I Changed Web Site Hosts

web site screen shot

Dreamhost’s Web Site

After 4 years at my previous host I had become pretty unhappy with them.

I was running a WordPress blog and a PHP/MySQL based app to track an office football pool along with a handful of pictures for clients to download and prototype websites for conducting usability tests. But I was regularly having issues, mostly based around the web site being really slow.

So after reading a post in Lifehacker about the best personal web host which highlighted Dreamhost as the best option, I decided to make the jump.

The Dreamhost discount from the article was no longer valid, but I was able to find a $50 off coupon when signing up for a year or more. It made my first year cost less than $70. And after that the cost will be within $20 of what I was paying my previous host.

It took about 2 days for the DNS entries to be updated, to make my tweaks, and to get WordPress up and running with my imported content.

A big shout-out to the folks that make WordPress happen, exporting the content from my old provider then importing it into the new one worked like a charm. I had to tweak some settings and add some information in widgets and plug-ins, but overall it was amazingly easy.

I’ve spent some time over the last 2 weeks picking a Responsive theme, Sunspot by Automattic, that works great on a desktop at any width, smartphone, and tablet. It took some tweaking based on the heading and navigation, but it is clean and easy to modify.

Then I started with the basic plugins, Akismet and Jetpack by WordPress.com which are great and easy to install and setup.

Then I tried a bunch of different plugins that were all awful. For any WordPress install I highly recommend you go to a site like Pingdom Website Speed Test and check your speed with no plugins installed and then run it again after you add each plug-in. Also check it again anytime you make big changes to any plugins. Using Pingdom I was able to see that the “SmugMug for WordPress” plugin was absolutely killing the speed of my website, even when it was not displaying content on my website, so I am not using that anymore.

In the end I am using SmugMug Widget to display some of my most recent photos uploaded to my photography website. With some tweaking to the CSS I have the widget working great in the Sunspot theme and is now a part of the responsive design. Best of all the SmugMug Widget did not negatively affect the speed of my website.

Then I tried W3 Total Cache and after a day of fiddling with it decided it was not for me. If you are not running some type of minification and caching system on your WordPress website I do suggest giving it a try, but I chose to go a simpler route.

I am using WP Minify to remove all of the extra white space and combine separate files for JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Running YSlow using minification made a difference, but not a big one.

The big performance improvement for my website comes from WordPress Super Cache which makes dynamic pages static. On my server the pages are still served by PHP, but they are so much faster!

Now my website includes the content I want, has a responsive design that looks great on desktop web browsers, iPads, and iPhones, and is faster than I could have ever hoped for.

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