Pains and Gains of SiteGround’s SG Optimizer Plugin

Pains and Gains of SiteGround’s SG Optimizer Plugin

maintenance

Before I talk about the actual pains and gains, I want to first list the description of the plugin provided in the WordPress repository.

“This plugin is designed to link WordPress with the SiteGround Performance services. It WILL NOT WORK on another hosting provider.”

So if you are hosting a site on SiteGround, you should be using the plugin. Sites hosted elsewhere can not use it at all. I’ve used the plugin on a number of sites hosting for myself and for clients on SiteGround and have some very positive and very negative results. I’ll discuss those below as well as some basics on configuring the plugin.

It Killed Stripe

The worst pain I had was on an e-commerce site. Visitors trying to make a credit card payment via Stripe would get an error message. After a lot of back and forth with support personnel, the only way to get Stripe working again was to disable SG Optimizer completely. Strangely, I have at least five other sites on SiteGround using the same e-commerce setup and they’ve not had the Stripe issue. While there may be a way to get SG Optimizer working with Stripe on the problem site, it isn’t worth the potential loss of sales for the client.

Working Through the Settings

There are four tabs to configure and I’ll go through each of them separately with the settings you should choose. Feel free to experiment with the settings to get the best performance for your site.

SG Optimizer Supercacher Settings

First up are the Supercacher Settings. In short, there are three switches on this page and you want to turn all three of them on. You may have trouble enabling all three if you haven’t enabled things in the SuperCacher app of your site’s cPanel. Note that the app has tabs for Static Cache, Dynamic Cache and Memcached and you need to configure a site on all three to use all of the SG Optimizer settings.

Using these caching settings will speed up your site and decrease the load on the server. As long as they don’t conflict as I described with the Stripe processing, you definitely want to use this caching.

SG Optimizer Environment Optimization

Next is the Environment Optimization tab. In the screen shot, the Enable HTTPS is turned off. This is something that may or may not be useful to you. As the site shown has it enabled in other ways, it wasn’t necessary to turn it on here. SiteGround provides a way to set the version of PHP used on a site deep within cPanel. An easier way is to choose to set it manually here. In that case, you can select an exact version. Or you can select Managed PHP and SiteGround will update it automatically to what they consider is the newest stable version.

The final two switches fro GZIP Compression and Browser Caching should both be activated. GZIP Compression will make all files leaving your site compressed and thus smaller. Smaller files gives faster performance. Browser caching will tell a visitor’s browser to hang on to content longer so it doesn’t have to be downloaded again.

SG Optimizer Frontend Optimization

Front End Optimization provides seven separate switches each with a clear description of what it does. I typically turn on all but the last switch. I like having emojis on a site so I’ll put up with the slight decrease in speed. If emojis aren’t important on your site, go ahead and turn it on for some extra speed.

SG Optimizer Image Optimization

The last tab, Image Optimization, has a number of settings dedicated to the graphics on your site. You’ll note that I have the first switch disabled and all of the rest enabled. I’ll explain why soon. Below the top switch is a button that will optimize all bitmap graphics on your site. Depending on the number of files, this could take a very long time so you may want to do this before leaving the office at night.

Next we have the lazy load options and I keep them all enabled. When these are enabled, images are only loaded when they are visible in the browser window. There is certainly a good reason to wait to download them if they can’t even been seen.

Now let’s talk about why I have New Images Optimization turned off. When this plugin first appeared, I noticed I often had trouble loading PNG files on my sites. It was around the same time WordPress 5.0 shipped so I wasn’t really sure what caused it. There was a pretty simple workaround so I didn’t let it bother me.

Recently a much bigger problem reared its ugly head. Many of my projects use the Divi Theme. A very useful feature is the ability to import pre-built layouts as a page starting point and nothing I did would allow a layout to import successfully. After a very long back and forth with SiteGround support, the problem was having New Images Optimization enabled. Once it was turned off, the layout imported perfectly the first time.

It was quite difficult to get to this solution as the SiteGround support reps wanted to find every excuse possible even though I made it clear from the very beginning that the issue only happened on SiteGround sites. PNG files were blamed. Themes were blamed. Other plugins were blamed. Thankfully I was persistent enough to push them to find the real culprit. With any luck, this plugin can be fixed so that this setting can be enabled without causing any problems. Until then, I’ll keep it off.

Using WebP Images With WordPress

Using WebP Images With WordPress

tutorial

In the early days of Web design we had GIF and JPEG. Then PNG came along in the mid 90s to provide a very good alternative to GIF. Other formats have come and gone since then with none of them truly taking hold. That is, until now! The folks at Google have created the WebP format and it is one you should consider using. Let’s look at why it is beneficial and then how to use it on your WordPress site.

