welovewordpress

Back in Startup Mode… Announcing WP Engine!

Since I moved to Austin, I have been very coy about what I’ve been up to. There’s a reason for that and today I can tell you all about it. Especially since my good friend Marshall over at ReadWriteWeb already has. :-)

It was very interesting. Back in May, my friend Pete Jackson, who works for Intridea, started making a point of introducing me over to Twitter to one of his friends in whatever city I happened to be travelling in at that moment.

It was in this way that I met Sean Cook, the manager of mobile integrations at Twitter in San Francisco and, when I was in Austin visiting in May, he made sure that I met Aaron Scruggs of Other Inbox who has since become a pretty good friend.

It was after that meeting with Scruggs in May that he connected me to one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Jason Cohen. Jason is one of the two founding partners at Capital Thought, an Austin-based incubator. Jason has also built several companies and parlayed two of those into healthy exits. I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of respect for his technical and business savvy.

Jason described to me the concept for a business that he was working on along with Cullen Wilson. A premium, WordPress platform that would cater specifically to the customers who want to make sure their blog is always taken care of from a maintenance and upgrade perspective, but also would offer significant value adds that nobody else is providing in a WordPress-optimized environment.

I’ll get to what all those buzzwords mean in a minute. Stick with me.

We started talking about me joining up with them to take this idea to the bank. Shortly after moving down here to Austin, I joined the team and we’ve been working hard over the last couple months to get to the point where we could reliably take on new customers and talk about our idea publicly.

Today is that day.

So, you’re still probably wondering what the hell WP Engine is and why it’s important, right?

Let’s talk security for a minute. There have been significant security “incidents” in recent months. Most people on the outside simply see “WordPress hacked! WordPress hacked!” – I’m looking at you Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble and Frank Gruber (Techcocktail). In the WordPress community, we know the real issues in these cases were not WordPress but the hosts that the blogs were on. Still, people saw WordPress hacked.

We take this very seriously and have partnered with a provider that has multiple levels of security including Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) outside of our boxes. We have gone to great lengths to keep our customers connecting to us in very secure ways and keep a close eye on the activity happening on our boxes. This is all very important because if an attacker could get through our outside defenses, chances are they couldn’t do anything malicious without us knowing about it.

Our infrastructure is also built with optimization and blazing, fast speed as a core expectation and deliverable. We don’t overload servers and have the means to see potential performance problems before they arrive. With our dual nginx-apache server configuration, we are able to handle sustained high-volume traffic as well as spikes that are the pain point for WordPress bloggers who suddenly get a story featured on a prominent site.

For the people who claim WordPress doesn’t scale… I call bullshit. We believe we know exactly how to make WordPress scale.

But we’re not just a hosting company. If we were that, we would be our competitors. We are also working on additional features such as “Curated Plugins” which are plugins that are entirely open source, that are popular or in demand from our customers and have been vetted from a security standpoint. These are plugins that we support 100%. This does not preclude customers from using other non-supported plugins, and we don’t dictate what bloggers can have on their blog as some of the other hosted WordPress solutions do. We just say, “Hey, if you use one of these, we’re gonna have your back”.

Other things that make WP Engine different:

  • 3 Smart guys supporting customers personally
  • A “Staging” area for one-click deployments and testing
  • We give back to the community. In fact, I made sure that I could work on the WordPress open source project, write the second edition of my book, and that much of our work will be returned to the community. Code is a commodity. The people and service behind the code is not.

We are not perfect yet, nor do we claim to be. We are a young company and have hundreds of things still to do and hopefully learn from. We are in an “invite only” mode at this time as much of the stuff we are doing and want to do is still not ready. But we are open for business and taking customers. And for $50/mo 1 for a dedicated WordPress environment that has optimization, speed and security plus the flexibility of you doing your own thing with a safety net… it’s a steal, really.

Photo used with permission by Donncha O Caoimh

Notes:

  1. For most customers

Read More

3 More Blog Optimization Routines

Last month, Darren Rowse asked me to contribute a post to Problogger about methods to increase page loads. He gets a lot of questions from his community and he wanted someone who had some experience in the area to help out. I obliged.

Please read it.

I wanted to follow up that article with a few page load and other optimization techniques, largely because, as I surf around the internetz, I’m noticing an increasing number of blogs that are very weighed down.

The golden rule here is that if a page takes longer than 2 seconds to load, it’s too heavy. Realistically, you want to shoot for a page load of under a second. In an era where broadband is ubiquitous, there is no excuse.

Images

While I talked about images in the post at Darren’s blog, I really want to hammer this home. Kill the background images. The textured backgrounds, though they look good, are sucking your bandwidth. The same can be said for full-size banner headers. The only image that really should be in your header is a logo and it should be cropped to the size it actually is. Unless there is just some aspect of your branding that has to be fit into a full 750 or 1000px wide header image, you’re wasting your users bandwidth and slowing down your site.

Google Analytics

This is not really a page load issue, but it is a highly valuable point that at the time of writing the Problogger article, I was unaware of. Duncan Riley actually had a fantastic pointer about Google Analytics code that suggested going against the conventional wisdom (and Google recommended) approach of inserting the code in the footer and instead placing it in the head of the page.

Google recommends (and it is standard practice for most tracking code) that the code be placed in the footer as it will end up being the last thing to load, allowing the rest of the page to render and give the appearance of a quicker load. Duncan notes, however, that sometimes readers move on before that Analytics code is loaded preventing a registration of a pageview.

Since reading that article, I moved my GA code to the header and have experienced only a miniscule reduction in load time, but have increased the number of pageview. It’s important to note, though, that the pageviews are not changing, just the perception. If you run ads, it is the perception of pageviews that advertisers are buying ads based on – so you do want this to be perceived closer to the actual pageview number.

WordPress users, reduce your plugins!

Some people love using every plugin under the sun for WordPress. It’s as bad as those people that install every Facebook app around (Love you both, Lorelle and Cathryn!). The end result is slower load time.

This could be for a number of reasons. Plugins don’t necessarily go through the same QA and optimization process as the core WordPress code therefore, the activation of a plugin could introduce inefficient code or load unnecessary PHP processes into memory. Also, plugins that provide configuration options may also expose uncertain conditions when configured in certain way. The Google Sitemaps plugin is a great example of a plugin that, when misconfigured, can cause detrimental effects on a server which directly affects load time.

As always, my recommendation is always to run a tight ship, lean and mean is the best policy, and only use what you actually need. And if you stop using a plugin, make sure you deactivate it. There’s a security aspect to this as well.

Just a few more tips from experience. Feel free to add your own in comments.

Read More