of the unknown unknowns. Turning them into known unknowns. This the point at which you know a problem exists, so this allows you to look for solutions.
This article is about illuminating topics for wordpress website owners (turning them into known unknowns) and offer some solutions, in whatever form necessary (turning them into known knowns).
Topic 1: Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
Can be part of hosting deals
Offered as solutions in some plugins that promise to accelerate the pace of your site, for example:
- Jetpack by Automattic
- WP-Super Cache
We’re unsure as to whether multiple content delivery networks can be used by a single website (or whether you’d want to).
Basically, a content delivery network is kind of what it says on the tin. Your websites data gets stored in multiple locations all across the world, meaning that when someone visits your website the data is served from the nearest server. Thus this speeds up your site as the data isn’t travelling as far as if your website data was located in one geographic location.
This is more applicable to websites that are globally relevant, or if your website serves a large country like the USA. If you’re a business in the UK, with only UK visitors, your website data is only going to be pulled across a small country – so probably going to be pretty fast anyway. (This conclusion needs to be confirmed, but makes a lot of sense).
We currently use Jetpack for this purpose.
Here’s a great video from Winning WP explaining exactly what a CDN is
Topic 2: Gzip Compression
Sounds techie, doesn’t need a techie background to implement.
If you’re hosting your site with Bluehost you can actually change this setting in about 30 seconds from right now.
If you look at this short tutorial from Webnots.com you’ll see it’s as simple as toggling an option to “Compress ALL Content”.
What might not get entirely explained here is that you need to be in your “CPanel Account”. This isn’t that scary.
- Go to the icon for “File Manager” on your Bluehost Hosting account dashboard.
- Then click the “CP Logo” in the top left hand corner of the screen
- This should take you to the CPanel dashboard where you scroll down and click “Optimize Website” however…(Bluehost might redirect to their interface where there isn’t actually an “Optimize Website” icon. If that’s the case, click here and you’ll be directed to the correct page if you’re logged into Bluehost)
- Once on this page refer back to the tutorial above (essentially, just toggle the radio button on for “Compress All Content” and click “Update Settings”
- Job done – site now a little quicker
We’ve implemented this and it appears to work, it doubled our PageSpeed Insights score from Google (it was appalling, then it went to just “bad” as a result of enabling the GZip compression)
WP-Rocket, WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache, Hummingbird Page Speed Optimization and a few other plugins do state that they offer “GZip Compression” as a feature. This means you can simply setup the GZip compression through the plugin by toggling an option “on”. Essentially behind the scenes modifications are being made to your “HTAccess File” (I know, Techie), and these plugins prevent you from needing to edit the HTAccess File yourself.
However, lots of hosting solutions, not just Bluehost offer the ability to configure “compression” or “GZip Compression” without needing too much technical capability. So you don’t NEED a plugin for this.
Topic 3: Image Optimisation & Compression
Yet another speed topic, compressing your images can have a large impact on the load time of pages on your website.
A straight forward (but more laborious task) would be to review each image individually and see if there was an opportunity to reduce it’s size without losing too much quality.
Neil Patel has in the past recommended WP-Smush on his blog – see the article here (It’s one of those “9 essential plugins” blog articles)
WP-Smush is FREE and can be downloaded from WordPress.org – Click here to take you right there.
We have WP-Smush installed on this very website.
There are plenty of other image compression plugins out there. A few worth mentioning;
- EWWW Image Optimizer
- Kraken Image Optimizer
These plugins along with WP-Smush and a few others were tested and compared over on the Elegant Themes blog. You can see the article and the results of the test by clicking here.
Topic 4: Purging unnecessary data (like old revisions)
Purging old revisions prevents bloat of data on your server. You may have wondered where all the old revisions and drafts went. The answer is in “the proverbial trunk of your servers car” and this will be slowing things down.
WP-Rocket apparently does do this purging, and easily so according to the Online Media Masters website
WP-Optimize does this and is free.
