Karl Elliott

Google AMP for faster mobile websites

Accessing websites on mobile devices can be less than speedy at times. And when you build your own website it’s always important to make sure it works and is accessible via mobile, but speed can sometimes be a problem.

Google have just released the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project, and I’m having an experiment with it.

AMP is a technology that automatically creates very fast versions of your website posts so that suitable apps or Google searches will return the AMP speeded up pages. So theoretically your site visitors on mobile will get a much faster version of your web page story delivered to them. No effort on your part, but a happier visitor?

Google AMP is here. And you can read the story and theory behind it here.

The excellent thing here is that WordPress has already taken AMP on board (article here) and released a plugin for WordPress.

Couldn’t be simpler. Add it to your site and watch the speed increase…

So I’m trying it. I’ve just added the AMP plugin to a client website and to the main VANEL news website (as well as this site – VANEL Digital). On all of them it looks like it works simply enough. You can see the AMP alternative version of your article by popping /amp onto the end of the post URL (it doesn’t work with Pages at the moment – just Posts). The AMP version is clean and simple text for quick loading.

So bear in mind that highly designed and structured posts are going to lose all that and strip back to the bare bones text. But that generally is a good thing anyway.

Have a think about this for your website. After all, these days more of your visitors are coming from mobile devices than from PC’s. Google is helping us out here.

#websites #mobile #amp #performance #experiment

Karl Elliott

Anyone using the Raspberry Pi yet?

The Raspberry Pi is now four years old – and they’ve just released a new version (the Pi 3). (See here for a story)

I’m really interested to know is any non-profits are using the Pi as a dirt cheap, single use computer. The cost is so low that a Pi could be dedicated to a specific task (running a rolling presentation to a screen in your reception area springs to mind). So is anyone doing this? I’d really like to experiment with this, but I think although the cost is low, the entry point for technical skills is pretty high.

But in a world where the cost of computing is dropping drastically and quickly how easy is it actually to get a useful task to be completed with these new tools? I’m keen to explore the concept.

If you’re experimenting with the Pi, then let me know – I’d be really interested.

#rpi #experiment #hardware

Karl Elliott

Deciding who sees what

If you have users who log into your website, then occasionally you need to show them some different content to what non-members (guests) can see. Clearly WordPress allows for private posts and there are plugins to restrict the entire website to logged in users (VANEL uses this for our private internal staff website). But sometimes you just need to show different words to different people.

The concept being:
If you’re a guest YOU SEE THIS, or if you are logged in YOU SEE THIS INSTEAD.

I’ve just sorted this out on our VANEL Digital website. The website is mostly a blog, and WebClub or IT Network members have a login to the site so that they can participate, write content or add posts.

So on the front page I wanted to show some ‘promotional’ wording, buttons and boxes to visitors (guests), but to leave all that out for our members and just give a quick ‘latest news’ sort of update to them. After all, if they’re already members they hardly want the marketing words in their face each time they visit the site.

The plugin I used in this case was a Shortcode free plugin from Themify. This not only allowed me to add in some columns, pretty boxes and effective buttons for the promotional bit, but it allows and shortcodes. Meaning that by enclosing whole parts of the content of a post within the correct tag I can instantly decide who sees what.

So that’s a very recommended plugin available from Themify here. I’ve also been experimenting with Restrict Content plugin from here. Seems even more powerful but extremely useful too.

Finally, I used the simple but effective login-logout plugin to make a clear widget in the sidebar guide visitors and members alike to know how to login or out.

Simple techniques but useful if you’re choosing what content to show you visitors.

#experiment #plugins #wordpress #users

Karl Elliott

How do you know when your website goes down?

If you rely on your website for communication, then it needs to be available all the time. Generally VCS websites are less ‘uptime’ critical than, for example, a retail website which loses custom every time the website is offline. But if your website is down/offline then that sends a message to every potential visitor. But how do you know if your website is up or down? You’re not visiting it hourly or more are you? You need a way to monitor it.

So today I’ve been playing with ways to monitor our websites (and the websites of the clients that I look after). There’s a variety of ways to do this. One I’ve used a lot on our WordPress websites is the Jetpack plugin. Using Jetpack allows you to connect your self-hosted website to WordPress.com – the hosted version of WordPress and it includes as part of its extensive portfolio of tools a way of monitoring your website. I’ve installed, configured and used Jetpack to monitor sites in this way for a while now and it seems to work well.

Another technique I like the look of is using a Google spreadsheet (populated with details of the websites that need monitoring) and a set of macros that can automatically contact you if the websites are up or down. Not tried this one yet, but there’s more details here.

Each of these techniques seem to require setting up a range of logins and cross connected accounts or playing with macros (that have the potential to not work). So I was looking for another way to do it.

Hello Uptime Robot. Free to register and free to monitor up to 50 websites. Within a few seconds I was setup to monitor several of my sites with no plugins or complex account connections. So far I can recommend this tool. The dashboard is clear and useful for checking up on a range of sites (or you could just do it for your one site). A paid option would allow you SMS text alerts, but I’m just going for a specific email address (I’ve setup a specific email that only receives uptime reports) and then that email address can be checked from my phone/tablet/PC etc.

We’ll see how well this works over time (at the moment our websites seems to be pretty reliable for uptime!), but Uptime Robot is one of my new tool recommendations. Without any effort on my part I’ll now get a notification straight to my phone each time there’s a problem with any of our websites. It’s then of course up to me to investigate further and resolve the problem. But at least I know.

#experiment #monitoring #websites