Behind the Scenes of the FantasySP Redesign

I have been working on the FantasySP redesign for over a year before it officially launched on May 20th 2018.  The redesign was something I first thought of doing over 3 years ago, but I kept putting it off due to working on other features and the sheer size of the project.

I knew it could not be delayed any longer after the announcement by Google for their mobile-first index.  I thought I could have it up before this all went into effect, but then the news broke that their mobile-first index was going live in March.

Prior to the redesign, I had a mobile site and a desktop site.  Each had its own codebase, both front-end and backend.  Yes, you heard right. Not only that, but the mobile site didn’t have ALL of the features of the desktop site and some were stripped down versions of the desktop site.

The mobile site was so old, that it used tables because that is what you still used when mobile sites were gaining popularity for maximum compatibility. 

The initial codebase for the mobile site was pre Bootstrap and pre front-end frameworks. It was back when Digg was the shit, so I decided to use their design for mobile FantasySP.  It was back when responsive layouts didn’t exist yet and a separate mobile site was the only real option.

I also knew the task at hand was monumental and I knew I needed help for two reasons.  First, I knew a professional designer would create something better than I could.  Second, I knew this would speed up the process.

I contacted Ryan Scherf, and we narrowed down a framework (Bootstrap), a new color scheme, and started to tackle a few pages.  Ryan and I worked back and forth from about January of 2017 to May of 2017.

To call this simply a ‘redesign’ is an injustice. It’s way more than just a facelift since every piece of code is being touched behind the scenes. This is basically a relaunch of FantasySP, and I’ll get into more about that in a bit.

Learning to Ride Again

The thing about web development is that you are always evolving and constantly learning new technology.  Switching to Bootstrap v4 meant ditching floats and moving to flexbox.

Flexbox in itself is a huge change and a huge learning curve, and I still need to use a cheat sheet but I am getting better with it every day. Basically, I’ll be using flex instead of using floats for layout positioning,

Not only that, but Bootstrap itself has its own laws and ways of doing things that I had to learn.  (Yes, it’s true, I never used Bootstrap before this) Needless to say, having a designer come up with the Bootstrap theme was monumental into getting started off on the right foot.

On top of Flexbox and Bootstrap I needed to learn the modern way to develop on the front-end which meant adding Gulp and Bower into the mix. (Though do not use Bower if you are starting out now, use Yarn instead.)

Ryan pointed me in the right direction so I could get started and get everything working.

Keep in mind that I didn’t even start the real work yet. This is the work before the work. I had to learn 3 brand new things that were pretty damn challenging before things even got off the ground.

My goal was to get a variety of pages designed to get a base foundation to work off of, and I would spend the time to fill in the gaps and create pages based off of those core pages.

Slowly but surely I was getting the hang of the new workflow, and I could start taking Ryan’s designs and create new pages and tweak the layouts he had already given me.

Starting Over

The redesign meant that I was starting over. Everything was going to be re-written from the ground up. If I am doing this redesign I am going to do it justice.

The new FantasySP will be fast and customizable. It will be lean (as best as I could). And it was going to be as future proof as I could possibly make it.

This meant all of my javascript functions had to be looked at and most had to be recoded.  This meant basic things like autocomplete, pop-up boxes, front-end data checks, table sorting all had to be researched. Some of it Bootstrap would handle, but many of them had to be included as extra javascript libraries.

From now on I would have one file for CSS and one file for JS and that was it.

It also meant I had to redesign the billing page and implement the newest version of Stripe on both the frontend and the backend. I was using code from 2011 and it was starting to give me problems on occasion.

I wasn’t going to try and reinvent the wheel. Honestly, I don’t have time to relearn EVERYTHING. I’m not switching to MEAN and ditching my stack but I will modernize it. (If you are looking for benchmarks, you’ll find them at the end of this article, but I’m not spoiling it here.)

