Migrating a WordPress blog to Netlify as a static site

In this article: How I moved several of my WordPress blogs from shared hosting to Netlify as static sites. Article was written June 2024.

I have a collection of WordPress blogs dating 10+ years back. They are all on a shared host who keeps raising the cost to renew. The sites are old and they don’t get many visitors, but rather than take them down I decided to turn them into static sites that are simpler to maintain and less expensive to host.

It is not a difficult process, and I documented all the hiccups I encountered along the way in this guide.

Pre-reqs

You have:

  • WordPress site hosted on shared hosting (like Bluehost, Siteground, etc.)
  • Your own domain (optional, but this guide assumes you do)
  • About 2 hours of time

You want:

  • Less expensive hosting (Netlify has a free tier that can handle small static sites)
  • A faster, simpler, and more secure live WordPress site

You can tolerate:

  • A new workflow for your WordPress site – you will run your site from your own computer, make edits on that version, and then “publish” a static version of your site to Netlify
  • A simpler “live” version of your site – you can’t have any kind of user interaction like user accounts, comments, or shopping carts
  • Some debugging – none of my sites came over with 0 problems

Step 1: Export your WordPress site as a .zip

Log into your WordPress site, install the “WP Migrate Lite” plugin, and export your site. The purpose of this step is to create a .zip file containing everything needed to run your site locally (on your computer).

There are a number of options in this plugin’s config.

I use:

  • Database – leave as defaults
  • Media uploads – take all
  • Themes – export just the ones I use
  • Plugins – export all
  • Must-use plugins – export all
  • Other files – export all
  • WordPress Core Files – yes, all

Click the “Export” button and wait for it to generate a .zip file. Hopefully it works. If it does not, you may need to adjust what you export or do the old WordPress standard of turning off plugins one by one until it works.

You should leave your actual site up and running. (In fact, your original site can stay up through this entire process.)

Step 2: Import your WordPress site to Local

I use Local to run my sites on my own computer, and Local has versions for Windows, various flavors of Linux, and Intel and Apple Silicon Mac so hopefully it works for you, too. It’s free.

Click the “+” button to import your site.

Import the .zip file you downloaded in Step 1.

For me, going with the “Custom” environment that it autofills for me has worked so far.

Fix the SSL certificate

The site won’t fully “work” until you approve its SSL certificate. The main page might load but images won’t and you’ll have an annoying banner across the top like so.

On my Mac, I follow these steps: https://localwp.com/help-docs/getting-started/managing-local-sites-ssl-certificate-in-macos/

Clicking “trust” in the SSL section of the site’s Overview tab in Local usually spawns this red banner across the top.

I open Keychain Access and find the untrusted certificate that was generated.

I set the local site to “Always Trust”.

I go to Chrome and explicitly type https://sitename.local and confirm it loads. At this point, the homepage loads but the links don’t work.

I am ready for the last step – opening the Local shell and running this script.

Run this script:

wp search-replace 'http://yoursite.local' 'https://yoursite.local'

Success looks like this:

Sometimes I get a message about flushing the cache, which I do with wp cache flush.

Now I go back to Local and open the site admin page. If you get a security error, try opening the page via the WP Admin button.

I don’t know why, but Local never seems to know that my site is secure (and it keeps serving me the insecure version) until I actually log in as my admin account. Sometimes it still doesn’t work, so I go back and trust the certificate again. Some combination of restarting the site, trusting the certificate, and logging in as admin eventually gets it all working.

Do not leave this step until you have clicked around your .local site and verified images and links are working and the URL is the secure version.

Step 3: Get Netlify ready to receive your site

If you haven’t, head over to netlify.com and create an account. Look for “Add new site” and choose “Deploy manually”.

This step assumes you have something to upload, and you’ll be stuck here until you give it something.

Just feed it something simple – I upload a folder (name doesn’t matter) containing index.html (name and extension do matter).

Now you have a Netlify site!

Go to “Site configuration” (on the left) and copy the “Site ID” somewhere.

You will also need your Netlify OAuth token, which is created by going into your own personal settings in Netlify.

Copy this string somewhere safe, too.

You should now have:

  • a site ID
  • an OAuth acess token

Step 4: Publish your site using Staatic

Go back to Local, load up yoursite.local, and install the Staatic plugin. Once installed and activated, open the Deployment tab and fill in your Netlify Access Token and Netlify Site ID (and don’t mix them up). Save changes.

Go to Staatic -> Publications and attempt to publish to Netlify.

The publish step is, unfortunately, where I usually spend most of my time. Here are some of the issues I’ve encountered:

Self-signed certificate is making the crawl fail

Crawl ‘https://yoursite.local/‘ rejected (cURL error 60: SSL certificate problem: self signed certificate (see https://curl.haxx.se/libcurl/c/libcurl-errors.html) 

This one’s easy – go into Staatic’s advanced tab and check the “Downgrade HTTPS to HTTP while crawling site” checkbox.

“Too many redirects” on Netlify after deploying


One of my sites gave me a lot of trouble: the publish was a success, the deploy appeared to be a success, but visiting the deployed page on Netlify gave me this “ERR_TOO_MANY_REDIRECTS” page.

Reader, I spent hours on this problem. It wasn’t any of these things:

❌ uninstalling W3 Cache and other plugins
❌ reinstalling the Staatic plugin
❌ cleaning up all the URLs that were creating a redirect entry in the Resources tab

And there’s some evidence of it here in the Publication’s own “Resources” tab – where is it coming from? What is it??



✅ I fixed it by going into WordPress’s Customize page menu and making my homepage NOT a static page. Choose “your latest posts” and publish again.

I honestly think this is a bug with Staatic. 🐛

If your WordPress site is using a Page as its homepage, Staatic inserts a redirect from “/” to “/” into the netlify.toml file like this:

[[redirects]]
from = "/"
to = "/"
status = 301
force = true

This redirect is not present if you choose “Latest posts” for your homepage. A website published with “Latest posts” also does not include that weird redirect in the Publication’s “Resources” tab.

I only discovered this because I had the idea to download the entire site from Netlify (it’s in their UI somewhere), remove the from = “/” to = “/” redirect, reupload, and see if the site looked any different. It did – I could see my site! But instead of my homepage, I had this embedded 404.

That gave me the idea to adjust the content of my homepage, which WordPress surfaces in Appearance -> Customize -> Homepage Settings. I spent some time toggling between “Static Page” and “Latest Posts”, publishing, and observing the .toml file each time.

TL;DR – Using a static page for your homepage will cause Staatic to insert an endless redirect. If you have a redirect loop on your static WordPress site, try it with “latest posts” as your homepage instead.

I guess that’s what you get from a free plugin. (Hope this helps someone)

Step 5: Change your domain’s nameservers

In this step we are going to make yoursite.com point at your Netlify deploy.

Confirm that you are happy with what’s been deployed to https://yoursite.netlify.app because this step will hook your domain up to the Netlify deploy and start sending visitors to your static site.

