Is a lazy website key to online success?

Speed matters. Once upon a time, if a business had a website, it was revolutionary. Now in many cases if a business doesn’t have a website, it will usually suffer as a result.

When the internet was in its infancy, speed wasn’t really on the agenda. If your site loaded super fast (remember we are still in the days of 56kbps/dial-up internet access here) great. If it didn’t, people would be prepared to wait.

Nowadays there are so many different websites offering such similar information, if your site is slow, your traffic (or as I prefer to call it visitor numbers, or even better: people) will suffer as a result. There are countless studies into this, almost all of which conclude that the slower a site is, the fewer visitors it has.

Furthermore, speed is starting to become an evermore important search engine ranking factor – if your site is slow, you are less likely to rank at the top.

Okay, you get the point: today speed matters.

The problem with many websites is that they have so much to load. When you load our homepage, it isn’t just a few lines of HTML that your browser requests from our server, it also fetches a handful of local CSS, JavaScript and PHP files, in addition to bunch of images and some large chunks of external code, which are used to generate social media buttons.

This all takes time, and every extra byte and file that is requested will slow down the page load time.

Slim Down

One way to reduce the size of the page is to reduce the amount of files – and the size of those files – that are fetched. We make every effort to ensure that our locally loaded scripts are as condensed as possible, so your browser doesn’t have to request dozens of files, just one or two.

We have also combined several images into one file (a CSS sprite), again, so your browser has to fetch fewer files. Take a look at the image below for an example.

CSS sprite social media

Technology Bloggers social icons CSS sprite.

The trouble is, we only have control over internal files. I can’t go and reduce the Tweet button script and add it to one of our existing files, as it is controlled by Twitter, and served via their servers.

Lazy Loading Images

Sometimes slimming down isn’t enough, so one way to prevent the initial load becoming verbose is to delay the loading of images not in view. We use a WordPress plugin called Lazy Load, which only loads images just before they come into view. So if the page has five megabytes of images to load, and four are below the fold, then when the page loads, you will only have to wait for one megabytes worth of images to load; if you don’t scroll down, the other four never get loaded.

Lazy loading images can significantly help improve page load time, as images are usually the biggest files that a website loads, so only loading the vital ones really speeds things up!

Lazy Loading Social Buttons

As I mentioned above, one of the biggest strains on loading is external code, specifically social buttons and sharing buttons.

For a long time now, the ability to offer you the potential to share content and follow us via social media has come at a high price – in terms of loading time. However after a lot of coding and hours of tweaking, our social buttons are now just a tiny (in size) image.

If you take a look at our sidebar, the social buttons sill look very similar to before – Facebook like, Twitter follow and Google Plus recommend all still there – however they now only load the external scripts if you mouse over them. This removes a huge delay when you first load a page, and means we can provide these buttons on every page of the site, with a much smaller speed loss.

At the top of articles, the social buttons there now also load lazily, and only fetch code from the networks when you mouse over the button images.

Lazy loading sharing buttons.

Technology Bloggers delayed loading social buttons.

Lazy loading social media buttons has dramatically improved the speed of Technology Bloggers, and still enables you to share content when and how you choose.

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What is your view on delayed loading?

SEO – becoming a victim of your own success

If you succeed, others copy you. Some say that this imitation should be seen as flattery. Those who are being imitated may just think you are being plain darn rude.

This is a story of how I had an idea, and that idea trued into an overnight success – with yours truly receiving nul points for it.

Okay, I am over dramatising things here.

SEO

Quite ironically, one of the toughest industries to succeed in is SEO, as the market is hugely over saturated with literally tens of thousands of people and firms, offering their services to help you “reach top of Google” or rank “on page 1 for your keywords” – believe what you will. Food for thought: Google the term ‘SEO’, and there are (to quote Google) “About 224,000,000 results“. Who is top? No, not the best SEO agency, but Wikipedia – naturally!

My Success

Anyhow, the story goes that I had an idea, an idea to make a new image for an article. One of our writers had contributed a guest post, and in that article they talked about SEO. I thought that an interesting image to accompany the article would be an upward pointing arrow (to demonstrate improvement) and the word ‘Google’ balanced on top.

I found an image off the internet, and took Google’s logo for the text, and set about making a large, high quality version of my idea.

The image I created can be seen below.

SEO Graph - GoogleQuite a good image I thought. Apparently, other people like it to. After just 4 months being live on the blog, many other people have found it in Google, and the image now ranks in the top 25 images when you Google Image Search the term ‘SEO’, and the top 10 when you type ‘Google SEO’.

Okay it ranks on an image search, not a ‘web search’, however I still got an image of my design and [part] creation, very high in the SERPs for a very difficult keyword.

The Problem

The problem was the aforementioned popularity. As I opened: “If you succeed, others copy you” – it’s true.

After just a few weeks of the image being live, it had been copied, and Technology Bloggers (the image source) was no longer the site that showed up with the image, as other sites with higher reputations (in Google’s view) stole our limelight.

As the images creator, I believe that when people find the image in Google and then click on it, they should be taken to our site, as without this site, there would have been no image! However we don’t show anymore.

Stealing Images

This lead me to think about stealing images. I was unhappy that other people were taking my work and passing it off as their own, and benefiting more than me because of it.

However who am I to moan, as I steal images too. If I like an image I will use it in an article. Is this right? Possibly not.

Ideas lightbulb

The ‘light bulb’ image I used in my post yesterday.

