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How to Meet (and Exceed) Your Creative Content Goals

Why is it so hard to produce good content? Because creative work is uniquely draining … and uniquely rewarding, too….

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The Fractured Web

Anyone can argue about the intent of a particular action & the outcome that is derived by it. But when the outcome is known, at some point the intent is inferred if the outcome is derived from a source of power & the outcome doesn’t change.

Or, put another way, if a powerful entity (government, corporation, other organization) disliked an outcome which appeared to benefit them in the short term at great lasting cost to others, they could spend resources to adjust the system.

If they don’t spend those resources (or, rather, spend them on lobbying rather than improving the ecosystem) then there is no desired change. The outcome is as desired. Change is unwanted.

News is a stock vs flow market where the flow of recent events drives most of the traffic to articles. News that is more than a couple days old is no longer news. A news site which stops publishing news stops becoming a habit & quickly loses relevancy. Algorithmically an abandoned archive of old news articles doesn’t look much different than eHow, in spite of having a much higher cost structure.

According to SEMrush’s traffic rank, ampproject.org gets more monthly visits than Yahoo.com.

Traffic Ranks.

That actually understates the prevalence of AMP because AMP is generally designed for mobile AND not all AMP-formatted content is displayed on ampproject.org.

Part of how AMP was able to get widespread adoption was because in the news vertical the organic search result set was displaced by an AMP block. If you were a news site either you were so differentiated that readers would scroll past the AMP block in the search results to look for you specifically, or you adopted AMP, or you were doomed.

Some news organizations like The Guardian have a team of about a dozen people reformatting their content to the duplicative & proprietary AMP format. That’s wasteful, but necessary “In theory, adoption of AMP is voluntary. In reality, publishers that don’t want to see their search traffic evaporate have little choice. New data from publisher analytics firm Chartbeat shows just how much leverage Google has over publishers thanks to its dominant search engine.”

It seems more than a bit backward that low margin publishers are doing duplicative work to distance themselves from their own readers while improving the profit margins of monopolies. But it is what it is. And that no doubt drew the ire of many publishers across the EU.

And now there are AMP Stories to eat up even more visual real estate.

If you spent a bunch of money to create a highly differentiated piece of content, why would you prefer that high spend flaghship content appear on a third party website rather than your own?

Google & Facebook have done such a fantastic job of eating the entire pie that some are celebrating Amazon as a prospective savior to the publishing industry. That view – IMHO – is rather suspect.

Where any of the tech monopolies dominate they cram down on partners. The New York Times acquired The Wirecutter in Q4 of 2016. In Q1 of 2017 Amazon adjusted their affiliate fee schedule.

Amazon generally treats consumers well, but they have been much harder on business partners with tough pricing negotiations, counterfeit protections, forced ad buying to have a high enough product rank to be able to rank organically, ad displacement of their organic search results below the fold (even for branded search queries), learning suppliers & cutting out the partners, private label products patterned after top sellers, in some cases running pop over ads for the private label products on product level pages where brands already spent money to drive traffic to the page, etc.

They’ve made things tougher for their partners in a way that mirrors the impact Facebook & Google have had on online publishers:

“Boyce’s experience on Amazon largely echoed what happens in the offline world: competitors entered the market, pushing down prices and making it harder to make a profit. So Boyce adapted. He stopped selling basketball hoops and developed his own line of foosball tables, air hockey tables, bocce ball sets and exercise equipment. The best way to make a decent profit on Amazon was to sell something no one else had and create your own brand. … Amazon also started selling bocce ball sets that cost $ 15 less than Boyce’s. He says his products are higher quality, but Amazon gives prominent page space to its generic version and wins the cost-conscious shopper.”

Google claims they have no idea how content publishers are with the trade off between themselves & the search engine, but every quarter Alphabet publish the share of ad spend occurring on owned & operated sites versus the share spent across the broader publisher network. And in almost every quarter for over a decade straight that ratio has grown worse for publishers.

The aggregate numbers for news publishers are worse than shown above as Google is ramping up ads in video games quite hard. They’ve partnered with Unity & promptly took away the ability to block ads from appearing in video games using googleadsenseformobileapps.com exclusion (hello flat thumb misclicks, my name is budget & I am gone!)

