Feature image for webdesign post, showing wireframe sketch for a page.

Design statement

Designing with you in mind

Ackadia is smartphone and tablet friendly. Check with your mobile, or with Google webmaster tools.

This site is regularly revised to take into account the latest standards and technology.

In the early days even adding small images was a luxury, one you also paid for, given slow connection speeds and per minute landline billing to connect – while also tying up your home phone line (no broadband or smartphones back then). After that came various iterations of HTML, then the addition of style sheets, followed by moving to responsive code, and now developing and writing with Accelerated Mobile Pages in mind (AMP).

Ackadia is not perfect, but I do my best, as you have to balance looks, style, and expectations with security, load times, and budget, but on a scale of 1 to 10, or F to A+, I aim high.

Just in terms of hosting and related costs, websites can be dirt cheap – or not. You can create one for as little as a few quid a year; the cost is hidden: in slow loading, poor response times and sites going offline. Quality sites, well, £30 a month is a starting point, £60 to £100 a month if you are serious, considerably more for an eCommerce site. The really big sites cost millions to tens of millions a year to run.

There is a hidden cost here too though: in tightening security to just secure browsers, older tech can get blocked – notably on older phones. So, testing this site on our ageing Samsung tablet, I was advised that "This web page is not available". Updating the browser on the phone might help and, looking, I saw it was version 80 for Chrome, while the current version is 85. I added the Opera browser to the tablet, and that saw the site fine, so I uninstalled and re-added Chrome, and the site was working just fine for Chrome too.

(It should be noted that I am atypical for my generation in that I am a computer expert, with experience in most areas, including app development and currently studying for a degree in cloud computing. Ironically, I neither have nor want a smartphone or tablet myself and approach things with the same trepidation as a new parent discovering the teething nappy from hell. If it’s broken on your phone, tell me, I won’t really know otherwise. I just don’t like the things!
Boomers, eh! Boomer smilie in a wheelchair).

{ Ackadia’s Page speed is getting near perfect }

Web

🌐 📊 Statcounter


Site testing and validations, 2022

Update mid-October, 2022: Moved again!

 

I was not happy with the speeds from Siteground, nor their decision to discard Cloudflare, so I moved again, to Rocket.net. You can read more here: Thoughts on WordPress hosting and design


Update October 2022

Moving to a slightly slower host (Siteground) this month (October 2022), resulting in several days offline while Cloudflare conflicts were sorted will have impacted the scores, especially Google’s (which takes a 28-day consideration). To counter this, I’ve added dynamic CDN (faster page loads) but that’ll take a few days to propagate across the internet. The main issues now are heavy javascript usage (most of which are down to Google Adsense and Analytics) and font calls, for some reason. I like the design and theme I have now, but I might have to change it too if it’s adding too much to the page loads.

It’s kind of funny that when you dig down into the reasons for low scores in Google speed tests and note that you are being downgraded for unused JavaScript – and the unused script are Google calls.

However, sometimes it’s more a case of RTFM. In the case of Siteground, they bundle a plug-in called SG Optimiser which has lots of off-on settings to improve things like font load and file compression. Yet, by default, most of the recommended options are turned off. (I know, right!)

The other concern is TTFB, which is a server issue and can add a second or more to page speed (1s or more is a LOT). Shared vs VPS vs Cloud vs Dedicated, moderated by contention, share load, server specs, and other complexities. Basically, the cheaper the hosting, the worse it gets. However, if there are additional issues caused by company policies, then saying “OK, I’ll upgrade and pay £60 a month or £180 a month” may not fix the actual problem; you need to move to a better host. For instance, this (2019) post on Backlinko… If a hosting company boosts of using (say) Google Cloud but not which option, well, it raises questions once you start to dig. Are they using the best – or the cheapest technology to serve your sites?

