Simple ways to speed up your website

Having a fast website is very important. As I mentioned in my Black Friday post, nobody likes a slow website and if your site take more than a few seconds to load, the chances are you are loosing visitors because of that lag.

This article contains a few easy to implement tips which you can use to help you reduce the load time of your website.

Keep Your Code Tidy

Unless something goes wrong, or someone chooses to view your source code, most of the people who visit your website will never see any of the code that is stuffed away behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important however. After all, the code at the back-end is what creates the website at the front end.

Minify HTML

Minimising your HTML, CSS and JavaScript is a very easy way to reduce the size of your website. If there is less to load, then your website will load faster. If you use a CMS like WordPress, there are many plugins which can minify your code for you. If you self-code there are websites which will shrink your code for you, or you could go through it yourself, removing unnecessary spaces and tags etc.

Reduce Files Fetched

It is good practice to fetch as few files as possible when loading your website. For example, many sites use separate style sheets for different parts of the website – for example one for text, one for images and another for general layout. Every file that your page calls upon increases its overall load time. Fetching one big CSS document will usually be faster than fetching three smaller ones.

Also consider how many external resources you load – for example adding a Facebook like button will require the users browser to visit Facebook’s website to pull the code across, whilst loading your page. A link or a delayed load on things like social sharing buttons can give you a big speed boost.

Optimise Your Images

Images make your content more exciting, however if you don’t optimise them then they can often really slow your page load time down. There are various ways you can reduce the file size of your images without compromising on quality.

Resize Pictures

When you take a picture, it can often be much bigger than you really need it to be. By resizing photos before you upload them, you can massively reduce the file size of your images. If you leave the file big, but resize it using HTML or CSS – by setting a smaller height and width – then the end user still has to load the big image, and then their browser then has to squash it down to fit your new image dimensions.

Choose The Right File Type

The most commonly used image formats are .jpg, .gif and .png.  Different images lend themselves to different formats. Reducing the number of colours available to a GIF or a PNG-8 image will reduce the files size, whilst reducing the image quality will lower the size of a JPEG file.

Use An Image Compressor

Image compressors are another way to shrink images. Technology Bloggers currently uses a WordPress plugin called WP Smush.it which uses the Yahoo! Smush.it tool to reduce image files.

Example

Here is a picture that I took several years ago whilst in South Africa.

Elephants in South Africa
The full sized image was 3.44 megabytes. Resizing it in Photoshop helped me reduce that to 1.61 megabytes. Because there are lots of colours and the image was quite big, choosing GIF and PNG-8 format made it look too pixelated, so it was between PNG-24 and JPEG. PNG-24 squashed the image down to 831 kilobytes, whilst JPEG compressed it to a tidy 450 kilobytes. Although that is a lot smaller than the original file, it would still take a long time to load on a slow connection so by taking a very small hit on the image quality, I managed to get the file size down to 164 kilobytes. Finally running the image through Smush.it took it down to 157 kilobytes. Some images see a big reduction, most (like this one) see a smaller reduction of just a few percent.

Use A Content Delivery Network

Content delivery networks, or CDNs, can help to improve a websites speed and make it more reliable. Put very simply, when someone tries to access your site, without a CDN they are directed to your hosting provider, who will then serve them your website and all its files from their server. This means that if your host goes down because of a fault, or a sudden surge in traffic you loose your site, and also if your host is not close to a user, it can take a long time for them to communicate.

With a CDN, users can fetch your site faster, because it is offered in multiple locations around the world. Additionally many CDNs can cache a copy of your site, so if your host goes offline, they can provide a static version of your site to users until it comes back up.

For example, Technology Bloggers is currently hosted in Gloucester in the UK. If you access us from Australia, CloudFlare (the CDN we use) will send you to its closest data centre, which could be in Australia, which will then deliver the files you need to see our site. It is faster because your requests don’t have to travel all the way to the UK and nor does the data being sent back to you either.

Control Your Cache

Server Side

If you use a CMS, then the chances are your content is dynamically delivered upon request. Basically, when the user requests a page, your site creates it and then sends it back. By using some form of caching you can create a static image of your site, so your site doesn’t have to create the content each time a user visits it. There are various plugins you can use to help with this, Technology Bloggers uses CloudFlare’s caching system, as I have found this seems to work better than other WordPress plugins I have tried. Also, using too many plugins, slows your site down, hence why I let the CDN manage it.

User Side

A users browser also saves files for later, in case they visit your site again. It is possible to determine what files are saved and for how long these files are saved for, by adding caching headers to your .htaccess file you can change these settings.

How To Test If Your Site Is Faster

Refreshing your page and timing it with a stopwatch is one way to gauge how quick your site loads. This probably isn’t the best way to do it though!

There are various websites which rate your sites speed performance. I tend to measure Technology Bloggers using four main speed analysis sites.

