Recently, we put out a call for Ask Us Anything questions over our newsletter and social media channels. Today, we’re excited to share all the responses to your burning questions! Most of your inquiries focused on blogging and blog design, and we’re excited to dive right in… Click on through to read the questions and all our answers!
What are the top things that slow websites down and how can we improve this? – Miriam
You can think of site load time as being impacted on two sides: the hosting side, and the content management side. First, hosting.
Keep in mind that as a WordPress.org blogger, your web files and content are all stored on a server that you’re renting space from. Whenever somebody “calls” your website (i.e., types in the URL into any browser), the server needs to respond and send all your stuff across the Internet, so the reader can see it. If your blog readership has grown, and/or you have years worth of content living on your site, a basic shared hosting plan will usually result in a slower site load time, or even glitchy site issues where things don’t seem to work properly. Not sure if you’re on a basic shared hosting plan? The easiest tell is if you picked the cheapest hosting plan from a provider like GoDaddy or Bluehost. These plans are not built for bloggers with growing traffic, or sites that receive big spikes in traffic (like, say, if you promote your posts through Instagram Stories and get a big influx of readers at once).
All this means is you need to pick a different hosting plan, one which can offer more resources to accommodate the amount of stuff that needs to be loaded each time someone access your site. We always recommend managed WordPress plans, as they usually provide the updates and infrastructure appropriate for a WordPress site! Our two favorites are Flywheel* and SiteGround* (*denotes affiliate link).
On the flip side, you can have the best hosting in the world, and if you’re not managing the backend of your site and its content appropriately, you may experience an increase in load time. Here are a few things you should keep an eye on:
A major culprit we often see are bloggers uploading gigantic image files to their site. If you work with a photographer and they send you full-resolution images, that’s great—but you should never upload those versions to your site. Because they’re so large, some of those images can be 2, 4, even 10MB in size! We tend to keep our images as small as possible. Around 200KB or less is great; depending on the size of a graphic, sometimes we might go as big as 500KB, but this isn’t ideal (for big collages though, sometimes it’s necessary). Just to put that in perspective, there are 1000KB in 1MB, so that should tell you how large a 1MB image really is! Here is our guide on how to size images for your blog.
If you’re loading a huge number of scripts—either for ad networks, or ads you’re running on your sidebar—be advised this can slow down load time, depending on how they’re configured.
Some plugins can be resource heavy. This is why you should always audit your plugins, regularly update any that need it, and delete any you for sure are not using.
A general note on load time: If you’re using Google’s Page Speed Insights, note that it may ask you to address things you have no control over, or that are worth the increase in load time. For example, rewardStyle users often see a “recommended fix” to “leverage browser caching.” This is often presented because of pieces of code that are part of rewardStyle’s widget products. Obviously, if you want to use rewardStyle’s tools, there’s not a lot you can do about this “error,” so it’s fine to leave this. While load time can impact your SEO, at the end of the day, the content you provide and how people interact with it is far more important.
What are your thoughts on infinite scroll? – Jessica
From a technical standpoint, it’s a great way to keep users on page and looking at your content. But there are some (major!) caveats here. The best continuous scroll implementations ensure that the URL updates as the user accesses a new post or page, so if they want to navigate back to it, they have the proper URL. However, custom coding is typically required for Google Analytics to register each page load as an individual pageview. If this coding isn’t in place, a reader could browse five blog posts, with only one counted as a pageview (whereas they would be counted for all five without infinite scroll). Even if your code does register an extra pageview for the content that users scroll right into, this may not provide you with relevant insights, analytically. While it can tell you people stay on page, does it impact data that tells you which posts users would naturally engage with and show interest in? Maybe.
