As a long-time member of the Bluehost team, I like to monitor the pulse of our business via social media. Quite often, while perusing hosting customer tweets and Facebook posts, I see users saying things like: “My website seemed fast before but now it feels slow,” and “Is my server having issues?” In almost every case when I check their websites, I find the same thing – a lack of some simple website and hosting account maintenance. Our world is full of things that we have to maintain, like our cars which require frequent stops for gas and oil changes. When we forget to take care of them, it can cause us some inconveniences – like being stuck on the side of the road, or an engine that fails.
Technology needs maintenance and typically we call it an update or upgrade. Just like you need to update your smartphone, computer or iPad to ensure you have the best user experience, your website and hosting service needs to have regular updates as well. I always like to perform a test before and after to see how changes I make on my websites affect their speed. To help me monitor the changes I use http://gtmetrix.com, which gives great insight into not only how fast the pages load, but specific things I can do to speed things up along with explanations.
If you decide to follow this guide, I would love some feedback on how it helped you. Just send a tweet out to @bluehost or leave some feedback on our Facebook page.Enough talking. Here are a few of my top recommendations for website maintenance and speed improvement:
1. Update your website software
The first step is to make sure your software is up to date. For this post, I’ll use WordPress as the example because it’s a very popular software used for blogging, website creation (CMS) and even as a platform for building really cool products. WordPress is a software platform built on the PHP coding language. As such, it requires your hosting server to have PHP available in order to use it. I will be talking more about PHP in the next section. WordPress is also an open source product meaning the software is free to use and distribute and it has a large community of developers and users who contribute back to the code.
Due to the collaborative efforts of these contributors, WordPress releases new versions of its software throughout the year to increase functionality, security, usability, and make general improvements to the software. At Bluehost we make it easy to keep WordPress up to date. Utilizing the MOJO marketplace (previously known as SimpleScripts) you can simply click a button and update your software to the latest version.
If you installed WordPress on your own, the software should show a notification in the top section of your dashboard with any necessary updates for the core software, as well as any plugins and themes you may be using. It is very important to make sure you are using the latest version of any software installed on a hosting account as using old code can quite often lead to your website becoming unstable, slow, or worse – infected with malware.
2. Update your server software
The second step is to make sure your WordPress hosting account settings are updated. At Bluehost we give you the power to control which versions of software are running on your server. This gives you more control to run the software your website needs. However, one mistake many users make is running old software when they have no reason to do so. One of the most common things I run across when someone says their website is running slow is the version of PHP that they have enabled on the account. You can check your version when logged into your Bluehost account under the Hosting -> cPanel -> Software/Services section and clicking on PHP Config.
When you open the PHP Config section you will see a screen that shows the Bluehost PHP Configuration setup on your server. Depending on when you initially set up your hosting account, the PHP Configuration will be set to the default version at that time. However, it is likely that a new version is available. In the example below, you will see that the default setup is 5.2 (Single php.ini). In my tests on page speed load time, I have seen anywhere from no change to a 75% reduction in page speed loads by changing a WordPress website from PHP 5.2 (single php.ini) to PHP 5.4 (Single php.ini). One of my tests this week was on a VERY slow blog that was taking 18-20 seconds to load the home page that was stuffed full of plugins and images. By switching the PHP version I was able to lower the load time to under 7 seconds. Another test was a site taking 4.8 seconds to load and the PHP version change reduced that time to 1.7 seconds.
3. Enable a CDN (CloudFlare)
Another great tool that is free on every Bluehost account is our CloudFlare CDN caching service. A CDN is a content delivery network and allows your website files to be shared on a network of servers worldwide. When you use this service and an end user wants to visit your website, the CDN will serve content for your site from the closest data center available to the user. It also reduces the load on your hosting account server which speeds things up for everyone. CloudFlare is found in the control panel under the Hosting -> cPanel -> Domain Management section.
When you click on the CloudFlare icon it will take you to a page that will allow you to configure your CloudFlare account. On this page, you will need to input an email address to create your CloudFlare account (this is a third party company, so you are sharing your information with them). Once you have agreed to the terms and created your account, the CloudFlare options on the right side of the page will appear with your domains.
At this point, you will want to click on the Activate button for the domain you choose, then it will drop down and show you any sub domains that are available and you can click on the gray cloud on the right side where it says inactive. This should light you up to be an orange cloud showing the service is active now. At this point CloudFlare will begin the process of caching your website and will enable security services to help protect your site from malware attacks, DDOS and other nasty stuff.
Please note that the CloudFlare service requires your domain is using www. to work properly. If you are using WordPress with a naked domain (no www. in front) then it will cause the site to loop and it will not resolve properly. To fix this you must use phpMyAdmin. Open your wp_config file and find the database name. Then, once you have the name of the database, open phpMyAdmin, find the database, and then edit the home and site URL rows.
4. It may be time to upgrade
If you have followed the steps outlined in this article and your site still feels slow it may be a good thing. Has your website become popular with lots of visitors and happy customers? If so, it may be time to add a second hosting account or upgrade from a shared hosting account to a VPS or dedicated server. Shared hosting means you have a website on a server and you share the CPU/memory/connections with a number of other customers who do the same. VPS servers come with dedicated resources just for you and start at $29.95/month. Check out our recent post for more information on how you can decide if it’s time to upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server.
If you are hosting more than one website on the same shared account and multiple sites are becoming popular and gaining traffic, you can split them off by adding a new account, or upgrade your entire account to a VPS or dedicated server. This is handled by clicking the Home tab at the top of your control panel. At the bottom of that page, you will see the Hosting Services section that will show you the type of service you have and upgrades available, or you can add a new hosting service to your account and manage a shared hosting service for the sites you are still building and move your popular site over to a VPS. For more help with this, feel free to contact our sales staff at 888-401-4678.
These are some routine and simple ways you can keep your websites maintained and ensure that they are always running and peak speed and performance. Give them a try and let us know if your website feels like new! Have more questions? Give us a call at (888) 401-4678 or connect with us via live chat.
James Grierson, VP of Business Development at Bluehost.