That said, when using images, I tend not to lift the image straight off a website and put it in my post, I will usually modify it in some way first, so that the image is different from the creators version. I feel this is slightly more justifiable than just ‘stealing’ another’s work.

Take the image in my post on Monday, the idea light bulb, that wasn’t my image, but I resized it and added some text to it – therefore making it a variation, not a copy.

In my Google SEO image, the SEO graph image was an origional image, as was Google’s logo; neither of these images belonged to me, but I still used them.

Right and Wrong

I feel that straight out lifting and pasting images is wrong, and anyone who has ever suffered because of my use of their image, I apologise, get in touch and I will see what I can do.

If you modify an image in some way to make it your own, then I feel you are in a slightly different position.

The Fight Back

As you have probably gathered by now if you are a loyal reader, I [sometimes] have a mild case of perfectionism and am one to constantly tweak, change and improve.

After a while I started to dislike the image I had made; the letters were a little skeewiff and the shadow at the bottom finished a little abruptly.

So I went back the the drawing board and remade the image, but better.

I knew if the last image was successful, and this one was better then it would probably be more popular and therefore shared even more, so I hatched a plan. I decided to watermark the image, very faintly, with Technology Bloggers web address. I don’t really like watermarking much, but it seemed to be the only option I had.

Below is the new image.
Google SEO ChartNotice that there is no watermark on the smaller version of the image, however if you click on the image, the big version does bear the watermark. If you want to use a small version, fine, no problemo. If you use the big version, you advertise our site – simple. That way, if the image is stolen, all credit is not lost, and hopefully, Technology Bloggers should show in the search results for the image, as we have the biggest version hosted on the site.

UPDATE: I have updated the SEO image again! Click the link to view the new version. 🙂

Struggling to write

When most authors are struggling to writer, [ironically] they often write a post about what to do when you get ‘writer’s block’, hoping it will kick-start their writing back into gear.

I am struggling to write, as you may have noticed from the sparsity of posts this month – this is only post 9, and we are already 25 days into February.

Ideas lightbulbThe typical ‘writer’s block post’ will contain thoughts and ideas on how to stimulate that fantastical, creative chunk of your brain that is responsible for your ideas and your best works.

My problem isn’t that that part of my brain is taking a nap, quite the reverse: its in overdrive!

Many bloggers give the famous advice “find your niche and stick to it”. I like to defy the trend though, and we are a different sort of blog, hence we can take a different sort of approach to blogging. As a writer for Technology Bloggers, you are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to what to write about. You could research innovating new technologies, explore how the internet is changing our lives, educate on the world of SEO, discuss blogging practices – you get the picture, we aren’t just technology!

With so many topics, how do you choose what to write about? Do I aim to help you with a ‘how to guide’, wow you with a ‘facts and stats’ post, inform you with my take on a breaking news article, teach you how something works, what do I do?

You have no idea how many posts I have started to write, saved as a draft and then abandoned because something more interesting has sprung to mind.

I am going to focus. You can expect more. A few weeks ago I wrote about what I perceived to be the the blogging dilemma: quality vs quantity, and you should have taken from that post that I will only ever post stuff that I think you (or someone else) will want to read, and stuff which I believe is ‘quality’.

Enough said. Now to get writing proper posts.

Your Input

On a final note, do you have any suggestions/requests? Is there anything you want me to explore? I will gladly take ideas for posts. I won’t always run with them, but if I like the idea, I shall try.

Anything unclear about how we run things, or what you can expect?

Have faith, we shall battle on!

P.P.S

On a [final] final note, do you think my writing is getting too casual and informal?

I notice I am changing the way I write, and part of me likes the change, but another part is anxious that I may loose my credibility. You know me right?

Anyhow this is blogging, not literature!

P.P.P.S

The above ‘P.P.S‘ was going in another post, but I thought it fitted in here better 🙂

One blog, two perspectives

Technology Bloggers has two types of community members, those who read and those who write – some people do both.

For a long time now, those who contribute articles to the blog, and those who read those contributions, have seen the blog in the same way.

Not anymore.

Thanks to a clever bit of coding and a plugin or two, logged in users, now see a different blog to those who are logged out.

One of the major differences is advertisements. As you know we sometimes host advertisements on the sidebar or in the footer of the blog, in order to help fund the maintenance of the blog – someone has to pay the bills!

Logged in users still see sponsored editorials and writers personal AdSense units, however they no longer see sidebar/footer promotions. Also, logged in users get ‘behind the scenes’ information an updates that normal users don’t need to see.

For an example, see the image below.

Logged in vs standard users footer view

What Technology Bloggers homepage footer currently looks like for normal readers and logged in users.

For search engine optimisation reasons, I have been trying to remove links from the blog’s design (specifically sidebar and footer) as too many links can look spammy, and throw PageRank in all directions. Fewer links means those pages that are linked to (both internal and external) carry greater authority.

So, if you are a writer, check out your sidebar and footer, as it is different to when you are not logged in. Even if you don’t have an account, take a look at the sidebar and footer, as there is some really interesting stuff which you might find useful there!

On a slightly different note, our prodigy (well he did win the 2012 ‘Rising Star’ community award) Jonny Hankins is currently learning more about our commenting systems, via Technology Bloggers Progression Academy – a new initiative I am developing – with the aim to have him modifying comments, and therefore being promoted to the status of Editor (Level 1), in the very near future.

Hopefully we can get more writers moderating their own comments too soon. Technology Bloggers Progression Academy material is currently being tested on our guinea pig – also Mr Hankins!