Ever since we started back in 2008 our goal was to provide businesses with an affordable option for website design. An option that wouldn’t cost them thousands, wouldn’t lock them into long-term expensive contracts and didn’t require them to muck around for hours trying to figure out a web editor, HTML or anything else – just send us a word doc, some photos, a logo if they had one – and we’d take care of the rest.
We delivered on our promise to build affordable websites and in the last ten years we still haven’t had any serious price competition from other NZ-based businesses (or even overseas for that matter) but like all businesses we want to keep getting better and deliver more value for both current clients and new.
To that end we’re setting what we think is an important goal for the upcoming year and that’s to not only keep our websites affordable, but focus on improving both speed and security. We believe these are really key areas that every website owner should be interested in, and we’ll be sharing information over the coming months on how you can improve both.
Why are website speed and security so important?
Firstly, let’s talk about security. You probably don’t need convincing that website security is important but there’s a few reasons why we want to emphasize it even more.
- WordPress – Most of our client’s websites run on the WordPress platform, used for its versatility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Currently powering around 30% of the world’s websites, its popularity can unfortunately make it a common target for hackers. We already take precautions, through regular updates, user management and backups, but we’re planning to do more.
- Trends – It wasn’t that long ago that a website was just an optional add-on for a lot of businesses. Their physical bricks’n’mortar store was their main focus. Now, for many businesses, the website is their whole business. The stakes are a lot higher and any sort of downtime, whether caused by a hacker or something else, is something that can cost them precious business.
- Ecommerce – With the growing trends to do business online, a lot of businesses are accepting credit card payments through their website. This poses a risk to both buyer and seller, with hackers using stolen credit cards or intercepting customer details. We already mitigate the risk through using security certificates (https – we suggest every website owner have one, whether you’re selling or not) and partnering with reliable payment gateways like Stripe but we will be reviewing other measures as well.
So as we move into 2019 the need for high security online will only become more important and we’ll be working to make sure we take as many precautions as possible.
What about website speed? I doubt there would be anyone – website owner, visitor or search engine – that would disagree that website speed is probably the most important issue facing the internet right now.
Unfortunately, it feels like it has gone the way of smartphone battery life – something everyone wants in a new phone but hasn’t happened because manufacturers know that longer battery life isn’t sexy enough to sell phones. Web designers are often hooked on creating a richer, more engaging experience – the downside is that this adds overhead that can slow a site down.
As tempting as it might be for us to build plain text websites on a nice white background (you’ll notice web usability experts like the Nielson group don’t do pretty colours) we know that won’t fly with a lot of clients. Our job is to find that balance between speed and good design that fits with a company’s brand guidelines.
One of the key challenges we face as we embark on our mission to build faster websites is our good friend WordPress – the platform that has allowed us to build affordable websites also creates certain speed-related issues.
While the majority of our sites already achieve average or above average speed ratings there’s definitely more we can do. Some areas we’ll be focusing on include:
- Limiting plugin use – WordPress plugins have long been the two-edged sword; they allow extra functionality to be added quickly but can slow a site down or create security holes. Our managed hosting puts security checks in place to vet new plugins and our development approach looks for alternatives as a first option. The large majority of our sites would use 3-5 plugins at most. But there’s more that can be done.
- Caching – Since WordPress is a database-driven CMS (Content Management System) caching can offer an effective method of speeding up a site, preventing calls to the database and instead serving up a cached (or saved) static version, which is a lot quicker. Caching however has a few gotchas, particularly for ecommerce sites, so it needs to be used with caution.
- Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) – There is a growing number of CDN services available and one is actually built by the same company that created WordPress. We do use JetPack for most of our new sites and it does offer speed and bandwidth advantages both for images and static files. CDNs work by delivering a saved version of files from a server closest to the visitor thus speeding up overall load times. We will review what CDN service is best and work to roll it out to clients.
- Hosting servers – Our managed hosting service relies on upstream server farms, and we’ve had a few incidents recently that resulted in downtime. While all hosting services have a small amount of downtime it’s something we want to avoid at all costs and we have been reviewing our hosting partners and the balance between offering an affordable service but maximising speed.
- Page structure – Known as FMP (First Meaningful Paint) this is the time it takes a web page to display the primary content (the main thing the visitor is interested in). Other things can load in the background but by delivering this quickly it can give a stronger perception of speed, which is as important as actual speed. Unfortunately things such as loading scripts or styles can hold things up – we’ll be looking it finding ways to reorder pages to load first things first.
- File bloat – Over time websites can suffer from the same thing that slows down your computer – file bloat. This is the gradual adding of more and more files, loading scripts or styles that are no longer required or using outdated file delivery. We’ll be developing a website optimisation process that will review all the things that could be slowing your site down and recommending actions to be taken.
- Images & videos – Everybody loves the rich web with gorgeous photos and engaging videos however they can be painful to load – even on an average speed connection. We already employ techniques to speed them up (CDNs and streaming services), as well as optimising image size, lazy loading and limiting dimensions (while still maintaining high resolution even on retina screens). We’ll see what else we can do.
Speed and security – two big things that will no doubt keep us busy for 2019. We will be doing some initial benchmarking to measure current website speeds so we can gauge our progress and use test sites to see how effective different approaches are to improving speed and security. No doubt we’ll be sharing some tips and the results of our findings throughout the year so check back on the blog if you’re interested.
Faster, more secure websites but still affordable
Researching and implementing measures to improve speed and security is very time-consuming and costly – so much so that a lot of cheap website providers just wouldn’t bother, they’ll quite happily keep serving up slow, bloated, risky websites because generally their customers don’t know any better. But it’s important to us our clients are taken care of, long after the initial website sale is made.
Due to the time involved there may be some options or services that will only be paid upgrades however we will be doing all we can to make sure our prices stay as cheap as possible, while making sure our clients benefit from the advancements we make in building websites that are faster and more secure.