And yes, I would still be using jQuery. I’d still be using nginx. I’d still be using PHP 7.x…. commonly referred to as the LEMP stack.  You may not like the stack, and hate PHP but that’s because your an idiot. :)

Speaking of PHP, all of my code had to be looked at and either re-written or tweaked in order to fit into a unified codebase for a responsive layout.

Like I said, this task was daunting.

The Actual Design

Now that some of the geeky stuff is out of the way, let’s actually talk about the design. There are a few things I knew I wanted the new design to have:

  1. A new color because red reminds users of ESPN
  2. A better top navigation
  3. A dedicated section for user navigation
  4. awesome player popups
  5. reimagined fantasy tools
  6. obviously be responsive

Once we figured out the colors and top navigation, the real work on the design could start.  My wife was the one to narrow down that the color orange would work for the site, and Ryan picked the perfect shade to work with.

The day I got really excited about this redesign was when work began on the reimagined start/sit tool.  One of the first mockups looked like this.

Start/Sit Take One

 

A good start, but I wanted the top section to pop colorwise. It needed something to make it stick out that I thought was missing.

Based off that feedback, he completely nailed the revamped design and is something I would have never come up with on my own.

Start/Sit Take 2
Start/Sit Take 2

One last example I’ll show are the early mockups of the Player Page and Player Popups.

I needed a much better way to organize the chaos I had going on with the player pages, and I am pretty sure the first thing I got back was almost exactly what I used in my final design.

I didn’t provide much insight into what I was looking for other than please organize it all, and allow for a bunch of different boxes to the right side that I could work with.

player page

As soon as I saw it, I could not wait until this thing went live. It looked light years better than what was already on the site

The first player popup design that we started with was great right off the bat, but much like the start/sit tool, I wanted a bit more color to the header.

Player Pop-up (1)

Which then turned into this:

Player Popup 2

The live popup as of today looks like this:

Live Popup
Live Popup

Once Ryan’s design job was done, it was time to get a good sampling of live pages to turn into real HTML/CSS.  I had no idea how to formulate a bootstrap theme, so I really needed to see how it was supposed to be done.

I would take what he gave me, which was the core styling of FantasySP and a few pages and then come up with designs for the rest of them.  I think one of the first designs I converted into CSS/HTML was the player popup and boy oh boy did that take me a long time.

This was when I had to really buckle down and learn the ins and outs of Bootstrap and flex positioning.  Needless to say, it was not fun and I felt lost for a few weeks. I still kinda get lost with flex positioning because it is just so different.

Once the rest of the designs were turned into CSS I finally had enough material to create the beta subdomain and start turning these HTML/CSS pages into actual working pages with live data.

It turns out, that day happened to be May 17th 2017. As you can see, all I had was a hello world.

At this point I would be starting over in terms of all of the backend logic for PHP and would start from scratch. In some cases, I would take my old PHP code and convert it to work with the new layouts.  It was a major milestone, but my work was far from over.

From this point, it was still another year before I officially launched the new FantasySP.

In June of 2017, I finally had enough of the beta site up and running to open it up for users to start trying.  From that point on, I tackled each page and tool and kept grinding away.

Redesigning the Fantasy Assistant, Trade Analyzer, Draft Genius, billing, etc were extremely time consuming and very challenging but totally worth it once I was finished.

The Fantasy Assistant itself probably took me at least a month on its own because of the sheer size of it, plus for the first time it had to work on mobile.

Time for Stats

Like I mentioned earlier, the redesign was supposed to be much faster than the original site. Paying members will get an experience even faster because no advertisements are shown.

The numbers do not lie.

Front End Load Times

Front end load times  are measured based on what percentage of load times are considered Satisfied, Tolerating, and Frustrating. This data is taken from New Relic.

ORIGINAL: Satisfied: 53%, Tolerating: 40%, and Frustrating: 7%

NEW DESIGN: Satisfied: 80%, Tolerating: 18%, Frustrating: 3%

According to Google Analytics, average page load times went from a range of 5 – 15 seconds, all the way down to a much more narrow range of 4.5 to 6 seconds.

