Liam O'Leary

Beanoleary

Liam O'Leary is the Creative Director at Laser Red, a Lincolnshire based creative agency specialising in website design, development and online marketing. Liam grew up with the internet and started creating websites from the age of 14. He's now in charge of the team at Laser Red, helping businesses around the world to be more effective online.


One of the biggest trends for websites in the last 3 years has been the addition of content management systems being added to nearly every new website project.

For those of you who don’t already know what a content management system (CMS) is, let me explain.

A CMS is basically a user interface that allows a person or group of people to edit a website, without needing any knowledge or understanding of the coding that’s behind a web page. Usually the CMS is part of the website, and serves the content added to the CMS to the user facing “front end” (what the users see).

Choosing a CMS can be hard work. There’s literally hundreds to choose from, but I’m going to give you a helping hand and let you know about the best ones available today (as tomorrow someone will no doubt invent another).

The different types of CMS

There are two main types of CMS on the market. The first is a very simplest system that can be installed on most websites. It doesn’t require much setup and usually involves uploading some files to your hosting space and adding a few lines of code to your website around the areas you want to be able to edit. We usually call these content editors, rather than a CMS, as they’re very basic.

The second type of CMS is a fully featured system that will require you to setup a database and install the CMS on your hosting account. It may sound complex but after you’ve done it once, it’s a piece of cake. This type of CMS is much more common as it allows the owner to manage pretty much everything on the website, from the navigation, slideshows, sidebars, user access, news feed, user comments and all the other parts of a website that you’d ever want to manage yourself.

Simple content management systems

Se here are my top picks for a simple “content editor” type CMS.

Perch

This has got some great reviews recently. It’s a static content editor, meaning there’s no database for you to worry about. If you’re a web designer who knows a bit of HTML then this could be just what you’ve been looking for. The only downside is that it’s £50 per website.

Unify

This is one we’ve been using for a while. It’s another static content editor that’s pretty basic, but it get’s the job done and it’s only $24.49.

Unify Editor

Unify Editor

Fully featured CMS

Now we’ll move on to the big boys. I mean the fully featured content managed systems.

WordPress – My top pick!

WordPress is by far one of the best CMS you can use for your website. When I last checked there were over 73 millions websites using it. Check for yourself. It’s possibly the most popular CMS ever created. It’s used by some big names as well, like TED, NBC, CNN, UPS and even The Lincolnite.

The new WordPress CMS dashboard

The new WordPress CMS dashboard

Off the bat WordPress is a powerful little package. You’ll need some technical know-how to get it up and running, but there are plenty of hosting packages out there that will do this for you. Once it’s working you can add even more power to the default installation by using plug-ins. Trust me this CMS is absolutely brilliant! Oh, and it’s 100% free.

Quick tip: Try to go for the self hosted WordPress solution from WordPress.org rather than the one from WordPress.com which is hosted by the creators on their servers.

In a bid not to be totally biased I’ve also included some other popular fully featured CMS below.

Drupal

This CMS may have been around as long as WordPress but it’s considered more of a developers’ CMS. It’s very similar to WordPress but just doesn’t cut the mustard. There’s always been something about it that seasoned developers seem to like, but everyone else hates. I’d only recommend this if you’re used to using Drupal’s admin system and are averse to change. This is also free.

Joomla!

We used to use Joomla for many years, before we found WordPress. Nowadays most of the websites that use Joomla do so because they have some ancient add-on that they can’t live without. It’s a pretty poor CMS by today’s standard, however it can be quite easy to setup and because of its popular hay-day, it has many add-ons available to increase its capabilities.

From a user point of view the interface is quite disappointing, even when using it myself, I often have to click around multiple times to find what I’m looking for. Updates are also a major issue, while in the latest version it’s moderately easy to do an update, migrating from an older version is a pain. I’ve seen it used as a CRM many times. If you still want to give it a go, then you’ll be glad to hear it’s free.