Compared to what came before, this step is easy.

In Netlify, click “Domains” in the side panel.

Click “Add or Register domain”. Put your domain into this box and click Verify.

Of course it’s already registered – you own it. Click “Add domain”.

I click through the “Add DNS records” step and get to the final step:

Log into whoever you registered your domain with and update your nameservers (follow their docs for help).

Step 6: Wait for DNS and add a Let’s Encrypt! certificate

Back in Netlify, you’ll see:

It usually takes about 10 minutes for the domain change to propagate. When it’s ready, add a security certificate. (Bottom of the “Domain management” section).

Here’s what success looks like – if it fails, it might be that the propagation hasn’t finished yet.

Confirm your site looks good at yoursite.com and then deactivate the version hosted on your prior host.

Step 7: Other things you might want to do (or know about)

Google Search Console: Since you moved hosts, you will probably have to redo your verification with Google Search Console.

Log into Search Console, and add or update your site. Get the TXT code and add it to your site in Netlify as a DNS record of type “TXT”.

Backups: Your static site can’t run an automated backup plugin, so you’ll want to do it yourself from your local machine. I use Updraft and I publish the backups to Google Drive. Since the blogs I turned into static sites don’t get updated very often (if at all), I don’t mind running the backup manually after I make a change.

All your plugins and your WordPress install are no longer going to automatically update on their own. Your static site is like a “render” or an “export” – it doesn’t have all the plugins running 24/7 doing automated backups. You’ll have to open Local, run your site, and update plugins/WP yourself.

Hope this helps someone – happy blogging!

Building a WordPress “product box” plugin, part 4 – adding the image

Part 1 – Initial idea, design, and first-pass implementation
Part 2 – Building the product box that gets displayed in posts
Part 3 – Refactoring the codebase into classes, views, and separate files
Part 4 – Adding image uploading, shared plugin options, and uninstallation

Day 9: Image upload and display

Next up: adding the Image Upload / Select feature to the plugin. When the user creates a new Product Box, they should be able to pick an image for it (not just paste in a URL, that’s too janky for this fancy plugin). Furthermore, the user also needs to be able to edit that image choice when editing an existing Product Box.

WordPress already has a media management page/popup.

That’s this thing:

Adding WordPress’s built-in Media Uploader to my plugin was quick and painless.

I just needed to hook into this feature from my plugin’s page. I used this tutorial as a starting point.

I didn’t use quite the same structure as this tutorial recommends. I wanted all of my form HTML in the same view files, not echoed in by a php function elsewhere in the codebase, but I did need to add an admin.js file and enqueue it as shown here, in my ‘init’ action. The tutorial left this step out so I’ve included it here:

add_action( 'init', function() {
    include dirname( __FILE__ ) . '/includes/class-amazin-product-box-admin-menu.php';
    include dirname( __FILE__ ) . '/includes/class-amazin-product-box-list-table.php';
    include dirname( __FILE__ ) . '/includes/class-form-handler.php';
    include dirname( __FILE__ ) . '/includes/amazin-product-box-functions.php';

    // WordPress image upload library
    wp_enqueue_media();
    $jsurl = plugin_dir_url(__FILE__) . 'admin.js';
    wp_enqueue_script('admin', $jsurl, array( 'jquery' ), 1.1, true);
   
    ...

The images are stored in my post content object by their ID (look at the very end – “215” is the image’s ID).

{"productName":"The Rainbow","productTagline":"It\'s got all the colors of the spectrum","productDescription":"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Fusce pulvinar, leo at cursus finibus, lectus massa tincidunt nulla, vitae lobortis lectus orci vitae nunc. Aenean a elit mollis, iaculis felis sed, consectetur velit. ","productUrl":"http://wow.com","productButtonText":"See the rainbow on Amazon.com","productImage":"215"}

I used wp_get_attachment_url() to turn the ID into the full path to the image. This is how it looks in the html that renders the actual product box in the post:

<img src="<?php echo wp_get_attachment_url( $content['productImage'] ) ?>"/>

Here’s my New Product Box page as the user first sees it:

And here’s my Edit Product Box page displaying an image the user already chose for a product box:

And here it is in a post!

Smaller images are centered; larger ones fill the frame as shown in this screenshot. Huge ones are stopped from overflowing the box and get scaled to fit. For pleasing results, square images are recommended.

This merged pull request shows the complete image uploading code (plus some bonus CSS styling and tagging to make it all look a bit better).

Day 10: Making the plugin’s settings page

I thought it’d be cool if all the product boxes shared a “headline” phrase, such as “We recommend” or “Our choice”. The user should edit in one place instead of on a per-box basis (though maybe a per-box override could be added, too, in the future).

WordPress calls this sort of thing an “option” and makes it very easy to set/get them. (This tutorial was helpful for identifying which hooks to use.)

Unlike everything else so far, the settings are not saved as posts. They’re saved as options in the _options table. Since all plugins (and WordPress itself) saves their plugins here, it’s important that the option have a unique name. Here’s my new option along with the string I gave it:

I wanted my plugin options to be adjustable from the plugin page (rather than a separate settings/options page elsewhere in the dashboard like some plugins do) so I simply added another form below the list table:

Here’s the form HTML (you can find this in view/product-box-list.php)

<form method="post" action="options.php">
  <?php settings_fields( 'amazin_product_box_options_group' ); ?>
    <h3>Product box settings</h3>
    <p>These settings are shared by all product boxes on your site.</p>
    <table>
      <tr valign="top">
        <th scope="row">
          <label for="amazin_product_box_option_headline">Product Box Headline</label>
         </th>
         <td>
           <input type="text" id="amazin_product_box_option_headline" name="amazin_product_box_option_headline" value="<?php echo get_option('amazin_product_box_option_headline'); ?>" />
            <br/>
             <span class="description"><?php _e('Examples: "We recommend", "Our pick", "A Sitename Favorite", etc.', 'apb' ); ?></span>
          </td>
        </tr>
    </table>
  <?php  submit_button(); ?>
</form>

I also had to add it as an option and register the settings in amazin-product-box-plugin.php:

add_action( 'init', function() {
  //other init code here
  add_option( 'amazin_product_box_option_headline', 'We recommend');
  register_setting( 'amazin_product_box_options_group', 'amazin_product_box_option_headline', 'amazin_product_box_callback' );

And finally, I modified the HTML that displays the actual in-post product box to echo out the setting value instead of a hard-coded string (also in amazin-product-box-plugin.php):

...
<p class="amazin-product-box-recommend-text"><?php echo get_option('amazin_product_box_option_headline'); ?></p>
...

Here’s the product box displaying the text “Our choice” (it used to say “We recommend”) after I made the change in the plugin’s settings.

The complete code that adds plugin-specific options can be found in this merged pull request.