Wrap-Up

I feel like this post is getting too long so I am going to end it here. Hopefully this post helped you visualize the long journey that I had to navigate. Of course, I am nowhere near done in terms of optimizations.

I’d love to go into optimization techniques I’ve used on this redesign but most of them are widely known these days for frontend development… it’s mostly a matter of just implementing them.

I still need to upgrade to PHP 7.3 and upgrade nginx and enable the pagespeed module but there is plenty of time to get to those over the next few weeks.  I will make a new blog post detailing those changes and how it affected performance and the people behind the scenes that helped me.

For now though, I am extremely happy with the speed, the design, and the response from my users. Do yourself a favor and check out the brand new FantasySP yourself.

After roughly a year and a half since I started the redesign, it went live without any downtime and just a few minor bugs that needed to be fixed.

Now that this redesign is finished, I can implement features much faster since I am working with one unified codebase.  Thanks for reading!

Tips for Optimizing & Updating MySQL

Your database is one of the most important aspects of your server software stack.  Call me old fashion, but I still rely on MySQL as my database of choice and don’t see myself changing any time soon.  Over the past 7 years of running FantasySP, I’ve learned quite a bit about maintaining MySQL and making sure my server is running as smooth as possible.

Keeping MySQL Up to Date

The most obvious way to ensure MySQL performs its best is to make sure that your server software is up to date.  Updating to the latest minor release of MySQL should be one of the safer routes to go in.  These fix bugs, security, and minor performance improvements.  You should update to the minor release versions on a pretty regular basis.

A major release version upgrade is much more involved.  If you see that MySQL is nearing its end of life, then it’s time you start planning.   I have done 2 major upgrades from 5.1 -> 5.5, and then from 5.5 -> 5.6.  Chances are you will encounter problems with query performance with a major release update.  MySQL Query Cache Optimizer can behave very differently depending on what major release version you are using.   Queries that ran fine on 5.4 will run poorly on 5.5.

When Upgrading MySQL to a New Major Release

In order to safely upgrade to a newer MySQL major release version you should first make sure that you are running something like NewRelic to monitor your query performance.  Get a good baseline for typical application performance so you can compare it to when you upgrade.

To be safe, you could be running the old & new version of MySQL on your development box if you can.  This way you can plug in two queries with the same dataset on two different version of MySQL and get an idea of performance beforehand.  I usually don’t do this and just deal with the shitstorm that ensues, but some of you may want to play it safe.

Usually when a query performs badly it is because the newer version of MySQL decided to ignore the indices that were previously created for a table.  I have seen this happen quite a few times.  If you are running a vanilla WordPress installation then you probably won’t have to deal with this, but custom apps will probably encounter this problem.  You’ll be able to see bad query performance when you use EXPLAIN on your troublesome query. Full table scans lead to terrible performance, so don’t be alarmed if this happens.

To fix this you may have to develop a better index to speed up performance, or you can force MySQL to use a specific index with the following query:

SELECT * FROM  table_name USE INDEX (names) WHERE last = ‘something’

Another reason an updated major release of MySQL runs poorly could be that your configuration file is outdated.  Sometimes they may change the names of something or remove it and MySQL will start with Query Cache disabled or default settings.  Make sure you save a backup of your original my.conf file.

Useful Scripts to See Performance

Using NewRelic is great, but there are two popular database scripts to help with diagnosing performance issues.  You have probably heard of them, but I just want to double check you have them.  One is mysqltuner.pl and the other is tuning-primer.sh.

They will tell you how your cache is performing, if you have full table scans, how many prunes are happening per day, if your query cache is big enough, etc.  All very useful stuff to determine performance.  I am assuming you know how to deal with fixing those issues, but if you don’t you can Google them or buy a MySQL book or two to learn more.

