I feel the need, the need for speed!

Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen, mobile browsing is about to get fast thanks to the latest enhancement to the Litespeed Cache WordPress plugin.

Early this morning Australian time I received a surprising email to a support/feature enhancement ticket I opened several months ago on Litespeed. Not expecting any communication to what was basically a resolved topic I was pleasantly surprised at the content of the email. They had completed an enhancement I had been longing for. A mobile user agent crawler. So what does it actually mean?

To understand the importance of this specific crawler, and the excitement I had when I opened the email, you need to understand how web pages are put together and how the web is moving to a smaller version to accommodate the ever-growing use of mobiles for browsing the web.

How is a webpage built?

Your average WordPress website is built in a programming language called PHP. PHP allows websites to do amazing things, like let us shop online, interact with friends on social media platforms and find a wealth of knowledge online. The problem is the browsers, like Firefox, Chrome and the one that shall not be mentioned, can’t read PHP and display the content in the browser. The servers have to turn PHP into HTML, a programming language that browsers can read. This process is very hard to do and it’s also incredibly slow. Serving an HTML page and bypassing the PHP process makes the delivery of websites a lot faster. But the websites built on WordPress are built on PHP. What to do?

Why is cache important and what exactly does it do?

Have you ever been on a website and found that it was painfully slow to load? Chances are that it was building the page from PHP in the background. As we’ve already said, this is a slow process, and visitors to a website won’t stick around and wait for it to be made. What can be done to bypass this PHP process? Enter cache.

What a cache plugin does is stores a copy of a visited page on the server in HTML format. The first visitor to the page will, unfortunately, see the slow page as the HTML version is built, but all subsequent visitors will see only the HTML version, no waiting for the PHP process to run. Think of it as a bakery.

Imagine a customer walks into a bakery and orders a muffin. To bake a muffin you need to collect all of the ingredients together, mix them up to the correct proportions and then bake for 40 minutes or until ready. During the entire process, the customer is waiting. You finish that muffin and the next customer walks in and orders another muffin, so you once again collect all of the ingredients, mix them up and bake a single muffin once again for that customer. You end up doing this 500 times a day, and each time the customer has to wait. Sometimes the customer will leave so you will throw the muffin away and sometimes the customer will stay, but be angry at the wait and may never come back or recommend your bakery to anyone. Logic says you should bake 500 muffins all at once so the first customer has to wait for the muffins to cook, but every other customer gets a freshly baked muffin without waiting. This is what cache does. It copies the page into a faster loading version so customers don’t have to wait. But a smart baker wouldn’t wait for a customer to come in and order muffins before baking a batch. A smart baker would bake them before anyone ever turns up. Introducing the cache crawler.

What is a cache crawler?

A cache crawler is a bot that goes out and crawls you pages imitating real visitors. This creates a fast HTML version of the pages and stores them on your server eliminating the need for a first person visitor. Essentially no one will ever have to wait for a page to be created from PHP. This ultimately creates a fast web. But we can do even better.

The importance of a fast mobile website

Even if you don’t own a website you’ll know that mobile has already overtaken desktop web browsing. More people will visit websites using a mobile device than using a desktop device. While nearly all modern WordPress websites are built on a responsive design, this just doesn’t cut it. The problem is that many phones can still only access painfully slow networks, and many smartphones lack the processing power to deliver a faster browsing experience. To combat this Google launched the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. Amp is an initiative of Google’s to create a faster mobile experience. It basically strips down a website so that visitors get a faster loading mobile website. this leads to lower bounces and happier surfers.

Mobile cache crawler

By now you should understand the importance of a cache system and an effective crawler for your web presence. Until today the emphasis has been on desktop websites, which are getting fewer and fewer visitors as time goes by. No one has had the vision to accommodate a crawler to simulate a mobile visitor, until now. 

Prior to today, visitors using a mobile device had to either load a responsive version of a website, which could take an extremely long time, especially if the website visited was an e-commerce website several MB in size, visit an m. version of the website, which is a trimmed down version typically reserved for non-responsive websites and normally not cached, or an AMP version, which is normally a lot faster, but requires that dreaded PHP process. Despite website owners best efforts, website visitors would always land on slower loading pages thanks to the need to run that PHP process. Well, now there’s no need for that to happen. Everyone regardless of the device used can experience a faster web experience.

If you run a website on a Litespeed server that’s either an AMP version or m. version, get a hold of the new version of Litespeed and make your mobile version even faster.

Friday, November 30, 2018

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