Optimizing the site

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At lunch I found myself reading the ACM Queue article “High Performance Web Sites” and wondering how sutor.com would stack up. Obviously it’s not a site that gets millions of hits, but it does all right for itself. So I read through it and author Steve Souders’ ten recommended best practices:

  1. Make fewer HTTP requests.
  2. Use a CDN.
  3. Add an Expires header.
  4. Gzip components.
  5. Put stylesheets at the top.
  6. Put scripts at the bottom.
  7. Avoid CSS expressions.
  8. Make JavaScript and CSS external.
  9. Reduce DNS lookups.
  10. Minify JavaScript.
  11. Avoid redirects.
  12. Remove duplicate scripts.
  13. Configure ETags.
  14. Make Ajax cacheable.

Some of these I can control: I added some code in an .htaccess file to put expiration dates on image and CSS files, and I turned off ETags. I didn’t have any duplicate scripts and my JavaScript and CSS were external. I should probably compress my CSS files, but I need to merge two into one, so that can wait. Scripts and CSS files were where they were supposed to be. I’m not going to use a CDN (content delivery network like Akamai) for my small site.

Over the weekend I added the Google Friend Connect widget in the upper right corner of the blog pages (at the moment). That nearly single handedly caused me to get an F failing grade.

I ran the Firefox YSlow and Firebug extensions to take a look at the grades for each of the 14 best practices. Many things from Google are not delivered from a CDN, though it might very well be one itself. The expiration dates on the Google Friend Connect photos are not far enough in the future to make the tool happy. I hit six different domains, four of which are owned by Google.

I’m taking this all with a grain of salt. The tests did lead me to make some good performance improving changes and caused me to learned more about basic Apache tuning. There are a couple more things I plan to do over time and, since this is a spare time effort, it adds some concrete items to my long term plan of work.

Several weeks ago I mentioned that I started using the All in One SEO Pack plugin for WordPress. This rewrites the blog page browser titles, adds HTML META keywords and descriptions, and has several other features that I don’t use. There’s nothing dicey about it, it just presents information about the pages in ways that help them be found better by search engines. (SEO is “Search Engine Optimization.”)

It seems to be working. The hits vary quite a bit over time based on what I’m writing about and who is linking to me. Nevertheless, I would guess that the plugin has probably improved my hits by at least 10%. Good deal.

Over the last four and one-half years that I have been actively using sutor.com, my philosophy has been to have continued improvement, experimentation, and iteration. It keeps it interesting for me and provides learning opportunities.

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