Google PageSpeed

Google are keen for the web to be faster and offer a very useful tool which gives your site a score for mobile load time and desktop load time. It also suggests what it believes is slowing your site down. Google’s tool also gives an image of your fully loaded site – all the content above the fold. Unfortunately, their test doesn’t actually state how fast your site loads, just how well optimised it is.

WebPageTest

Probably the most thorough site I use is WebPageTest, which presents loads of different information, including first view load time, repeat view load time (which should be quicker if you have user side caching), a waterfall view of all the files loading, a visual representation of how your site loads, suggestions as to where performance issues lie and loads more.

An analysis of TechnologyBloggers.org using the WebPageTest tool

Pingdom

Pingdom is another useful tool, it gives a handy speed score and also tells you how fast your site is compared to other sites it has tested. It also saves your speed results, so you can view historic test result speeds on a graph, and see how your sites speed has changed.

GTmetrix

GTmetrix is another useful site. It also gives lots of details, and helps you to see what is slowing your site down. GTmetrix also lets you compare one site to another, which I’m not really sure is that useful, but it is interesting to see how your competitors site compares to your own.

An analysis of TechnologyBloggers.org using the GTmetrix tool

Happy Browsing

Remember to enjoy your new, faster site! Hopefully your visitors will too. 🙂

How to be a little greener

We all leave a footprint on the world, just by being alive we contribute to environmental degradation. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate your effect (offset it maybe) on the world, but you can minimise it.

In this article I am going to look at some very simple things you can do to reduce the impact you have on the planet, making you a greener individual.

Water Usage

The amount of water we use has a big impact on the environment, as well as other people. Last April I posted an article which asked you to question your usage of water. I have included a brief summary of the article

Of all the water on earth, just 0.007% is drinkable, and whilst our usage of water and the number of people on earth are both rapidly growing, water supplies aren’t. Drought is a real issue in many areas of the world and one in nine people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Rainwater storage tank

Wall mounted water butts are becoming more popular – a great way to collect and store rainwater.

Excessive use (and arguably wastage) of water via things like regular use of hose pipes and using water hungry appliances (like washing machines) when they have spare capacity, can easily be reduced, and can significantly decrease our water usage.

In the comments, there was some great feedback. Jonny suggested using a water butt to collect rainwater to water your garden, saying “it is really shocking to think that many people use drinking water to keep the lawn green“. Shane told us how he plays 5 minute songs when having a shower, so he know when it’s time to get out, and Jean noted how he tries to fix leaks as soon as he finds them, as they are a massive waste of water – and money!

Buy Local

Another step you can take which will reduce your carbon footprint is choosing local. In 2009, I wrote an article on the technology behind food, discussing the journey food takes, and the impact it has on the planet, getting it to our table. Although the figures might have slightly changed, the concept behind the article is still the same: buying local produce significantly reduces your carbon footprint.

Local doesn’t even have to mean that close. Ideally, within 20 miles of the shop you buy is the best sort of ‘local’, however even food that has been grown within 200 miles is much better than food that has been flown across the globe.

Local food not only promotes energy conservation, but it also supports local farmers. Farm shops are a really good place you can get local food, why not check out BigBarn, a site designed to help you find where you can get locally produced food.

Farmers shop

Farm shops are a great place to source local food.

Reuse, Repair and Recycle Technology

It is important to use technology to its full potential, and to keep using it until it is no longer viable. Once something stops working, or is no longer able to fulfil your needs, whenever possible, repair or upgrade it. If your PC is starting to run a little sluggish, try to speed it up again (maybe visit my speed up your computer article) add some more RAM, upgrade the graphics card, and consider increasing the storage capacity.

As Jonny wrote last year, electronic waste is a real problem, computer components can be hard to recycle, and are often toxic. Therefore it is important to try to reduce electronic waste, and when it does occur, ensure it is disposed or/recycled properly.

If you have reused and repaired a device as much as possible, the next step is recycling. Recycling electronic waste is a growing industry, computer recycling and schemes which enable you to recycle mobile phones, so your technology is either properly recycled, or repaired and reused, either resold locally, or distributed to developing countries are becoming ever more common. Many firms (like the one I link to above) are even paying you for your old technology – reduce your ecological footprint, and get paid, what more could you ask for!

Save Energy

There seems to be a growing resistance to nuclear power, fossil fuels are running out and this matched with the lack of investment in renewables, is leading us to a global energy crisis. Every individual can make a difference, by reducing their consumption.

Electrical energyTurning off devices instead of leaving them on standby, switching to energy bulbs, and insulate your home and relatively simple and cheap ways to save energy, which we have probably all heard many times. Steps which involve using smarter technologies, such as getting Remote Heating Control installed and choosing smarter energy using devices are also good ways to save power, and are now also becoming more common.