They will also track video game player behavior & alter game play to maximize revenues based on machine learning tied to surveillance of the user’s account: “We’re bringing a new approach to monetization that combines ads and in-app purchases in one automated solution. Available today, new smart segmentation features in Google AdMob use machine learning to segment your players based on their likelihood to spend on in-app purchases. Ad units with smart segmentation will show ads only to users who are predicted not to spend on in-app purchases. Players who are predicted to spend will see no ads, and can simply continue playing.”

And how does the growth of ampproject.org square against the following wisdom?

Literally only yesterday did Google begin supporting instant loading of self-hosted AMP pages.

China has a different set of tech leaders than the United States. Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent (BAT) instead of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google (FANG). China tech companies may have won their domestic markets in part based on superior technology or better knowledge of the local culture, though those same companies have largely went nowhere fast in most foreign markets. A big part of winning was governmental assistance in putting a foot on the scales.

Part of the US-China trade war is about who controls the virtual “seas” upon which value flows:

it can easily be argued that the last 60 years were above all the era of the container-ship (with container-ships getting ever bigger). But will the coming decades still be the age of the container-ship? Possibly not, for the simple reason that things that have value increasingly no longer travel by ship, but instead by fiberoptic cables! … you could almost argue that ZTE and Huawei have been the “East India Company” of the current imperial cycle. Unsurprisingly, it is these very companies, charged with laying out the “new roads” along which “tomorrow’s value” will flow, that find themselves at the center of the US backlash. … if the symbol of British domination was the steamship, and the symbol of American strength was the Boeing 747, it seems increasingly clear that the question of the future will be whether tomorrow’s telecom switches and routers are produced by Huawei or Cisco. … US attempts to take down Huawei and ZTE can be seen as the existing empire’s attempt to prevent the ascent of a new imperial power. With this in mind, I could go a step further and suggest that perhaps the Huawei crisis is this century’s version of Suez crisis. No wonder markets have been falling ever since the arrest of the Huawei CFO. In time, the Suez Crisis was brought to a halt by US threats to destroy the value of sterling. Could we now witness the same for the US dollar?

China maintains Huawei is an employee-owned company. But that proposition is suspect. Broadly stealing technology is vital to the growth of the Chinese economy & they have no incentive to stop unless their leading companies pay a direct cost. Meanwhile, China is investigating Ericsson over licensing technology.

India has taken notice of the success of Chinese tech companies & thus began to promote “national champion” company policies. That, in turn, has also meant some of the Chinese-styled laws requiring localized data, antitrust inquiries, foreign ownership restrictions, requirements for platforms to not sell their own goods, promoting limits on data encryption, etc.

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. … Tensions began rising last year, when New Delhi decided to create a clearer set of rules for e-commerce and convened a group of local players to solicit suggestions. Amazon and Flipkart, even though they make up more than half the market, weren’t invited, according to people familiar with the matter.

Amazon vowed to invest $ 5 billion in India & they have done some remarkable work on logistics there. Walmart acquired Flipkart for $ 16 billion.

Other emerging markets also have many local ecommerce leaders like Jumia, MercadoLibre, OLX, Gumtree, Takealot, Konga, Kilimall, BidOrBuy, Tokopedia, Bukalapak, Shoppee, Lazada. If you live in the US you may have never heard of *any* of those companies. And if you live in an emerging market you may have never interacted with Amazon or eBay.

It makes sense that ecommerce leadership would be more localized since it requires moving things in the physical economy, dealing with local currencies, managing inventory, shipping goods, etc. whereas information flows are just bits floating on a fiber optic cable.

If the Internet is primarily seen as a communications platform it is easy for people in some emerging markets to think Facebook is the Internet. Free communication with friends and family members is a compelling offer & as the cost of data drops web usage increases.

At the same time, the web is incredibly deflationary. Every free form of entertainment which consumes time is time that is not spent consuming something else.

Add the technological disruption to the wealth polarization that happened in the wake of the great recession, then combine that with algorithms that promote extremist views & it is clearly causing increasing conflict.

If you are a parent and you think you child has no shot at a brighter future than your own life it is easy to be full of rage.

