All posts by John Paul Titlow

15 Tools to Help Speed Up Your Website

speedometer-photo.jpgThe speed at which a Website loads is paramount to maintaining a positive user experience and, as we learned last year, has a direct impact on the site’s organic search rankings on Google.

The search giant’s recent beta launch of its Page Speed Service gives us the latest in a long line of products and tools designed to help site owners boost page load speed. In what is by no means a comprehensive list, we’ve outlined a few such tools worth checking out.

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First, Measure Your Site’s Speed

The first step toward speeding up your site’s load time is to determine what that load time is. What you experience loading the site may be different than somebody on a different Internet connection, using a different browser or in a different physical location. There are quite a few tools out there for page load speed testing.

Pingdom

Pingdom is a site that tests page load time and breaks down how long it takes for every script, CSS file and media asset to load. You can use the resulting chart to make decisions about things like whether to consolidate your CSS files or whether a content delivery network (CDN) might help deliver images faster.

In addition to page load time, Pingdom lets you test your DNS settings for issues and perform a ping or traceroute to test network connectivity to your server.

YSlow

Yahoo’s YSlow has been around for a few years but it’s no less useful today, even with the arrival of several new competitors on the market. YSlow, which is available as a browser plugin for Firefox and Chrome, clocks page load time and then provides a detailed report card, complete with letter-based grades.

Unlike some other tools of this nature, YSlow goes the extra mile by offering specific, actionable tips about how to improve page load time. Their Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website is a worthwhile read for any Webmaster or site owner, regardless of whether or not you use Yahoo’s tools.

Google Page Speed

Google has been incresingly fixated on speed as of lately, both in its own products (see Chrome and Google Instant) and the Web at large, having announced last year that site speed now plays a role in organic search rankings.

Before releasing a few tools designed to actually speed up your site (more on that below), Google put out its own answer to Yahoo’s YSlow called Page Speed. It’s available as a browser extension and also a Web-based test. It’s pretty similar to YSlow in that it returns a series of specific action items that, if undertaken, would improve a site’s load time. It ranks those suggestions by priority, which is helpful in assessing what to tackle first.

Improve Your Site’s Load Time

Once you have an idea of how much improvement is needed, you can begin implementing the right solution. Inevitably, some of the necessary changes will require some manual coding, but there are a few turnkey tools that will help.

Google’s mod_pagespeed and Page Speed Service

In addition to its site speed measurement tools, Google offers a few ways to actually do something about your sluggish Website. The first is mod_pagespeed, a module for Apache that rewrites the HTML, JavaScript, CSS and image assets on a page and serves them to visitors more efficiently. More recently, Google introduced Page Speed Service, which achieves the same thing through DNS changes. Google may charge for this service in the future, but for now the beta is free.

Other Content Delivery Networks

One of the most effective ways to boost a site’s load time is to deliver its static elements over a content delivery network (CDN). There are many CDN’s available at different price points.

Some of the better known commercial CDN’s include Akamai, Limelight Networks, BitGravity. Here at ReadWriteWeb we use MaxCDN, which is a relatively affordable solution. CloudFlare is a product that specializes in Website security but has content delivery and site speed enhancement features built in. Amazon Web Services customers might want to look into Amazon CloudFront.

Minify and Merge Your Code For Faster Load Time

Another common culprit that drags down a Website’s loading speed is code that hasn’t been consolidated, especially CSS and JavaScript. While you could manually remove whitespace from the code and consolidate the number of external files, there are a few automated tools to help make it easier.

MinifyJavaScript is a simple, Web-based tool for compressing JavaScript right in the browser. Similarly, this site will do the same thing for JavaScript and CSS using Yahoo’s YUI Compressor.

Minify is a PHP-based tool that developers can use to automatically compress and consolidate external scripts and stylesheets. There’s also a WordPress plugin for it.

Photo courtesy of Flicker user Nathan E. Photography

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Only One Month In, Google Plus Shows Promise For Online Marketers

It may have only launched a mere month ago, but Google Plus is already showing signs of promise to online marketers, especially in its ability to drive traffic to other Websites.

Google’s brand new social product has a long way to go before it poses a realistic threat to Facebook’s massive marketshare, but having surpassed the 20 million user mark in under a month, its growth has been impressive. By comparison, it took Facebook and Twitter a few years to reach the same milestone.

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While businesses are still patiently awaiting the arrival of its official brand pages, some can count on Google Plus to drive significant traffic to their Websites.

