TL;DR: The website is now using Cloudflare; the “Follow the Mercheum” right sidebar has been redone; sharing, comments on posts and the Contact the Curator page look different.
Very long (over 1,000 words!) post today about the changes going on behind the scenes of the Harvey Mercheum website. Read on for details!
Caching and Content Delivery Networks
One of the reasons I initially went with Arvixe for hosting the Harvey Mercheum website was that they supported Cloudflare, a free Content Delivery Network (CDN). Once I had this website up and running the way I wanted, I activated Cloudflare. It seemed to work, but then the website went down several times over the following week. I deactivated Cloudflare, and things seemed better for a while, then the website went down again. I contacted Arvixe support and was told there was a problem with the shared server I was on. This was the first of the many times I would get this answer from Arvixe support…
Later, I started using a popular caching plugin called W3 Total Cache. At the time, W3TC did not play nicely with Cloudflare, so even though the problems with the website were not due to Cloudflare, I never turned it back on.
In researching hosting companies to switch to, I found that SiteGround had its own caching plugin called SG Optimizer. Once I switched to SiteGround, I switched caching plugins. I then had to edit my .htaccess file to add some browser caching commands that W3TC had added for me but removed when I deactivated it.
With W3 Total Cache deactivated, I decided to try Cloudflare again. Going through SiteGround’s documentation, I discovered that Cloudflare wants the website’s URL to start with www. Fortunately I am to the far right of this graph:
so I had set up the Harvey Mercheum website to use the www. Bjorn Johansen wrote a post back in January about how he feels the www should still be used, you can read his reasoning here if you are interested in this argument:
Cloudflare is currently active, and you can tell this by scrolling all the way to the bottom of any page on this website. Down with the copyright notice you will now see a dynamic Cloudflare web badge. If Cloudflare is active, the cloud icon in the badge will be orange. If it is not active, the cloud icon will disappear.
Following and Sharing
Speed tests using Pingdom and GTMetrix before and after the caching plugin change and the activation of Cloudflare showed that performance was slightly worse than when I had started. I confirmed with SiteGround support that this was possible using Cloudflare. SiteGround went a step further though, and pointed to a script as a source of some of the slowness. The script was for the AddThis Follow and Share plugins, which I had been using since the website went live. AddThis had also shown up as a problem in the GTMetrix report, for using a mix of HTTP: and HTTPS:. I started researching alternatives, and found this article:
AddThis ranked sixth of the ten options they evaluated. What caught my eye was that Jetpack came in second. I already had Jetpack installed, it is powering the “Subscribe to the Mercheum Blog via Email”. I set up Jetpack Sharing and disabled AddThis Share. The share buttons look different, but they are in the same place (above the post content) and do the same job.
Jetpack does not offer Follow buttons other than email, so I reverted to the scripts supplied by Facebook and Google+ and set up an RSS button. Then I disabled AddThis Follow. While I was working on the right sidebar, I moved some of the other options around as well. I think the new arrangement is a little cleaner.
Comments and Contact the Curator
While configuring Jetpack, I took some time to explore other options available. I found the Comments module and decided to enable it. I am hoping the ability to use other social networking accounts will help encourage you to leave more comments.
Jetpack also offers a Contact Form module. I had been using Fast Secure Contact Form since the website went live, and never had a problem with it. However, I saw this as an opportunity to eliminate another plugin, since I have been working to reduce the number of plugins used by the website. Then I found out that Jetpack’s comment forms require the Akismet plugin to filter spam, where Fast Secure Contact Form had basic Captcha built in. I went ahead and set up Akismet and a Jetpack Contact Form anyway and replaced the form on the Contact the Curator page. One nice feature of the Jetpack form is that the form data is stored in WordPress as well as emailed, so there is an archive available that Fast Secure Contact Form did not provide.
So what is the outcome of all of these changes? I removed four plugins and added two, for a net result of two less plugins. Removing AddThis raised my Google PageSpeed score from D (69%) to B (88%). My YSlow score actually dropped, from D (67%) to D (60%). I cannot seem to get YSlow to recognize the fact that I am using Cloudflare. I am disappointed in these results, but I still feel I am moving in the right direction.
What is next? I was considering working on switching PHP versions from 5.6 to 7.0, since 7.0 is supposed to be much faster. Then I found out SiteGround had set me up with 7.0 when I migrated. I am glad nothing broke! This leaves enabling my free Let’s Encrypt certificate and switching the Harvey Mercheum website to HTTPS:. There is a strong push for all websites to use HTTPS:, and it will happen sooner or later. I just know that there will be a fair amount of work involved in making this change, and a good chance of downtime while I work out the problems.
I am always looking for ways to improve the Harvey Mercheum website. What would you like to see? Try out the new comments form below, or the new Contact the Curator form, and let me know!