As a preventative measure you can limit the number of revisions of each page and post that WordPress keeps. Here’s an article from WPBeginner which shows you how to limit revisions using code in the wp-config.php file.
Topic 5: Page Caching
The problem here relates to how a web page is constructed. Using wordpress, your web page is put together from a number of different “pieces” that are stored in different parts of a database. If every time someone visits your website their computer needs to find the right “pieces” and put the “pieces” together from a database, your website will run slowly.
Page caching quite simply stores the web page in the “constructed” form on the hosting server. Then, when someone visits the page, they’re served the saved version.
If your website doesn’t change very frequently, or certain pages don’t change, Page Caching is a massive improvement over continuously querying the database to construct web pages. Even if your website does change frequently, Page Caching doesn’t indefinitely store the pages, the data is refreshed on a schedule.
So how this is different from “Content Delivery Networks”? Quite simply Page Caching doesn’t determine where the data is stored, it just determines that the page data SHOULD be stored. Content Deliver Networks determine where the data is stored in the world.
We use WP Super Cache for this Page Caching function. (It’s free)
Once again, WP-Rocket does deal with Page Caching. (Paid)
W3 Total Cache also does this and is FREE.
Hummingbird Page Speed Optimization has Full Page Caching built in and we’re using it on this very site – It’s FREE!
Topic 6: Browser Caching
With browser caching, static contents (JS, CSS, images) are stored in the browser. When a visitor goes to another page on your website, your static content does not need to be loaded again.
So this makes things work slightly differently to Page Caching or Content Delivery Networks. In this case data is saved “Locally” to the website visitors computer (in their browser). Instead of having to pull data from a server continuously, the data is pulled from the computer – in super quick time. Once again, this gives your wordpress site a speed boost.
WP-Rocket does this. (Paid)
W3 Total Cache also does this and is FREE.
Here is a tutorial on how to manually set up browser caching posted on the Elegant Themes blog. This is completely free, and relatively easy!
Hummingbird Page Speed Optimization has Browser Caching built in and we’re using it on this very site – It’s FREE!
Topic 1-6 Roundup
You may have noticed by now that topic 1-6 are very much focused on the improvement of your websites speed. This isn’t the only thing you need to be focused on when running a WordPress website, but it’s really significant. Given that search engine rank is impacted by website speed, this is definitely a bunch of “easy wins” or in today’s competitive landscape, a bunch of “Prerequisites to even compete for rank”.
If you want to get into solution mode on the above topics (now you know they’re unknowns) we have a few resources that can help you evaluate your current state (how big is this problem?) and provide some guidance and solutions on fixing them (Paid, free, techie and non-techie focused).
To start with, here’s an awesome article from Online Media Masters with great tutorials and some further explanation of “the problem you might not have realised you had”.
Here’s a further article from WPBeginner outlining 19 ways to speed up your website. A number of them we’ve already covered, but an additional piece of advice is to not upload videos directly to your WordPress site – instead, host them on another service such as Youtube or Vimeo.
Topic 7: Security & Spam
There are a few key security problems to be aware of here;
- Threat of Malware on your site (unwanted code, links or other data that seeks to compromise yours, and your visitors security). Malware essentially gets planted as a result of unwanted access to your site. Here’s an article explaining Malware from Elegant Themes Blog.
- Threat of “Brute Force Attacks” which use bots to repeatedly enter username and password combinations to try and access your site (also significantly slowing your site)
- Other forms of hacking can occur as a result of out of date, or insecure plugins.
Subscribing to Jetpack Premium or above gets you daily Malware and threat scans of your website, and protection against hacking, such as brute force attacks.