Empathy can radicalize otherwise normal people by giving them a more polarized view of the world:

Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation … The new rule for empathy seems to be: reserve it, not for your “enemies,” but for the people you believe are hurt, or you have decided need it the most. Empathy, but just for your own team. And empathizing with the other team? That’s practically a taboo.

A complete lack of empathy could allow a psychopath to commit extreme crimes while feeling no guilt, shame or remorse. Extreme empathy can have the same sort of outcome:

“Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy. … They emphasized that students would learn both sides, and the atrocities committed by one side or the other were always put into context. Students learned this curriculum, but follow-up studies showed that this new generation was more polarized than the one before. … [Empathy] can be good when it leads to good action, but it can have downsides. For example, if you want the victims to say ‘thank you.’ You may even want to keep the people you help in that position of inferior victim because it can sustain your feeling of being a hero.” – Fritz Breithaupt

News feeds will be read. Villages will be razed. Lynch mobs will become commonplace.

Many people will end up murdered by algorithmically generated empathy.

As technology increases absentee ownership & financial leverage, a society led by morally agnostic algorithms is not going to become more egalitarian.

When politicians throw fuel on the fire it only gets worse:

It’s particularly odd that the government is demanding “accountability and responsibility” from a phone app when some ruling party politicians are busy spreading divisive fake news. How can the government ask WhatsApp to control mobs when those convicted of lynching Muslims have been greeted, garlanded and fed sweets by some of the most progressive and cosmopolitan members of Modi’s council of ministers?

Mark Zuckerburg won’t get caught downstream from platform blowback as he spends $ 20 million a year on his security.

The web is a mirror. Engagement-based algorithms reinforcing our perceptions & identities.

And every important story has at least 2 sides!

Some may “learn” vaccines don’t work. Others may learn the vaccines their own children took did not work, as it failed to protect them from the antivax content spread by Facebook & Google, absorbed by people spreading measles & Medieval diseases.

Passion drives engagement, which drives algorithmic distribution: “There’s an asymmetry of passion at work. Which is to say, there’s very little counter-content to surface because it simply doesn’t occur to regular people (or, in this case, actual medical experts) that there’s a need to produce counter-content.”

As the costs of “free” become harder to hide, social media companies which currently sell emerging markets as their next big growth area will end up having embedded regulatory compliance costs which will end up exceeding any sort of prospective revenue they could hope to generate.

The Pinterest S1 shows almost all their growth is in emerging markets, yet almost all their revenue is inside the United States.

As governments around the world see the real-world cost of the foreign tech companies & view some of them as piggy banks, eventually the likes of Facebook or Google will pull out of a variety of markets they no longer feel worth serving. It will be like Google did in mainland China with search after discovering pervasive hacking of activist Gmail accounts.

Lower friction & lower cost information markets will face more junk fees, hurdles & even some legitimate regulations. Information markets will start to behave more like physical goods markets.

The tech companies presume they will be able to use satellites, drones & balloons to beam in Internet while avoiding messy local issues tied to real world infrastructure, but when a local wealthy player is betting against them they’ll probably end up losing those markets: “One of the biggest cheerleaders for the new rules was Reliance Jio, a fast-growing mobile phone company controlled by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest industrialist. Mr. Ambani, an ally of Mr. Modi, has made no secret of his plans to turn Reliance Jio into an all-purpose information service that offers streaming video and music, messaging, money transfer, online shopping, and home broadband services.”

Publishers do not have “their mojo back” because the tech companies have been so good to them, but rather because the tech companies have been so aggressive that they’ve earned so much blowback which will in turn lead publishers to opting out of future deals, which will eventually lead more people back to the trusted brands of yesterday.

Publishers feeling guilty about taking advertorial money from the tech companies to spread their propaganda will offset its publication with opinion pieces pointing in the other direction: “This is a lobbying campaign in which buying the good opinion of news brands is clearly important. If it was about reaching a target audience, there are plenty of metrics to suggest his words would reach further – at no cost – on Facebook. Similarly, Google is upping its presence in a less obvious manner via assorted media initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic. Its more direct approach to funding journalism seems to have the desired effect of making all media organisations (and indeed many academic institutions) touched by its money slightly less questioning and critical of its motives.”

