Website Redesign, Part Four

It’s been a little while since my last update, but very little has changed since then. The backend is, for the most part, about where I want it in terms of extensions, plugins, and functionality. Sluggish or conflicting plugins have been torn out whenever an issue crops up. They have been either substituted with better alternatives or I’ve learned to make do without that particular functionality. Less is more, right?

I’m pretty happy with the website backup functionality I have set up, once it all fell into place properly. Besides using Dreamhost’s usual rolling 2 weeks worth of daily backups, I have a backup that takes place once a week that is pushed offsite, and another offsite backup solution that occurs daily and anytime I make a change to the site. It also scans the backups for any malware or security issues, etc.

Except for the current theme, and with a few minor differences, this website is now mostly using the same set up I am using for my web-shop over at American Bogan™ which is also now running on WordPress, by the way.

I may pick a different theme and re-arrange things after a while. Between theme juggling and vacillating between keeping the blog as the homepage, making the About page the homepage, or just building a dedicated homepage, I’m clearly just wallowing in my normal over-pickiness and really should just relax about it, right?

So I guess this is it. After all this techy talk and random political rants, whodathunk that this was actually a photography blog run by a portrait and event photographer in the Boston area, right?

Moving forward, there should be no more major changes to this website, and I can start concentrating on posting about photography and showing off photos I’ve taken to all of you!

Website Redesign, Part Three

I think that I am, for the most part, done with major changes to this website. After Part Two, I created an About page to act as a a quick-and-dirty photography portfolio. I like the built-in block patterns that Twenty Twenty-One has, so I used them to build three sections to highlight the boudoir, portrait, and fire performer photography parts of my portfolio. I may change it around a little more, down the road, but it stays for now.

I am un-decided on if I should make the About page the homepage of this website and put the blog on its own separate page or keep it the way it is. Frankly, I kinda like it this way, but I am not fully sold on it. I guess that until I decide for certain, it can stay in this format with the blog stream front-and-center. It feels very Livejournal in that way, and I miss LJ.

On the back-end, the biggest change was that I removed Jetpack completely. It may or may not be a bloated mess, depending on who you listen to, but it tends to trigger a lot of processes behind the scenes that can bring this website to its knees quickly, if I am not careful while mucking around on the backend and don’t want to bump up to the next managed WordPress account tier just for the extra resources to be made available.

A fairly rudimentary website with a blog and a small print-on-demand merchandise shop’s backend shouldn’t need that kind of heavy resource allocation, especially when another website I built has an e-commerce shop and Jetpack running on a basic shared-hosting account, right?

I also pulled out an abandoned-cart plug-in that I had been using for a little while. It was free, so it isn’t a financial issue, and it did do its job a year ago. Once. To be frank, I really have no need for any abandoned-cart functionality on a website that is primarily a photography-centric blog.

After some thought, I decided to place this website back behind Cloudflare, mostly to give an additional CDN layer that makes up for removing Jetpack, especially where serving images to your web-browsers are concerned. Anything that I can do to reduce the overall load on the servers while improving the security-posture at the same time is helpful.

It also helps that I included modifying some basic PHP settings so that I didn’t have processes running, or waiting, for a ridiculous amount of time and tying down available RAM unnecessarily. I also added some appropriate security headers to other files on the server.

My next challenge will be to migrate my main e-commerce shop away from Shopify to WordPress. I know I have written about it before, but the process is a bit daunting and sometimes I feel like my time is better spent elsewhere (like marketing?) whenever possible.

I may end up deciding to keep it where it is, even though the longer it remains the harder it will be to drop Shopify. *sigh*

Anyway, I should be done with 95-98% of the redesign as far as this website is concerned.

How do you like it?

Website Redesign, Part Two

Still slowly chipping away at this project. A couple of pages needed some light tweaking after changing to “Twenty Twenty-One” for consistency, but that was mostly it.

I’ve re-built my Contact page to fit the theme, re-wrote copy to hopefully sound a bit more approachable and with more of an authentic voice. Getting it to work after several test-emails and getting the form to fit the page well took some behind-the-scenes finagling. The Contact Form that I’d been using was part of SiteOrigin’s collection of modules and plugins that I removed so I needed to find a new one.

WP-Forms is commonly installed with most WordPress hosting. It’s basic and heavily spams with built-in ads for the other integrations they sell. Meh. I didn’t want to use Contact Form 7 as it tends to be a fairly heavy plug-in. The point of this project is to speed things up on the website, not slow them down. I also didn’t want to just use a clickable link to email with and open myself up to every email-scraping bot in existence.

Anyway, I think I found one that I like and it has some spam-protection so that should help with reducing the inevitable torrent of spam-via-contact-form emails. It also fits well with the “Twenty Twenty-One” theme.

Under the hood, I removed a couple of heavy plug-ins and either got rid of them completely or found lighter-weight versions to work with. For SEO related functionality, I looked over the following, and decided against them:

  • Yoast – Bloated and ad-heavy
  • Rank Math – Inconsistent

I’m using a somewhat lighter SEO framework, in keeping with the simplicity and efficiency I am aiming for. So far, so good.

