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[E4C41] Accelerate Your Business Growth by Optimizing Your Site Speed – WP Curve – Dan Norris

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You may remember that back in March, Dan Norris was a guest on Entrepreneurs for a Change, sharing with us his expertise on startup validation, well I’m so happy to welcome him back, and to chat to him about one of the most important things you can do for your online business – increasing your site speed.

Dan is co-founder of WP Curve, one of the world’s fastest growing WordPress support companies, which I use myself and LOVE. For about $60 / month they will make unlimited small changes to your WordPress site – template tweaks, plugin fixes, and more. Gone are the days of having to find someone on Odesk every time you want to make a minor change.

Having a fast-loading website can really improve your search engine visibility, your overall brand perception, and ultimately boost your business. Dan reveals exactly why you should care about site speed and shares tips on making your site load faster. In this episode, you’ll discover:

• The 2 tests you can use to see how fast your site loads, and how they can help you improve your site speed.
• How your web host may be slowing down your site, and the 1 simple thing you can do to change it.
• 4 common things that could be slowing your site down, and what you need to do about them.
• How the WordPress theme you choose can affect your website’s speed.
• The 4 indispensable plugins that you should be using on your website.
• 3 simple SEO tweaks to increase your site’s search engine visibility and credibility.

Mentioned in this interview

Where to Find Dan

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Lorna: Hi, Dan. It’s so great to have you back on the show. And I want to thank the team at WP Curve for helping me improve my website site speed from a deplorable F to a B. I’m really thrilled to have you in my show again to share your knowledge about why WordPress website owners should care about site speed.

But before we dive into that, let’s start with introducing yourself to the audience. Who are you and how did you get started with your business WP Curve?

Dan: Okay. Well, thanks for having me. Yeah, my name is Dan Norris. My business is WP Curve. We launched eight or nine months ago I think and we offer small WordPress jobs and maintenance and support for a monthly subscription of $69. That’s really what we do. We started that nine months ago and we’re doing exactly the same thing now. We’re just doing it for a lot more people. We’re growing rapidly in building the team out and trying to help people have better WordPress site that run faster and don’t crash and don’t get hacked and all of those kind of things.

Lorna: So, tell me what exactly your business model is. It seems like you have service packages. So, how does that work?

Dan: Yeah. Well, we do unlimited jobs, which means, some clients might request two or three jobs a month. Some might request nine. Some might request ten. But we just have the one. We only have two plans. One is $69 and the $99 plan is the same thing, but we do proactive fixes on that plan. So, when new plugins come out, we upgrade them and we do a security scan and we do a couple of proactive things each month. But essentially, there’s only really one plan.

Lorna: Okay. So, the only difference is of proactive for the $99, so that means that I’m not going in the backend and pushing the button to upgrade WordPress or updating all the plugins, you guys do that.

Dan: Yeah. A lot of our clients these days are pretty tech savvy and they know that. When I see plugins that need to be updated and they do that themselves, but some clients just [5:54] and they’re not in WordPress. And often, that kind of the sites get out-of-date, and they become insecure and they just want someone to look after all of it so they pay a little bit extra.

Lorna: And does each package, is that only for one site per package, or can you include up to a certain amount of sites?

Dan: Yeah, it’s only per site.

Lorna: Okay.

Dan: So, we’ve got a couple of clients with more than one site and they just have to pay more than once. But generally, if your business with a lot of websites, then, we’re probably not the right choice. It’s more just for businesses who just have one site, not sort of like internet marketers with like 10 or 20 sites.

Lorna: Okay. So, what is your typical customer? Who do you serve?

Dan: Various really. We don’t really look for any particular customers. The only thing that is common across all of those customers is that they have real businesses and they use WordPress. If you’re not making any money from your site or from your business, then, you’re probably not going to want to pay a monthly fee to have someone help you with it, but that’s about it.

Our customers range from — they’re all around the world. Some online businesses, a lot of offline businesses, some bigger companies, but mostly small list sort of businesses with the couple of staff and typical kind of small business revenue.

Lorna: Yeah, I think any bigger business will probably have an in-house team or person that would be managing their site.

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: Yeah. I think like for a lot of like smaller businesses like they’re not. They’re either outsourcing the Dev work to somebody else be it in offshore contractor in India or the Philippines or somebody that they might know locally.

Dan: Yeah, that’s right. We have a bunch of startups as customers as well. And even those guys like they’re probably technically proficient enough to fix some of the stuff themselves. But for the sake of $70 a month, having us there 24/7 just makes a lot bit easier and they can kind of focus on what they’re doing. So, yeah, I think our business has appeal to a lot of people as long as you’re comfortable paying the monthly subscription.

Lorna: Did you go through a process of trying to profile and identify your target customer?

Dan: Yeah, we did, but it failed miserably.