Victoria: From a design “morality” standpoint, I am mixed on it. If a client was set on using it, we’d likely comply, because I understand why it’s so tempting from a business perspective. But I also think there’s something to be said for providing a clear end to content and giving users choice on where to click and what to engage with next—especially in this age of autoplay and endless scrolling, which everyone seems to agree is not really bettering us as individuals or as a society. If your only goal is to increase pageviews, I’d ask why, since this isn’t the only metric brands use to decide upon collabs (and arguably, isn’t the most important one by a long shot). But if your goal is truly to keep people on page, reduce bounce rate, and show them what else ya got, it’s an option, but not the only one, certainly. I think you can keep people on your site through other forms of design specifically tailored to your readership and content goals.
Lisa: Like anything else, when you’re adding functionality to your site, you have to weigh the cost versus the benefit. With infinite scroll, you’re likely going to need to hire a developer for proper implementation, and the end result really doesn’t impact your readers. Some may think it’s cool the first time they notice; others may not even notice at all. Victoria and I are all about adding the kind of fun little details that surprise and delight — we believe that’s what can truly elevate your site and make it stand out. But I think infinite scroll just doesn’t offer enough bang for your buck, so to speak.
The other consideration is how quickly your website server can actually process the infinite scroll requests. Have you ever viewed an infinite scroll blog, and it seemed stuck loading the next post? Your server still has to fetch that new information to display it, and shared hosting is typically not fast enough to do this seamlessly in the background. When readers actually click a button to visit the next post, they are prepared for a certain amount of loading time. When it’s supposed to load automatically, an extended load time then becomes a frustration. (Even more frustrating? When that next post loads just as something catches their eye in the site footer.) Ultimately, I say save your time and budget for other, more impactful bells and whistles.
For outfit style posts, which do you think is better: a block of text at the beginning or scattered between photos? I always go back and forth with this. – Emily
This totally depends on your content! If you write very little but your photography is rockin’, then lead with photos, definitely. If you’re the type that likes to tell a long story interspersed between photos, there’s a case to be made for introducing your post with text instead.
No matter which route you choose, we think you should pick one, and stay consistent. Depending on your blog design, this will also keep your Home Page and category archives looking clean and consistent, too. Our personal notes, ahead:
Victoria: On my own personal blog, I always lead with an image. I prefer how it looks, and I think the visuals always do a better job of capturing the user and enticing them to keep reading. I also think if your images have consistent post-processing edits, leading with images can help you establish a stronger brand identity, since people come to understand your vibe and aesthetic through your visuals.
How often should you backup your site? And what program/widget/plugin do you use? – Erica
If you’re using a managed WordPress hosting plan, like on Flywheel*, automatic backups are often included! This is the ideal option, and one of the big reasons we recommend managed WordPress hosting so frequently.
If your hosting plan doesn’t include automatic backups, you’ll need to use a plugin, like Backup Buddy, BackWPup, or VaultPress. If your plugin settings are not automatically configured, we recommend running daily backups of your database (where posts and comments are stored), and monthly backups of the wp-content folder (where plugins, themes, and media uploads are stored). You should also run a full backup any time you install or update plugins or make changes to your theme, so you can restore from backup if something goes wrong.
Victoria: In addition to backups that run through Flywheel (where my sites are hosted), I also use VaultPress, which is a service run by Automattic, the makers of WordPress.com. If you already have Jetpack installed and a corresponding account, it’s super easy to sign up!
On Bloglovin, some sites have their full post show up in my reader and others you have to go to their original post to read the full post. Is one way better than the other? – Erica
The only reason people change this setting in WordPress is to force users to click through to see a full post. This used to be done to ensure pageviews; now, I think an argument could be made that a reader can get an enhanced experience if they’re on your site, depending on your design. Some bloggers who create complex collages may also choose this option because their graphics don’t render as well in feed readers.
Neither way is better than the other, though of course, readers tend to love when things are “easy.” If you’re not worried about getting readers to your site specifically, it’s no biggie to show a full post in a feed.
(PS: to change this setting in WordPress, navigate to Settings > Reading. For the setting that says “For each article in a feed, show:” you can select either Full Text or Summary)
I’ve always wondered about “child themes” and how they work. – Debra
A child theme allows you to store your customizations separately from your original theme. When your theme has updates available, the entire theme gets replaced with the new files. This means that if you edit your theme directly, running theme updates will overwrite your theme customizations. When you store your customizations in a child theme, only the parent theme files are overwritten, keeping your customizations in tact.
To create a child theme, create a new directory (or folder) in wp-content/themes and give it a unique name with lowercase letters and hyphens instead of spaces. For example, if you wanted to customize our Presidio theme, you might create a directory named “presidio-child” or “my-blog-name-child”. Within that directory, you only need two files: style.css and functions.php. The style.css file must have specific formatting at the top so that WordPress can read it as a child theme. You can find that information here. The most important line is the template, which tells WordPress where to look for the parent theme. This should be the name of the directory for your parent theme, so in our example, that would be “presidio”. The other important piece is the code that goes in your functions.php file, also found here. This tells WordPress to pull styles from your parent theme, to ensure that it retains its original design.
With these elements in place, you should be able to activate your new child theme, but you won’t notice any changes. However, if you have selected options under Appearance > Customize, you’ll need to select those again as those options are tied to the active theme. Once you’ve done that, have fun! Add any design customizations to your child theme’s style.css file. WordPress will look to your child theme first for any theme files, then default to your parent theme.
You can even use child themes to change existing templates — just copy the original file from the parent theme into your child theme, and make your changes. The great thing about this method is that it prevents you from accidentally breaking your site. If you make a mistake in your child theme file and can’t identify it, simply delete the file, and WordPress will go back to your parent theme file. Much safer than making direct edits!
EmPress customer Sasha Nicole asked us to talk about how to drive traffic to your website! Here are our best tips:
- Do your own thing. We think it’s vital that you set yourself apart from the (massively huge) blogging pack. Whether that’s through your voice, the stories you tell, your personal style, your photography…don’t try and copy what someone else has done. Stay true to your own style and voice, and it’ll shine through and make you unique!
- Stay consistent. If you are trying to grow a readership or even turn your blog into a full time thing, try and post on the same days, and at the same times.
- Cross promote. Our lives are saturated with things to look at these days; even if a reader loves you, it’s probable they might forget to check in. It’s a small thing, but promote your content on relevant social media platforms, and even use features like Instagram Stories links (a.k.a. the “swipe up” feature), if it’s available to you. You’ll be surprised how many people want to see what you’re writing about, they just forget to check your site. If you can’t use “swipe up” in stories, check out a product like Linktr.ee to post multiple links within your Instagram bio.
- Build a visual identity, and keep it consistent. Like it or not, part of building traffic means you’re also building a brand. Keep your visuals looking consistent across all reader touchpoints—that is, your blog, newsletters, and social media channels—so that users receive a consistent visual brand message from you, no matter where they come into contact with your content. This means keeping your photo edits, fonts, colors, and even language you use consistent everywhere.
- Be vulnerable when you can. Honestly? With almost two decades of combined blogging experience between us, we can tell you definitively that the posts which always drive the most traffic, receive the most engagement, and are blessed with the most linkbacks are those in which we’re revealing something raw, personal, truthful, and real. Create content that resonates with people, and you’ll see gains in your traffic. And, that doesn’t mean you have to spill your guts every single day—meaty content can also include things that people want to share or that enriches or improves their lives. After all why else do you think DIYs, recipes, tutorials, and how to guides are so popular on Pinterest? Posts that are usable, inspirational, or emotional in some way will always see the best responses, and generate the most interest.
- Connect with others in your space. We’ve said it before, but links are the currency of the Internet. Work to cultivate a community of likeminded content creators, who can link back to your work and support you. This one can take the longest, but over time, can result in wonderful growth (and blog friends along the way!).
Have a question we didn’t answer? Leave it in the comments below, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!