Other solutions include putting your hand in your pocket for extras like WPRocket or NitroPack (expensive, but there is a free version). As always, the more plugins you use, the more potential conflicts and vulnerabilities you add to your site. It is not uncommon for even a massively popular plugin to release an update that crashes your site. Some hosts (like WP Engine) will help protect you against this – for a price. Ironically, the Smart plugin protector is a plugin. 😀

If I remember, I’ll retest all next month and see what improvements there are after a month’s propagation. Next year though, when it’s time to renew, the honeymoon is over and Siteground’s intro offer is over, and the price jumps 300%. That tends to be the time I look at other options if I am not happy with the service or price.

Funnily enough (a grump of mine with Virgin and others), I was looking at Flying Press as an option to speed things up. Virgin Media (ISP), after the ‘get them signed up’ honeymoon pretty much double their prices. Siteground (like many hosts) treble theirs. Flying Press give a 30% discount on renewal. See, if you reward customers for loyalty, instead of seeing them as fodder, it works better. “Well, our figures show only x% leave after the offer, so we make more money being greedy capitalists. Why change what’s working?”

When your business model revolves around lures and exploitation, it doesn’t say a lot about the company’s morals, even if they claim they offer “great value for money.” (That’s generalised, not directed, by the way). If you are not happy with a provider, move. Most of the time their business model – their profits – wholly relies on price-gouging people that are too lazy to shop around for better value for money. Especially in these times.

Still playing, but so far I’ve ripped out Google’s AMP plug-in, seen an improvement (and got rid of annoying error messages), and removed the slider from the front page (they always add load). That raised GTmetrix Grade from B (75% performance, 96% Structure 96%, 1.8s load) to A (88% performance, 98% Structure, 1.6s load). Removing Google AMP Adsense scripts helped too. Just the Google Adsense desktop and Analytics left to keep an eye on. The figures below are without full propagation. They should improve over the next month. I should do more to improve mobile speeds, but I don’t get enough general or mobile traffic to justify building an AMP version for 3G phones when it works fine otherwise. TTFB in current tests is all over the place, varying between 85ms and over 2s. (Update note Mobile traffic volume rocketed up when I got page loads to under 2s (LCP, 4G throttled).

Using a free version of Nitropack jumped Ackadia to 85% on mobile, 100% on desktop with Google’s PageSpeed Insights, but that wretched TTFB is still 1.2 to 1.9s. So, if it takes 3s for a page to load, 2s of that is down to Siteground’s server setup. And php choices.

One thing I will note – and not in Siteground’s favour – is they are using an old (if stable) version of PHP, v7.4.2. There are a few problems with this and it’s on me not to have checked which version they were using. Firstly, it’s substantially slower than later releases like 8.1, 8.2, something like 70% slower in fact. (WP Engine was using 8.x). Of more concern is end of life. Active support for 7.4 ended a year ago, and security support ends next month. If Siteground are still using 7.4 by December, every one of the millions of sites they host is potentially vulnerable to hackers, should a new exploit be found. Read: php: supported versions

ALSO – which they did after I moved from Bluepoint to Siteground – they have pulled the plug on their partnership with Cloudflare and are in the process of discontinuing the current CDN service provided in partnership with Cloudflare. I presume this is to try and sell their own overpriced premium CDN option to people (read web developers) experiencing pagespeed and throttling issues. The intro price to Siteground (GoGeek) is a very reasonable £7.49 a month (£107.86 a year, with VAT). But TTFB and all that, so you look at the premium option, which is £71.86 a year PER SITE. In comparison, Cloudflare CDN is streets ahead, even for the free version, while the Pro version (£20 a month) includes extras like WAF and Accelerated Mobile Pages. Rocket.net, as noted below, uses Cloudflare Enterprise.

As I said, Siteground (initially) appears 10x cheaper than competitors, but if I added the premium CDN to 10 sites (to try to fix their throttling) it jumps to being more expensive yet results in notably slower and less secure sites. Security, like their Site Scanner, is another paid extra.

I am reminded of changes in air travel over the years. In the 80’s, luggage weight was not a concern, seats were spacious, the air hostesses would walk around, check on your comfort, offer you a complimentary drink – like whisky. Now? Flights are 10x cheaper. But do you want to take your luggage? That’ll be extra! Do you want a glass of water on the flight? “Will that be Amex or VISA, sir?” You need to go to the toilet… pay up! (That last one is mind-boggling!) My wife commented on the price of theatre tickets the other day. There’s a surcharge fee for ordering online, something like £7.50 or 10% of the ticket price – but you can only order online, so they are charging people to pay them.

A similar pattern of penny-pinching occurred in trade events. In the early 90s vendors would give dealers promotional mugs, sweatshirts, and toys. The events would end with a 4-course silver-service meal. You might even get free flights to the event! Relatively expensive hardware and software prizes were given out (drawing business cards out of a bowl). By the late ’90s the vendors were pulling out and moaning about the cost of stalls and falling traffic, while the meal was reduced to a buffet with some dodgy-looking sandwiches and vinegar wine.

Cheap is not cheap if they claw it all back and then some with hidden charges for every little extra they took out.

Anyway, bit the bullet, as they say, and dumped Siteground for Rocket and swapped my theme for Astra* to test how it is for mobile.
(It should be noted that the ‘Astra Pro theme’ is not a theme, is the free version of the Astra theme, but with a plug-in. Not really the same thing IMO).

Still things I can do, plus it will take up to a month to propagate because of the way Google calculate core vitals*
*(Computed from the Core Web Vitals metrics over the latest 28-day collection period).

Graph of massive traffic change with optimised site
{ This is the change in traffic after one week }
Graph of massive session traffic change with optimised site
{ The web traffic jump seen as sessions (86% organic search) }

 

Web site/page speed tests and validation:

(Figure 1, 2020, WP Engine),
(Figure 2, 2022, Siteground),
(Figure 3, 2022 Rocket with NitroPack)

🌐 GTMatrix
(95%, 3.8s)
(A, Performance 88%, Structure 98%, load 1.6s (3s fully loaded)
(A, Performance 100%, Structure 99%, (549ms fully loaded)

🌐 Google LightSpeed Insights
(85, 3.6s)
(97% 1.5s on desktop, 54%, 8.6s on mobile) (with NitroPack)
(100% 0.74s on desktop, 93%, 3s on mobile)

There are still things I can do to improve further, but getting there. Needs a month to settle, really. 🙂

🌐 KeyCDN: speed
(-)
(B, 3.3s) (Slow server and Google javascript at fault, again)
(A, 701ms)

🌐 Pingdom
(C, 75, 1.36s)
(C, 77, 3.1s)
(B, 90, 665ms) (Advises ‘Compress components with gzip’ Hmmm, will check).

🌐 WebPageTest
(-)
(A, 3.16s) (TTFB 1.55s, fully loaded 5.4 to 6s)
(‘Not bad’, fully loaded 3s)

🌐 Hubspot website grader
(97%)
(88%: Performance 22/30, SEO 30/30, Mobile 20/30, Security 10/10)
(94%, Performance 24/30, SEO 30/30, Mobile 30/30, Security 10/10)

🌐 SpeedVitals TTFB test:
(-)
(E, 51%, 973 ms average)
(B, 78%, 279ms average)

🌐 Qualys SSL test
🌐 (A)
(A)
(A)

🌐 Another you can try is IsItWP
This site offers a range of free tests, including this one focused on WordPress page speed. (I scored a respectable 99)

Also recommended: 🌐 TOPTAL: Colourblind Web Page Filter:
“See your web site through colorblind eyes with the colorblind web page filter.”

 

One last word
Well, an observation about speed tests and ‘what you need to do to fix this’.
Instead of entering your website, enter theirs; it can be enlightening. Google, for instance, flag itself for errors that are a ten-second fix, while Hubspot has red flags all over the place. A case of ‘do as we say, not as we do’. No surprise that often places highlighting problem areas will offer to sell you a solution, eh?

One of the worst issues Google flagged is “Minimize main-thread work: 2.9 s”, advising that I “Reduce JavaScript execution time” (1.5 s). And the culprit for that 1.5s? None other than: googlesyndication.com. Similarly, Google tells me to “Reduce unused JavaScript”. Googlesyndication.com again. According to Google, one of the best things I can do to speed up my website is to stop using Google Adsense and Google Analytics.

So, rounding, if a page is taking 6s to load, 2s of that is processing Google’s code, another 2 seconds is slow server response times, the last 2 seconds is the actual page (images, text etc).

 

More for my notes and not recommendations, but good to know:

  • Perfmatters (plug-in)
  • Flying Press (plug-in)
  • NitroPack (plug-in)
  • WP Rocket (plug-in)
  • Rocket.net hosting
    (Utilizes WAF and Cloudflare Enterprise CDN, no small thing, and much better value for money than WPEngine in terms of allowances.)
    Rough comparison cost (10 sites), ex/inc vat and offers, as at Oct 2022:
    Siteground: £360 / 432 (no WAF, no CF)
    WP Engine: £936 / 1,123 (WAF and CF)
    Rocket.net: £898 / 1,077 (WAF and Enterprise CF and more generous allowances)

    (Against Rocket, no email, but you can sort that elsewhere or in other ways.)


On revisions

A lot depends on my free time, obsessions, distractions, and health concerns, but every so often I get it into my head to fix this place up. Revising a site with five pages is a doddle, fifty, a challenge, but five hundred, or five thousand, manually?

Layout and redesign are easy. Slap a new child theme, shuffle the widgets and sidebars, and job’s done in ten minutes.

Custom changes to the stylesheet, well, can be a tad more work. Adding a new class is a doddle, a line or two of code and it’s available sitewide. But if the new look is class="SoPretty" and the old look is class="NotSoPretty", that means either repeating the code (easy, but sloppy). Or – better – a global search and replace to sort it, which is a tad more technical. But sometimes it is not an option. Instead, you have to manually work through thousands of pages of code and text.

Then there are the external links. There are tools to search your site for broken links, but links to sites that are live but now inappropriate, that’s a different matter. Manual check required.

Then there’s crap like this, below, which a buggy tool added site-wide, seemingly at random. On inspection, it took offence to any character that was not alphanumeric on a US-centric keyboard and replaced it with gibberish. So, perfectly normal quotes, hyphens, accented letters, currency, and symbols, are all trashed.

Newsflash, America, you didn’t invent the Internet, a Brit did!

If something is in the ASCII character set and or agreed code set by the W3C and or Unicode, then leave it the hell alone. The fact a programmer would trample over the following short sentence is infuriating:
I spent £5 in the café.
I did just type that, though normally I will code symbols, and often quotation marks. So, £ for the GBP symbol. For short everyday sentences to generate several errors in a backup and restore program is unacceptable!

As it occurred during a migration, rolling back was not an option, so, between everything else, I am now fixing the thousands of instances of these. I still have around four hundred posts with this particular issue.

 

Corrupted html codes

 


On images and pictures

Then there are pictures and images, for which time is a great changer.
Initially, of course, back at the start, the bandwidth was tiny, and images were not an option. At all.
By the time 28kb to 56k modems were available, in the mid-90s, smaller images were acceptable, in moderation. Video, if anywhere, was the size of a standard small postage stamp.
Broadband changed all that.
Huzzah!

Then impatience, plus mobile usage took it away again.
Alas.
In the 90s, the early days of the internet, a few minutes to load a page, a few hours, or even days to get a file was normal. These days, unless a page loads in under 3 seconds, “I’m offski, don’t got time for that”.

.gifs are dated and .png look nice, but are larger files, so they have to go too!

.jpeg? Nope, old news.

The new format of the web is either jpeg 2000 (JP2), or ideally .webp. I use Paintshop Pro Ultimate (2021) and it doesn’t fully support either of these formats as ‘export’, but is buried under ‘save as’. The latest PSP (2022) has better .webp support, but £65 for what is basically a patch update is a bit much.