Lorna: Yeah. Okay, I got to tell you, like every business coach they work with is like, “Oh, the first thing you have to do is sit down and work out who your ideal customer is.” And it’s really kind of interesting because you can get an idea of what this person is and getting idea of what their age range or their income or demographic is, or it might actually look a lot like you because you know what your pain points are. But I think it’s kind of interesting. I’m interested in seeing like how accurate that process is for people in terms of connecting with their target audience or is it a good exercise to do but chances are the reality might be very different?

Dan: Yeah, I think it’s one of those things that just doesn’t apply to every business. I mean, some businesses really suit going after particular type of business like I was talking to a company yesterday who make a body scrub, like a coffee body scrub thing like made out of used coffee beans – well, used like ground coffee. And their business is exploding, and I knew exactly of the type of person who wanted to buy that product and I knew exactly where they hang out and what kind of stuff they like sharing on Instagram like where to target them and how to target them.

For that kind of business, it worked perfectly well. But further businesses…

Lorna: That’s fascinating.

Dan: Yeah, and their business completely exploded like they have got I think 220,000 followers on Instagram. They started out a year ago.

Lorna: Wow! So, who was their target customer?

Dan: Young girls.

Lorna: Young hippy girls.

Dan: Yeah, young girls. So, I guess I don’t know exactly like how targeted they got. I think they approached like young bloggers and people who were like blogging about kind of – I don’t really understand that market. I don’t really know why someone would want rub coffee on themselves and take a photo of themselves. But it obviously worked pretty well. [Laughs]

Lorna: 220,000 followers on Instagram of young girls covered in coffee grounds.

Dan: Yeah. Well, it’s worth to look if you’re in that kind of thing for sure.

Lorna: Okay. You’re right. I’ll take a peek. Okay. So, it worked for them, but you’re saying it doesn’t really work for every business.

Dan: No. I mean it’s not something that I’ve really ever done in my business and I’ve kind of felt a little bit guilty about that for a while because everyone told me I should. But, now, I just think it doesn’t make sense. I mean having a broad market, be a product to me I think is a good idea and I know we can just keep growing this business and we’re not going to have to target a certain type of person. There’s really no need to. I mean we deliberately went after a big market so we could grow a big business. So, yeah.

Lorna: Yes that makes a lot of sense with your particular business. I mean pretty much anyone that has a WordPress site that doesn’t want to have their time and energy sucked into dealing with it is pretty much fair game. Who has a business obviously, like their WordPress site, is there a business website.

Dan: Yeah. And I self-select by deciding whether or not to pay a subscription to solve this problem.

A lot of people, if they didn’t have a real business and they just kind of messing around with the website, they wouldn’t sign up to start with because they don’t have that multi revenue to just allocate towards that. They just go somewhere and pay a cheap developer, to do a one-off fix or something. So, there is a little bit of self-selecting that happens as really happened to do anything. Just by the fact that we charge the subscription instead of they want a one off fee.

Lorna: Great! So, let me ask you, going back to the original purpose of this interview, why should WordPress owners care about site’s speed?

Dan: Yeah. Well, there are probably a few reasons. I mean SEO was the one that gets talked about often. That’s not the primary reason why I wanted to increase our site’s speed because the main thing for me was just –it’s just a branding thing like you want to have a nice design on your site. It’s probably hard to explain and why you want a nice design but you just do because you want to look like a legitimate company. And I think site’s speed has a lot to do with that as well.

Like if you go to a website that’s really slow, it takes 20 seconds to load, then, man, you got to do a bunch of things. You’re going to probably not convert. You’re probably not going to give in your email address. You’ll probably bounced, but at the very least, you would definitely have a lower opinion of that company because you’ll just tell that they haven’t put any effort into their website.

I think it’s a branding and positioning thing, and obviously, helps with SEO and helps with conversions and bounce rates and all those things as well.

Lorna: So, what tools can website owners use to test whether or not their website’s speed is up to par?

Dan: I think the easiest one is the Pingdom speed test tool and that one will tell you how fast your site is loading and it does it in the way that’s not going to scare you off too much. It kind of has a lot of data there but so you get a nice pretty picture first. And if you want to delve in more, you can.

But there’s a few things you can do with that. One, is you can find out how long it’s taking to load the site. And generally, we sort of benchmark. If it’s over sort of four or five seconds, we’d start thinking maybe you should improve something. If it’s on under three seconds or around that, then, for most businesses, that’s probably okay. I think we managed to get ours to about half a second on the best tests.

Lorna: Well, that’s great. Fantastic!

Dan: Yeah. We went a little bit crazy on that.

Lorna: I think mines something around four or four to six somewhere around there.

Dan: Yeah, yours, I did yours yesterday and it was three, but the Pingdom tool, so it does tend to be a little bit inconsistent. Sometimes, it’ll give you three seconds, that’ll be four seconds, or whatever.

Lorna: Yeah.

Dan: But, yeah, that kind of range is okay. We’ve had clients that are like sort of seven or eight seconds or 10 seconds or 20 seconds, and when it gets to that kind of territory.