Software to Manage & Run MySQL Queries

My development environment of choice is Windows.  With that in mind, I like to run a local MySQL application to make my life easier to diagnose queries, create tables, indexes, synchronize data, etc.

My software of choice is SQLyog and can’t say enough about how awesome it is.  If you deal with custom MySQL queries a lot, then I strongly suggest using an application similar to this to make your life easier.

Pruning Old Data

MySQL databases tend to be like old attics where you just keep saving shit even if you don’t actually need it.  If you have data from 2011 that you don’t need then make sure you get rid of it.

If you properly prune your database on an annual basis then you can extend the life of your current hardware stack, save money, and have much better performance.  A smaller database means less space for MyISAM indexes, which means you need less memory for caching.  (Assuming you use MyISAM)

So the big question is, how do you prune old rows in a table with 20 GIG worth of data without using DELETE queries? We all know that DELETE queries are way too expensive to run at this scale.  The solution?  Create a new temporary table with the same indices and table names.  Then copy the data you need from the old table to the new table.  Once your done, DROP the original table and rename your new table to the old table.

I learned this trick from Sean at the Clicky blog and trimmed the size of my database in half.

 

Google PageSpeed Service Review

I’ve been on the lookout for a service that would reliably speed up various web projects such as FantasySP and Top IAmA.  The faster the pages load, the happier my users will be.  I first started out using Cloudflare, but their service has been getting worse and worse.  Their pay features aren’t worth the money and using Cloudflare will most likely slow down response times.  A winning combination!

Then I heard Google PageSpeed was in invite only beta. (Not to be confused with mod_pagespeed, which is an Apache module that offers very similar features).  Google PageSpeed Service is very similar to cloudflare and all traffic will be passed through their servers via a DNS change.  I was finally accepted into the program and have spent the past few days tweaking my sites for best performance.

Though before we get to the results, let’s first go over why FantasySP tends to load a little slow to begin with.

What’s really slowing down my site are advertisements and third party javascript. No surprise there, right?  I offer my members a banner free experience, but the average joe has to load a page that is slower than I’d like.  To measure front-end performance I use NewRelic.  Prior to using Google PageSpeed Service, the average web page loads anywhere from 6 to 8 seconds.

Enter Google PageSpeed Service

I started out using Recommended Settings, which are the things you are probably familiar with: remove whitespace, combine CSS, minfiy javascript/css, use Google’s CDN, optimize images etc.  I decided to go all in with Google even though I already used Amazon Cloudfront as my CDN.  Google adds some additional goodies such as converting images to inline DATA, further reducing HTTP requests. It also automatically converts all references to images in stylesheets to run off their CDN, even if it’s not local to my server.  (Goodbye Amazon Cloudfront?).

Google PageSpeed went live on Christmas day, the 25th.

NewRelic: Browser performance
NewRelic: Browser performance

Immediately all pages started to load in under 5 seconds.  Best of all, no functionality on the site was broken, and I did not detect any additional latency by using Google’s service.

On December 26th I decided to enable additional experimental features that are labeled “high risk”.  I also enabled a new low risk feature called prefetch DNS resolve.

The best way to solve slow javascript is to defer javascript, which should prevent javascript from hanging and slowing down page rendering.  Google claims this is “high risk” and may break things, so I made sure to do thorough testing during a day that would have less traffic than normal.

Once defer javascript was enabled, you’ll notice that DOM Processing decreased even further, whereas page rendering actually increased.  Unfortunately I cannot explain why that is. (Experts, feel free to chime in).   So the next question might be, is deferring javascript even worth it according to that graph?  The difference between the 25th and 26th do not seem to matter?

Let’s have a look at what deferring javascript does in a browser not known for speed: Internet Explorer 9.  By enabling Google PageSpeed on December 25th, the pageload times decreased to under 6 seconds for the first time in seven days.  On the 26th, deferring javascript decreased pageload times to around 3 seconds.  Keep in mind that number includes banner advertisements.