When Facebook goes down direct visits to leading news brand sites go up.

When Google penalizes a no-name me-too site almost nobody realizes it is missing. But if a big publisher opts out of the ecosystem people will notice.

The reliance on the tech platforms is largely a mirage. If enough key players were to opt out at the same time people would quickly reorient their information consumption habits.

If the platforms can change their focus overnight then why can’t publishers band together & choose to dump them?

In Europe there is GDPR, which aimed to protect user privacy, but ultimately acted as a tax on innovation by local startups while being a subsidy to the big online ad networks. They also have Article 11 & Article 13, which passed in spite of Google’s best efforts on the scaremongering anti-SERP tests, lobbying & propaganda fronts: “Google has sparked criticism by encouraging news publishers participating in its Digital News Initiative to lobby against proposed changes to EU copyright law at a time when the beleaguered sector is increasingly turning to the search giant for help.”

Remember the Eric Schmidt comment about how brands are how you sort out (the non-YouTube portion of) the cesspool? As it turns out, he was allegedly wrong as Google claims they have been fighting for the little guy the whole time:

Article 11 could change that principle and require online services to strike commercial deals with publishers to show hyperlinks and short snippets of news. This means that search engines, news aggregators, apps, and platforms would have to put commercial licences in place, and make decisions about which content to include on the basis of those licensing agreements and which to leave out. Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers. … Why are large influential companies constraining how new and small publishers operate? … The proposed rules will undoubtedly hurt diversity of voices, with large publishers setting business models for the whole industry. This will not benefit all equally. … We believe the information we show should be based on quality, not on payment.

Facebook claims there is a local news problem: “Facebook Inc. has been looking to boost its local-news offerings since a 2017 survey showed most of its users were clamoring for more. It has run into a problem: There simply isn’t enough local news in vast swaths of the country. … more than one in five newspapers have closed in the past decade and a half, leaving half the counties in the nation with just one newspaper, and 200 counties with no newspaper at all.”

Google is so for the little guy that for their local news experiments they’ve partnered with a private equity backed newspaper roll up firm & another newspaper chain which did overpriced acquisitions & is trying to act like a PE firm (trying to not get eaten by the PE firm).

Does the above stock chart look in any way healthy?

Does it give off the scent of a firm that understood the impact of digital & rode it to new heights?

If you want good market-based outcomes, why not partner with journalists directly versus operating through PE chop shops?

If Patch is profitable & Google were a neutral ranking system based on quality, couldn’t Google partner with journalists directly?

Throwing a few dollars at a PE firm in some nebulous partnership sure beats the sort of regulations coming out of the EU. And the EU’s regulations (and prior link tax attempts) are in addition to the three multi billion Euro fines the European Union has levied against Alphabet for shopping search, Android & AdSense.

Google was also fined in Russia over Android bundling. The fine was tiny, but after consumers gained a search engine choice screen (much like Google pushed for in Europe on Microsoft years ago) Yandex’s share of mobile search grew quickly.

The UK recently published a white paper on online harms. In some ways it is a regulation just like the tech companies might offer to participants in their ecosystems:

Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.

If web publishers should monitor inbound links to look for anything suspicious then the big platforms sure as hell have the resources & profit margins to monitor behavior on their own websites.

Australia passed the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill which requires platforms to expeditiously remove violent videos & notify the Australian police about them.

There are other layers of fracturing going on in the web as well.

Programmatic advertising shifted revenue from publishers to adtech companies & the largest ad sellers. Ad blockers further lower the ad revenues of many publishers. If you routinely use an ad blocker, try surfing the web for a while without one & you will notice layover welcome AdSense ads on sites as you browse the web – the very type of ad they were allegedly against when promoting AMP.

Tracking protection in browsers & ad blocking features built directly into browsers leave publishers more uncertain. And who even knows who visited an AMP page hosted on a third party server, particularly when things like GDPR are mixed in? Those who lack first party data may end up having to make large acquisitions to stay relevant.

Voice search & personal assistants are now ad channels.

