A simple WordPress setup

There are some classic mistakes that you can make with WordPress and I’ve seen it happen again and again. Plugin addiction is a serious condition and once you have this condition it’s hard to get over it. The best way of combatting this disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Read on to see what plugins I use by default.

If you need to install a plugin, you need to be pretty sure that by installing this super, must have plugin that you aren’t going to cause a negative impact on site performance. A lot of plugins add additional stylesheets, extra javascript files and load them in a particularly bad way. So be careful and understand what you are doing.

However, some plugins are nice for performance and have a positive impact on your site. The theory behind these plugins aren’t specific to WordPress either, they apply to any web site, whether it’s a plain html site or a complicated data driven site.

These are the ones that I tend to install by default on any WordPress site that I set up (I set up quite a few):

WP Super Cache

Caching is an important aspect of optimising your web site for page performance and site speed. Caching basically means that you are saving the pages or assets of your site in a way that means they are quicker to request next time. I’m not going to go into too much detail about caching now as it’s a separate post I want to cover in a lot more detail. By just installing this plugin and activating it with it’s basic settings you can speed things up nicely.

GZip Ninja Speed Compression

One of the more cheesy named plugins, but it works. You install it, activate it and that’s it. GZip is a compression feature available to most PHP/Apache hosting platforms that makes the file size of the assets on your site smaller when they are being requested by a web browser. Smaller files equal faster download time equals faster loading web sites. Nice.

So that’s it for now. A simple WordPress setup with a few basic plugins. Now comes the trickiest bit though, selecting a theme for your blog. It’s very easy now to undo the improvements that the basics plugins give you by installing a badly written theme.

At this point you could decide to write the theme yourself. As I said, I’m lazy, so I did a bit of research to find some options for fast loading themes. There are lots available, but most of them cost money. As I didn’t want to spend much money on what was just a playground type site, I decided to try and find a free theme.

One theme kept cropping up in the recommendations I was getting from other blogs who have done the same research, but it was a little old. However, it had been written with performance in mind and was free to branch on Github if I wanted to add any tweaks myself.

I chose a theme called Frank written by Somerandomdude, or P.J Onori as he’s normally known. I have tried this theme on a previous project but the design didn’t meet my needs for that project, for this site, performance and flexibility were the key factors so it was a good place to start.

So this site is all about performance, so how do you measure web site performance. Well, that’s certainly a subject for another post but for the time being, I used Google PageSpeed Insights which gives you a rating out of 100. The closer to 100, the better. As Google now uses page speed as a key factor in it’s algorithm for search results and also how well your site performs on a mobile device, PageSpeed Insights is great reference as it gives you a rating for both Mobile and Desktop.

So what’s my rating as write this post. Well, it’s not at all bad. Take a look at this:

PageSpeed Insights 24/05/2015 Mobile

PageSpeed Insights 24/05/2015 Desktop

91/100 for Mobile and 97/100 for Desktop. Not bad eh! I can put my feet up and relax, my work here is done.

Nope, not a chance. Although this is a good score. There is room for improvement and at this point my site is very basic. I haven’t got any images on the page or installed things like analytics, so I can expect my score to drop once my site gets a little more complicated. Boo!

So I now have a bench mark. Anything else I do to this site must not reduce this score, or if it does, it must be for a very very good reason. A tough challenge. So let’s get on with it.

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