Jetpack is from the makers of WordPress itself (Automatic) and offers a range of features outside the scope of just security. It is quite aptly described by WinningWP.com;
“Jetpack is best described as a mash-up of loads of completely unrelated functionalities. Perhaps surprisingly, the combination works…”
There are plenty of dedicated security solutions for WordPress websites, namely;
- iThemes Security (Free and Paid, Main features on Paid)
- All in One WP Security And Firewall (Free)
- Sucuri Scanner (The scanner is free, and has some “Security Hardening” but main features are paid)
Akismet deals with anti-spam on comments. It’s free for non-commercial sites, but in reality we’re talking about business sites here so has a small cost. If you subscribe to Jetpack, you get Akismet.
Topic 8: Backups
Hope for the best, plan for the worst?
Your website is just some data sat on some servers, at some point it could become corrupt and multiple hours of work could be undone.
Automatic backups allow you to set and forget (although manual backups are possible – link to an article on manual backups would be good)
We use Jetpack for Automatic backups of the entire website which is actually delivered by VaultPress (which comes with a Jetpack Subscription)
Topic 9: Schema Markup
What is it, and why is Schema Markup even necessary?
For now, here’s a guide on how to add Schema Markup to a WordPress Website from the Elegant Themes Blog
With WordPress Themes there is (can be) a built in level of automatic Schema Markup Creation, not requiring any manual input. However, this isn’t always the case, and not always as extensive as you’d like it to be…
Topic 10: Website Usage Terms, Other Terms, Cookie Policies and Privacy Policies
The problem here is that your website needs to comply with legal requirements. You don’t want to break the law.
Your requirements as a WordPress website manager are very different based on;
- Where your audience are located in the world
- Whether you take payments on your site
- Whether you are an eCommerce website
- Whether you’re an affiliate for products and services for sale by someone else
- Plus some other factors…
So you need some templates, and some general guidance. Coming soon…
Topic 11: GDPR understand your requirements
The problem is that this is also another legislative requirement. You don’t want to break the law. But this is very specifically a new set of requirements as of 2018.
The primary problem here then is understanding the requirements of GDPR for your website. As it’s so new.
Here’s the Elegant Themes Guide on how to make your websites GDPR Compliant.
Here’s our practical guide to GDPR for your website, including some Plugins to help your website be GDPR Compliant
More on this coming soon…
Topic 12: Indexing with search engines (Google & Bing)
If you’re not “indexed” by the search engines, you will not appear in search results. Big potential problem.
If search engines don’t index your new pages and posts right when they’re published, there’s content on your site that won’t show up in search results. Again, big potential problem.
Indexing occurs when “bots” crawl your website for new content.
You can influence this by “telling” the search engines about your new page or post as soon as it’s published. You don’t have to WAIT!
Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools accounts allow you to “submit” specific pages and posts (URLs) for indexing.
This is something you should do any time you create a new page or post.
Topic 13: SSL Certificates for https website URLs
So the cynical version says that the problem is with Google. Google use the SSL certificate as a ranking factor, therefore implementing one improves your rank, or just keeps up with the competition.
Less cynically, the SSL certificate improves your site security. This is particularly a requirement if you’re going to be taking payment, as SSL certificates force encryption. This means it’s more difficult for hackers to intercept sensitive information.
It’s worth mentioning PCI compliance here – as certain types of SSL certificates provide you with PCI compliance (needed to take card payments). In reality a lot of the payment gateway providers have built in PCI compliance and the payment details are actually processed through the payment providers servers. So this doesn’t demand that your sever is PCI compliant – but it doesn’t hurt!
Topic 14: Bandwidth
What problems have you had with bandwidth?
Topic 15: Sitemaps, creation and maintenance
What is the actual importance behind having a valid sitemap?
Sitemaps are generated by Plugins such as All In One SEO and Yoast SEO. These plugins help configure a whole bunch of settings beyond the standard set of settings that the WordPress CMS provides. These are settings such as;
- Meta Data settings
- Robot Index Settings
- Search Engine Results (SERPs) display settings for each page
- Automatic generation of Canonical URLs