May 232012

Here it comes, finally, the first post. It’s taken a bit longer than I thought or hoped. Actually, a lot longer! There’s me believing all the online hype about how quick and easy it is to set up a blog site. Let me tell you, it really is not. Or is that just me?

I’m pretty tech savvy and have had a number of simple sites for years. I am also a software developer as well as a 20 year veteran of VBA (and its forerunner – Excel Macros). But I am new to WordPress, and was, up till a few weeks ago, pretty clueless about SEO, Web-mastering tools, RSS Feeds and the other utensils needed to get a site off the ground. I didn’t want to set the site up only to spend the next few months hacking it around. Thus, I decided to do some intensive testing upfront. And how I managed to step on every landmine in my path!
Firstly, never never attempt to host WordPress on Windows. I had migrated my Godaddy hosting plan to their Asia Pacific data centre about six months ago. As I had some Microsoft dotnet developed sites, I thought (disastrously in hindsight) that I could use the same Windows hosting plan for my new WordPress blog. So I went ahead and installed WordPress on Windows in spite of reading numerous articles on how it was much better suited to Linux. Everyone advises you to use Linux but no where did I read anything that said – DO NOT USE WINDOWS. So I naively asked myself, can it really be that bad?

If anyone has used WordPress, they will know how much experimenting it takes. First you have to install it. Unfortunately, the One Click install from Godaddy didn’t give me the desired result, so I ended up doing the installation manually. Its not too hard once you have figured out that each step requires yet another username and password. Then you have a play around with WordPress and discover that it’s really all about Themes. So off you go trailing the web for themes only to find out there are literally thousands to choose from. Eventually, you find one that vaguely fits your needs and install it. But, of course, you have your own ideas about how you want your site to look and no theme exactly matches what you want. So you start to experiment with the configurations which means making a change then reloading the page to see what effect it has. This also helps you to identify what all the configurations mean and enables you to pick up some much needed jargon along the way. You realise that you can only do certain things by installing plug-ins and widgets so you start to research those. Then you come up against a stone wall so you try out another theme and start again with its configurations. I read up on around 30 themes and tried out five. Ultimately, I needed one that gave the most flexibility, but every theme has its limitations so it is a case of getting the most versatile one and then working hard to mould it to your requirements. Each step requires more intensive googling and each time you run by a few more posts relating to WordPress on Linux! (No mention of Windows!

Then WordPress tells you some plug-ins and themes have upgrades so you click the little “Update” button and the screen goes white! The update failed. Another night of googling only to discover that Windows handles file permissions in a different way to Linux and you need to make your site completely vulnerable to attacks if you actually want WordPress to upgrade the components for you! But you push on, switching the permissions back and forth each time you want to do an update.

So there you are, late at night, changing a setting, saving it and reloading the page. Only it doesn’t happen like that. You change the setting, click “Save” and then wait and wait and wait. Then you get a time out message saying it has taken too long to respond. You reload, make the setting again, and click save again. If you are lucky, after around 20 seconds, the confirmation screen acknowledges your change. Whew. Got that one in. Then you reload the site. You wait and wait and finally, the page loads and guess what? It is exactly the same as it was before you made the change. Three minutes has gone by and you have achieved nothing! And there are thousands of settings to experiment with.

I struggled on for two nights and I still hadn’t managed to get the Google Custom Search box into my header. I also got locked out of my WordPress administration screen twice when settings didn’t save in time. I decided, enough was enough. I had to deduce what was causing the delays before my head exploded.

I set up a test site on the Godaddy US hosting and it was far faster. Godaddy were great about transferring the plan to the US Hosting. Took a bit of work by me to migrate everything over but soon I was back up again and a dab hand at transferring WordPress installations. However, although the site was much faster, like twice as fast, I was still waiting for up to 15 seconds to save. Usually it was nearer 10 seconds but still far too slow. I had already tested with all the plug-ins disabled and it made no difference. I thought, I’ve got to try Linux. So I used one of my free Godaddy hosting plans and set it up on Linux. A quick ftp download and upload to the new plan, backup and restore of the MYSQL database and the new test site was up and running. It was definitely faster but still too slow. First page loads were usually around 7-10 seconds and subsequent ones were around 1-2. It was the first page load that concerned me most and I got this after each configuration change.

Another evening of googling hosting providers and I found one that was rated well for speed and gave a two week free trial. So using another domain name, I tried it out. It was night and day. Suddenly, I was getting first page loads of 2 seconds. Wow. I deduced the combination of Windows and Godaddy was the slowest followed by Linux and Godaddy. So I made up my mind to switch my hosting to another provider. Godaddy are great and I would never consider moving my Domain Registrations and DNS handling elsewhere and it is much easier if you have the hosting in the same place. (I like full control of my DNS and I would rather not pass the Name Servers outside Godaddy – Explanation coming in a later post.). But the hosting wasn’t working.

I called them up to explain and the guy told me that there was a huge difference between the “Free” hosting plans on the “Old” servers and the “Paid” plans on the “New” servers. So I switched my Windows test hosting plan to Linux (they didn’t charge anything and it took only a few hours) and lo and behold, it was much faster. It was not quite as fast as the other account but the difference was too small to sacrifice the benefit of keeping it all under one roof and one control panel. So here I am, now hosting on a Linux Plan with Godaddy. Why did I not heed the comments about WordPress being better suited to Linux? A lesson well learnt.

So, now I could actually make lots of configuration changes without it taking days. But then there are Permalinks and WordPress emailing which doesn’t seem to work out of the box? Yes, the solution is another plug-in. I also still had to grapple with all the fun things like “feeds”, Sitemaps, SEO etc. But Google really comes to the rescue here. They have all these great tools and they are “Free”. Feedburner, Google Web Master Tools, Google Analytics and Google Custom Search and there are WordPress plug-ins for all of them. It took a bit of research and experimentation to get them all working. Nothing ever seems to “just work” as it should when you are new to things. Somehow, when you know it all, things do “just work”. Why is that?

I still have a bunch of things to figure out but I have enough to get started, so…

Welcome to the Excel Codex

 Posted by at 11:58 pm on May 23, 2012

  One Response to “Welcome”

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