The other thing we’ve had is like a client, who’ll be two seconds one day, and then 20 seconds the next day because their host is just really inconsistent, and that’s obviously a big problem.

Lorna: How interesting. Yeah. When I tested my site on GTmetrix, I was originally showing up as 20 seconds page load time. And GTmetrix also indicates all the different areas that or a problem that should be fixed.

Does the Pingdom tool do that too?

Dan: Yeah, it does. It just does it in a little bit of a different way. Both of them are good. Both of them are sort of better or different things.

Well, one of the good things about Pingdom is you can really easily sort by the size of the file. Like a lot of the times, the reason site would be loading slowly is because the site is just too big. And so, you put it into Pingdom. It’ll tell you how big the site is.

And if it’s over like 1 megabit or 2 megabits, like that kind of size, then, there’s a good chance you can reduce the speed, well sorry, increase the speed I guess is the right way to say it, by reducing the file size and Pingdom make it really easily for you to work out what the big files are because you can just sort it by the file size.

GTmetrix do a bunch of stuff. A lot of it sort of like really mono fixes like they’ll do things like using CSS Brights to reduce image file size. And that might save you like .001 of a second. But it lists that up at top and give you like an F for that and make you feel really guilty.

Lorna: Oh, gosh! Okay. No.

Dan: So, yeah, you can just keep going like we did about a weeks-worth of work on our site to get it, to under one second and we could have kept going. Like I think by the end, we got to about 98 on GTmetrix and that was enough.

The main things are the size of the site. The hosting obviously is a big thing, the amount of plugins and just the amount of external resources the site uses are probably the four big reasons why sites are slow.

Lorna: Okay. Well, gosh! It’s kind of tough to get around the plugin issue because if you want a certain type of functionality, the way to get that functionality in WordPress is usually through a plugin unless you know how to hardcode that feature in. But anything that seems to be a little more complex, not just something that you want to have it appear in your sidebar, for example, seems to involve a plugin.

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: So, how on earth do you know which plugins to use for WordPress? I mean there are so many plugins and many of these plugins actually do very similar things like there’s a gazillion social sharing plugins for WordPress. Have you guys identified like the best of breed WordPress plugins for the most common features that WordPress website owners want, but the ones that are the most reliable, best supported and have the least amount of drag on your website?

Dan: Yeah. I mean we haven’t specifically looked it like best plugins for speed. The social sharing one is interesting because I know Flare have a few inbuilt features where they actually store the social sharing numbers in your database and cache them so that it’s not going off to the network each time to get the latest up-to-date numbers of shares, and that can be a problem in itself because the shares can be out-of-date and that kind of thing.

There are certain pros and cons with all of this stuff and we generally have favorite plugins that we install. But if a client’s site is running really slow, it often went B because they haven’t installed the best plugin. It will just be because they have installed too many plugins. They are some plugins that are particularly problematic. But in a lot of cases, it’s because they have either installed plugins and then forgot that they don’t need them, or they have just gone crazy like we had got the other day he had 55 plugins and —

Lorna: Wow!

Dan: Yeah. — and he was kind of like, “Well, can you like reduce my image size and like minify my CSS and this kind of stuff,” and I’m like, “Man, we can do that stuff, but the reason your site is slow because you just got way too much going on there.”

Lorna: But were they 55 plugins that he was using?

Dan: No, no one uses 55 plugins.

Lorna: Okay. Yeah. I mean sometimes, it can be easy to forget which plugins are actually active. I’ve gone to…

Dan: Well, that’s what happens.

Lorna: Yeah.

Dan: Yeah, that’s what happens. You do things like, when you move to WP Engine, you might install the WP Engine Migrator plugin or, when you move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, you might have like a bunch of WordPress.com plugins still installed on your site. And a lot of times, people don’t actually know which ones they need, and they might have plugins on there that are particularly slow that they don’t even use or they haven’t published that it’s still slowing the site down. Yeah, so, that’s a common problem.

The other thing you can do is install a plugin called P3 profile in which will tell you which plugins are particularly slow.

Lorna: Oh, that’s good to know.

Dan: Yeah. And then, you got to uninstall it because it’s slow itself.

Lorna: Okay. Just let it do its job and then get rid of it, right?

Dan: Yeah. But I think a lot of it is about compromise too. Like with our site, we just decided like we did a little bit of tricky stuff on our site like we write the code in a certain way so that it would load off to the page displays for some plugins.

But mainly, we just compromised a little bit on what could be on the site and we had less stuff on the site. And I was happy to do that to get a faster site because I think having a faster site is more important than like having a blog that shows your number of tweets or whatever.

So, I think there is a little bit of compromise that you can do, like if you decide speed is more important, then you just turn this plugins off.

Lorna: Yeah, totally. Yes, speed is more important than social proof, for example.

Dan: That’s right. I mean the way you got to think about it is speed more important than social proof on your blog homepage, for example.

Lorna: Right.

Dan: I’ve got our blog posts, we have the numbers on there because I think like that’s where people share from – and I think people are much more likely to share if they got a blog post and see it’s got 100 tweets, then, they’re much more likely to share that post.