[Bug fixes and improvements] Adding a welcome banner, hiding search, completing the shortcode display, and fixing “sort by name”

Before moving onto a new feature I took a moment to make a few more improvements. There is now a “Welcome” banner at the top of the plugin page, the shortcodes now display in full for each table row, I hid the search bar, and I fixed sorting by name (it used to not work at all because it was trying to run the query on ‘name’ instead of ‘post_title’).

You can see all of that code here in this commit.

Day 11: Adding the uninstall script

First, I read the official guide on deactivating vs. uninstalling plugins. I figured if there was one place I really didn’t want to just fly blind, this was it.

My uninstall script needed to do the following:

  • Delete the custom posts of type “amazin_product_box” from the _posts table
  • Delete the plugin’s setting (“amazin_product_box_option_headline”) from _options

I went the route of making a standalone .php script. The example from WordPress’s developer guide shows dropping a table but that’s a bit extreme for my use, I just needed to delete the posts of type “amazin_product_box”.

Here’s what I did (it’s basically the example from WP’s own site with my own plugin’s names for things instead):

uninstall.php

<?php
// if uninstall.php is not called by WordPress, die
if (!defined('WP_UNINSTALL_PLUGIN')) {
    die;
}

$option_name = 'amazin_product_box_option_headline';

delete_option($option_name);

// for site options in Multisite
delete_site_option($option_name);

// drop a custom database table
global $wpdb;
$wpdb->query("DELETE FROM {$wpdb->prefix}posts WHERE post_type='amazin_product_box'");
?>

With the uninstall script in place, I was able to deactivate and uninstall my plugin. I verified that the custom posts were gone from the _posts database and the headline option was gone from _options and from WordPress’s plugins directory on my server. Everything looked good.

The shortcode gets left behind in the posts, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that:

Finally, I reinstalled my plugin. None of the previously-created product boxes were present, which I expected since they were gone from the db, and I was able to create a brand new product box and stick it in a post.

Sweet – back in business.

Phew. I was dreading this part but the uninstall feature turned out to be the easiest, most “got it right on the first try” step of the whole project.

Here’s the commit that adds the uninstall script.

Day 12: Testing, bug fixes, and trying it out on a real website

The last thing I did was install the plugin on one of my actual sites and try it out as if I were an actual user.

I found a few bugs (including one that made the button not actually go anywhere, yikes) and had a few ideas for improving it, so I spent this last day on fixing those things.

  • [Bug fix] – Editing a product box with an existing image now retains the existing saved image
  • [Improvement] – Image upload help text added to Edit and New forms
  • [Improvement] – Added a “plugin action link” that goes directly to Amazin’ Product Box management page via the plugin’s entry in the plugins page
  • [Bug fix] – Button actually goes to the user’s link now
  • [Improvement] – Added a setting for whether the button should open the link in a new tab or stay in the same tab
  • [Improvement] – Product Box is now narrower than the post (I think it looks nicer that way)

You can see these fixes and improvements in this merge. I also did a small “security” pass in which I added code to prevent direct script access and removed an unused file. You can see that commit here.

Final thoughts

Here it is: my first WordPress plugin, just over 2 weeks after I started the project – looking exactly how I’d hoped.

I started blogging about product photography (and later smart home technology) ~5 years ago. I wanted to make my own custom plugins but I was just a baby programmer at the time and I got overwhelmed by terminology and just generally having no clue how to put something like it together.

Even now, after having worked professionally as a full-stack web dev for a few years and having completed most of a computer science degree, I was still a little intimidated by this project. Working in something new is always a bit uncomfortable at first.

Fortunately, this project wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d feared, and while I’m sure there’s something I got wrong with my first attempt at a plugin, I was only a little bit scared to deploy it on one of my live sites. :D

If you read this entire dev journal, thanks for following along – and if you see anything I could’ve done better, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or create a pull request on the project repo.

Resources

For future reference, here are some guides I found helpful for WP plugin development:

Fixing WordPress site’s low mobile score in Google’s PageInsights with W3 Total Cache

In this article: Steps I took to optimize a WordPress-based site for Google’s upcoming mobile search prioritization. It started with a PageSpeed Insights score of 8/100 and ended at 62/100.

Plugins used: W3 Total Cache

Time spent: Several hours of trial and error, but this guide should help you through it much quicker.

Google announced in January that they’re going to take a site’s mobile speed into account for searches beginning July 2018. I’ve always tried to make my WordPress sites mobile-friendly, but it looks like there’s some room for improvement.

One of my biggest (and highest-earning) sites scored just an 8 out of 100 for mobile optimization. Ouch.

(You can test your own site here: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ )

What I’ve already done to optimize this WordPress site

I’ve managed this site for a few years and have already put some effort into optimizing it for search and mobile.

The site already scores well for these categories:

  • Avoid landing page redirects
  • Enable compression
  • Minify CSS
  • Minify HTML
  • Minify JavaScript
  • Optimize images
  • Prioritize visible content

Some of those scores are probably due to the site already using a CDN, lazy loading, a good caching plugin, and a good hosting plan. Here’s what the site uses:

However, there’s more work to be done! Here’s what I did to raise my Google Insights mobile score.

Fixing render-blocking JavaScript on above-the-fold content on a WordPress site using W3 Total Cache and a CDN

Let’s look at this render-blocking JS/CSS problem first:

Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content. 

Your page has 8 blocking script resources and 12 blocking CSS resources. This causes a delay in rendering your page.

None of the above-the-fold content on your page could be rendered without waiting for the following resources to load. Try to defer or asynchronosly load blocking resources, or inline the critical portions of those resources directly in the HTML.

This message is followed by a list of all the JS and CSS scripts causing the render blocking, which were 8 JavaScript files and 3 CSS files in my site’s case.

These guides were helpful to me while working on this problem:

To fix the blocking JavaScript files I had to do a number of things to configure W3 Total Cache. This part took a couple hours of trial and error and some steps were not covered in the guides I used (or my situation was different from theirs), so I’ve attempted to document the process as I experienced it in this guide.

First, I enabled Minify in the general W3 Total Cache settings. Go to Performance > General Settings > Minify > check the “Enable” box and select the “Manual” radio button.

Next, go to Performance > Minify to work on minify settings as they pertain to JavaScript and CSS. You’ll need the list of blocking files from PageSpeed Insights report. 

Watch out! The file paths shown in the PageSpeed Insights results might be truncated. To get the full path, you have to hover over the truncated path and copy the path from the tool tip

In other words, make sure you are copying a complete path:

https://your-cdn.netdna-ssl.com/wp-includes/js/jquery/jquery.js?ver=1.12.4

and not a path with … in it:

https://your-cdn.netdna-ssl.com/-includes/js/jquery/jquery.js?ver=1.12.4

In Performance > Minify there are a variety of options that apply to all the script in a particular area (before head, after body begins, before end of body). In my case, code in the head tag was already minified, so I set it to “Combine only” (rather than re-minify it). I also needed to keep it blocking, or else my page filled Chrome’s console with “can’t find JQuery!” errors.