Expression Engine

This is another popular CMS that’s pretty powerful. It’s used by some big names like the BBC, Apple, Disney and Ford. It also boasts that you don’t need to learn any complicated programming language to work with it, which is sort of true, if you really don’t want to do much with it and just have a simple editor. The only downside to this system, though, it that it’s not free like the three above. In fact it’s quite pricey, starting at $299 for the newest version. And support starts at $49 – per month. Ouch!

Summary

So there you have it. A (small), slightly un-biased, selection of some of the most popular CMS options available for your next website.

Before you all run out and start downloading them, be aware that which ever you choose you will need some knowledge of HTML, and in most cases, databases and server setup. If you’re not sure then you can always drop us an email to [email protected] or tweet @LaserRedWeb

Liam O'Leary is the Creative Director at Laser Red, a Lincolnshire based creative agency specialising in website design, development and online marketing. Liam grew up with the internet and started creating websites from the age of 14. He's now in charge of the team at Laser Red, helping businesses around the world to be more effective online.

Since May 2012 the average webpage size has nearly doubled from 828KB to 1246KB. Although the advent of super-fast broadband has helped speed things up (if you’re lucky enough to live in an area of Lincolnshire with optical cable) things on the web are still too slow!

Many websites these days have a lot of information on them. Most have media, like images and videos. It’s even becoming common place to see high-res images on websites, that look great on high definition displays. Along with a bunch of other more geeky stuff, the typical website is getting larger, and that means slower loading speeds for users. Which is bad news.

If you own a business and you want users to find your website in Google, visit your site and then perform some sort of action, like purchase a product or complete an enquiry form, you need to make sure your website is as fast as Road Runner, not Wile E Coyote (anyone old enough to get that reference will understand what happened to the coyote).

I hope that many of you reading this will have looked at your Google Analytics once in a while. It will show you things like page views, user frequency, bounce rate, search ranking, conversion rates and everything else under the sun. If you care about any of these stats then page speed should be one of your biggest concerns, as it affects them all.

Website users are implicant and fickle. If your site keeps them waiting, they’ll be out of there and onto the next search result in Google.
Here are some interesting facts:

  • 47% of customers expect a web page to load in less then 2 seconds
  • 40% abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load
  • 52% of online shoppers said that a quick page loading is important to their site loyalty
  • A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions

Here’s a real world example: If an e-commerce site is making £1,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost £25,000 in lost sales every year.

Even Amazon have felt the pain of slow page speeds and their negative effects. Their study showed a 1% decrease in sales for every 0.1s decrease in response times (Kohavi and Longbotham 2007). Amazon made over £2.9 billion in the UK last year. 1% decrease in sales is a big deal!

Speed can affect your search ranking

It’s not only your website stats that suffer as a result of slow speeds. Google is also obsessed with speed. They even said it themselves.

“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed.”

Using site speed in web search ranking

Google even conducted their own experiment. They asked users if they’d like to see 10 or 30 search results per page. Obviously everyone wanted more results. But the shock came when the pages with 30 results lost 20% of their users. The difference was a 0.5 second delay in loading the extra 20 results. Users didn’t want to wait. They probably tried to Ask Jeeves why Google was so slow.

This is why page speed is such an important factor in search engine optimisation. Google knows it has a large effect on users and their preference to browse and find information quickly. They’re not going to recommend slow bloated websites to users who can’t wait an extra half a second.

The aims of most websites is to gain more traffic and increase the number of conversions. By increasing your site speed you can kill two birds with one, fast, stone.

Page speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm so better load times will improve your ranking which means you get more organic traffic.

Secondly, increased page speed will give your users a better user experience, making them more prone to stay on your site and finish what they came for, giving you improved conversion rates. Most important, you make more money.

What’s slowing down your website

A quick way to test your site is to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This will give you some insight into how Google views your website speed. They even give you a rating out of 100.

