This article is part of HostGator’s Web Pros Series. In this series, we feature articles from our team of experts here at HostGator. Our Product Managers, Linux Administrators, Marketers, and Tech Support engineers share their best tips for getting the most out of your website.
One of the best things about working at HostGator is helping customers set up and run great websites. That means we do a lot of listening and answering customer questions. In December, HostGator held a customer gathering in Austin so we could meet some of you and answer your pressing website questions in person.
Of course, not everyone could drop by Austin—although if you get a chance, you should. So here I’ll go over three of the big things our meetup attendees wanted to know more about.
Hot Topic #1: Why Does Your Website Need Caching?
One of the biggest topics at our event was caching, and why customers need it for their sites. The short answer is that your site needs caching because it’s best practice for making websites load as quickly as possible, even those on superfast servers. Pretty much every fast website that you’ve ever been to is using caching at multiple layers.
If your site doesn’t use caching, you’re not meeting the standard for site performance. It’s probably going to load more slowly than visitors expect.
Make visitors wait and they’re likely to bounce. Caching can help you avoid that.
Why does caching make a site load faster? A super-simple answer
You’ve probably heard of read-only files. They’re files that don’t get changed, only displayed. Well, in simple terms, most websites are what we could call “read mostly.” They do get read, and site owners do make changes to them.
But for the most part, websites are read way more frequently than they’re changed. Because all the content doesn’t change often, it can be stored in a cache for fast access instead of retrieved from the server every time.
Why does caching make a site load faster? A less-simple answer
Without caching, every time you load a webpage, the browser has to go to the site server’s hard disk, pull out the PHP files, and then run those files, which go to the site’s database. So the browser also has to read the database.
In terms of actual time elapsed, this process doesn’t take too long. But in internet-user time, it feels like forever. By the five-second mark, most visitors are ready to bounce.
That cache gets stored in RAM, the fastest option for accessing it. Now, when the first person comes to your website, the load time might be a little bit slower for them because the browser has to go through the PHP and database process to generate the HTML and other elements for the cache.
But for the next visit to your website—and all the visits after that—the cache has everything they need. The browser can just go directly into RAM, grab the HTML and show it to the visitor. That gives them the fastest possible load time, which improves user experience. Faster page speeds can improve your SEO, too.
How do you set up a cache for your WordPress site?
If you’re only going to install one plugin on your WordPress site, it should be a caching plugin. We recommend WP Super Cache from Automattic. There are other good WordPress caching plugins out there, too. We’ve worked with most of them, and WP Super Cache is the one that’s given us the best results.
Downloading a plugin is easy. Configuring it can be confusing without a guide. When you’re ready to install WP Super Cache, check out our support article on how to set it up. It’s a short article that shows you exactly what to check. It also explains how those selections help the plugin work best for your site.
Hot Topic #2: How Should You Choose Your Site Theme?
There were a lot of questions about website themes at the customer meetup. Obviously, picking a theme is important because it creates the look and feel of your website.
But with thousands of themes available, how do you find one that works for you and your business? Here are a few suggestions.
A good theme will fit your content
Yes, your theme is important, but your site’s content is more important. Your content is what delivers value to your visitors, keeps them reading and gets them to buy from you or subscribe to your blog.
It’s helpful to start by thinking about your content before you think about a theme. Your content should provide the information your audience wants in a format they can use, whether that’s blog posts, photos, videos or something else. When you understand what kind of content you want on your website, then you can look for a theme that supports it.
A good theme makes your site easy to use
Creative content is appealing. Creative site navigation, not so much, because it can confuse users. The easier your site is for visitors to use, the more time they’ll spend on it.
Look for a theme that supports the navigation standards your visitors are going to expect. If you’re not sure that those standards are, go look at your competitors’ sites or other sites in similar industries. A good theme will follow those standards for things like menus, pages, product catalogs and more.
A good theme won’t require HTML or CSS changes
Find a theme that gives you the native flexibility to change the things that you want to change, while minimizing the amount of customization that you have to do. If you have to modify a theme’s code to make it work for your site content, you probably want to look for a different solution.
I say this for two reasons. First, modern themes shouldn’t require HTML changes very often, if at all. Second, people who are brand-new to websites and are starting a business need to focus on their business and their site content instead of fiddling with the code of their theme.
And changing theme code isn’t a one-time thing. Every time you change those elements, you have to maintain those changes going forward. As time goes on, you’ll end up spending more time working on your theme and less time working on your content, and content is where your site’s value is going to come from.
Try out lots of themes
My recommendation would be to try a lot of themes without putting a lot of time into customizing any of them early on. We’ve written a lot about different WordPress themes that can work well for different types of websites, like eCommerce, affiliate marketing, freelancers, small business and many types of blogging. Those blog posts can help you find some options to try.
Test them on different devices. Look at them on your phone. Go into the theme’s settings to see what you can change and what you can’t. But resist the urge to tinker with the settings in each theme you try in order to make your content fit.
Identify the right theme for your site
When you get a sense of which theme is going to provide you the look you want, the right format for your content and the flexibility that you need, you can tailor that theme to suit your needs.
Hot Topic #3: We’re Here to Help
Most HostGator customers want to get a great website up and running for their business, not become accidental web hosting experts as they figure out how to make their site work. That’s why we make the site setup process as simple as possible.
But there’s at least a slight learning curve for everything. Customers at our meetup wanted to know more about how to reach us when they have a question and how we can help. We’ve got many ways for you to get in touch and find the information you need.
You may find your questions answered in our knowledge base. It answers FAQs on domains, design tools, cPanel, security and more.
Our YouTube channel is full of how-to videos and webinars to guide you through basics like file uploads and SSL certificates. You can also find more advanced topics that can help you once your site is up and running, like successful SEO and site traffic statistics.
Sometimes, though, you need a real person to guide you through the unknown. We’ve got you.
Live chat help
Our live chat team can help you with domains, email, security and more. Many of our customers say they like our live chat because they can copy-paste the information our support team gives them. That creates a transcript that customers can look back on later if they need a refresher.
Phone help with screensharing
You can also give us a call if you’re stuck. We may be able to talk through the problem with you. We can do other things too. For example, we have screen-sharing tools you can opt in to, so we can see what you’re looking at on your screen in real time. Then we can walk you step by step through the tasks you want to do. That helps you get your site working the way you want it to faster, so you can get back to your core business.
Have more questions about caching, themes or any other element of your site? We’re ready to answer!
Sean has been working with HostGator customers for over 8 years, leading a variety of teams from systems administration and monitoring to support and customer experience. An unabashed Linux geek at heart, Sean’s #1 priority as product manager is to ensure that everyone can make their voice heard around the world, regardless of their technical level.