In one case study, Google Plus was shown to comprise over 15% of referrals to Web marketing blog Wordstream, beating LinkedIn’s 9.8% and trailing not too far behind Twitter. Here at ReadWriteWeb, we’ve also seen Google Plus makes its way into our top sources of referral traffic in just a matter of weeks.

In a more extreme case, technology blog LAUNCH saw 67% of its traffic come from Google Plus in a single day, according to a post by its founder Jason Calacanis on none other than – you guessed it – Google Plus.

These early numbers come with an obvious caveat: the sites mentioned above are all publishers, whose content is more common for people to organically share via social media than, say, the “Products” page of a small business’s Website. Just as with other social media channels, businesses are going to need a content and social marketing strategy that makes sense and serves them and their customers well in order to be successful when Google Plus brand pages finally do drop.

Have you seen much referral traffic from Google Plus yet? Let us know about your experience thus far in the comments.

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Google’s AdWords Express Targets Small Businesses

In its ongoing quest to capture more local ad dollars, Google yesterday announced the launch of AdWords Express, a simplified version of their search advertising platform. This new advertising product aims to streamline the process of purchasing search ads, enabling smaller, local businesses to get on board.

If AdWords Express looks familiar, that’s because it was originally launched in select markets last October under the name Google Boost.

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Like its predecessor, AdWords Express aims to reduce the learning curve of setting up an ad campaign by shifting some of the heavy lifting over to Google’s end. For example, the platform automatically recommends keywords and bidding amounts rather than expecting the business owner to have that expertise.

All the business owner needs to do is enter a category, write a headline and description, set a budget and tell AdWords Express whether a clicked ad should send people to the company’s Website or a Google Places page. The finished product is a a cost-per-click ad campaign that runs on Google search results pages, on Google Maps and on mobile devices running Android.

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Led by LinkedIn, Social Recruiting Continues to Grow [Infographic]

As anyone who’s hired or been hired for a job in the last few years knows, social media is now a standard fixture of the recruiting process. We’re constantly seeing data come out showing that sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook play an increasingly common role in hiring, and the numbers are only getting bigger.

About 89% of U.S. companies use social media for recruiting, according to new report and infograhic from JobVite, a company that makes social recruitment software. As one would suspect, LinkedIn is the biggest among social networking sites when it comes to finding and hiring new employees, a trend that’s sure to continue ask LinkedIn roles out its one-click job application button for employers.

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How successful is social recruiting? According to the survey, 64% of companies said they’ve hired through social media and 55% plan to invest even more in it this year.

In one of the more interesting tid bits of data, while LinkedIn is used by the majority of companies for recruiting, the majority of jobseekers actually use Facebook when looking for a job, suggesting that people are relying on their immediate, non-professional network to find employment.

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What Are the Best Web Tools For Running Your Business? [Infographic]

best-vendor-logo.pngFor small businesses and startups, the selection of Web-based tools available for things like communication, productivity, finance and IT is seemingly limitless, with new products launching left and right each week.

In a recent survey, business app advice startup BestVendor asked 550 startup executives and managers which tools they most preferred for a variety of business-related functions.

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Some of the results are not terribly shocking: Google Apps owned the email category, Quickbooks was biggest for accounting, Salesforce for CRM and Dropbox for file storage.

The survey drilled a bit deeper into categories like productivity, development, finance and and design and also included a few “hidden gems” you may not have been familiar with.

bestvendor_startup_apps_infographic.png [Click to enlarge]

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Launch an Online Store and Collect Payments Right Now With WePay

wepay-logo.jpgRecognizing what a true pain setting up an eCommerce solution can be for small businesses, a number of startups have launched products that aim to simplify the process. PintPay, Chargify, Recurly and CheddarGetter are a few of the that enable sites to accept payments without having to deal with merchant accounts, complex fees and hiring developers for implementation.

Another option for accepting payments online is WePay, which recently launched a basic online shopping cart tool called. It comes in two flavors: WePay Stores, a fully hosted storefront and Embeddable Stores, which offers the same functionality but allows you to embed it directly into your company’s site for a more seamless user experience.

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You can see the product in action over at StartupTees.com, who are using it to sell their especially geeky variety of Web startup merchandise. On their site, browsing items and adding them to the shopping cart are done seamlessly via a lightbox-style pop out. To finish the transaction, users are taken to a page hosted on WePay.com.

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The company also launched the beta of its new checkout API, which it began rolling out to select developers this week, enabling them to build deeper integration between company’s Websites and the WePay payment platform.