There are two major types of images: lossless and lossy. WebP has answers for both and those answers provide smaller files than the alternatives. Smaller files mean Web pages load faster and that’s always a good thing.

We now use JPEG format for lossy images. Lossy images have different sizes based on how much quality you are willing to sacrifice. When using an equivalent quality, WebP images are 25-35% smaller than JPEG.

PNG is typically used for lossless images and has the benefit of an alpha channel. What’s an alpha channel? It allows for varying levels of transparency. WebP can do lossless and an alpha channel while being 26% smaller than PNG.

If any of you want all the technical details, Google has the info for you. While Google provides a tool for converting images to WebP, it may not be the best choice right now for Web designers. WebP is directly supported in Chrome and Opera, but not other browsers. So if you use it directly, your pages will probably not display correctly in other browsers.

How Do I Use WebP With WordPress?

If you try to directly upload a WebP image into WordPress today, you’ll likely get a message that the file type isn’t allowed for security reasons. Given the limited browser support, that’s isn’t such a bad thing. The best way to use WebP with WordPress is via a plugin. While there are several choices, the best free option is the EWWW Image Optimizer. The plugin has a number of other features, but we’re focused on the WebP support.

EWWW Image Optimizer Plugin

Using the EWWWW Image Optimizer Plugin, you’ll still upload JPG and PNG files just as you’ve always done. The plugin converts those to WebP format and serves them up to site visitors using a supported browser. JPG images will become lossy WebP images and PNG images will become lossless WebP images (with alpha channel intact). It is also compatible with caching and content delivery networks. This option is as simple as installing the plugin and enabling the WebP feature.

Given that installing the plugin will make your images at least 25% smaller, why not give it a try now! it is a very simple way to speed up your site. Also pretty cool for geeky visitors to know you are using the latest in imaging technology.

Tweaking Wordfence Settings For Troublesome Scans

Tweaking Wordfence Settings For Troublesome Scans

security

Recently I got notification that a site was temporarily disabled because it had malware on it. Now that the issue is resolved, I believe it to be a false positive and overreaction from the hosting company. It also came on the night that I met a cleanup expert who works for Wordfence, the popular WordPress security plug-in. That meeting came in handy as I noticed scans on some of my sites weren’t completing successfully. My new Wordfence contact helped me find the appropriate settings to allow scans to complete and I wanted to share them with you.

Web HostingEach of my own sites is hosted at SiteGround and some were recently migrated from other hosting. Even though the SiteGround hosting is far more robust than the previous hosting, I found that Wordfence scans on my sites were hanging up well before the scan was completed.

Let’s first look at the order of a Wordfence scan. Items go from left to right during a scan and the first three are only available for those with the premium version of Wordfence. My scans were hanging up in the middle of the File Changes stage and therefore never got to the Malware Scan. This was very frustrating as it left open the possibility for malware to go undetected.

Many of the things I needed to change were found on the Wordfence | All Options page. Once on that page, scroll down to the Scan Options section. While my sites were not set to do a High Sensitivity scan, it was recommended I not choose this option. All of the available General Options were checked, except for the last three. The boxes not checked are Scan files outside your WordPress installation, Scan images, binary and other files as if they were executable and Enable HIGH SENSITIVITY scanning.

In my own attempts to find a solution, I had tried a much higher Maximum execution time (100) based on a tutorial I’d read. My contact suggested setting this at 15. Probably the biggest thing changed was in the Advanced Scan Options. Each time a scan fails, the file on which it fails is added to the Exclude files list. Mine had grown fairly long and everything on that list was cleared. In it’s place, a few file types were added. While the file types can include malware, none can be executed directly so they are very low risk. The exact entry for those file types is listed below.

*.svg
*.jpg
*.png
*.zip
*.bak

Once these changes were made (and the Save Changes button clicked), the scan ran successfully. Knowing that any problems will be detected quickly helps a Web geek sleep much better at night. Should you have Wordfence scan problems, I hope these suggested changes will help you find a way to get the scan running successfully again.

Photo by unsplash-logoJames Pond

Tutorials to Build Your Business and Your Web Site

Tutorials to Build Your Business and Your Web Site

tutorial

In order for your business to be successful online, you need more than just a good Web site. We’ve gathered some tutorials that may help your business both on and offline.

Let’s start with three tutorials on services that may help your business. VoIP is one of our favorite technologies as we use it for all of our phone lines. While we don’t use the other two services, they may be of use to you.

Now for some tutorials about your Web site. Should you monetize it with subscriptions? If so, Facebook will have a way to do this soon. Have you copyrighted your site? How are your blog posts performing in search rankings? Details on each of these areas are found in the tutorials below.