App stores are removing VPNs in China, removing Tiktok in India, and keeping female tracking apps in Saudi Arabia. App stores are centralized chokepoints for governments. Every centralized service is at risk of censorship. Web browsers from key state-connected players can also censor messages spread by developers on platforms like GitHub.

Microsoft’s newest Edge web browser is based on Chromium, the source of Google Chrome. While Mozilla Firefox gets most of their revenue from a search deal with Google, Google has still went out of its way to use its services to both promote Chrome with pop overs AND break in competing web browsers:

“All of this is stuff you’re allowed to do to compete, of course. But we were still a search partner, so we’d say ‘hey what gives?’ And every time, they’d say, ‘oops. That was accidental. We’ll fix it in the next push in 2 weeks.’ Over and over. Oops. Another accident. We’ll fix it soon. We want the same things. We’re on the same team. There were dozens of oopses. Hundreds maybe?” – former Firefox VP Jonathan Nightingale

As phone sales fall & app downloads stall a hardware company like Apple is pushing hard into services while quietly raking in utterly fantastic ad revenues from search & ads in their app store.

Part of the reason people are downloading fewer apps is so many apps require registration as soon as they are opened, or only let a user engage with them for seconds before pushing aggressive upsells. And then many apps which were formerly one-off purchases are becoming subscription plays. As traffic acquisition costs have jumped, many apps must engage in sleight of hand behaviors (free but not really, we are collecting data totally unrelated to the purpose of our app & oops we sold your data, etc.) in order to get the numbers to back out. This in turn causes app stores to slow down app reviews.

Apple acquired the news subscription service Texture & turned it into Apple News Plus. Not only is Apple keeping half the subscription revenues, but soon the service will only work for people using Apple devices, leaving nearly 100,000 other subscribers out in the cold: “if you’re part of the 30% who used Texture to get your favorite magazines digitally on Android or Windows devices, you will soon be out of luck. Only Apple iOS devices will be able to access the 300 magazines available from publishers. At the time of the sale in March 2018 to Apple, Texture had about 240,000 subscribers.”

Apple is also going to spend over a half-billion Dollars exclusively licensing independently developed games:

Several people involved in the project’s development say Apple is spending several million dollars each on most of the more than 100 games that have been selected to launch on Arcade, with its total budget likely to exceed $ 500m. The games service is expected to launch later this year. … Apple is offering developers an extra incentive if they agree for their game to only be available on Arcade, withholding their release on Google’s Play app store for Android smartphones or other subscription gaming bundles such as Microsoft’s Xbox game pass.

Verizon wants to launch a video game streaming service. It will probably be almost as successful as their Go90 OTT service was. Microsoft is pushing to make Xbox games work on Android devices. Amazon is developing a game streaming service to compliment Twitch.

The hosts on Twitch, some of whom sign up exclusively with the platform in order to gain access to its moneymaking tools, are rewarded for their ability to make a connection with viewers as much as they are for their gaming prowess. Viewers who pay $ 4.99 a month for a basic subscription — the money is split evenly between the streamers and Twitch — are looking for immediacy and intimacy. While some hosts at YouTube Gaming offer a similar experience, they have struggled to build audiences as large, and as dedicated, as those on Twitch. … While YouTube has made millionaires out of the creators of popular videos through its advertising program, Twitch’s hosts make money primarily from subscribers and one-off donations or tips. YouTube Gaming has made it possible for viewers to support hosts this way, but paying audiences haven’t materialized at the scale they have on Twitch.

Google, having a bit of Twitch envy, is also launching a video game streaming service which will be deeply integrated into YouTube: “With Stadia, YouTube watchers can press “Play now” at the end of a video, and be brought into the game within 5 seconds. The service provides “instant access” via button or link, just like any other piece of content on the web.”

Google will also launch their own game studio making exclusive games for their platform.

When consoles don’t use discs or cartridges so they can sell a subscription access to their software library it is hard to be a game retailer! GameStop’s stock has been performing like an ICO. And these sorts of announcements from the tech companies have been hitting stock prices for companies like Nintendo & Sony: “There is no doubt this service makes life even more difficult for established platforms,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a market strategist at Asymmetric Advisors Pte, said in a note to clients. “Google will help further fragment the gaming market which is already coming under pressure by big games which have adopted the mobile gaming business model of giving the titles away for free in hope of generating in-game content sales.”