But on the blog homepage, I don’t know. It’s quite 50/50. But I kind of think like, usually people are just kind of click on a post on that page and get taken through to the actual post itself. So, I think I’ll just decide that I can live without them on that page.

Lorna: So, going back to the indispensable plugin list, are there a few that come to mind that you think that every WordPress a website owner should install?

Dan: Yeah. I mean there’s a few that I couldn’t bring myself to uninstall on our site, and we normally suggest clients have them. Yoast SEO is one. You just can’t really do all of that SEO stuff without it or without other theme that does it or some SEO plugin and the Yoast one seems to be the easiest one for people to use.

Lorna: Yeah, it’s great. I like it.

Dan: Yeah. What else? We use the Disqus for our comments and not so much related to the Speed. It’s probably slower to have Disqus on there because it’s loading from the external site. But there are just so many benefits with Disqus that I think it’s worth it and you end up getting a lot less spam and a lot less like spammy comments clogging up the back of your site and stuff.

So, I think like on balance, it makes more sense to have that than it makes to have like another commenting plugin plus a spam plugin plus like Click this box if you’re a spam or an ad, six plus five if you’re not a spam and all this kind of stuff.

Lorna: I used to have the Facebook sharing plugin, and you know what I like the idea of people making comments on my blog and then having it published automatically to their Facebook profile to the Facebook wall, it was constantly breaking. So, I just got really frustrated and had you guys swap it up for Disqus.

Dan: Yeah, it’s also a bit ugly. And not everyone is on Facebook and not everyone wants to share on Facebook either. So, I think like a lot of people will run two different comment systems, which is kind of messy.

So, yeah, I think Disqus is good and we can do moderation via email with Disqus as well. So, lucky we get on the rare situation where we get spam or we get a comment there that I want to be on there, then I can just reply delete via email and I can reply to comments via email and all of that is good. Not really related to speed, but still a good plugin to have.

Lorna: Anything else?

Dan: What else do we say?

Lorna: You got a caching plugin.

Dan: Yeah, that depends a lot on the hosting. So, the best practice is to have it managed WordPress host that handles that stuff on the server. Next best is probably to run like W3 Total Cache and a CDN like CloudFlare. If people don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s from this kind of guys trying to have over their heads.

Lorna: Yeah. Explain what a CDN is and how it works?

Dan: Yeah. So, with something like WP Engine — Well, I think forget WP Engine for now. If say you’ve got a site that’s hosted on GoDaddy or whatever, all of like the media files on your site. So, let’s say, you’ve got PDF downloads and you’ve got big images or more videos or whatever, you can set those files upside the hosted on a CDN and the CDN means that wherever the visitor is located in the world, it will deploy that file from a server that’s close to them rather than going all the way back to GoDaddy to do it.

Lorna: But are you talking about media files that are hosted directly on the site?
Like, for example…

Dan: Yeah. Yes, so our videos are a good example because most people use external services for that. But…

Lorna: Yeah, they use YouTube or Vimeo.

Dan: Yeah, so, normally, images and like files, PDFs and stuff like that.

Lorna: Oh, Okay. Yeah, it was like audio, for example, I use Libsyn. So that’s hosted elsewhere. But yeah, for sure, images is probably the big one.

Dan: Yeah. Well, we host our podcast audio files on o utside as well. And images, you can use an external host as well. But like having a CDN this kind of like having an external service hosting all of your files, and something like CloudFlare.

CloudFlare is free. If you’re not running an SSL on your site, which means like if you’re not taking a credit card number on your site, then generally, you won’t have an SSL, which means you can install CloudFlare for free, which is pretty cool.

Lorna: So, how would that work then? So, let’s say, I currently upload all my images directly to WordPress.

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: So, what’s the benefit of uploading my images to a CloudFlare instead?

Dan: Well, you don’t have to. They just take a snapshot of your site and they showed people the snapshot. So, if you don’t…

Lorna: So, I would still upload the image directly into WordPress?

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: But then, CloudFlare is showing somebody in India, for example, a snapshot of my site?

Dan: Yes. And like the images and what not I like to cache some CloudFlare servers. And the other thing they can do is, which is cool, is if your site goes down, it can show people like a cache version of the whole site, which means like it effectively isn’t down for them, which is a nice feature.

Lorna: Okay. So, it sounds like pretty much everyone should get on to CloudFlare because it’s free.

Dan: Well, that, again, depends on your host. So, with WP Engine, they have a CDN that’s part of their package. So, like we’re on the professional plan with them and as part of the professional plan, they have integration with Mac CDN, which is a competitor. So, I guess that’s kind of a competitor to CloudFlare. And with WP Engine, you can just literally click a button and that turns Mac CDN on and that’s designed to work with their system.

So, when we move to WP Engine, we shut down our CloudFlare account, which we were paying for because we have an SSL on our site. But, yeah, using a CDN is a good idea.