Load Times in Internet Explorer 9
Load Times in Internet Explorer 9

 

Clearly deferring javascript helps with IE9, but what about the other browsers?

Windows firefox
Windows firefox
Mac Chrome 23
Mac Chrome 23
Windows Chrome 23
Windows Chrome 23

In every browser, you’ll notice that DOM processing and network times decreased, whereas page rendering times increased.  My theory is that since the javascript is deferred, the dom is processed a lot faster, but that doesn’t mean the page is fully rendered.  Again, feel free to chime in here with your own explanation.  I *think* the end user will feel as though the pages load a lot faster, despite the additional page rendering.

Unfortunately I am unable to test Android and iPhone browser performance because these users are directed to a different sub domain. Plus, I don’t think Google supports these browsers for deferring Javascript.  Older browser performance from IE8/IE7 remain unchanged because many of Google’s optimizations are for modern browsers only.

According to my testing, the previous bottlenecks like advertisements and rendering Google Charts no longer slow down pageloads.

Next up is to see performance from Google Webmaster Tools.  When I used Cloudflare, Googlebot noticed huge performance issues.  Cloudflare caused my 200 ms response times to double and even triple.  Will the same results appear for Google’s Service?

Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools

As you can see, passing traffic through Google PageSpeed servers does cause a penalty of about 100 ms in response times.  Their servers are doing an awful lot of optimizations behind the scenes, so this is not at all surprising.  The trade off is that the end user gets entire seconds shaved off their load times.  I think I’ll take that any day.

More Advanced Optimization Techniques

Of course, I am not satisfied there and wanted to further push the boundaries of what Google PageSpeed Service can do.  Next up is to cache and prioritize visible content.  Cloudflare has something similar, but they call it railgun. Railgun also requires you to run an extra process to send HTTP data back and forth to Cloudflare to show them which HTML content is stale so it can be cached.  I have no idea how well Railgun performs since no one has actually reviewed the service.

Google’s cache and prioritize visible content works a bit different.  You do not need to run any additional service on your server.  Instead they parse the HTML based on a set of rules you specify and rely on using Javascript to speed up rendering times.  Their website says: “Non-cacheable portions are stripped from the HTML, and the rest of the page is cached on PageSpeed servers. Visible content of the page is prioritized on the network and the browser so it doesn’t have to compete with the rest of the page.”  Visible content means, content that the end user actually can see on their browser.  I do not know if it is user specific, or they just base this off the most common resolution.  So anything above the fold will load immediately, whereas content below the fold may load via a Javascript call.

If deferring javascript works on your site then this feature should work once configured correctly.    Here is their full video explaining the feature:

I went ahead and applied FULL caching to Top IAmA with no rules.  This site has no advertisements and very little javascript.  Response times here are a best case scenario   Every page that gets rendered can be cached for 30 minutes.  This means that Google only needs to fetch a page once every 30 minutes, otherwise it serves it straight from their servers.  Googlebot shows the results:

Googlebot crawl speed Top IAmA
Googlebot crawl speed Top IAmA

You’ll notice two things about this graph… 1) The response times to the far left are terrible and 2) The response times under Google PageSpeed with cached content are extremely fast.  Response times went from 200ms to around 50 ms.  The response times to the far left are a result of Cloudflare’s Full Caching features with Rocket Loader enabled. As I mentioned earlier, avoid Cloudflare at all costs.  The response times in the middle of the graph are from my server.

I did attempt to add Google’s cache and prioritize visible content to FantasySP.  Once I tallied up all of the IDs and classes needed for user specific data I previewed the feature site-wide.  After a some tweaking of class names, everything seemed to be working without any issues.  Although I soon ran into occasional Javascript errors under IE10 that would halt rendering the full page.

This shows you how fragile this feature is because a single javascript error will cause rendering to fail.

