Five Ways to Boost Drupal’s Performance

Published on Jul 21, 2014   //  Development, Web Development

Drupal is a widely used and highly regarded content management system. At a time when every website owner is trying to squeeze a bit more speed out of their website, and reduce load times for users, the tips below will help you do just that.

We compiled these tips so that they address a variety of ways to help you increase site performance; these options are all easy to implement, and will keep your website in tip-top shape!

  1. Disable Drupal’s built-in Statistics module. The Statistics module writes data to your database on every hit, causing unnecessary resource usage. Opt for using an external analytics solution instead.
  2. Use an external cache service like CloudFlare, or Incapsula. Both services have free plans that include website performance enhancements and are easy to deploy.
  3. If you have pages that include images below the fold — news articles, blog posts, or slideshows — use a module that will load images only when a visitor actually views it. Modules like Image Lazyloader and Lazyload will help you here.
  4. Compress your Javascript and CSS files by using modules like Advanced CSS/JS Aggregation or Speedy.
  5. Disable and delete modules your Drupal site is no longer using. If you are not sure which modules your site is no longer using, or have a hard time determining which are no longer in use, try the Missing Module module.

We would love to hear your comments and feedback on how the tips above worked for you.

Everyday Solutions – Ninja Forms

Published on Jun 10, 2014   //  Business Topics, Reviews, Web Development, WordPress

This is BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

For the average person, building a contact form can be difficult. 15 years ago when finding a talented web developer was far more difficult, building a form from scratch often involved using Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver’s built-in tools. If you were not fortunate enough to have a functioning WYSIWYG editor on-hand, you were stuck with Notepad and reading several tutorials trying to slap together what you wanted.

Ah, 1997. But we digress…

With how far things have come since that time, many people still have trouble with forms. And that’s okay! You’re a business owner. Or a graphic designer. Or a stay-at-home mom. You’re not a web developer, and you would much rather focus your time on great content, not on coding. If you use WordPress to power your website, you are in luck.

There is a wealth of contact form plugins out there, the most popular being Contact Form 7, Formstack, Gravity Forms, and Fast Secure Contact Form. Well there is a new kid on the block that’s making waves, and it is well worth a look.

Ninja Forms is slick. Really slick. It has a drag and drop editor to help you place your fields exactly where you want them, reusable fields, the ability to import/export both forms and data, and the ability to add custom styling.

That’s all well and good, but where most contact form plugins fall short for us is during the form creation process. Often things look out of place, the interface has a very high learning curve, and your form elements don’t actually end up where you want them to go. Ninja Forms’ interface makes that all disappear by being very clear about what does what, how to place fields where you want them, and providing all the extras like data validation, hidden fields, and file uploads.

As well as making it easy to build your form, the preview function is far, far easier to use than any other. With every other contact form plugin we have used we are always told to insert the shortcode into a page and then preview the page. Not so with Ninja Forms! There is a handy “Form Preview” link that will actually open the form in a new tab/window in your browser, no embedding necessary.

Beyond all that. it features integrations with many popular services like PayPal, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Freshbooks. It’s a very handy tool that goes beyond simple contact forms. Try Ninja Forms out for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!

Everyday Solutions – Website Analytics

Published on Feb 27, 2014   //  Business Topics, Did You Know, Marketing Tips, Social Media, Web Development

Welcome to BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

If your website’s goal is to help you earn money or attention of some kind, it is imperative to know how many people are visiting your site. And not only how many people are visiting your site but how many are returning visitors, where they are coming from, how they are getting to your website, and so on.

That’s what analytics solutions do for you; they give you information about your visitors that, with a bit of time and analysis, you can act on. Any analytics solution will also help you figure out what promotional methods are working, and which aren’t, ensuring you don’t waste time and money on whatever isn’t working.

So how do you set up an analytics solution? Chances are your host offers something basic like AWstats or Logaholic. These are great for getting started with some basic stats like number of hits (web pages viewed), unique visitors, time of day, and so on. They cannot, however, give you insight about how visitors are interacting with your site.