Next, under JS file management, add all of the blocking files from the PageSpeed Insights results – be sure to get the full file path, not the truncated version.

Also! If you’re using a CDN, you’ll have to change the domain in the file paths that you paste. 

Instead of this:

https://your-cdn.com/wp-includes/etc

You need to use your website’s actual domain. For each path you paste, change the CDN part to be your site’s domain instead, like this:

https://yourwebsitesrealdomain.com/wp-includes/etc

Or you can remove that part of the url entirely and go with something like:

/wp-includes/etc

…which is what I did for mine:

Note: I needed to set the jquery files to embed in <head> to avoid a slew of console errors when visiting the site. As per the earlier settings, anything embedded in head is going to be blocking. I think some blocking files might be inevitable; the point of these settings is to tease out which files belong where in the load sequence.

Save settings and purge all caches, then test again in PageSpeed Insights.

Woohoo – no JS files blocking loading. I also tested the site manually, and verified that it doesn’t look like garbage and doesn’t fill the console with errors. So far, so good.

Fixing render-blocking CSS with Autoptimize

I initially set up all the CSS file paths in W3 Total Cache but ran into these two cases that I couldn’t figure out how deal with through W3 Total Cache alone:

One blocking css file is from w3tc itself:

https://mywebsite.com/?w3tc_minify=6951f.default.include.89e358.css

And another is from Google Fonts:

https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A300%2C400%2C600%2C700%7CMuli%3A300%2C300italic%2C400%2C400italic%2C600%2C600italic%2C700%2C700italic%2C900%2C900italic%7CPlayfair+Display%3A400%2C400italic%2C700%2C700italic&subset=latin%2Clatin-ext

To fix the Google Fonts, I installed the very lightweight plugin Autoptimize and checked these boxes:

I also used Autoptimize to disable Google Fonts. Whether you want to do this is up to you, but I went ahead with it because I am happy with a default system font for this site.

To fix the w3tc minify, I disabled CSS in W3TC and let Autoptimize handle it. I also had to uncheck this setting:

Finally, for the sake of completeness, here’s what my HTML minify settings look like:

At this point, I loaded my site and found it was using serif typefaces on buttons and it wasn’t scaling the hero (header) image correctly. To fix this, I added custom CSS to Autoptimize’s custom CSS section. This CSS gets loaded right away, so the page doesn’t get stuck waiting on the js or css to “fix” certain issues that are visible right away to a visitor.

.button {
   font-family: "Open Sans", sans-serif !important;
}

.header-homepage {
   padding-top: 120px !important;
}

One more thing: I also uploaded a significantly more compressed “hero” banner image jpg to the site (old size: about 350kb, new size: about 110kb).

The reward for all these optimizations:

Note that I still have one render-blocking w3tc js file. For now, I’m going to call this “good enough”, since I don’t know how to fix this last one without breaking some fundamental aspect of the site, so I’m going to move onto the expiry problems and see if I can get the score higher that way.

Fixing “leverage browser caching” with W3 Total Cache

PageSpeed Insights found a few files it thinks could leverage browser caching. These files are all .js files.

I found this guide helpful and accurate at the time of this writing: Leverage Browser Caching with W3 Total Cache

The first step is to enable browser caching in W3 Total Cache’s settings. Go to Performance > General Settings and make sure Browser Cache is enabled.

Then, go to the actual Browser Cache section of the plugin. As per the guide, I ensured these boxes were checked:

  • Set expires header
  • Set cache control header
  • Set entity tag (eTag)
  • Set W3 Total Cache Header – this one was not already checked for me
  • Enable HTTP (gzip) compression

(I re-ran the PageSpeed Insights test at this time just in case that one checkbox was all it took. Alas, there was no change in the results.)

The next thing I did was scroll down a little bit to the CSS & JS section. My “expires header lifetime” was set to 172800, which is way less than the recommended 604800 (2 weeks) the guide recommends. I saved that change, cleared cache, and ran the test again.

Now I have just three files with unsuitable caching times:

Alas, two of the remaining files are out of my hands: they are Google Analytics’s own .js files. After reading this guide to browser caching Google Analytics, I decided not to try to cache the analytics js file myself. Doing so would require manually updating it periodically. Even the guide’s author says they don’t recommend this method. That’s fine by me.

But how about this emoji js file? I don’t use emojis on my site, so I wouldn’t mind removing them and reaping a small page speed boost.

Normally, removing them is as simple as adding these two lines in your site’s functions.php:

remove_action( 'wp_head', 'print_emoji_detection_script', 7 );

remove_action( 'wp_print_styles', 'print_emoji_styles' );

But I’m using a pro theme that gets automatic updates (which will clobber this code if I add it to functions.php), and I don’t want to make a child theme for the express purpose of removing emojis.

So, I did what any good WP user does and installed yet another plugin: Disable Emojis. (Yes, I also canceled Christmas and summer break while I was heartlessly removing emojis from my very srs blog.)

I ran PageSpeed Insights again and….

Woohoo! (It initially came out worse, but network latency has some affect on the score, too. I tried again and got a 62/100).

My report has never looked better:

PSI estimates this page requires 2 render-blocking round trips and ~26 resources (0.4MB) to load. The median page requires 4 render-blocking round trips and ~75 resources (1MB) to load. Fewer round trips and bytes results in faster pages.

Fixing the “flash of unstyled content”

A new problem has been introduced by all this work: now my page looks unstyled for half a second or so while it’s loading.

I used this tool: Critical Path CSS to identify a the “minimum” CSS needed to make the “above the fold” content look good (it’s a huge block, I’m sure a human could produce something more elegant but for now, it’ll do).

I put this CSS into Autoptimize’s “above the fold” CSS section and the flash of unstyled content seems to look better now, though I still see the fonts looking bad before the preferred “open sans” style comes into effect.

Done… for now

At this point, I’ve gotta call it good enough for now. My site’s score went from 8/100 to about 62/100. I still have a one blocking JS file that I don’t know what to do with and two files from Google Analytics with unsuitable cache expiration times.

I’ll update this page when I make further improvements to the site.

Fix: Font Awesome icons missing with Mesmerize PRO theme and MaxCDN

In this post: missing Font Awesome icons due to missing CDN configuration.

I have a WordPress blog that uses MaxCDN, W3 Total Cache, and the Mesmerize PRO theme by Extend Themes which includes Font Awesome icons.

After installing and activating the theme on my website the Font Awesome icons appeared as boxes:

Missing icon looks like a box

Another missing font awesome icon
Another missing font awesome icon

And I could see these (canceled) errors in the Network tab:

Errors in the Chrome Network tab. fontawesome-webfont status is canceled.
Errors in the Chrome Network tab. fontawesome-webfont status is canceled.

The referrer is

https://cdn1-mycompany.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/themes/mesmerize-pro/assets/font-awesome/font-awesome.min.css?ver=1.0.221

That referrer, cdn1-mycompany.netdna-ssl.com, isn’t allowed to serve this file. But there’s an easy fix: you can whitelist the CDN itself in the CDN.

