I don’t know what it is, perhaps all programmers are like this, but I have this need to strip away everything that is unnecessary from my websites. Google Analytics isn’t even worth it for me, I’d rather just not have that external connection that I know can add milliseconds onto a user’s load time. Is this a rare form of coder-autism, or does it really help your site?
SEO Benefits of a Simple Website
Back when I was trying out Google App Engine, I was writing my site in Python, while just learning the language. What was great about this was that it forced me to be incredibly simple (and in a way precise) with regards to the features I added. Later when I got more involved in developing for WordPress, I had a real problem with the amount of excess code involved. Sure, WordPress has a lot of great features, and it’s a splendid CMS, but WordPress is also really just a huge array of files. A lot of features are included just in case some of their millions of users need a feature. My Python site actually did a lot better in the search engines than it did when I converted it into a WordPress site. This goes against the mindset that many people have – that WordPress is a great tool for search engine optimization. My experience just isn’t consistant with that.
Maybe someone like Matt Cutts could enlighten me about this issue: What is the SEO value of stripping down your website to the bare minimum? Is the myriad of plugins that I install to bring more features into my site actually hurting its performance on the major search engines? How about user experience in general?
Google strips their site down to the minimum because it can help save lives. Eric Schmidt talked about this in a presentation he once gave to group of doctors (unfortunately I can’t find the video now to link to it, but if you know what I’m talking about please add it in the comments!). He spoke about how Google needs to be able to return their results in milliseconds, because people search for things like “heart attack symptoms” and the rate at which results appear can be the difference between life and death for someone. But what if my premium SEO plugin is trying to validate its license at that time, and Google decides that the extra second is too expensive?
How to Keep Your Site Simple
- Keep your .css as short as possible. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, it probably comes with a theme that has a million extraneous styles that you’ll never use. Instead, design your site with this css file as a start (strip out what you don’t need from this even), and add as needed.
- Compress your images – use smush.it. Every single one of my images in this blog have been compressed using the Smush.it plugin.
- Remove extra plugins from your CMS. What do you really need all of those plugins for? Does adding “like” on your comments really improve the content and experience of the website? Does it bring commenters back, or does it clutter things? Sometimes we’re lazy to create certain functions outselves, and so we employ plugins – these plugins are designed for general use though, and so often they can be very inefficient compared to what you could do yourself. I like checking out new plugins, and so I have about 60 installed. I only activate a handful though and those include ones that I personally designed (E.g. the statistics plugin to the right, which I’m proud of), and ones that help me out in the admin, like the Smush.it plugin and akismet.
- Write your own code, or go through it line by line and make sure that it’s simple. That’s the thing that gets me the most, it’s code that is not concise and short. You don’t have to be some great programmer or intellectual to make sure that your code isn’t flying all over the place, just be humble with your code. That should be a catch phrase for our web dev work, coding web apps one humble line at a time.
I won’t use a CMS for my own websites anymore. That ship has sailed. From now on, I just want to use Python, and maybe PHP, to create my own sites from scratch. I don’t even want to use a framework. What needs to be done, will be done, and that’s the long and short of it.