Website speed graph

Website speed graph

Social sharing buttons

While this is unsurprising for some, those helpful ‘Likes’ can actually have performance impacts on your website. Ever noticed a page taking an age to load while “waiting for facebook.com”? Social sharing buttons such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are typically added on your site with JavaScript, this can “block” a page from rendering if it’s added in a certain way. If a third-party site is slow this will hold up your page from loading. You need to ensure that you’re loading the social sharing buttons asynchronously (non-blocking).

Database

If your website is powered by a database it’s important to ensure the database is optimised regularly (think of it as a spring clean, only more frequently). Reading from a database isn’t as impact-heavy as writing, your website should only write to the database if and when required. If your website is running lots of queries to the database on every page request, it’s going to have some impact on speed. Consider caching the database and optimising queries using best practices.

Poorly developed website

The code that powers you website greatly impacts on how your website performs, the performance of the ‘back-end’ isn’t something that can be easily monitored, compared to front-end tests such as image sizes. If your website takes a few seconds to generate a page, before even attempting to load any content, then it’s usually a issue with the database and/or server side code.

Some other online speed testing and evaluation websites you might want to check out are;

Web Page Testhttp://www.webpagetest.org/

Gtmetrixhttp://gtmetrix.com/

Load Impacthttp://loadimpact.com

Neustarhttp://www.neustar.biz/enterprise/resources/web-performance/free-website-performance-test

How to increase your site speed

Okay, we’re going to get a little technical now, but don’t worry this is only requires a 20% level of geek to understand.

Optimise your images

Don’t use extremely large images that you’ve uploaded directly from your digital camera. The images need to be resized and exported using image optimisation to make sure they’re the smallest file size possible before adding them to your website.

Cache-control

A first-time visitor to your page may have to make several requests for files from the server for graphics, styles, images, videos etc. But by using some fancy coding you make those components cacheable. Which means they are stored temporally on your machine for your quick and easy use the next time you want to load the website.

Use compression

GZIP compression is one of the best ways to increase site speed with minimal effort. Your web host will need to support this service but all the good ones do. It can significantly speed up a site, reducing file size by as much as 70% without degrading the quality of the images, video or the site at all. To see if your site is already using compression, use this simple gzip checking tool.

Move your stylesheets to the top

Make sure all your stylesheets are in external files and not embedded in the page. Also move your stylesheets links to the <head> of the website will make the pages appear to load faster as this allows the page to render progressively. Basically this means that your content will load first. Most websites do this already, but it’s still worth checking.

Move your JavaScript to the bottom

Try to keep all your JavaScript links to the very last part of the website that is loaded. This way, the browser isn’t bogged down wading through all those requests for external files right from the start. Also it’s a better practice to combine JavaScript files into one or two files. This will decrease the number of requests to the server, saving even more time.

Don’t use confusing redirects

A 301 Redirect is the preferred way to change your site structure without losing any of that valuable search engine juice, but lots of 301 redirects piled together just confuse the browser and slow it down as it wades through the old destinations to get to the new one.

Hosting

Every website has a hosting account. The server that yours is on could be something from the 90s still running a version of Windows Server 98. If thats the case no amount of on site optimisation will speed things up. Having a fast and reliable hosting provider will do wonders for your website speed.

The bottom line

Making sure you have a fast website comes down to these simple principles. Remove what you don’t need. Keep what you do. Test any new features through a cost/benefit analysis.

The most efficient way to kickstart this process is to make sure your using the right hosting company who can provide the correct hardware and software for your website.

If you have any questions or site speed horror stories feel free to tweet us @LaserRedWeb or visit our website for more information on website audits.

Liam O'Leary is the Creative Director at Laser Red, a Lincolnshire based creative agency specialising in website design, development and online marketing. Liam grew up with the internet and started creating websites from the age of 14. He's now in charge of the team at Laser Red, helping businesses around the world to be more effective online.