The fix: whitelist the CDN itself

In MaxCDN, go to Pull Zones > Security > Whitelist.

You might already have yourdomain.com in here. What you need to add is the domain your CDN files are pulled from.

MAXCDN settings: Pull Zone tab, Security tab, whitelist tab, add cdn1-domain.netdna-ssl.com to whitelist

In my case, that was a domain that took the form of cdn1-mydomain.netdna-ssl.com, but you can find out what yours is by looking in the Network tab while you try to load your site. Look for a red-colored error message and open the Headers.

Anyway, the fix is as easy as adding the domain to this list of whitelisted domains and waiting a few minutes (for me it was about 10 minutes). Reload your website and the Font Awesome icons should now appear.

Note: You will probably need to Purge All Caches, too, once the time has passed to actually see the change in your browser (I use the dropdown in the WP toolbar).

WordPress toolbar with W3 Total Cache Performance section rolled out, Purge All Caches selected

My W3 Total Cache settings

(Just in case it’s useful to someone else trying to debug this problem)

My W3 Total Cache settings are set to upload .css, .tff, .otf, .woff, and .woff2 files.

W3 Total Cache settings for which theme files to upload by extension. css, js, gif, tff, otf, woff, woff2, etc.

Provided again as text so you can copy/paste.

wp-includes file types to upload:

*.css;*.js;*.gif;*.png;*.jpg;*.xml

Theme file types to upload:

*.css;*.js;*.gif;*.png;*.jpg;*.ico;*.tff;*.otf;*.woff;*.woff2

This is a pretty specific configuration issue but hopefully it’ll help someone else out there!

Fixed: Missing images (403) when sharing WordPress posts on Twitter and Facebook

One of my WordPress-based sites uses this particular combination of plugins and utilities:

  • WordPress version 4.8.2
  • W3 Total Cache
  • MaxCDN

And this was the disappointing, image-less result I got whenever I shared one of its posts on Twitter:

Twitter/Facebook missing image debugging tools

Here are two tools I used while debugging my missing images problems on social media.

Rather than spam your friends or pollute your feed with tests, you can use Twitter’s own validator and Facebook’s sharing debugger to try your posts and see how they render.

Twitter: https://cards-dev.twitter.com/validator

Facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/sharing/ (you may need to hit the “Scrape again” button in between tries)

The Twitter/Facebook 403 fix

There were two problems with my site:

Problem 1: My site’s posts didn’t define any Open Graph images in the first place. I figured Twitter, Facebook, etc. were smart enough to scrape the post and pick an image all on their own, but it seems that’s not always the case.

To explicitly declare a social media image for each post, I installed the “Facebook Open Graph, Google+, and Twitter Card Tags” WordPress plugin.

Now, at the bottom of every post, is the option to explicitly define an image to use when sharing. This image can be larger than images you might normally include in a post (maybe even custom-made for the purpose) and need not appear in the post itself. (Unfortunately, you do have to go back and manually add an image to each post.)

After doing this I was still getting a 403 when previewing my post in the Facebook and Twitter tools.

Problem 2: The other part of the problem was with my CDN settings themselves. Twitter (and Facebook, etc.) aren’t actually allowed to link to images hosted on my CDN – they aren’t whitelisted. My CDN is set up to only serve images on my site itself, so other people can’t link directly to my CDN images and effectively steal the bandwidth that I pay for (truthfully, I wish people were this eager to link to my content).

I had to add Facebook and Twitter to my W3 Total Cache’s list of rejected user agents.

Under the Performance tab (left side of WordPress interface), click on CDN:

Then scroll down into the Advanced section and find “Rejected user agents”. Type facebook.com and twitter.com. These agents are not allowed to access files hosted within the CDN. (Which is what we want, because the CDN won’t let them do it anyway.)

You may need to also do Performance > Purge All Caches from the top toolbar in WordPress, too.

Finally, the Twitter and Facebook previews have images!

What to change in MaxCDN settings after you change web hosts

I just moved one of my blogs to a new host (yay!). This blog uses MaxCDN for its content delivery, and moving the blog to a new host messed up the site’s styles and it took me a while (plus some back and forth with support) to get everything fixed because MaxCDN was still referencing the old host.

maxcdn_logo

In case I ever do this again, here’s what needed to be done to move my WordPress blog to a new host with MaxCDN as my content delivery network.

Step 1: Add a CNAME record to your new host

My new host has CPanel (Digital Ocean, by contrast, had a Networking tab with a link to Domains and their records were accessible through there). If you have CPanel, click on Simple DNS Zone Editor.

Add a new CNAME record. It’ll probably look something like this:

Name
cdn1.yoursitename.com.

Record
cdn1.yourbusinessname.netdna-cdn.com

(Your CPanel might add the . at the end of name for you, and it might autocomplete for you if you just type the subdomain portion and then tab out of the field.)

MaxCDN has good documentation on updating CNAME records for a variety of hosts, too.

Note: I use a custom domain in MaxCDN because I don’t want it to use the default “business name” URL that MaxCDn gives you.

Step 2: Update the Origin IP over in MaxCDN’s settings for your pull zone

Go to Zones > Pull Zones > Settings and get into that particular pull zone’s settings. At the bottom is Origin Information. Check the checkbox and enter the IP address for your new host. Click Update button to save.

Step 3: Whitelist your new IP

Go into your Account > look under the API section > click Manage > add your new IP as a whitelist IP.

You may also need to whitelist your own IP address, if you get problems with cURL requests failing when you try to clear CDN cache.

Step 4: Update your WP caching plugin

You may need to reconfigure your WP cache plugin. I use W3 Total Cache which, for reasons unbeknownst to me, likes to replace my entry for “Replace site’s hostname with:” with the word “Array” instead of the URL I give it.

For reference, “Replace site’s hostname with:” should be followed by your cdn url, like cdn1.yoursite.com.

Step 5: Purge all caches and check your site

When you’ve done all of the above, purge your CDN cache and your WP cache via your caching plugin.

It might also help to flush your local DNS. I’m on Windows and I do that in a command prompt with ipconfig /flushdns

Open a Chrome incognito tab and load your site – if your styles and images load, you’re good to go. If your site looks incomplete, look in the console for an error message. I found many of them (like 502 bad gateway) to be covered in MaxCDN’s documentation.

More tools for debugging DNS, caching issues

If you’re having problems, try these tools:

Did it propagate yet? Whatsmydns.net is a great way to check propagation and see what is actually getting served when you try to hit your CDN’s URL.

If you are using a custom domain with MaxCDN like I am, then putting that custom domain into whatsmydns should yield the actual “business” domain in the results list. In other words, if you search for cdn1.yourcustomdomain.com and you get responses of cdn1.yourbusiness.netdna-cdn.com, you’ve got it set up correctly.

What’s your site’s IP? In a command prompt / Terminal window, ping yoursite.com to get its IP address.