The error for IE10 shows as:

SCRIPT5007: Unable to get property ‘childNodes’ of undefined or null reference
f2ae86053f8f64f57a4ef28a17bd0669-blink.js, line 30 character 224

Every other browser seemed to have no issues whatsoever.  IE10 seemed to load the fastest, with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox not too far behind.  I applied this technique to a certain subset of pages on FantasySP that I feel confident will have no errors and can use the speed boost.  Have a look at this Russel Wilson or Matt Ryan page.  During pageload, watch the console to see how different sections of the page load via javascript calls from blink.js. If you don’t see it on the first pageload, then refresh to see the cached version appear.

Google Analytics

The final set of data will be looking at “Avg. Document Content Loaded Time (sec)” metric in Google Analytics under Site Speed -> DOM Timings.  Google Analytics explains this metric as: “Average time (in seconds) that the browser takes to parse the document and execute deferred and parser-inserted scripts (DOMContentLoaded), including the network time from the user’s location to your server.”

I broke up the data by browser and they include: Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox.  Internet Explorer comes in just a hair faster than Chrome.  Although Safari seems to be worse.

DOMContentLoaded
DOMContentLoaded

Google Analytics confirms what the NewRelic graphs show.  Users will perceive pageloads as much faster with Javascript being deferred.

Conclusion

According to NewRelic browser metrics and testing, Google PageSpeed Service offers significant improvements to load times.  It is relatively easy to set up and is better than any other competing service.  Sites both big and small should use at least some of the services provided.

Google PageSpeed Service with advanced optimization techniques is a perfect solution when it comes to simple WordPress blogs that use Disqus commenting.  All you have to do is add an ignore rule for /wp-admin/* and enjoy a much faster blog that should be able to handle an almost unlimited amount of visits and traffic.  I’d love to see results from anyone else out there willing to try.

Overall I’d say using Google PageSpeed is a no brainer.  Test it out and let me know your thoughts.

Update #1: Over at the hackernews thread, Jeff Kaufman, who works with the PageSpeed team gave some very insightful comments that are a must read.

Update #2: This blog you are currently reading now uses Google PageSpeed Service with advanced caching techniques, such as Google’s cache and prioritize visible content.

Fix the WordPress SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS Bug

Anyone who has a WordPress blog with a lot of posts will eventually encounter an extremely slow query. I refer to this as the SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS Bug. If you have slow-query-log enabled then a query similar to this might have shown up before:

SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID NOT IN (44682, 44657, 44630) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' AND (wp_posts.post_status = 'publish') GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 24580, 5

Just how detremential is this to your blogs performance?  Well thanks to newrelic, I can show you:

SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS Bug

Unfortunately I don’t know why WordPress runs this query.  What I do know is that it apparently only shows up on index.php.  What you probably care about is how to fix this problem.   I’ve located a possible workaround thanks to this open ticket at wordpress.org.  The diff log on the changes are listed as well.  I went ahead and applied these code changes to wp-includes/query.php.  The fixed query.php can be found here.

How are the results so far?  Inconclusive.  I just applied this patch and nothing broke so far, which is always a plus.  I suggest you give it a try and see how your blog responds in a development environment.  If I STILL spot slowdowns in the revised query, then I will update this post and let you know.

Some of you might be asking, does this affect your version of WordPress? The answer is yes.  I am running WordPress 3.2.1.

Please do post your thoughts, concerns, or comments to help others out.

Does Cloudflare live up to the hype?

I have given Cloudflare a try for the past week or so for FantasySP.com and want to pass along my thoughts.  I saw a few reviews that were quite astonishing and decided to find out if they are accurate.  I have been reading great things about it and couldn’t resist trying it out.

Will Cloudfront Increase Pages Per Visit?