Site’s speed is a complex issue. It might not necessarily increase the amount of seconds that takes your site to load. But it will help things like images load faster in different areas. And with something like CloudFlare, you do get the extra benefits like that kind of the caching if your site goes down and stuff like that. And they’ve got things where if your site is getting like attacked or whatever, then, it will limit those and display an app version for sites. So, there are nice features like that.

Lorna: So, what are your thoughts on managed WordPress hosting solutions? Like, a lot of small businesses, they start on the cheapest hosting plan like and they sign up with the cheap webhost like Hostgator or Bluehost or GoDaddy. What are the advantages of moving to a hosted WordPress solution like WP Engine?

Dan: Yeah. Well, there’s a few things. The one thing that we noticed right away was we go to 54 percent increase in speed when we moved. And we were on a VPS before that. So, it wasn’t like we were like a shared server with the thousand sites on it. So, that was pretty big increase.

And there’s an easy way that we kind of encourage people to check that. You can go into the Google PageSpeed Insights tool, which I haven’t mentioned yet, but that’s probably the third of the three big speed related tools you can use.

And when you put your site into that tool, and you click on the desktop, because the default is a mobile view. But if you click on the desktop view, it’ll give you a bunch of things to improve and you can look at the server response time. And I found that like when our clients are hosted on WP Engine, that test gets passed every time. When they’re hosted on a shared host, sometimes, that can be like a really big killer like sometimes it can be like a one-second delay. Sometimes, it can be a ten-second delay.

And if your host is slowing down your page speed by ten seconds, then obviously, you’re going to get a huge benefit from moving to a managed host. So, that’s one thing.

I think WP Engine have a better way of managing stuff like caching and like the CDN or that stuff is in backup. So, like one of the good things about being on WP Engine is you don’t need a backup plugin, for example, or a caching plugin. So, immediately, you’re getting rid of two plugins. One of which is probably going to slow your site down because running backup is like a resource intensive thing to do. So, there are a bunch of things that are better done on the server and not inside WordPress. And if you’re on a manage host, it’s easy to do that.

Probably the other benefit with WP Engine is the staging area, and that’s just like a really simple one click duplicate of your site. So, you can duplicate the site to staging, then, you can go make a bunch of changes to it and test them in the real live environment before you actually make them live on your site, and that’s a big time saver.

Lorna: Okay. Yeah, definitely. It’s great if you’re expecting or planning to do a site redesign sometime in the future.

Dan: Yeah. Even just for little things like if you want to install a new plugin and see how it affects the speed or if you’re just testing the plugins, you just don’t want to do it on the live site or, if you got to change that you think like might impact on something that’s happening on the site, then we can do a lot on staging. New themes, testing on new themes, this is not the good one, if you think you have changing themes.

And yes, depending on your site. WP Engine’s not suitable for everyone because I’ve got a fee funny rules about being on there. But if your site is kind of suitable for them, then, I think it’s a no-brainer like for us to pay $100 a month for hosting is a complete no-brainer when we’re getting all of those benefits.

And if you fit into the smaller plan, which is, like $30 a month, then it’s really not that much more than you’d be paying elsewhere.

Lorna: So, do you know some of their rules like why wouldn’t you fit in? Are they, for example, affiliate marketing friendly or are they not into adult sites.

Dan: I’m not so sure about that. I think the things like they don’t allow some plugins, like I don’t think they allow email marketing plugins, for example.

Lorna: Okay.

Dan: So, it’s things like things that you really shouldn’t be doing inside of WordPress because WordPress really should be about your public facing website. And people use WordPress to host backup software or like email marketing software or whatever, or like backlink check, is that’s another one that they don’t allow, like scanning your site for broken backlinks, that kind of stuff is best on the outside of WordPress.

And if you happened to play along with that way of thinking, then you’ll be fine. But if you like have these plugins that you’re rely on that WP Engine one that you have, then you’re in trouble.

But the main thing I found with WP Engine is like the way they structure their plans and they have limits around the size of the site, which usually isn’t too much, or probably it’s more the amount of visits that tends to be a problem. So, they charge you more if you have a certain amount of visits.

And, like sometimes, it can work out really cheaper but if you’re in that sort of range where they start charging you more, it can work out quite expensive to host your site.

Lorna: Yeah. So, what about WordPress themes? Are there any impacts? Do some WordPress themes have an impact on the site’s speed as well?

Dan: Definitely, yes. The theme can have a huge impact and for a whole bunch of reasons. It could just be the fact that the developer installed a whole bunch of external services as part of the theme like common ones, so like the theme displays a featured image on the homepage, then, some theme developers will have that feature image just to whatever size it is on the site and then resize it in HTML so it looks at that particular size, and that’s going to kill your site’s speed.

Others will run services that optimize that image, and the service itself might have an impact on your site’s speed. And just the images themselves could be not optimized. They could be a whole bunch of old code.

With our site, we, as I’ve said, we went a little bit over the top on ours so we completely scrapped what we had before and we started from completely from scratch. We didn’t use a framework. We didn’t use anything and we just put whatever code we needed in there.

For most people, it’s probably acceptable to just make sure you get a theme from like a reputable theme provider around than kind of going out randomly and downloading a free WordPress theme, which can be particularly problematic.

The potentially worse things the people can do with themes that I just related to site’s speed, but — Yeah, they’re probably the main ones.

Lorna: Do you have any theme recommendations that are top of mind? I’m running on Genesis Framework. I find it to be really pretty good.

Dan: Yeah, Genesis is good. We have a few clients using that. I think if you use a framework, you probably can’t go too wrong like Thesis or Genesis. I think where people getting to trouble, we don’t really have a recommendation because I think like the best thing to do is probably to code your theme from scratch. But not everyone can do that.

Lorna: Yeah, especially if you’re non-tech savvy and you’re trying to hire someone to do that offshore and you have absolutely no idea whether that developer offshore is a good coder.

Dan: Yeah, that’s right. And also, like it comes at the maintenance as well like it’s easy for me to say, “You should code your theme to scratch but I’ve got a team of eight developers so I can use whenever I have a problem.” So, I think for most people probably it makes sense to use like a framework like Genesis and just find a nice-looking theme but just not something that’s completely loaded with images because even just the amount of content on the page and to why does images are optimized. So, like pay attention to how big the files are that you’re uploading into WordPress. Yeah, I think that you can’t get too wrong if you’re not having like a giant site with lots of big images and the sliders and stuff like that are just kind of like load in a much more data than you really need to be there.

Lorna: So, WordPress is supposed to be SEO friendly out of the box. I kind of find that it really isn’t, I mean, it is but it kind of isn’t, and I’ve always had to do additional optimization to really make it more search engine friendly.

Can you share with us what SEO tweaks every WordPress owner should consider making to their site?

Dan: Yes. So, probably the main moment, you need to turn permalinks on. So, it just going into settings permalinks and putting in postname so that when people go to a page on your site, the address in that page is named after the name of the page that you give it. So, that’s obviously something that everyone has to do.

What else? Yoast SEO, the SEO is very good. So, if you release blog post and you can use Yoast to basically decide what keyword you want to target. So, for this one, you might target a WordPress speed. And when you go into the blog post, you can rename the URL to EntrepreneursForAChange.com/WordPressSpeed and you can tell Yoast that you want to target WordPress Speed. It’ll give you a bunch of ticks if you correctly put it into title on the page and what not.

They are probably two main things you have to do. The other stuff is really like there are some basic themes. Stuff that has to happen like on those blog page is you’d normally have a H1 tag that would have the title that you give it and to be a title tag on the page. Normally, that stuff is taken care of like, unless you got a really old theme or something, then that stuff is normally just taken cared of by the theme developer, and that’s the old stuff you have to do once.

There’s not much else really. Yoast puts in a sitemap and it does a bunch of other things. It enables you to change the title tag on your homepage pretty easily and that kind of thing. I think they’re probably the main things. I think that WordPress is generally pretty good. The term SEO friendly is a little bit subjective I think, but I think they’re probably the main things and the speed as well. If you have a slow site, it’s going to hurt it. So, if you can do everything to make it quicker, then that helps, too.

Lorna: Yeah, it is kind of all relative, this whole effort to try to optimize for search engines. One example is, okay, an SEO best practice is to minimize code bloat because it can impact your site’s speed and negatively impact SEO because if you’ve got all this excess code that’s on your pages, that’s actually getting in the way of search engine spiders accessing the indexable content on the pages.

And so, one thing that I have discovered is when I actually look at the source code for all my WordPress pages, there are all kinds of Java script, all kinds of CSS in these pages, and a lot of them are coming from the plugins.

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: And so, one of the best practices is to offload all the JS files to a single external JS file and the same for CSS files, but you actually can’t do this with WordPress sites.

Can you? I mean, how?

Dan: Yeah. It’s not really can’t do it. It’s more that it’s not always necessarily in your interest to do it. So, it’s kind of complicated. You can get plugins that will combine your Java script files into one file. You can get plugins that will minify like your CSS and your Java script. We’re not doing that on outside at the moment because we found these problems with that and some clients have problems. Some sites, it works. Some sites, it doesn’t.

In terms of external files, sometimes, there’s a bit of technical stuff going on there where, like sometimes, let’s say, you’ve got four or five external files loading from the a CDN and four or five loading from your site, that might actually be quicker and especially if they’re all loading at the same time on the same page. That might actually be quicker than installing another plugin that will combine them all and create one large file that sits in your database.

Yeah, that’s just one of those things where like if you really wanted to sit there tweaking for days and days, you might find a slightly better way to do it. But generally, a better way to handle that is just to not have so many external services.

And again, it could be plugins. It could be the theme. In terms of code, it could also be like the code you’re putting into the post itself like people copy and paste stuff across from Word or whatever and that would create a whole bunch of code in that that you don’t need. The theme developers might have a whole bunch of code in there that you don’t need and just kind have been added over time. There might be like four or five CSS files that have just been added over time.

I don’t know. It depends how crazy you want to go with it, where do you want to completely scrap and start again, or just decide to reduce a few plugins or just kind of accept that it’s you’re going to be and like that four-second range as opposed to the one-second range kind of thing.

Lorna: Yeah, sometimes, you just have to pick your battles.

Dan: Yeah. I think for 99% of people like I don’t need a site that loads in one second. But if you do have an old site, and you haven’t kept it up-to-date and it’s kind of really slow and it’s on the impact your brand and it’s affecting bounce rate and stuff like that.

Some people just really need a new theme. Other people just need to compromise on some of the plugins or ditch a couple of plugins that are particularly problematic or optimize the images or whatever.

Lorna: So, any other thoughts on optimizing site speed?

Dan: Probably another thing is with the GTmetrix tool that I didn’t mention, which is pretty cool. They do a thing where like if they analyze your page speed, they will tell you what images need to be optimized. And it doesn’t really display them in a way that makes it obvious have bigger games you’ll get by replacing them. It just kind of says, like if you have an image on there that’s like 10 kilobytes, it’ll say, “This image could potentially be five kilobytes and that’s a 50% saving,” which is kind of useless information because there’s does not a lot of point in saving 5 kilobytes when you might have other images on there that you could save 50 kilobytes.

But the one cool thing that it does do is it optimizes the images for you. So, if you have absolutely no idea how to do this, you can go on with the GTmetrix tool and it will optimize images for you and you can actually download them and re-upload them into WordPress over the top of your current ones. Which is kind of cool.

Lorna: That’s great!

Dan: The other thing is this one called Smush It, which will shrink down the images that are currently on your site. But that’s also a plugin that you can use.

Lorna: So, does Smush It actually shrink down the images that are baked into your theme as well as any that you might have uploaded into posts?

Dan: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think it’s just the media library.

Lorna: I see. Okay. But that’s still good to have regardless.

Dan: Yeah, the other tip that I wrote a big post about WordPress Speed. And the other thing I put in there was pay attention to your high traffic pages because like you can go through and optimize all the images on your 1,000 different pages. But, if 80% of the people are hitting your homepage, then you might as well spend 80% of your time optimizing your homepage.

And generally, it’s pretty easy to optimize one page because you can just go to it to like GTmetrix. It will tell you every single image on there that’s too big or how many external Java script codes there are and stuff like that.

So, if you just picked those two or three big pages, which are generally be a homepage, if you got a blog, then your blog homepage is another one like our blog homepage gets I think is easy, our second or third highest traffic page, so, there other two pages that we really focus on optimizing.

Lorna: Okay. Great. Well, thank you so much. We’re about coming to the end of our interview. I would love to ask you about failure because as we know, the road to entrepreneurial success is usually littered with a lot of failures along the way. And I’d love to ask you if you have a story of failure that you’d like to share with us?

Dan: I can’t remember what I told you last time. I’ve got a lot of failure stories.

Lorna: Okay. I can’t remember of what you’ve told me last time also. Gosh!

Dan: I could tell you a hundred different stories. I think like if I…

Lorna: Okay. Is there one that’s funny? Or, when that’s just utterly ego crushing?

Dan: Depends I was a person. I just think. There are a few things I’ve learned from many, many failures that I’ve had. One is that you just got to try a lot of things and you just don’t know what’s going to work. Even this year, we’ve had or since we launched WP Curve, which is nine months I think, we’ve had four different businesses at any one time that we focused on. And as of today, three out of four failed, and that’s just been in the last nine months. So, that’s 75% failure rate.

But we’ve done this. We’ve dropped everything else and we focused on WP Curve because that’s the one that didn’t fail. So, I think part of it is definitely just going with the momentum of whatever is working and trying a lot of things.

The other part, which has been a big learning of mine is not to act too much on assumptions and we talked about this last time I spoke to you. But that’s been a big lesson of mine, is whenever we’re kind of debating what to do with the business.

And if we’ll find ourselves making assumptions about what people want or whatever or what people will like or what product to launch or how much you should charge, then we kind of stop ourselves and just get it out as quickly as we can and start looking at happy but actually behave and how much they pay, what feedback we get rather than debating suffrages and ages and focusing on assumptions.

Lorna: So, how do you know when to pull the plug?

Dan: Well, I think you need to set yourself some targets. Like with our community, I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before – but a month ago, we shut down our community. So, we had…

Lorna: Oh wait the content community?

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: Really? Okay. So, I was like I didn’t sign up for that. I was just kind of like wait ‘till it kind of matured a little and then I could see like where I was in my stage of growth and whether it fits.

Dan: Yeah.

Lorna: So, why did you put that down completely? Okay, why?