The behemoth in this space is certainly Google Analytics. Google acquired a well-known solution called Urchin back in April 2005, which eventually became Google Analytics. It is very powerful and has a decent learning curve for the more advanced reports, but generally it’s easy to use and integrate into your site thanks to CMS plugins.

That’s great, but Google Analytics can also slow down your site. Since it has to load code from Google’s servers, Analytics is often the culprit of slower load times. You also lose a bit of a control over your data, and even if you can export it it’s not likely to be useful in other solutions.

Mixpanel is a hosted solution that, while fairly new, has been very well received so far. They have a free tier for sites up to 25,000 data points/events, and the costs quickly go up from there. If you’re aiming to be the next Airbnb or OpenTable though, it might be worth the cost.

Clicky is another hosted solution that focuses on two features: real-time statistics and heatmaps. Real-time is self-explanatory. Heatmaps refers to tracking how your customers interact with your site on a page-by-page basis, giving you insight into where your users click, how often, where their mouse (and likely their eyes) focus, and so on. It’s also much easier to drill down into a single user’s actions, giving you deeper insight if you know how to use it. There is a free tier available as well.

heatmap_example

Example heatmap from Open Web Analytics.

Alternatively you can host your own analytics solution. For a long time Mint was the best alternative to Google Analytics. It has a one-time cost of $30 but you can see the money is well used to develop features and an interface that is very easy to use.

Piwik is a free, open source solution that gives you a lot of the power of Google Analytics and is very popular. The dashboard is entirely customizable, one instance can give you access to the stats for all the sites you’re tracking, and it gives you the vast majority of the stats you’ll need. It isn’t as helpful for e-commerce, but more than good enough for most sites.

Lastly, Open Web Analytics is in many ways a self-hosted, Google Analytics clone. It also features heatmaps, mouse tracking, and even some caching capabilities. If you adore Google Analytics but want to maintain full control over your data, and get access to some of the premium features without all the hassle, OWA is worth a look.

Suffice to say that many options are available, whether you want to offload the tracking to a third-party or maintain control over it. Happy testing and picking!

Everyday Solutions – Social Media Feather

Published on Jan 30, 2014   //  Did You Know, Marketing Tips, Social Media, WordPress

Welcome to BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

Whether you’re designing your first website, or redesigning your existing website, you have likely come to the realization that you need to make sure you take advantage of the exposure that social networks can give you, and want to make it extremely easy for your visitors to tweet, Like, +1, upvote, or share your content. You also understand that it’s important to make sure your visitors know where to find your brand on social networks. So what do you do?

Social Media Feather is a plugin that integrates with any WordPress theme to make it super easy for customers to follow your brand, while also giving them the tools to share your content with their networks. Some of the key features include:

  • Support for all the most popular social networks in Canada
  • Multiple skins available so that it feels like a natural part of your website
  • Support for high resolution displays, like Apple’s Retina technology
  • Full control over which social networks are enabled

With a quick copy and paste of a shortcode, you have enabled social sharing on your website. And you can easily show which social networks you’re on with a widget containing the logos of each, with links directly to your profile.

It doesn’t get much easier than that, especially if you’re using a WordPress theme that doesn’t include any social media features. There are other, similar plugins available, but we find Social Media Feather the easiest to use for website owners that need both the sharing and profile awareness pieces of this puzzle.

Plugins That Make WordPress Security Easy

Published on Dec 20, 2013   //  Reviews, Security, WordPress

WordPress is one the most widely used pieces of software on the web, making it a huge target for attackers regardless of their intentions. The great thing is that, being so widely used and respected, WordPress also benefits from a large community of supporters that develop plugins to enhance its functionality.

One area that benefits from this fervor is security. Multiple services and plugins exist to help you lock down your WordPress site, making it far more difficult to attackers to gain access to it. Today we’re going to take a look at two leading security plugins: WordFence and Better WP Security.

 

WordFence

The story of how WordFence got its start was new to us, but the reason is one we know well. The creator, Mark Maunder, is the person responsible for discovering a massive security hole in what was a very popular thumbnail plugin called TimThumb. He patched it, donated the code back to TimThumb, and then set about building his own security plugin to protect his WordPress-based website after it was exploited via TimThumb.