It may be no surprise to some that Google are pushing .webp, which they created. In all fairness to them though, it is an open-format extension. Its development probably had something to do with parasites and patents trolls trying to claim patents on .jpeg and .gif and wanting the world and co. to pay them royalties, backdated decades. (Goes back before 2006, if you are interested. U.S. PTO smashes JPEG patent)

So, .webp is finally sorted and works in the latest WordPress patches too. Huzzah!
Well, sort of! Webp is much smaller in file size than jpeg, etc, without losing quality, so desirable, but it’s new, so there are questions over backwards compatibility with older browsers etc. Adding an image as a .webp instead of a .jpg to a new post is fine. Replacing thousands of embedded photos etc., more of a chore. You can get plugins to do it, but they have pro’s and cons, but it’s not as simple as a global search and replace. (Increasing now, this is done at the CDN level, saving a tonne of work)

The large banner logo below was created in CorelDraw, then exported as a jpeg, imported into Paintshop Pro and then exported out as Webp. It is a lot of faffing about!

Testing with current (PC) browsers, it shows fine in Opera, Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, so all the main bases are covered.

Why bother though?

Well, my current bandwidth usage for Ackadia is 15Gb a month. Reducing the file size of all the images by up to a half will drop than below 10Gb, better for me, better for my host, and much faster for anyone viewing a page. With the added bonus of improving web ranking.

jpg banner
{ 1314×273 .jpg banner, file size: 56k }
webp banner
{ Same 1314×273 banner as .webp, file size: 34k }

Rules for feature images keep changing too, so that is added to the list. Another work in progress.


On grammar and readability

Now to the real stuff, the writing.

Passive voice is out, for the most part. Or not! People are fickle, seeing as it’s back in vogue.

Equally, more verbose, and academic tomes are too hard to read for the general public.

The general rule now is to keep the words small and simple, and the sentences short.

(Going back some years, I nearly choked when my daughter informed me that – according to get her English (literacy) teacher – spelling and grammar doesn’t matter for exams now, “so long as you get the meaning across.” Apparently, textspeak is now acceptable for whatever replaced the old ‘O’ level and GCSE English exam. (e.g. “How ru m8”).

So that means rewriting everything I’ve written over the past few decades to suit modern audiences. I’m OK with that*. There are a lot of errors I missed over the years. A LOT. so I’m quite happily working through those.

*(Though Hell will freeze over before I accept the heathen gibberish of textspeak.
I’m still annoyed at Chambers for adding ‘lol’ to the actual dictionary, even though I understand the reason. However, ‘lol‘ is not a word, it’s an acronym, it belongs in the back of Chambers, with the other acronyms.
Ditto with the W3C for removing acronym from HTML5, possibly over a spat with Microsoft. It was perfectly fine to have both. An abbr(eviation) is not an acronym!
)

 

But people don’t have time for that.
People who can binge-watch entire seasons on Netflix.
People who can spend an entire day surfing Facebook, but don’t have time to read the articles they are commenting on. They reply (to the picture or title), or they troll, then get a like, or a bite, and move on. But read a page? Hell no. I do despair some days, and lament the introduction of this otherwise wonderful technology, and the loss of reading as a pastime.

So, now I am (thankfully) using tools like Niram’s most excellent online Read-O-Meter. Copy the text in and it will tell me how many words are there, and how long it would take the average reader to browse the page. It’s the little things that please me 😀

 

 

After this there’s the matter of readability, for which we have Grammarly, and online tools like Readable, they are many more. Microsoft, for instance, allow you to set readability within Word.

Flesch Reading Ease test

This test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard files, you want the score to be between 60 and 70.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

This test rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.

Similarly, SEO-based WordPress plug-ins like Yoast look at your content and judge you, the ideal target being for the average (impatient) people browsing.

 

Yoast

 

So, every post needs the code, images, grammar, and readability reviewing and updating. While writing new content, and studying. Not a small undertaking. Finding a middle ground for each post with Grammarly is a job in itself. Not that I use or need Grammarly for blogging, much, but it’s useful for academic papers, and quickly fixing other people’s copy, without having to proof-read twenty times.