Is your CDN URL responding? In a command prompt / Terminal window, ping cdn1.yourcustomdomain.com and see if you get anything. If it can’t find your host, this could indicate an error with your CNAME record with your new hosting service.

Are you seeing stale or current stuff in your browser? I use Chrome incognito because each window starts with a fresh cache and no cookies. CTRL SHIFT N opens up a new incognito window.

You may also want to flush your DNS in between tests. ipconfig /flushdns does this in Windows.

If all else fails, email MaxCDN’s customer support. Even on a US holiday, I got a response within 20 minutes and they helped me get things working again.

 

Tutorial: Easily move a WordPress site to a new host with minimal downtime using UpdraftPlus

Moving a WordPress site from one host to another with minimal of downtime doesn’t have to be a huge hassle, and it’s easy to do it yourself even if you aren’t a web developer. Here is the process I use to move a WordPress site to a new host, with about 10 minutes or less of actual downtime (and because of caching, many visitors during the migration may not even see the outage).

I like this method because:

  • It’s easy
  • You don’t have to mess around in MySQL
  • It’s free
  • It’s maybe 10 minutes of downtime for your site, depending how fast you can upload your backup and how much you have to do to get your caching plugin/CDN (if you have them) on board with the new IP address

Before you begin, make sure you have:

  • A WordPress site on your current host
  • Access to your new hosting account (preferably with CPanel and phpMyAdmin to get the most out of this guide)
  • Access to your domain’s DNS records (yoursite.com may be registered with your current host, or a separate registrar)
  • Nameservers for your new host (they usually look like ns1.newhost.com)
  • FTP access to old host and new host via your choice of FTP software (I use Filezilla) *optional* – you can do the same stuff through your host’s CPanel File Manager if they have it
  • About an hour of time to dedicate to reading this guide and the actual migration

Step 1: Install UpdraftPlus plugin on your site

updraft_plus

Log into your WordPress dashboard (http://yoursite.com/wp-admin) and install the free UpdraftPlus plugin.

This plugin is awesome and I recommend it for use outside of just moving your WordPress site to a new host. Here’s why:

  • The backup files do actually work (this plugin has saved my ass a couple times now)
  • You can use it to make a manual backup of your site at any time
  • You can set it up to create automatic backups and put them on the cloud storage service of your choice (personally, I back up to Google Drive)

Step 2: Use UpdraftPlus to make a backup of your site

Use Backup Now to start the backup process.

move_wordpress_site_new_host_updraft_step1

I like to do this right before I’m ready to start the migration process, so the backups are as fresh as can be.

Step 3: Download your backup files

Go back to your UpdraftPlus plugin page and go to the Existing Backups tab. Find today’s date and click each of the buttons (database, plugins, themes, uploads, others).

move_wp_to_new_host_easy_no_downtime_save_backups_updraft

Updraft will prepare each backup file for you (there are 5 total). Wait for Updraft to prepare the files, then click Download to your computer for each one.

move_wp_new_host_easy_download_each_backup_file

You’ll get 5 compressed files:

save_backup_files

Step 4: Set up an account with your new host and install WordPress there

If you haven’t done so yet, sign up for an account at your new host.

I’m digging SiteGround as my host these days, and I’ve already moved several of my sites to SiteGround (including my top money-making blog).

I use the StartUp package for my up-and-coming sites, and the GoGeek plan for my top performers. You can upgrade your plan at any time as a site grows. I especially like the GoGeek plan because they throw in SSL for free (or at least they did for my first year) and because it has a separate staging environment for testing stuff on a copy of the site before pushing it live.

Next, install WordPress on your new host. Many modern hosts (including SiteGround and BlueHost) have an easy one-click install for WordPress nowadays – look in the CPanel or just the dashboard in general once you’re logged in.

Don’t worry about picking a login/password you want to use in the long run, your Updraft backups will replace whatever you choose during setup with whatever your existing site already has. Do write down whatever name/password you choose here, you’ll need it to access your new WP install until you overwrite it with your backups.

successful_wp_install

It’ll probably tell you the installation was successful and you can go see it at the following url, but that link won’t work because you haven’t updated your domain’s nameservers yet.

Step 5: Change your domain’s nameservers

I do this in dynadot.com’s domain manager because that’s where my domain is managed, but your domain may be attached to your old hosting. In any case, change its two nameservers from ns1.oldhost.com and ns2.oldhost.com to ns1.newhost.com and ns2.newhost.com (or similar).

It should propagate fairly quickly (check it here: https://www.whatsmydns.net/) but it may take a while to see the change on your machine. One way to speed it up (on Windows, anyway) is to open a command prompt (cmd) and type ipconfig /flushdns.

Load your site again (in an Incognito window in Chrome or after clearing browser cache) and you should now see your new WP install.

Step 6: Install UpdraftPlus on your new blog and restore backups

Now that you have dashboard access to your new WordPress installation, install UpdraftPlus and click Restore.

updraftplus_restore

Drag your 5 files here and wait for them to upload.

updraft_restoring_backups

When those are done uploading, click Restore.

restore

Follow the prompts until you’re force to re-log in to your site. It should now look exactly like it used to on your old host, but you can confirm that it’s actually on your new host by pinging it in a command prompt or Terminal window (ping yoursite.com). If the IP address returned matches your new host’s, you’re good to go.

Extra step for CDN users:

I’m on MaxCDN, but regardless of what CDN you use (if you use one) there will probably be some additional setup steps to make sure your existing CDN account references your new IP and host.

I went through this process for MaxCDN and documented it here: https://tilcode.com/what-to-change-in-maxcdn-settings-after-you-change-web-hosts/

Step 7: You may need to do some other setup on your new host

Leave your old host active for a little while while you confirm everything’s working on your new site over the next couple days.

You may need to move the following separately:

  • Email accounts. If you had email accounts set up at your old host, take note that they don’t come with the Updraft migration and you’ll have to recreate them (and redo any redirects) on your new host.
  • Favicon: if your site had a custom favicon sitting in your site’s root directory, you might need to copy it from your old host and upload it to your new one
  • Google Analytics .html file: If you put any .html files for analytics tracking (Google Analytics is the one I always have to move manually) in your old site’s root folder, you will have to copy them to your new host
  • Robots.txt and anything else sitting in root (this will vary by site)
  • Images or other media in dedicated folders: Anything that’s part of your site but not part of WordPress will have to be manually moved. For me, this is sometimes a site logo or images on the site that I keep in a separate images folder, not uploaded to WordPress’s file manager.

If you’re afraid of losing anything off your old site, take the time now to download a copy of its entire directory off your old host, before you shut down your old hosting account. That way, if you find something missing later on, at least you can dig around the old files and maybe find it.

How to fix ‘Error establishing database connection’ in WordPress on shared hosting, VPS hosting

Error establishing database connection is my most hated WordPress problem – it’s so cryptic and so many things can cause it. I run about a dozen WordPress blogs: some are on shared hosting, some are on virtual private servers (with Digital Ocean), and nearly all of them have had this problem at some time or another. This article documents what I do when it happens to me.