Dan: At the same time, we terminated I think 22 paying customers, and that wasn’t the start of last month, so the start of March. It was funny. We churned 22 customers and we dropped by 6% of our monthly recurring revenue. And then, by the end of the month, we’d grown by 15% over that 6%. So, we’re effectively growing by like – I don’t know – 20% or something in the month of March. So, I kind of communicated – I’m sorry?

Lorna: The content community?

Dan: Well, just as our business as a site. When we shut down the community, we grow our business by 15% after we cut off 22 paying monthly customers.

Lorna: Okay. So, you were able to free the time, energy and resources for more lucrative part of your business by shutting down the community?

Dan: That’s right, yeah. And I don’t know if it’s so much time. And maybe it’s just the fact that when you’re working on something you know, it’s not going well. It’s just kind of obvious to people and that just kind of decides for itself that it’s not going to work out and we can just see it going backwards like we started with about 40 members and people weren’t really engaging with what we were doing on there. And members are dropping off and we weren’t signing in on new members and we kind of set as our goal to sign up a certain amount of members within a month to make sure we could keep growing it. And it’s good with the recurring business that the equation is quite simple like you need to be getting more customers each month than those leaving. And we weren’t doing that, so I was quite easy to decide that it obviously wasn’t working.

Lorna: Okay. Great. So, Dan, what is the most effective way to change the world?

Dan: Your questions are too hot!

Lorna: No! Hey, at least I’m giving you the opportunity to think about this very profound life question.

Dan: Yeah. Well, I mean, it could start a point…

Lorna: So that you could continue to think about beyond this interview, I definitely recommend, highly endorse that.

Dan: Yeah. Well, I think a good starting point is kind of finding your place in the world, and that takes a long time.

For me, I really spent my whole lifetime of figure or find the – and especially in business, is to like find top of business that really suits me and like a business where I can impact, start to really impact people. And it’s probably selfish way of looking at it. But I think that’s definitely a good start because you could just spend most of your life doing something that you’re not really that in tune with.

And I think a lot of people do that and I think you’ll find that you’re capable of a lot more when you’re doing something that you really in tune with and really in sync with. And I think also, having people around you as well that are supportive and that you’re in tune with as well, and that’s been a big difference with me as well with my new business partner compared to before. It was like I was just kind of out there on my own doing something I wasn’t really good at, and it was just a mess.

But now, we’re both kind of doing what each of us are good at and I think we are starting to have much more of an impact like we’re getting a message out to a lot more people and helping a lot more people. And so, I think that’s a good starting point.

Lorna: Yeah. I don’t really think what you just said is selfish at all. I think far too many people spend the entirety of their lives trying to be someone they’re not because of all the pressure and all the messages from their family or society that they need to be in certain way.

And I personally believe that every individual has their zone of genius. And when you’re able to really connect with who you are and what gifts you have to really offer, then you can actually really thrive and not only thrive on a personal level, but really be of greater service or bigger impact when you were operating from your zone of genius as opposed to trying to be good at something you’re not or trying to fit into a role that just doesn’t really suit you.

So, I really think it starts with self-discovery and having the real courage to look at yourself and to ask yourself, “Who am I and what do I really want to do?”

Dan: Yeah, I think trying a lot of things as well. Like I think it’s not necessarily like external pressures that cause people to get in that state. I think it’s also people just don’t know because they just haven’t done enough.

Lorna: Yeah, it’s true.

Dan: And don’t know how they would be if they had their own business versus if they’re on a job or whatever. So, I think just having the courage to try a bunch of things and just being able to have that kind of self-awareness that when you find something that seems to be working well for you that you should keep doing that and not doing the stuff that isn’t working well.

Lorna: Yeah. Okay. So, how should we best stay in-touch with you, Dan?

Dan: Yeah. Well, our site is WPCurve.com. If you go there, WPCurve.com/blog is our blog, we’ve got a post-up there on WordPress Speed and we’ve got about 250 other posts about all this kind of stuff. I think there’s an email subscribe in the footer on that site and I’ll send a weekly email. I’ve been doing that for about five years and that’s kind of how you can get our best content. If you want to talk to me, you can just email me, dan@wpcurve.com, or just – yeah, Facebook, Twitter. I think Twitter is @thedannorris, T-H-E Dan Norris, is my Twitter handle.

Lorna: Okay, great. Thank you so much. You have a wonderful day, Dan.

Dan: Thank you, Lorna. You have a nice day, too.
[END OF RECORDING]

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Lorna Li

Chief Evolutionary Officer at Entrepreneurs for a Change
Lorna Li is a business coach, entrepreneur and Amazon rainforest crusader, with a passion for green business, social enterprise, and indigenous wisdom. She helps changemaking entrepreneurs harness the power of the Internet to reach more people and make a bigger impact, while designing the lifestyle of their dreams. She is an Internet marketing consultant to changemakers, and works with innovative tech startups, sustainable brands, social enterprises & B-Corporations on SEO, SEM & Social Media marketing.
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  • Hey Lorna thanks for having me again! I hope this is useful for your audience.

    • It was so great having you – you are a wealth of information!