The big tech companies which promoted everything in adjacent markets being free are now erecting paywalls for themselves, balkanizing the web by paying for exclusives to drive their bundled subscriptions.

How many paid movie streaming services will the web have by the end of next year? 20? 50? Does anybody know?

Disney alone with operate Disney+, ESPN+ as well as Hulu.

And then the tech companies are not only licensing exclusives to drive their subscription-based services, but we’re going to see more exclusionary policies like YouTube not working on Amazon Echo, Netflix dumping support for Apple’s Airplay, or Amazon refusing to sell devices like Chromecast or Apple TV.

The good news in a fractured web is a broader publishing industry that contains many micro markets will have many opportunities embedded in it. A Facebook pivot away from games toward news, or a pivot away from news toward video won’t kill third party publishers who have a more diverse traffic profile and more direct revenues. And a regional law blocking porn or gambling websites might lead to an increase in demand for VPNs or free to play points-based games with paid upgrades. Even the rise of metered paywalls will lead to people using more web browsers & more VPNs. Each fracture (good or bad) will create more market edges & ultimately more opportunities. Chinese enforcement of their gambling laws created a real estate boom in Manila.

So long as there are 4 or 5 game stores, 4 or 5 movie streaming sites, etc. … they have to compete on merit or use money to try to buy exclusives. Either way is better than the old monopoly strategy of take it or leave it ultimatums.

The publisher wins because there is a competitive bid. There won’t be an arbitrary 30% tax on everything. So long as there is competition from the open web there will be means to bypass the junk fees & the most successful companies that do so might create their own stores with a lower rate: “Mr. Schachter estimates that Apple and Google could see a hit of about 14% to pretax earnings if they reduced their own app commissions to match Epic’s take.”

As the big media companies & big tech companies race to create subscription products they’ll spend many billions on exclusives. And they will be training consumers that there’s nothing wrong with paying for content. This will eventually lead to hundreds of thousands or even millions of successful niche publications which have incentives better aligned than all the issues the ad supported web has faced.

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12 Steps to Lightning Page Speed

Posted by WallStreetOasis.com

At Wall Street Oasis, we’ve noticed that every time we focus on improving our page speed, Google sends us more organic traffic. In 2018, our company’s website reached over 80 percent of our traffic from organic search. That’s 24.5 million visits. Needless to say, we are very tuned in to how we can continue to improve our user experience and keep Google happy.

We thought this article would be a great way to highlight the specific steps we take to keep our page speed lightning fast and organic traffic healthy. While this article is somewhat technical (page speed is an important and complex subject) we hope it provides website owners and developers with a framework on how to try and improve their page speed.

Quick technical background: Our website is built on top of the Drupal CMS and we are running on a server with a LAMP stack (plus Varnish and memcache). If you are not using MySQL, however, the steps and principles in this article are still relevant for other databases or a reverse proxy.

Ready? Let’s dig in.

5 Steps to speed up the backend

Before we jump into specific steps that can help you speed up your backend, it might help to review what we mean by “backend”. You can think of the backend of everything that goes into storing data, including the database itself and the servers — basically anything that helps make the website function that you don’t visually interact with. For more information on the difference between the backend vs. frontend, you read this article

Step 1: Make sure you have a Reverse Proxy configured

This is an important first step. For Wall Street Oasis (WSO), we use a reverse proxy called Varnish. It is by far the most critical and fastest layer of cache and serves the majority of the anonymous traffic (visitors logged out). Varnish caches the whole page in memory, so returning it to the visitor is lightning fast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_proxy

Step 2: Extend the TTL of that cache

If you have a large database of content (specifically in the 10,000+ URL range) that doesn’t change very frequently, to drive the hit-rate higher on the Varnish caching layer, you can extend the time to live (TTL basically means how long before you flush the object out of the cache).

For WSO, we went all the way up to two weeks (since we were over 300,000 discussions). At any given time, only a few thousand of those forum URLs are active, so it makes sense to heavily cache the other pages. The downside to this is that when you make any sitewide, template or design changes, you have to wait two weeks for it to arrive across all URLs.