If it’s any comfort, I’ve never not solved this problem (eventually). It’s definitely fixable, but there are a lot of things that can cause it, so if nothing here helps you just keep digging around in the Googles – and good luck.

Before you do anything, turn on error messages and see what the problem actually is

Get into your website’s files, either through FTP or your host’s control panel, and turn on debug mode in wp-config.php. This file is in your WordPress installation directory.

Change this line to true:

define('WP_DEBUG', true);

Now go back to http://sitename.com/wp-admin and get those juicy error messages.

This step alone can save you a lot of frustration as you debug the actual cause of your WordPress blog’s Error Establishing Database Connection problem.

Possible fix #1: make sure DB_USER and DB_PASSWORD match what your host has

The vast majority of the times I run into Error Establishing Database Connection on a shared hosting site, it’s because something (I don’t know what) caused the DB_PASSWORD in wp-config.php to become out of sync with the password my host has for that user. This particular flavor of the error connecting to db problem seems to only affect my sites that are on shared hosting (most recently, it happened to a site I host on lunarpages.com). 

Basically, what wp-config.php has for DB_USER and DB_PASSWORD has to match what your host has saved for that database and particular user.

By turning on WP_DEBUG in step 2, I was privy to the following error messages when attempting to access http://mysite.com/wp-admin:

Warning: mysqli_real_connect(): (HY000/1045): Access denied for user 'x2_artblog'@'localhost' (using password: YES) in /home/x2/public_html/blog/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1488

Warning: mysql_connect(): Access denied for user 'x2_artblog'@'localhost' (using password: YES) in /home/x2/public_html/blog/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1518

If this looks like your problem, then for some reason, your WP database login credentials are fubar.

The credentials it’s trying to use are in wp-config.php (keep this file open, the following steps will help you fix it):

// ** MySQL settings - You can get this info from your web host ** //
/** The name of the database for WordPress */
define('DB_NAME', 'x2_artblog');

/** MySQL database username */
define('DB_USER', 'x2_artblog');

/** MySQL database password */
define('DB_PASSWORD', '123xyz456abc');

If you know what your DB_USER and DB_PASSWORD are supposed to be, maybe you’ll spot a discrepancy here. Chances are, you don’t know what’s supposed to go here, so you can’t tell just by looking if it’s right. That’s okay, I don’t either, but it’s easy to get everything matching.

First, if you have CPanel on your host, you can log into CPanel and go into MySQL Databases to see a list of users associated with your database(s).

phpmyadmin_repair_db

Next, find your database and look in the Privileged Users column. One name from the Privileged Users column has to match the username given in wp-config.php.

see_db_users

If the user your wp-config.php file is expecting is already in this column, you’re good to go to the next step where you reset its password.

If you don’t have the same user your wp-config.php expects, either add that user here or change wp-config.php to reference a user you do have.

Still on the MySQL Databases page, scroll down into “Current Users” and find the user your db is using. Click Set Password. 

set_password

I just change the user’s password to something randomly generated, it doesn’t matter. Copy that password and paste it right into wp-config.php

/** MySQL database password */
define('DB_PASSWORD', '123xyz456abc');

Save wp-config.php (and upload it via FTP if you aren’t doing this edit directly through your hosting CPanel).

Try the site again: if it works now, you’ve resolved your “access denied” error and may now have full access to your WordPress site again.

Possible fix #2: it could be a bad plugin

This one is easy to test the fix for but I’ve only seen it be the problem once, and it happened right after I messed with plugins so the cause was obvious. However, with more plugins and WP things going to “auto update” these days, I could see how this might crop up independent of blog-owner interaction.

Rename the plugins folder.

I log into my site’s file manager via my hosting service’s website or FTP, navigate to /wp-content and rename the folder called plugins. (Don’t delete it, just put an X at the end or something.)

plugins > pluginsX

Try the site again – if it loads, your problem is one of your plugins. You can narrow it down by renaming plugins back to its normal name and then turning plugins off in groups to narrow it down to a specific one.

If your site doesn’t load, put plugins back to normal and go to the next step.

Possible fix #3: maybe your MySQL service croaked – try restarting it

This particular flavor of “Error Establishing Database Connection” seems to affect my Digital Ocean (VPS) hosted blogs (not my shared hosting blogs).  There are many reasons why MySQL can crash, but when your WP site is down and you’re losing money by the hour, getting it back online is probably your #1 priority. 

Since my Digital Ocean hosting runs on Linux, I log in to the virtual console and check if mysql is running with this command:

mysqladmin -u root -p status

This command brought MySQL back up:

service mysql start

Now, as to why it crashed in the first place, that could be any number of things, and chances are, MySQL will go right back down again as soon as the same conditions return.

The various fixes I’ve applied in effort to stop chronic MySQL crashes on Digital Ocean merit their own article someday, but for the sake of helping anyone who might find this, here’s a brief overview of stuff I’ve done on my VPS WordPress to try to stop frequent MySQL crashes.

I tried to figure out what was using up memory by logging into my droplet’s virtual console and looking at all the active processes sorted by what resources they are consuming. The command to see that chart is top.

Here’s the steps to sort what’s in top by memory usage:

top 

f key

arrow down (to highlight %mem)

s key (to select %mem)

escape key (to return to process list)

You should now see your process list sorted with the most memory intensive processes at the top. What you find here will help you Google for solutions.

top_processes_linux_debugging_WP_db_error_establishing_connection

For me, mysqld is always at the top, soaking up all the memory, so I focused on that when I was trying to fix chronic “Error Establishing Database Connection” problems on my Digital Ocean WordPress blog. After mysqld was always a whole ton of apache2 instances.

Some of the stuff I did…

Went into apache2.conf and added this code to help protect against brute force attacks:

<files xmlrpc.php> 
order allow,deny 
deny from all 
</files>

This alone did not stop MySQL crashing, it crashed a few weeks later. So then I did…

I edited /etc/my.cnf to increase buffer pool size and set max_connections to 200 (this line was commented out, previously).

## Edit /etc/my.cnf, and add the following line under the [mysqld] heading.
[mysqld]
innodb_buffer_pool_size=64M

These fixes also did not stop it, but I had another few weeks of uptime following them.

I edited /etc/apache2.conf, changing maxKeepAliveRequests from 100 to 9 because it seemed like a good way to limit how much memory apache was allowed to take up. Be sure to run service apache2 restart after editing to apply changes.

Restarting the droplet has helped, too. One time I cleared my blog’s MaxCDN cache and that immediately took the site down and replaced it with Error Establishing Database Connection. When that happened, restarting the droplet brought it back up.

To be honest, MySQL crashes on Digital Ocean are kind of an ongoing issue for my most popular WordPress blog, but I’ve managed to lengthen the time between crashes/restarts with the above steps.

