The Anatomy of a vBlog Part 2: Plugins, Site Optimizations and Analytics
Having looked at hosting platform and operating system suggestions in Part 1, to conclude this two part series I’ll talk about how to make WordPress work harder for you through its plugin ecosystem as well as go through the site optimizations and caching improvements offered by CloudFlare. To finish off I’ll talk about GoSquared which is an external analytics engines that keeps track of site visitors and page views.
WordPress having been the defacto blogging engine for a number of years now has enabled a whole ecosystem of free and paid for plugins that are used to enhance the usability of your WordPress site. Think about these plugins similar to IOS Apps in that, just like just like the App Store they are easily searchable and installable from the Administration Plugin Menu and for better or worse…they are ultimately what keep you invested the WordPress platform…just like Apps on the iPhone.
In terms of plugin management, the WordPress platform makes it easy to install, configure and upgrade all the plugin from the one menu page. Up to this point I haven’t had any major issues with the plugins I use even. In terms of what plugins I use to help improve the readability, usability and socialability of the site, I’ve listed the plugins I consider core to this site below:
- CloudFlare: Integrates your blog with the CloudFlare platform.
- Crayon Syntax Highlighter: A Syntax Highlighter built in PHP and jQuery that supports customizable languages and themes.
- GoSquared: Add GoSquared tracking code directly to your WordPress site.
- Image Formatr: A simple plugin that goes through all the content images on posts & pages, and with zero user changes
- Jetpack: Simplifies managing WordPress sites by giving you visitor stats, security services, speeding up images, and helping you get more traffic. Jetpack is a free plugin
- Revive Old Post: Helps you to keeps your old posts alive by sharing them and driving more traffic to them from social networks. It also helps you to promote your content.
- Yoast SEO: Written from the ground up by Joost de Valk and his team at Yoast to improve your site’s SEO on all needed aspects
TIP: Take a look at what features paid for plugins offer over free ones. Just like any software, you will always find an open/free alternative. Some plugins will also come in a lite version with certain features locked to a paid for version.
As a new blog is starting off the amount of traffic hitting the site is generally small so having the site directly exposed on the internet isn’t usually a problem, however as your site grows you may need to consider fronting the site with a caching or performance engine. Security should also be a consideration to help protect you blog against malicious attacks or code vulnerabilities and exploits.
In the early days of the internet Akamai dominated web geocaching services and a lot of the world’s largest high volume sites used them to improved user experience and protect origin servers from traffic spikes. CloudFlare offers similar services to Akamai, but they do things differently… Their story is worth a read to get an idea of where they came from and what they are trying to achieve. https://www.cloudflare.com/our-story
CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks. On average, a website on CloudFlare:
- Loads twice as fast
- Uses 60% less bandwidth
- Has 65% fewer requests
- Is way more secure
CloudFlare can be used regardless of your choice in platform. Setup takes most about five to ten minutes. Adding a website requires your domain’s DNS records to be hosted at CloudFlare (for free) and then make a couple of adjustments to the origin URL’s of your site and have the domain NS records point at CloudFlare’s name servers. A, AAAA, and CNAME records can have their traffic routed through the CloudFlare system. The core service is free and they do offer enhanced services for websites who need extra features like real time reporting or SSL.
As you can see below, CloudFlare offers a number of tweaking options, most of which are available on the free plan.
The efficiency in terms of bandwidth savings is also significant
The Firewall features is also impressive and works to block IP addresses trying to cause issues and launch brute force attacks on sections of the WorpdPress site such as /wp-admin
Having CloudFlare front your site is a no brainier and given that there is a very feature rich’s free version that is extremely effective its something to configure for all blogging sites. Or to add to your existing site. For a look at the specific plan capabilities, click here.
TIP: Comment SPAM can be a significant PITA for bloggers, and in the early days I would spend ten to thirty minutes a week cleaning up unmoderated comments. With CloudFlare in play the amount of comment SPAM has dropped down to almost non-existent levels.
GoSquared takes what JetPack does and elevates it to another level. This is one of the few external services that I have no trouble paying for because, as someone who loves numbers and trend analytics it delivers everything I need to keep tabs of what’s happening on the site. GoSquared offers real time stats on site visitors and as shown below gives you deep insights into not only, where people are visiting you site from, but a lot about what platform they are using to browse.
It works by downloading the WordPress plugin and entering the tracker code that in turn injects a bit of code onto every page from which the live tracking stats are received. They also have a free plan option, but it’s worth looking at the paid plans as your site grows.
TIP: By looking at the site visit graphs you will start to get a feel for when your site is most accessed and from where the site visits occur. From this you will be able to deduct the best time for which to publish a new blog post.
I hope this two part series has been helpful in breaking down the obvious and less obvious components of a blogging site and more specifically the Virtualization is Life! site that is running WordPress. As mention in Part 1, there is no right answer to what blogging platform is best, however my preference is to keep things under total control all while having a simple and efficient platform from which to create and distribute content. The tools that I have mentioned that go on top of the WordPress site are also vital in keeping things ticking over.
Hope this was useful for some!