Step 3: Warm up the cache

In order to keep our cache “warm,” we have a specific process that hits all the URLs in our sitemap. This increases the likelihood of a page being in the cache when a user or Google bot visits those same pages (i.e. our hit rate improves). It also keeps Varnish full of more objects, ready to be accessed quickly.

As you can see from the chart below, the ratio of “cache hits” (green) to total hits (blue+green) is over 93 percent.

Step 4: Tune your database and focus on the slowest queries

On WSO, we use a MySQL database. Make sure you enable the slow queries report and check it at least every quarter. Check the slowest queries using EXPLAIN. Add indexes where needed and rewrite queries that can be optimized.

On WSO, we use a MySQL database. To tune MySQL, you can use the following scripts: https://github.com/major/MySQLTuner-perl and https://github.com/mattiabasone/tuning-primer

Step 5: HTTP headers

Use HTTP2 server push to send resources to the page before they are requested. Just make sure you test which ones should be pushed, first. JavaScript was a good option for us. You can read more about it here.

Here is an example of server push from our Investment Banking Interview Questions URL:

</files/advagg_js/js__rh8tGyQUC6fPazMoP4YI4X0Fze99Pspus1iL4Am3Nr4__k2v047sfief4SoufV5rlyaT9V0CevRW-VsgHZa2KUGc__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,</files/advagg_js/js__TLh0q7OGWS6tv88FccFskwgFrZI9p53uJYwc6wv-a3o__kueGth7dEBcGqUVEib_yvaCzx99rTtEVqb1UaLaylA4__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,</files/advagg_js/js__sMVR1us69-sSXhuhQWNXRyjueOEy4FQRK7nr6zzAswY__O9Dxl50YCBWD3WksvdK42k5GXABvKifJooNDTlCQgDw__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,

Be sure you’re using the correct format. If it is a script: <url>; rel=preload; as=script,

If it is a CSS file: <url>; rel=preload; as=style,

7 Steps to speed up the frontend

The following steps are to help speed up your frontend application. The front-end is the part of a website or application that the user directly interacts with. For example, this includes fonts, drop-down menus, buttons, transitions, sliders, forms, etc.

Step 1: Modify the placement of your JavaScript

Modifying the placement of your JavaScript is probably one of the hardest changes because you will need to continually test to make sure it doesn’t break the functionality of your site. 

I’ve noticed that every time I remove JavaScript, I see page speed improve. I suggest removing as much Javascript as you can. You can minify the necessary JavaScript you do need. You can also combine your JavaScript files but use multiple bundles.

Always try to move JavaScript to the bottom of the page or inline. You can also defer or use the async attribute where possible to guarantee you are not rendering blocking. You can read more about moving JavaScript here.

Step 2: Optimize your images

Use WebP for images when possible (Cloudflare, a CDN, does this for you automatically — I’ll touch more on Cloudflare below). It’s an image formatting that uses both Lossy compression and lossless compression.

    Always use images with the correct size. For example, if you have an image that is displayed in a 2” x 2 ” square on your site, don’t use a large 10” x 10” image. If you have an image that is bigger than is needed, you are transferring more data through the network and the browser has to resize the image for you

    Use lazy load to avoid/delay downloading images that are further down the page and not on the visible part of the screen.

    Step 3: Optimize your CSS

    You want to make sure your CSS is inline. Online tools like this one can help you find the critical CSS to be inlined and will solve the render blocking. Bonus: you’ll keep the cache benefit of having separate files.

    Make sure to minify your CSS files (we use AdVagg since we are on the Drupal CMS, but there are many options for this depending on your site).  

    Try using less CSS. For instance, if you have certain CSS classes that are only used on your homepage, don’t include them on other pages. 

    Always combine the CSS files but use multiple bundles. You can read more about this step here.

    Move your media queries to specific files so the browser doesn’t have to load them before rendering the page. For example: <link href=”frontpage-sm.css” rel=”stylesheet” media=”(min-width: 767px)”>

    If you’d like more info on how to optimize your CSS, check out Patrick Sexton’s interesting post.