Even more help with WordPress db error (articles, threads, etc)

WPBeginner has the Internet’s de facto go-to article on the subject, and they also report that somehow the database credentials on their shared host site got reset. They also have some solutions I’ve never had work for me but are worth looking into if nothing in this article worked for you.

This thread has plenty of one-off posters coming in to share their various fixes for the problem and is also worth a look if you’re stuck.

Oh, and be sure to put this line in wp-config.php back to false:

define('WP_DEBUG', false);

Where is the WordPress installation directory on Digital Ocean?

On Digital Ocean, assuming you did their fast install when you set up your droplet, the WordPress installation is located in /var/www

where_is_wordpress_installation_digital_ocean

This is also:

  • where your .htaccess file lives
  • where you upload your .html file for Google Analytics
  • where you’ll find the folder for uploading your theme (wp-content/themes/ThemeNameHere) – or where you can directly upload updates to its .php or .css files without having to re-zip the whole thing

Setting up MaxCDN with a WordPress blog hosted on Digital Ocean with a custom domain

This guide was written after I completed the process of hooking up MaxCDN to my Digital Ocean hosted WordPress blog.

maxcdn_logodigital_ocean_logowordpress-logo

This wasn’t a straightforward process, partially due to my own errors and partially because I was using WP Super Cache which I’m pretty sure just doesn’t cooperate with MaxCDN for reasons I may never understand. However, I now have it working so here’s my guide to everything I did.

Why I wanted a CDN: To speed up my top money-making property, which is also my slowest because it’s got long articles and lots of images.

I chose MaxCDN because it seemed to have a lot of good reviews and at about $10/month was reasonably priced.

Setting up MaxCDN with W3 Total Cache and a custom CNAME on Digital Ocean

I signed up and was disappointed to see that the URL MaxCDN gave me by default included the business name I used when I signed up. I wanted cdn.mysitename.com, but by default MaxCDN gave me cdn1.mybusinessname.netdna-cdn.com. MaxCDN calls this the “branded domain” and you can use it as-is, but I would guess most people want to customize it.

My business name and my website name are not the same and I didn’t want to expose the former in the latter. (They don’t tell you they’ll use your business name this way when you sign up, nor do they let you change it once you opened your account. Ugh.)

Fortunately, you can set up a custom domain and use that instead, and my steps below include that process.

Step 0: Set up a pull zone. MaxCDN has good documentation on pull zones.

Step 1: Enter your custom domain into the pull zone settings. Go to Pull Zones > Settings and fill in the Custom Domains field with cdn.yoursitehere.com (or cdn1.yoursitehere.com, or whatever you prefer. The important thing is that all three parts of the url are present.)

Step 2: Get into Digital Ocean’s record management. Inside Digital Ocean’s droplet management page, go to Networking and then go to Domains. Click the magnifying glass next to the domain you’re adding this CDN to to get into its records. More help adding/editing domain records in Digital Ocean.

digital_ocean_access_domain_records
Look in Networking, Domains

Step 3: Add a CNAME record to your droplet’s domain.  If you want cdn1.yourdomain.com, fill the form out like this:

  • Enter Name: cdn1
  • Enter hostname: cdn1.yourdomain.netdna-cdn.com (the “branded” domain that Digital Ocean gave you by default)

Be sure to click the Create CNAME Record button to actually add it to the list of records.

digital_ocean_cname_for_maxcdn

Step 4: Wait about 20 minutes for it to propagate. 

You can watch it propagate here: https://www.whatsmydns.net/#CNAME/cdn1.yourdomaincom

Assuming nothing else is conflicting (you didn’t leave your DNS hooked up to CloudFlare like I did, you don’t have a competing www.yourdomain.com record like I did, etc), this should happen in 20 minutes or less.

Step 5: Now you can hook it up in your WordPress caching plugin! MaxCDN has docs for setting up MaxCDN with many different WordPress caching plugins here.

At first, I was using WP Super Cache and every time I turned on the CDN feature my site’s styling and images disappeared. I fought with this for a while, got good and frustrated, then tried W3 Total Cache like MaxCDN suggests and WOW – it was like night and day. I followed MaxCDN’s tutorial and basically, it just worked. Be sure to whitelist your site’s IP (go into Terminal or command prompt and ping www.yoursite.com to get your site’s IP if you don’t know it, or look in Digital Ocean’s droplet list).

If you’re having a problem with WP Super Cache making your styles and images disappear with MaxCDN, try W3 Total Cache instead.

Step 6: Verify it works by loading your site

If everything’s working, you should be able to load your site (yoursite.com) at its usual url (not the cdn url) and look in the network tab of your browser to see responses coming in from the CDN url (cdn.yoursite.com).

Fast way to check: right click any image on your site and view it in another tab. Its url should be your cdn’s url.

If you don’t have any images, you can see this in Chrome by right clicking to Inspect and then click over to the Network tab before loading your site. Hover over some resources (like .css resource) and you should see cdn1.yourdomain.com.

You should also start to see improvements to your page’s load time immediately.

If you don’t see the changes right away: While the cdn1.mysite.com changeover was observable right away on the computer I was working on, it wasn’t on my laptop. The cause seems to be the computer’s own DNS settings. By switching my laptop’s DNS settings to Google’s, I was able to see the most up-to-date (ie: not cached) version of the website.

How to use Google’s public DNS on your Mac or Windows machine: https://developers.google.com/speed/public-dns/docs/using

(Alternatively, waiting a while – up to a day – should resolve it with no changes to your computer.)

Pingdom results, before and after MaxCDN

Here’s a couple of “before” load times on my website, taken less than a minute apart and both from New York City. The thing I often notice on Pingdom’s Website Speed Test is how much variance there can be in load time across multiple tests when all other factors remain the same (location testing from, time of day, etc).

Site speed: before

Here, there’s a huge difference in load time just on these two “before” tests.

pingdom_ny_test1

pingdom_ny_test2

The kind of extreme difference in load time seen above is why I like to run several Pingdom tests when collecting my “before” data before making a change that I think should effect load time. Here’s another test, this one from San Jose, California.

pingdom_san_jose

Site speed: after

Whoo! Look at that, down to <2 seconds since turning on MaxCDN:

pingdom_ny_after_1

Here’s an even faster one, best one I saw in my several tests:

pingdom_ny_after_2

And one from San Jose:

pingdom_california_after_1

So far I like MaxCDN. Their online support is very responsive. I sent a detailed plea for help on a Sunday afternoon in the U.S. and had a (reasonably) customized response within an hour. Their documentation is plentiful and thorough. They include many examples and their screenshots are up-to-date with their current interface.

The real test will be in seeing if getting the site speed down to ~2 seconds has any noticeable effect on the site’s Google rank and total conversions (sales).

CDN Traffic Boost?

Totally unscientific study here, but my site’s traffic pulled out of a slump as soon as my CDN hookup went live. (March 17 is just beginning as I post this update.)

maxcdn_stats_effect

Relevant MaxCDN docs and tools: