The text has been divided into three parts:
MAY 22, 2023 | CHANIA | 18 MIN
The website www.runningreece.eu is extremely fast. According to the GTmetrix measurement tool, the home page loads in about 0.7 seconds, all other subpages in less than a second (measured from a server in London). According to Google’s Page Speed Insights tool, a website in the mobile version receives 96-100/100 points, in the desktop version 100 out of 100 possible (all subpages!). The server response time (TTFB) – although more variable depending on the time of day – measured using the www.bytecheck.com website often reaches the level of 120-140 ms. All this in accordance with the basic principle “No one likes slow websites” – a completely universal principle, independent of the measurement tools used and trends currently prevailing in Google’s headquarters.
Optimizing for maximum speed was a gradual and slow process in this case as I got better and better at understanding where the main issues lay and what was the best way to solve them. At the same time, I did not hesitate to reach for radical solutions, including changing the main theme and hosting provider (although the latter was a bit of an occasion).
Applied technologies and solutions
The site uses the WordPress content management system version 6.2, php scripting language version 8.2, Astra theme (often considered the fastest on the market today) and the Elementor page builder. Both Astra and Elementor in free versions. There are 18 active plugins running in the background, and the site is hosted in Poland, on a cheap, shared server from www.lh.pl
It is worth stopping for a moment at the number of installed plugins. One of the basic tips regarding the speed of websites is to limit the number of plugins. However, it is not the quantity that matters here, but the quality. Because plugins can be very different. Some of these add-on programs are multi-functional monsters that promise to do several things at once, with a huge number of possible settings and extensive management panels, others are discrete plugins that do one thing only, sometimes with no configuration settings at all. And just as the plugins of the first type actually muddy the website speed (Yoast SEO Pro – 240 ms load time), discrete plugins are practically invisible, and their impact on website speed is practically negligible (Koko Analitics – 1 ms load time!). The website www.pagepipe.com boasts that it has over 60 plugins installed, and it loads very fast anyway. Runningreece has “only” 18 plugins and loads even faster than Pagepipe. Most of the plugins installed here are discrete plugins.
Loading time and measurement problems
It should be remembered that the above-mentioned, relatively precise data about runningreece.eu loading time are… to some extent relative. How quickly a given page opens for the end user depends on many factors, partly independent of the website creator. In this case, it is about all those factors that are not related to the construction of the website, its final shape and the technologies used there.
The first is, of course, the speed of the Internet connection on the client side. However, it can be assumed that in the era of modern (mostly) fast connections, the impact of this factor is practically negligible, especially since RunninGreece home page weighs only 404 KB (in compressed form).
The second – surprisingly important – factor is the physical distance of the user from the server. The runningreece.eu website loads in 0.7 seconds for queries from London (remember, my server is located in Poland), but for users staying in Vancouver, Canada, this time increases to 1.7 seconds, and for users in Japan or Australia is even longer! Since the readers of RunninGreece website are spread all over the world, this is an important factor to keep in mind. Theoretically, the solution could be to use the CDN (content distribution network) technology, i.e. the ability to load the website in a compressed version from several servers scattered around the world, but this technology has weaknesses and, contrary to what it promises, it does not ensure stability. Besides, most of my users are in Europe, and even a maximum page load time of approx. 2 seconds from remote locations is still acceptable.
The third – and most annoying – factor is the imperfection of modern Internet technologies. In order to improve loading time, runningreece.eu website uses cache technology, i.e. creating a static version of the website, instead of dynamically loading all resources. It’s a bit like taking a photo of the final look of the page and sending that photo to the end user. This “photo” is taken at certain time intervals, e.g. once a week or once a month. You can also force the program to clear the entire contents of the cache and create it anew at any time. However, this operation is never 100% the same and repeatable, the program does it a bit differently each time, i.e. it does not change the content, of course, but compresses it with different efficiency. As a result, the page sent to the user may have a different size and internal structure, and this, of course, partially affects the loading speed.
It can be even worse when adding a new element, especially a photo (even the minimum size (100×100 px). Sometimes such an element goes to a part of the page that is compressed (cache), and sometimes it does not and is loaded separately. What’s worse, sometimes it is loaded with an inexplicably long delay – e.g. an image that weighs 3 kB adds 0.8 s to the page loading time!
The great bane of all website developers is the constant updating of all possible components: WordPress, themes and plugins. Their frequency is the complete madness of the Internet world. An example from the last few days: page builder Elementor was updated to version 3.13.0 on May 8, 2023. The very next day it was updated to version 3.13.1, and on May 11 to version 3.13.2. The worst is when the authors try to extend the possibilities of plugins or programs by adding new functions. The program is expanding, it is getting heavier and the only thing it does for sure is slowing down the website. However, even when it’s not about new features, plugins have a huge tendency to grow, a new version is always an opportunity for new bugs, and all this affects the performance of the site. Unfortunately, it always causes the site to slow down. I haven’t yet heard of any update aimed at slimming down and speeding things up. That’s why the best solution is often to use old plugins, those scaring with the chilling message “Plugin not tested with your version of Worpress” And good luck! Lately, I’ve been using these old, discrete (doing only one thing) plugins with great pleasure. For speeding pages are invaluable.
Security and privacy
MAY 22, 2023 | CHANIA | 18 MIN
The whole sphere of Internet technology is full of lies, half-truths or complete nonsense. One of the basic ones is a padlock in the Internet address bar with the information “Connection is secure” or “Not secure” (SSL certificate), creating the illusion that the visited website is safe. Nothing similar! Whether a website is secure or not is completely independent of whether there is SSL or not. Any hacker who tries to break into any website obviously does so using SSL, whether it’s trying to crack a website’s password with brute force way or exploiting some vulnerability in web applications. An SSL certificate, on the other hand, does a different thing – it slows down the performance of each page. It slows down, even though the sellers of these certificates ensure all the time that SSL does not affect the speed of websites. This lie is so common that it is hard to comprehend its scale. However, it is enough to use any measuring tool to see how much it slows down.
RunninGreece website still has an SSL certificate. According to the www.bytecheck.com tool, this SSL is responsible for at least 140ms of delay in page opening. Not much? Since the entire page opens within 700 ms, these 140 ms is as much as 20%! There is still this certificate on runnigreece.eu because Google rates lower websites that do not have it, but I keep thinking about removing it – the profit for visitors is obvious.
Another completely bizarre phenomenon of the Internet sphere is a window with information about cookies that appears on practically every website you visit, requiring you to consent to their use. 99% of Internet users do not know what it is about at all, the clauses that appear when you click on the details are often so vague and complicated that even specialists do not know what is really going on. We only dimly realize that there is some kind of spying of our activity. But again, user safety doesn’t depend on whether a pop-up pops up before opening the page or not! Especially since the user has no real choice: I agree, so I’m being tracked and I get a cookie page, or I don’t agree and I get a “clean” page with no cookies. However, it is up to the creator of the site whether there are any cookies on it and users who visit the site are tracked or not.
RunninGreece website does not contain any tracking cookies, nor does it collect any data about users, nor does it allow third parties to collect such data. Therefore, on the following page, no pop-up appears at first. In general, it is worth mentioning that most cookies are related to various advertising activities that take place on websites and visit statistics (primarily Google Analytics).
RunninGreece does not contain advertisements, and there are no Google tracking scripts installed. The simple Koko Analytics plug-in is responsible for visit statistics, but it does not collect data about users.
A large source of tracking cookies are also… Google fonts, currently installed on at least 40% of all websites. At the same time, Google fonts are responsible for long delays in loading pages. Therefore, the optimization of the runningreece.eu website also went in the direction of excluding or significantly reducing Google fonts. From the point of view of speed, the best solution is to use system fonts, which is why I use Arial and Georgia fonts on runningreece.eu. For aesthetic reasons, two Google fonts are installed on the website: Quicksland and Marcellus, but currently they are loaded locally, i.e. from website files, so Google does not receive any information about users.
MAY 22, 2023 | CHANIA | 18 MIN
RunninGreece is a site to read! Of course, there are also photos on the site, but they actually play a supplementary role. All texts published here are fully original, based on my personal experiences in Greece, knowledge gained during many years of study and the ability to use research methods of cultural anthropology. Both the content of the website and its form have been built in such a way as to provide the recipient with the best possible reading experience, and more broadly what in the online environment is referred to as “User Experience” (UX). This experience includes the content of the website, its graphic form and speed of operation, and indirectly the technologies used. These three components are listed here in order of importance, although in the user experience speed should be listed first, because if the page is slow, an impatient user will leave it without waiting for the content to be displayed, even if it would be of the highest quality.