WePay’s pricing model foregoes set-up fees and monthly charges in favor of having users pay 3.5% of every transaction made.

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Google Plus Business Profiles Are Coming Q3, Analytics and All

Companies clamoring to build a presence on Google’s new social network have a few more months to wait. Business profiles are coming to Google Plus around the third quarter of this year, according to a story on VentureBeat.

While Google hasn’t revealed many details about what the brand profiles will include, a Google representative told VentureBeat that users should expect “a level of analytics and measurement that you’d typically find in Google products,” hinting at the inclusion of analytics in business accounts.

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Google is urging brands to wait for these official business profiles rather than set up their own, which the company said would not be able to be automatically migrated once the brand profiles launch.

The absence of business profiles on Google Plus has been a point of contention for some brands and media outlets, a handful of which decided to set up their own profiles, despite Google’s wishes. This week, Google began pulling down some of these brand pages and Mashable has decided to remove company branding and instead operate its 100,000 follower strong profile using the name and likeness of its CEO, Pete Cashmore.

“The platform at the moment is not built for the business use case, and we want to help you build long-term relationships with your customers,” Google’s Christian Oestlien said in a post on Google Plus. “Doing it right is worth the wait.”

Google has said that they will continue to disable unauthorized business profiles ahead of their official launch later this year. In the meantime there are a number of ways that businesses can make the most of Google Plus.

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6 Effective Ways to Get More Instagram Followers


For a service that is only officially available on a single platform (iOS), Instagram sure is doing well. In less than 10 months of existence, it has managed to gain 6 million users, and its growth shows no sign of slowing down.

While using the service is itself pretty straight-forward, it isn’t always obvious how to build a substantial following. Most users won’t attract thousands of followers overnight, but there are a few tips and tricks that can get you there eventually.

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Upload Only the Best Photos (And Not All at Once)

It almost goes without saying, but the first step to Instagram stardom is simple: take beautiful pictures. The images that get the strongest response on the service tend to be especially attractive, interesting and well-composed photographs. While it may be tempting at first to snap a photo of every meal or every time your cat finds its way into an empty box, redundant photos of the more mundane, day-to-day stuff won’t grab much attention.

Nick Bilton, the lead writer at the New York Times Bits blog, has an especially active account, with over 39,000 followers.

“When I first started using Instagram I tried to use it as a sort of photo diary: updating pictures of drinks, my dog, or a fun evening out,” Bilton told us. “I soon realized that Instagram is better served as a place to surface artistic, beautiful photos. Maybe it’s the filters, or the community, but people tend to really enjoy and respond to beauty on the service.”

When posting photos to Instagram, it’s best to be selective, Bilton added. Rather than publish every photo you take, publish only the best ones, and do so with moderation. If you publish all of your best photos in one burst, some of your followers may miss them, and those that don’t might get annoyed that you’re flooding their stream.

Publishing photos selectively will also make it more enticing for others to follow you. If they see your name pop up somewhere on Instagram and click through to your profile, they’re going to see your most recent photos. You’ll be better off if the last few images are high-quality shots, rather than shaky concert photos you published in rapid-fire succession.

Pay Attention to What Works

To get a better idea of what type of content works well on Instagram, you’ve got a few tools at your disposal. First, make a habit of regularly checking out the “Popular” tab in the app to see what kinds of photos make it there. You’ll notice a few patterns: there are almost always a few skylines, an adorable pet or two, some HDR shots and at least one attractive female.

Aside perhaps from the self-taken glamour shots, most of the photos on the “Popular” page share one of a handful of qualities: bright colors, unique angles or interesting use of contrast. Even subtle humor can pay off, be it Harry Potter-related jokes or Angry Birds Photoshop jobs.

Don’t just copy other users’ ideas, but do become familiar with the type of material that wins the “Popular” designation and try working some of those elements into your own images.

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Another way to gauge what works is by analyzing your own stats. Instagram analytics services like Statigr.am help put things in perspective with all kinds of historical data about your account. Among much else, Statigr.am shows you which of your own photos have received the most “likes” over time, and which ones received the most comments. Try to look for consistent trends in your own most popular images and try to capitalize on those strengths moving forward.

Use Hashtags, Especially Popular Ones

instagram_hashtags.jpgMuch like people on Twitter, Instagram users make use of hashtags to tag and categorize content. Tagging your photos gives them another opportunity to be found. For example, if I take a photo of a skyline and tag it with the very popular hashtag #sky, that photo will show up alongside thousands of others on the page for that tag.

Instagram’s native iPhone app doesn’t tell you which tags are the most popular, but the third party site Webstagram provides a list of the top 100 most frequently-used tags. The most popular hashtag on Instagram currently is #iphoneography, which is broad enough in meaning that it can be used pretty liberally. Other popular tags include #sky, #cat, #dog, #flower and #sunset. Tagging your photos with these hashtags, when appropriate, can increase the odds of your images being seen by others.

Even if a photo has already been published, you can go back and add hashtags in the comments. We tried this on a number of our old photos, focusing on some of the more popular hashtags, and we immediately started getting new likes and follows, in some cases on images we had posted several months prior.

Follow Others

One of the actions most likely to garner new followers on Instagram is following others, not unlike the way Twitter sometimes works. At the very least, it will call the other’s attention to your profile and if they like it, they’ll likely follow it. Of course, there are no guarantees. But in general, if you routinely follow new people, you’re bound to get some return follows.

Don’t just bulk follow a bunch of random people and hope they’ll follow you back (another behavior common on Twitter). Rather, take the time to find profiles containing images you like the most. The “Popular” tab is a good place to start. It’s also worth perusing the profiles of users followed by some of the people you already follow.

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Geotag Your Photos

Like using hashtags, geotagging provides another data point that can be used to categorize and display content. On Instagram, each defined location has its own page, which includes a map of the location and any photos taken there. Thus, anybody who publishes a photo from that same location (or views a photo taken there and taps the location’s name) will see your image as well. If they tap through to your profile and like what they see, you’ve got yourself another follower.

In addition to the official iPhone app, there are several third party Instagram apps that display photos by location.

Like and Comment on Other Photos

One of the easiest ways to grab the attention of like-minded Instagrammers is to generously “like” the photos that catch your eye, whether they be in your existing feed or outside your network. If you have a compliment or comment to make, don’t be shy about it. Taking the few seconds it requires to comment on another user’s photo can drive new viewers to your profile.

Of course, don’t get spammy. If you genuinely like and comment on photos that you find interesting, funny or aesthetically pleasing, chances are the person that took them (and their followers) might appreciate the kind of images you’re posting.

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Solution Brief: Optimize Virtualization Performance and Security with vSphere 5.0 and Intel E7 Processors

vmware_intel_logos.jpgThe value of data center virtualization continues to grow. In this solution brief, we explore how VMware vSphere 5.0 running on the Intel Xeon processor E7 family delivers world-record virtualization performance, while providing breakthrough scalability and high-availability for mission-critical enterprise computing on four-socket, eight-socket, and larger servers.

For more information, view the free solution brief from VMWare and Intel below.

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Download Solution Brief PDF

Solution Brief: VMWare vSphere 5.0 and the Intel Xeon Processor E7 Family

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Find (or Host) a Local Co-Working Space With Loosecubes

loosecubes-logo.jpgTechnology may be enabling an increasingly mobile, untethered workforce, but many people still need productive, office-like environments in which to get things done. If working from home or a coffee shop just doesn’t cut it, there’s always the option of coworking.

Coworking, for those who aren’t familiar, is the growing trend of freelancers and mobile workers coming together in a shared space that looks and feels much like a traditional office. It got started in San Francisco a few years back and there are now over 400 coworking spaces in the world.

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While the use of shared workspaces seems to be on the rise, it’s not always immediately obvious where to find such spaces, if they even exist nearby at all. It’s with these issues in mind that Campbell McKeller founded Loosecubes, a self-described “community marketplace for workspace.”

As the tagline suggests, Loosecubes is a Website that lets people both advertise and search for coworking and and shared studio spaces nearby. Anyone with available space can post a listing on the site, whether that space costs money to use or not. Those listings can then be searched by people who need to find a spot in which to work. Workers can get in touch with the owner of the space to work out a schedule and, if necessary, payment.

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The workspaces on Loosecubes can be filtered by any number of characteristics, such as what types of workers they would best serve (biz dev, writers, developers, investors or others), the type of space it is (desk, private office, conference room, sofa, etc.) and amenities (parking, projector, printing and scanning equipment and most importantly, coffee).

Members of the site can get recommendations for workspaces based on their preferences and social connections, as determined via Facebook Connect.

Want to give Loosecubes a try? Run a search for coworking spaces near you to see what’s available. If you’ve got space available, put up a listing.

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