This December has been a tough one for the blog.
Starting on November 30, my page views soared.
That’s a good problem to have, right? Well it is… if:
you get the attributed visitors along with those views, and those views aren’t a pile of empty Jetpack plugin pings.
Thus began a saga of fits and panic to recover and re-tool the abandoned cubicle into a more secure and faster website.
Those page views were an indication that something in my Jetpack plug-in was flaking-out. Jetpack does a lot of cool things for a WordPress site. It manages your comments, provides real-time stats, and has publicize features so your posts can get spun out to Twitter and Facebook as soon as that “Publish” button is pressed.
At the time I thought maybe the Ukrainians were coming after me for something I’d done in my deep, dark past. I went out to my Cloudflare account* and set “Under Attack Mode”, thinking, “Holy sh*t! Don’t take down my poor little blog, Viktor!”
*Cloudflare is a “reverse proxy” service (free, but most effective with paid plans) that allows your content to be distributed across the globe from multiple secure servers. It acts as a go-between, securing and optimizing your content with caching and concealing your origin server information from potential hackers.
Eventually, the page hits would cease right around 5,000. Some small part of me was excited to see even fake page views. It was a sort of false-positive boost to this writer’s fragile ego.
Finally, an abandoned cubicle hit a brick wall on Saturday, December 2nd. I couldn’t access the admin dashboard, which is where you write posts and manage plug-ins and media, and read spam content to pass time. Toast.
Lifeline: Technical Blog Help Resources
I had to call on my mighty support expert, Grayson Bell of iMark Interactive, to bail me out once again. You see, before I reached out to Grayson, I thought I could perform my surgical procedure to cut out the cancerous, corrupted WordPress files in my Bluehost control panel. I thought, “Hey, I’m a tech guy. I can DIY this thing!”
If any of you follow my RSS feed, you may have noticed one or more “Hello World” default posts squirted out that Saturday from hell, courtesy of my flailing attempt to reinstall a fresh version of WordPress. Some people just have to learn sh*t the hard way.
Grayson was at first flummoxed. The log files didn’t show any denial of service or other insidious brute-force intrusions. Thankfully, he was able to rebuild the site with backup files I keep on my personal DropBox account.
I’m sure glad I used Updraft Plus and my wise decision to implement a backup solution almost one year into starting this blog. It wasn’t a complete sh*t-show.
By Sunday evening, I was back in business. I can even start drafting a new post. Whether or not I finish a post is another issue of a non-technical sort. Anyhow, Monday comes and goes with no flakey-fake page views.
Then, Tuesday morning…
The page views from hell start AGAIN. At this point, I’m about to cry. “What the F*CK!?!!?!?!?!?!” My WP-Admin is slow as m o l a s s e s , and I’m barely able to save updates to my post drafts.
I muddle through it. I publish my post on Wednesday and decide to use the rest of the week to research the root cause of my woes. By Saturday, I’m ready to say “See ya!” to Bluehost.
It’s worth noting that Bluehost support is pretty responsive. I prefer to use the real-time chat feature for any of my questions and there’s always someone available to help within minutes.
The problem was, no matter what my problem, Bluehost support agents NEVER could solve it. If ever a complaint letter was warranted, a little screed to BH should’ve been on my to-do list…
It was further frustrating that after removing my caching plug-in (W3 Total Cache), my page load speeds were hovering around 3 to 5 seconds. Now, as a newish blogger that really shouldn’t concern me.
But hear me out. I don’t drive a Corvette. I’ll never own a Porsche or a jet plane for that matter. But in some areas of life, I just wanna go fast, man! At least give me some fast page load speeds… Because a faster site yields a better reader experience, and better Search Engine Optimization (SEO.)
Adventures With a SiteGround Site Migration
Sunday, December 10 was the date. I decided to go “all-in” and migrate from Bluehost over to SiteGround. I read up quite a bit from several independent sources on how much faster and reliable SiteGround is compared to BH.
And by the way, their customer service can SOLVE PROBLEMS. Imagine that!
I methodically copied my Updraft Plus backup files to my laptop hard drive to be extra safe. I then followed the instructions at SiteGround after signing up for their basic plan. After opening the ticket, my site was fully migrated within just four hours.
First off, I prefer SiteGround’s admin pages. Easier access to a more intuitive dashboard. It’s just better and it just works.
I migrated a corrupted site, so I still had some work to do. My next step was to install a fresh copy of WordPress. First I had to delete the old config files using FTP (I use FileZilla. Free!)
That was some white-knuckle action for this blog techno-hack. After what happened the previous weekend, I was a tad nervous about the prospect of sabotaging myself yet again.
To my surprise, the reinstall of WordPress went just fine. After I changed my DNS name-servers from Bluehost to point to SiteGround, I was able to restore all of my posts and photos. THANK GOD that worked. If I F’ed up the restore, I’d be done blogging right then and there.
Changing to a Minimalist Blog Theme
Because I don’t do things half-a$$ed all of the time, I took this opportunity to implement a new theme. I wanted something that reflected my bias toward minimalism, but it had to appear as if I wasn’t ripping off Cait Flanders.
I stumbled upon the designer for Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist site, Brian Gardner. He offers up a few clean and sharp-looking themes for free. The catch is these are “child themes” and you need to purchase the Genesis Framework parent theme as a prerequisite.
By this point, I’m ready to invest in my passion. $59 is a small price to pay for blog cleanliness. Please tell me you like the new look so I can feel better about it, okay?
After installing the theme (which was pretty easy), I had to find a few plug-ins to complete the Genesis Theme customizations that don’t come with the theme package itself.
Not a big deal. The “simple” plug-ins are lightweight (i.e., not a heavy hit to site speed) and allowed me to remove tag and category references, and add sharing buttons.
All Sorts of Blog Features to Discover
There was quite a bit of monkeying around to get my blog set up (again). Fortunately, SiteGround has easy “plug-in like” tools for adding SSL (HTTPS) to your site and also for setting up Cloudflare.
I had to manually turn on GZIP compression (to help speed up the site) but again, that was a simple icon in the website dashboard (also known as the “C-Panel”).
After all, was said and done, and after letting my precious cache rebuild, I went to check www.abandonedcubicle.com’s speed over at GTMetrix.com:
Well, I have nothing to complain about now. If your site is loading in under 2 seconds, you’ve got a good thing going. As per the caption notes above, I have seen timings as low as 1.0 seconds.
Curious about all the tweaks and configs needed to boost your site’s speed? I recommend using GTmetrix.com. They offer up some quick hit changes you can make, and they have a neat waterfall visual to show where your overhead is originating from (it usually displays ads and plug-ins, but also unnecessary CSS or Google fonts taking up load times.)
Personal Finance Blogging for Dummies
I’m still in the process of migrating my domain registration from Bluehost over to SiteGround. This isn’t required and it cost me another $15, but I figured it wise to keep everything managed in the same place. I guess I was just THAT disappointed with Bluehost that I wanted to get free and clear of them.
SiteGround’s chat-line support staff are even faster to respond. They are also friendly and quick on the uptake. The crew from Bulgaria resolved a variety of my setup and config changes with ease. They didn’t waste my time asking for the last four characters of my password like Bluehost does. Annoying!
So there you have it. I have a fresh new site with a new host and a new theme. Pretty exciting. Is SiteGround better? In my mind, it’s the best!
Postscript 9/13/2022: This site remains on SiteGround nearly five years later. I’ve been on the middle-of-the-road plan “Grow Big” for the last three years and couldn’t be happier. The site is now very fast and I don’t have to rely on dozens of plugins to present content to my audience. Here’s a look at how GT Metrix measures this site’s speed today:
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