Unfortunately no.  The only reason you’ll see an increase in pages per visit is if you change the setting to add your Google Analytics code to every page.  I decided to use this myself and look at the results:

Pages/Visit

Notice the bump in pages/visit?  Almost double.  That is when I added the Analytics code to every page and it completely skewed everything out of whack.   Meanwhile GetClicky and awstats both showed them to be at normal levels.  So clearly this Cloudflare setting should not be used and anyone who shows these type of drastic results are just lying to themselves.

I obviously don’t think Cloudflare adds this setting to artificially increase analytics stats.  Although, I can’t explain why this happens, since they claim its fine to add without removing the old code.

Will Cloudflare Decrease Bounce Rate?

Probably not.  If anything, it could have a slight increase in your bounce rate depending on how much bad bot/spam traffic you were getting.  Although, a bad bot might even help your bounce rate because they are often times so abusive and load many pages.  If Google Analytics shows a drastic decrease in bounce rate then it is due to the Cloudflare setting to add the script to every page.  Have a look at my bounce rate:

Bounce Rate

Sorry folks, Cloudflare is no miracle bounce rate solution. :(

Will Cloudflare Increase the Speed of the Site?

Yes, even using their free service!  Cloudflare has a whole list of features that show how they can decrease the time it takes for a page to load.  They will cache content, similar to a CDN and provide optimized routes to your site, and block abusive traffic.  If you pay for their service then you will see even better benefits (none of which I have tested).

So I guess the real question is, does Cloudflare make FantasySP faster?  Yes and no.  I have most of my static content already on Amazon’s Cloudfront.  My DNS before Cloudflare was Amazon’s Route 53.  So how much of a benefit am I really getting when some of Cloudflare’s services were already taken care of?  Here is a look at Googlebot’s time it takes to crawl FantasySP.com:

Googlebot Crawl Rate

According to Googlebot, the site isn’t faster, perhaps slightly slower if anything.  It could be that Amazon’s Route 53 provides equally as good routing for end users and I don’t see much of a difference.  Either way, there isn’t enough evidence to make a call on this.  What really matters is if there is a difference for the end user in a real browser.  For my site, javascript is what is holding back the end user experience.  Which brings up my next point, Rocket Loader.

Does Rocket Loader Improve Speeds?

To test Rocket Loader’s performance, I will be using NewRelic’s End User performance tracking.  I have been using this for well over a month and it should show any trends with end user speeds.

As you can see, there is a large decrease in pageload time and goes from 8 seconds to 6! Awesome right?  Well, unfortunately I noticed that Rocket Loader was screwing up some of the rendering of advertisements that were on the site.  Thus making my site’s javascript unusable.  Rocket Loader works fine with Google AdSense, but AdSense doesn’t generally hang as much because of their recent optimizations.

What I really wanted Rocket Loader to do, was to improve performance of the other ad networks that I use.  These are the ones causing all the slowndown.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  Clearly it was making a difference, but it is a bit buggy at this point.  My next step is to selectively use Rocket Loader on certain javascript components and see if it will make a difference in overall load time without breaking things.  Stay Tuned for that!

So Where Does This Leave Us?

After reading all of this, you might think I’d come to the conclusion that Cloudflare isn’t worth the trouble.  Exactly the opposite.  Cloudflare delivers on a lot of the promises of the service.  Just be sure you don’t make mistakes like enabling Google Analytics on every page.  That feature just doesn’t make any sense to me.  (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.)

If you aren’t using a CDN or a customized DNS service, then switching to Cloudflare should have an impact on quicker load times.  Even if you do have a CDN and a customized DNS service, the fact that Cloudflare blocks bad threats and saves your server resources and prevents lots of spam.  It’s also nice to see trending data for search engine bots and outbound links.

I’d love to try out Cloudflare’s pay only services to see if they improve upon speeds, but they do not offer a trial for such a thing.  Perhaps down the line I will test these as well.  I also think Rocket Loader will continue to improve and will truly make a difference for some users out there.

What do you guys think?