 

Grammarly goals


Archives changes to ackadia

Sept 2020

Quickly got sick of issues with Bluehost (a sister company to Hostgator) and moved Ackadia to WP Engine.

Uptime, security, and page loading speeds and responsiveness, amongst other factors, are being significantly improved.


Aug 2020

Upgraded the server slightly and made a number of design changes to get the page loading faster. Some of the speed rating tests give mediocre results, but the page load times are between 2.5 and 3s to complete, which is good.


Updated June 2020

Moved from wordpress.com to a managed, shared server with BlueHost. Slower than I’d like but I have the option to upgrade through VPS and dedicated, but it gets eye-wateringly expensive and I can’t justify the cost as I don’t get that much traffic and I don’t charge for the other sites I develop and host here, ‘cos friends and such.

Currently using the free version of the Customizr WordPress theme. Looks good. Few things could be better, but free and it ticks a lot of boxes. Contemplating the full ‘pro’ version.

Unfortunately, it turns out, the developers of Customizr rely on and have embedded FontAwesome in the theme for the gloss. I dare say some people like FontAwesome, but load speed really matter and wants to be under 3 seconds – and this garbage can add a few seconds all on its own! The term ‘lipstick on a pig’ comes to mind. Beautiful as it looks, I cannot recommend Customizr or any other theme that needs such junk code to work.

The moved from WordPress corrupted some characters so there is some weird shit like ¥© for an apostrophe in various pages, but fixing 600-odd pages manually is just a chore for another day, or never.


Updated March 2018:

Moved from a dedicated server to a managed WordPress hosting. Does limit my options a little in terms of theme design, but I can work with this. Still prefer flat the old school hard coding and ftp style of web development, but the world moves on. At least the themes are ‘out of the box’ responsive and mobile friendly, but backing up, and restoring/repairing when you move hosts is a complete pain.


Updated April 2015:

Fully moved over to WordPress now but it’s server heavy and a security nightmare, not to mention the hassles of backups and archiving. Needs must I guess, but I prefer flat coding!


Nov 2013

Caveat first!

As I am currently (Nov 2013) in the process of moving Ackadia over from hand-coded strict xHTML .php pages to WordPress framework I am constrained a little by developers. That said, I am using mobile responsive HTML5 designs* and testing as I go. *(The one I currently have isn’t HTML5 – yet – but should be soon). All the statements below were valid at the time and I will endeavour to adhere to my own quality policy. As such, as far as possible, Ackadia should work well on any browser – and any form of device from the smallest mobile phone to widescreen smart TV’s.

If it doesn’t, please let me know via the contact page and, as Picard would ask, I’ll Make it so.

Note, however, I will no longer attempt to validate for all older browsers because, frankly, you shouldn’t be using one – to keep secure you should be using the latest version yourself, fully patched and preferably then hiding behind your Internet security software.


Standards tested and viewable With Any Browser

From 2006:

Ackadia should work at nearly all resolutions, though it is really optimised, visually, for 1024×768 or above. Also, though there’s little difference across all the browsers, I think Firefox renders it best.

This site has been tested successfully on multiple platforms and browsers, including text-based ones like Lynx, although very old ones like Netscape 4x may have problems due to their limited CSS support.

I have also used Vischeck’s colour blindness simulation and other resources so that Ackadia will hopefully be equally useful and enjoyable for all our colour blind visitors. [ Read my article on colour blindness and web design ]

I am continuing to work to make Ackadia comply to the W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) and WCAG 1.0 and to U.S. Section 508 Guidelines.

By validating and rating Ackadia I am working to make this site accessible to all. I am also looking at support for Internet phones, text to speech and related technologies. If you are in these fields, drop me a line.

Childsafe logo - ICCS Kids approved and certified website

iWatchdog logo - shows bulldog with arms folded over ICCS

Internet Content Rating Association rating logo

Safesurf rated logo

(Of the four above, none now remain. The first two go to some toy site, the third ceased, and the last down and 404.)


(Feature image by Pexels from Pixabay)

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