WordFence’s name is very appropriate; it effectively puts up a virtual fence around your WordPress site. We feel some of the most important features include:

  • Scans of WordPress, theme files, and plugins
  • Real-time views of hacking traffic
  • Blocking fake search engine crawlers
  • Tracking IP address to their source
  • Scans for backdoors
  • Blocking brute-force attacks

WordFence also offers a premium version of their plugin for $39 per year, which is likely worth the cost if you run a popular website. The premium version offers more frequent scans, two-factor authentication, and country blocking which can be highly useful for locally-focused websites.

 

Better WP Security

Better WP Security has been developed by multiple people, but development is now led by Chris Wiegman at iThemes. It attempts to take WordPress security best practices and package them all into a single plugin, which has led to features like:

  • Removing or obscuring information about your WordPress install
  • Removing the default “admin” account
  • Vulnerability scans and fixes
  • Banning bots and malicious agents
  • Forcing SSL
  • Monitoring the file system for changes

While the goals are the same, WordFence and Better WP Security do not overlap entirely. For example, Better WP Security helps prevent many potential vulnerabilities from becoming problems, even for unpatched WordPress installations, by obscuring information like the version of WordPress being used, which plugins and versions are installed, and changing several defaults to make it harder for attackers to even figure out what exploit to take advantage of. This helps deter attackers in the first place, and they will typically move on to an easier target.

WordFence, on the other hand, has a mix of proactive and reactive measures. It will block known bots, brute force attacks, scan your WordPress site for vulnerabilities and backdoors, and it takes advantage of machine learning capabilities to automatically block new types of attacks. The real-time view of attackers and crawlers could be a boon for those of you looking to identify a resource hog.

Regardless, both plugins are very good at what they do and will protect the average WordPress site extremely well. If you feel it’s worth the money, WordFence Premium is your best bet for features like country blocking, two-factor authentication, and remote scans. If you’re on a budget, install either plugin and get it configured. Regardless, in this day and age you must be taking advantage of the free, easily accessible security measures available to you.

Everyday Solutions – Disqus

Published on Nov 20, 2013   //  Business Topics, Did You Know, Discussion, Marketing Tips, Social Media, WordPress

Welcome to BlueFur’s new blog series: Everyday Solutions! This monthly series will focus on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

Whether you have a personal or corporate blog, there are two things that really matter: engagement and spam.

One is something you want to increase (engagement), and the other is something no one wants (spam). While many content management systems (CMS) come with a built-in comments feature, or built-in spam reduction capabilities, no CMS includes the measures to achieve the right balance of high engagement with low (or no) spam.

The solution to this problem is actually authenticated comments. Your visitors still have the opportunity to use pseudonyms, which many people value, but those hoping to boost their own profile get a very easy way to authenticate themselves and use their real names.

What is this magical tool that can help solve your conundrum? None other than Disqus.

Disqus solves the issues above by doing a few things:

  • Allowing your visitors to register for their own Disqus account, which is also usable on thousands of popular sites like Bloomberg, the London Free Press, and MobileSyrup.
  • Allow your visitors to comment using their Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account which makes it much easier for them to engage, instead of registering for an account only for your website.
  • Disqus lets users choose a pseudonym, allowing them to comment while also protecting their identity, thus increasing engagement.
  • To cut down on spam, you can require visitors to log in to an account of some kind, whether it’s a Disqus, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account. This means spambots have no way to access your website’s default commenting system, almost entirely eliminating spam as a potential issue.

We won’t talk about them here, but Disqus also gives you ways to monetize your content, promote your content, and automatically adapts its discussion system for mobile devices. You want your visitors to easily interact with your site no matter where they are, don’t you?

One great thing about Disqus is that they offer a slew of integration options, including native plugins for popular content management systems and platforms like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Disqus can also update the comments in real-time, allowing discussions to flow fluidly, which can increase the amount of time people spend on your website.

There are other, similar solutions to Disqus, which we’ll take a look at another time. For now, just know that the default commenting systems can easily be replaced with something far more dynamic that can solve some real issues your for blog!

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