Website Improvements

Photo by Vlad Gurea on Unsplash

When I started this website in early 2018, the intention was for it to be a place where I could give something back to the Internet for all the fantastic travel and photography blogs that I use to plan my travel adventures.

The Early Days

In the early days, I was happy if even a handful of people visited in a week. The website is still very small in the grand scheme of things; according to alexa.com, we’re currently ranked the 7,561,644th most visited website over the past 90 days 🙂

The readership is however growing every week. In the past year, more than 16,000 of you have visited the website, with 85% being first time visitors. Best of all, the proportion of repeat visitors is increasing over time, which brings me a great deal of satisfaction.

It has been my pleasure to take you along to a few cities including Delhi, Agra, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Mumbai, Chengdu, Yangshuo, Sanya, Luang Prabang, Ko Samui, Hua Hin, Jinshanling, Chiang Mai, Toronto, Whistler, Sunshine Coast, Galle, Colombo, Matara, Nuwara Eliya, Negombo, Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay, Osaka, Kyoto, Rome, Sorrento, Siena, Florence, Milan, Tuscany Region, Cinque Terre, Singapore, Saigon, Phu Quoc, George Town Penang, and my current hometown of Beijing.

Speed is Everything

With a growing website however comes some problems. It was slow when I launched it in 2018 and it became slower as more features were added. This is a one-person shop (and that one person happens to be working in Banking rather than Website Development) so it took some time to learn how to fix the problem and to sit down and try to resolve them.

From the emails submitted in the subscription form (you can subscribe to new posts by using the form top-right), I see a number of regular visitors are owners of similar travel or photography blogs, so I thought you may be interested in the approach I’ve taken to improve this website in case you want to apply them to your own websites.

The way the Internet works these days is that speed is everything. Whenever I look at the visitor analytics, I’m always surprised at the ratio between mobile and desktop, with mobile’s proportion increasing every day. As a result, websites need to load quickly on relatively slow 3G or 4G connections in order to keep audiences engaged.

There are a number of tools online that can help evaluate your website’s performance including Google PageSpeed Insights, GTMetrix, and Pingdom. I recommend using all of them to set a baseline before you start modifying your website. You should also use your own subjective judgement by visiting the website on different platforms to gauge the effect of the changes.

Improvements Made

The platform that this website runs on is WordPress, and the hosting provider is the relatively affordable IONOS 1&1. After making hundreds of changes over a period of two months, and testing the before and after, these were the changes that made the most improvement:

  • Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) – By far the biggest improvement came from using CloudFlare as a CDN; because I live in Beijing China, I couldn’t use just any CDN because several are blocked in China. CloudFlare is not only accessible in China, they actually have servers located in the country. CDN’s seem difficult at first, but setting up CloudFlare was easy and free. I wish I had leveraged this capability a long time ago.
  • Disabling loading unnecessary assets – In a website like this, there are several plugins that use Javascript, and CSS, and not every page needs to load all of the Javascript and CSS. Asset CleanUp is an excellent tool that allows you to selectively disable these unnecessary add-ons.
  • Optimizing Javascript and CSS – Good programmers include comments and neat formatting so that people can understand how they’ve written their code; however, when loading that code again and again a million times, the spaces and neat formatting add up to unnecessary bandwidth and sever calls. Using a tool like Autoptimize will “minify” the code so that it loads as efficiently as possible.
  • Removing low value features – I love websites that have beautiful designs with parallax animation and other pretty effects, however some of them can slow the website down. Wherever possible, I eliminated features that weren’t adding to the core value this website is trying to bring to its readers.

The Results

The Google PageSpeed Insight score for mobile went from four to 70 (out of a possible 100) and the desktop score went from 19 to 94. Page load times for when the viewer sees some useful information went from eight seconds to below three seconds on their mobile test and from four seconds to under one second on their desktop test.

To further improve these scores, I would need to reduce the image size significantly, however in order to maintain the quality I want for this website, I have decided to keep the high image quality and take the hit on the score. I’d love to hear from you if you think the image quality should be sacrificed to further improve speeds.

Your Feedback

I’d really appreciate your feedback on the website’s performance. You can make a comment below (does not require you to sign up to post) or via the contact form. Have you noticed a difference? Is it quick to load for you? Is anything broken or not working as intended? Please let me know so I can make further improvements or back out some of the changes that have been made.

Coming Soon

I take your feedback seriously and based on readers reaching out with requests, I’m working on a number of posts:

  • A gear post reviewing four 35MM full-frame equivalent lenses including the Leica Summilux 35 FLE, Fujinon GF45 F2.8, Fujinon XF23 F2, and Fujinon GF50 F3.5
  • A gear post sharing what lenses I recommend people buy for their Fujifilm GFX cameras, Leica M cameras and Fujifilm X cameras
  • A travel post for an upcoming trip to East Java in Indonesia where we’re planning to do some trekking and visiting of volcanos
  • A gear post reviewing the Fujinon GF32-64 F4 zoom lens
  • A gear post reviewing the DJI Mavic Mini drone
  • A long awaited gear post reviewing the incredible Fujinon GF110 F2 portrait lens
  • A new front page with more text and less images to further improve the loading speed and to provide insight on what the post is about

It’s going to be a busy few months, but I hope you’ll enjoy the upcoming posts. Thank you again for being a reader of this website, I really appreciate it!

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