    Step 4: Lighten your web fonts (they can be HEAVY)

    This is where your developers may get in an argument with your designers if you’re not careful. Everyone wants to look at a beautifully designed website, but if you’re not careful about how you bring this design live, it can cause major unintended speed issues. Here are some tips on how to put your fonts on a diet:

    • Use inline svg for icon fonts (like font awesome). This way you’ll reduce the critical chain path and will avoid empty content when the page is first loaded.
    • Use fontello to generate the font files. This way, you can include only the glyphs you actually use which leads to smaller files and faster page speed.
    • If you are going to use web fonts, check if you need all the glyphs defined in the font file. If you don’t need Japanese or Arabic characters, for example, see if there is a version with only the characters you need.
    • Use Unicode range to select the glyphs you need.
    • Use woff2 when possible as it is already compressed.
    • This article is a great resource on web font optimization.

    Here is the difference we measured when using optimized fonts:

    After reducing our font files from 131kb to 41kb and removing one external resource (useproof), the fully loaded time on our test page dropped all the way from 5.1 to 2.8 seconds. That’s a 44 percent improvement and is sure to make Google smile (see below).

    Here’s the 44 percent improvement.

    Step 5: Move external resources

    When possible, move external resources to your server so you can control expire headers (this will instruct the browsers to cache the resource for longer). For example, we moved our Facebook Pixel to our server and cached it for 14 days. This means you’ll be responsible to check updates from time to time, but it can improve your page speed score.

    For example, on our Private Equity Interview Questions page it is possible to see how the fbevents.js file is being loaded from our server and the cache control http header is set to 14 days (1209600 seconds)

    cache-control: public, max-age=1209600

    Step 6: Use a content delivery network (CDN)

    What’s a CDN? Click here to learn more.

    I recommend using Cloudflare as it makes a lot of tasks much easier and faster than if you were to try and do them on your own server. Here is what we specifically did on Cloudflare’s configuration:

    Speed

    • Auto-minify, check all
    • Under Polish
    • Enable Brotoli
    • Enable Mirage
    • Choose Lossy
    • Check WebP

    Network

    • Enable HTTP/2 – You can read more about this topic here
    • No browsers currently support HTTP/2 over an unencrypted connection. For practical purposes, this means that your website must be served over HTTPS to take advantage of HTTP/2. Cloudflare has a free and easy way to enable HTTPS. Check it out here.

    Crypto

    • Under SSL
      • Choose Flexible
    • Under TLS 1.3
      • Choose Enable+0RTT – More about this topic here.

    Step 7: Use service workers

    Service workers give the site owner and developers some interesting options (like push notifications), but in terms of performance, we’re most excited about how these workers can help us build a smarter caching system.

    To learn how to to get service workers up and running on your site, visit this page.

    With resources (images, CSS, javascript, fonts, etc) being cached by a service worker, returning visitors will often be served much faster than if there was no worker at all.

    Testing, tools, and takeaways

    For each change you make to try and improve speed, you can use the following tools to monitor the impact of the change and make sure you are on the right path:

    We know there is a lot to digest and a lot of resources linked above, but if you are tight on time, you can just start with Step 1 from both the Backend and Front-End sections. These 2 steps alone can make a major difference on their own.

    Good luck and let me know if you have any questions in the comments. I’ll make sure João Guilherme, my Head of Technology, is on to answer any questions for the community at least once a day for the first week this is published.

    Happy Tuning!

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      Dave Petratis, CEO of Allegion, discusses the impact of technology and automation on manufacturing jobs in an interview on Bloomberg Markets and Finance:

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      We see the growth in manufacturing in technical jobs where people are able to manage those automation schemes at higher levels of pay. I’ve been a part of that manufacturing story over my 38 years and have lived that. I think there’s a great underlying story. American manufacturing is doing a great job of driving productivity inside the factory. That’s why the goods and services produced have never been higher, but the skills of those jobs are at a higher level.

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      Automation Will Not Kill the Need for Human Skills In Manufacturing

      I challenge that (the assertion that technology will replace humans). Where you have a high variation you’re always going to have the need for human input. If your manufacturing designs or products have very little labor input, let’s say like a cell phone, you can automate that. But where you add variation to the product that’s being developed or manufactured it requires labor.

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      We Want America To Be the Leader in 5G, Says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

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