In Summary

Four of the best ways you can reduce your environment impact are to: be more frugal with water; try and buy local produce; maintain technology for as long as possible, and then recycle it; and reducing your energy usage.

Feel free to critique any of my points, and by all means, suggest your own ideas below.

How to build a good gaming PC for under £1000?

EDITOR NOTE: Since this article was written, many of the links to computer parts have become outdated, so they have all now been removed – note by Christopher

Computer parts and a computer case - a custom PCGaming is a great hobby to have, but to buy all the latest releases, not to mention the latest console that comes equipped with crystal-clear graphics and interactive gameplay, it could cost a small fortune. Many thrifty gamers looking to enjoy themselves without breaking the bank could do worse than build the ultimate gaming machine, especially if they have an affinity with playing on a PC.

It’s possible to get everything you need for less than £1,000. All you need to do is know what components are necessary, how powerful you want your machine to be, a few basic computer building skills and the right places to go for your bargains. My personal favourites are the technology section on netvouchercodes.co.uk, the Amazon discount emails, or their computer component recommendations and of course eBay!

Motherboard – £135

It’s the most important part of any PC – without it, nothing else would function correctly. This motherboard from Asus is ideal as it has no bottlenecks, slots for two graphic cards, processor slot and has capacity for as much as 32GB of RAM. It’s also pretty cheap considering what it enables.

Processor – £168

Also from AMD, this six-core Bulldozer processor is great for processing large amounts of data at speed. Among its other vital stats include an 8MB cache and impressive power of 8.3 GHz per core for a relatively low price, and is ideal for multitasking when playing two or more games at once. I found this particular bargain from CCL through their online voucher page.

Memory – £137

Combined, these products provide an impressive 16GB of RAM. This amount of memory is more than enough for even the most data-intensive games.

Random Access Memory

PSU – £60

Every PC needs a cooling system, and this PSU with inbuilt heatsinks is sufficient for an extremely powerful custom-built computer. It runs at 1333 MHz and has a capacity of 16GB, and controls your PC’s power output with minimum fuss.

Graphics cards – £228

The AMD Radeon graphics processor is the most expensive part of your PC, but it’s also the most important for ensuring the games you want to play look as vivid and lifelike as possible. They have 3GB of GDDR5 memory, 800 MHz clock speed for quick gameplay and has room for a second card if necessary.

Solid State Drive – £195

A hard drive of some sort is something else you’ll need, and this 250GB drive is one of the best available for gaming PCs. It has a 6GB/s transfer rate and is ideal for games which use up a huge amount of data.

All those components come to a grand total of around £930. Once you have all that, you can spend the remainder on a case to keep everything in its right place. £70 is plenty of money to spend on a case, no matter how wacky and original you want it to look. All it involves is a little shopping around.

Looking after your gadgets

Gamers, office workers and tech fans who lead a busy lifestyle might not rate tidying up their technology as their highest priority. However, there comes a point where all the wires and cables become so intertwined that they become almost impossible to prise apart. This is where keeping all your tech in check could prove useful.

It doesn’t have to involve hour after hour of moving your devices around or untangling cables. With a combination of hi-tech and low-tech solutions, you can make your tech at home or in the office look a lot cleaner and easy to find, use and transport when you need to access it.

Cable management

Messy cablesFor gamers in particular, this is essential. The problem of cables becoming tangled is common for many console owners. The best thing to do to avoid this problem is to use a series of cable ties. They’re cheap, easy to use and help to keep numerous cables bound together behind the back of your TV screen.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that all your gadgets are well-ventilated. Keeping the holes in your computer, consoles, TV and other devices clear from obstructions like wires or cables will ensure that they’re less likely to overheat. This should extend their life and help keep them running fast.

All-in-one charging

Many of us own quite a few gadgets, many of which have mains chargers. In some cases, e-readers, smartphones and tablets can be powered up using the same charger, but to save space and energy when two or more of them need recharging, a multiple docking station could be helpful.

They’re relatively good, but they’re not too expensive, plus they can work well in the office as well as at home. If you own a range of Apple products, you’ll surely want one in order to reduce the stress of trying to find the right charger for each device. It could also become an important addition to any office desk, especially if you need access to all your gadgets at all times.

Smart labelling

Labelling your technology is a simple but effective idea, especially in the workplace. If, for example, you work in a large office, you’ll want to be able to find your computer/laptop straight away. Putting a label on it could save you time in trying to find it, especially if you feel like you’ve mislaid it somewhere after a meeting.

Asset labelling is useful too. It can be used to track your tech if it goes missing or gets stolen. As seareach.plc.uk point out, it’s useful for devices other than computers as well. It could be used to keep track of printers, scanners, tablet PCs, photocopiers, monitors or even items of furniture such as tables, chairs and sofas.