However, I understand user experience in my own way, often far from the generally applicable trends. I have imaginary recipient in my head and I write and create a website for him, regardless of what is the most fashionable, popular or possible to sell. I don’t care what the target groups are, who goes to Greece most often and who might be interested in my topics. This site does not sell anything, does not advertise anything, does not have any affiliate links. These are just my thoughts and travel reports. Among the many components that make up the user experience, the aspect that is professionally known as readability is particularly disturbing.
Readability, or ease of reading, is one of the standard components of SEO (search engine optimization), which, to put it simply, is a way to optimize a website (i.e. change its content and form) to make it visible as high as possible in Google search results. In other words, this is how Google rules the (internet) world. Readability depends on many factors, e.g. titles, keywords, length of sentences, paragraphs and words, use of the passive voice, appropriate distribution of subheadings, but also the type and size of the font used, line spacing, colors, etc. I followed these tips with curiosity for a while but my anxiety grew. All these recommendations lead to making the text as easy to read as possible. When you think about it for a moment, this is a completely insane recommendation. Why should everything be easy? After all, one of the greatest achievements of human culture is diversity, and what is most valuable requires some effort to assimilate. There are easy things and hard things in the world (also to read and understand). Such is the nature of reality! But not for Google.
SEO made under the dictation of the concern from Mountain View promotes repetition the most: the same words in the title, the same in keywords, in the introduction and at the beginning of the text! Because the reader is, according to Google, a complete idiot and if something will not be repeated five times, he won’t understand. Knowing about such recommendations, it is easier to understand why most of the modern Internet is completely indigestible, presenting trivial content (copied without restraint from other sources) in a primitive way.
Flesh reading ease
But that’s not all. One of the elements of readability is the so-called Flesh reading ease. It is a test of the difficulty of a given (English) text developed by Rudolf Flesch in the United States in the 1940s for educational purposes. This test was (and is) used when writing textbooks for children and teenagers, so that they were adapted to the level of education in a given year. It is a test that takes into account the purely formal properties of the text, the proportions between the number of sentences, words and syllables. A scale from 0 to 100 is usually used, with 90 – 100 points being the 5th grade level (easiest text) and 0 – 10 being the most difficult texts, adapted to the university level. Everything that is simple and short is considered easy: short paragraphs, short sentences and short words, with as few syllables as possible. It turns out that this educational test was adopted by Google SEO and rules the modern Internet. At the same time, the most desirable is, of course, the highest score, i.e. the easiest texts.
The vast majority of essays on the runningreece.eu website scare with the following description: “Extremely difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates.” and reaches 10, 20 and at most 30-several points. And this is actually the apogee of this madness and making people idiots. Of course, I write for recipients with university education, after all, at present it is at least 60% of the population. What’s more, I write for people who are constantly developing their knowledge and skills, and the university level is not enough for them. I’m not writing for fifth graders! Adults who are at the intellectual level of twelve-year-olds do not read anything anyway, so it’s a waste of time. Didn’t Google know that? Or maybe Google is consciously trying to educate himself more and more stupid recipients?
Okay, but what does this Rudolf Flash score mean in practice? The easiest according to this test are sentences like: “The cat sat on the mat.” consisting of only one syllable words. The quoted sentence reaches the level of 121.22 points (the scale is purely mathematical, so there are no limits on either side). At the other end of the scale there are, for example, some fragments of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” reaching – (minus) 146.77 points or the beginning of Marcel Proust’s famous work “Swann’s Way” (one of the volumes of “In Search of Lost Time”) valued at -515 points (minus 515)! All this shows the absurdity of this test. After all, the difficulty of assimilating a text does not depend on the length of words and the length of sentences. If that were the case, all poetry would be very easy to understand, which is not the case at all. In the process of understanding the text the sense and style of writing – so something that is born between words – is much more important than the length of words. The process of understanding itself is much more complicated than a fifth-grade student and a programmer at the Google headquarters can imagine.
I am definitely on the side of Marcel Proust. And on the side of my readers. It turns out that the two most popular texts on my site are Zvara and Phaistos Disk – both the hardest to understand, plus Zvara is an extremely long essay. In the last 4 weeks, both had 264 pageviews. And if I am still able to understand the career of the Phaistos Disk – in the Google search engine this is a very popular expression, Zvara does not exist at all in the Internet giant; i.e. exists of course, but refers to the song by Villagers of Ioanina City. Plus, my writing straddles disciplines as far apart as cosmology, music, mountain running, philosophy of dancing, and quantum physics. And yet it finds readers.
Whatever number of points has the text you are reading now, this is still much more than the first sentence of Proust’s famous work. Therefore, I will not simplify anything on this site. Enjoy reading.