Speaking of buggy plugins, I removed Pixel Caffeine as it was causing random crashes that led to heavy slow-downs when editing a blog-post. I don’t really know if it is worth using Facebook’s Pixel on this particular site anyway, as it doesn’t really use Facebook Re-targeting Ads. More important to me is that after making these changes on the back-end, editing and updating seem a lot snappier than it had been for a few months.

And now I’ve got a better Contact Page as a result!

Website Redesign, Day One

Gutting the Website

So far, I am enjoying my photography website’s re-design project. I’ve removed about a dozen plugins and replaced them with smaller, leaner options; removed the Astra theme, deleted all the categories and tags for the blog, menus, widgets in the footer, deleted different pages (Contact, About, etc) and I deleted the SiteOrigin page-builder and it’s many modules.

New Foundation

Instead of using a different page-builder, I’m opting to stick with Gutenberg and it’s block-based system for both the blog and building various pages. Mostly for simplicity’s sake, partially for the challenge, and partially to remove page-builder bloat.

I also decided to go with the default 2021 WordPress theme as the baseline. Colors are pleasing, typography is gorgeous, content is big and bold, it all looks great on a big screen or smartphone, and it does not have a lost of bloat.

Sensing a theme here?

The Plan Moving Forward

Ultimately, I am looking to build this site into a photography-blog centered website but one that still has room for me to write about things as I will. I’m a photographer, but also I am a human being with a lot to say that doesn’t necessarily fit Facebook.

The blog will be the focus, the rest of the site will be built around it.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below and I hope you all enjoy this re-designing journey with me!

Back to the Basics

After taking some time to look closely at my website and evaluate what I want to accomplish with it, I decided it was time to give it a complete make over.

What started me on this process was that there’s a lot of talk about missing Livejournal among my friends and so I want to bring back that sense of conversation and community as much as possible. I think that for my website’s re-design, I am going to go for a much more radical simplification and will strip things down to the basics while putting the blog’s content front and center.

The pages it will contain will also be stripped down to the basics: About, Contact, Policies, and a basic Shop (it, too, will be simplified). It will also include re-working the back-end, reducing plugins and functionality down to the absolute minimum needed.

It will remain on a managed WordPress installation with Dreamhost (Affiliate link) rather than reducing it down to a shared-host account, mostly because of the attached WooCommerce shop and server-level caching and reverse-proxy that the DreamPress account provides.

If it means tearing out the page-builder and it’s myriad modules, so be it. If it means reducing the topics and categories, then that too. If it means removing or re-writing past posts, then I’ll do that, too. Switching themes to a default theme and working within it’s limitations is completely an option, too.

Minimal, functional, and deceptively simple.

I feel up to the challenge.

Shopify, WordPress, WooCommerce, MAGAts, and Trust

FTC DISCLOSURE: This website may contain affiliate links to different products or services. You can help to support this website directly by clicking on the link and making a purchase or signing up for a service that I linked to. I may earn a small commission for each referral. You may rest assured that if I recommend it in an affiliate link then I have personally used it or verified it. Even though the links are sponsored, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Thank you, as always, for your support!

-Adrian

I’ll get right to the point. Shopify has lost my trust. Here’s how.

This week, Shopify had a data breech. Though it is currently small in scope it looks like this may be the final factor to really take into account while I consider the benefits and issues I can face if I decide to migrate American Bogan™ away from Shopify onto a WordPress site.

This website is built with WordPress and hosted on Dreamhost (Affiliate Link). Originally, it was under a different domain existing on Squarespace. Migrating away from Squarespace onto WordPress was a project that was more complicated than it needed to be, and highlights the risks involved in subscribing to a full website building platform instead of a building a site on a real webhost’s infrastructure.

Fact is, I have been mulling it over for a bit, now, based on little things that have been popping up. Shopify’s data breech will most likely the final factor.

Beyond the data breech, which all providers are at risk for from multiple attack vectors, I am noticing how much each Shopify based store is used to promote Shopify, without necessarily informing their users about it. Some people are fine with this. I am not.

ConsentMatters and #PrivacyMatters

You can see “Powered by Shopify” links in the footers of Shopify based websites, for example. Some users leave it because they do not know how to change it. Other users can remove “Powered by Shopify” (Google Search) through Shopify’s backend to read “Powered by Clown Farts and Dick Blisters,” but it does not change the actual hyperlink. The average user won’t necessarily know how to change the hyperlink through editing the theme’s code, but they can look up how to change it on the backend.

Problem is that any text you change it to, using Shopify’s backend, will still link back to a campaign-tracked back link to Shopify. Back links remain a classic SEO component. Nearly every Shopify store is coded with, what amounts to be, a hidden back link that isn’t easy to get rid of for most users.

screenshot of Americanbogan.com showing "powered by shopify" anchor text changed to "RemoveTrump #BlackLivesMatter #FuckTrump" and displaying the hyperlink behind it. adrianfeliciano.com
I temporarily changed the “Powered by Shopify” anchor text on American Bogan™ to “RemoveTrump #BlackLivesMatter #FuckTrump” to demonstrate the tracked hyperlink behind it and then deleted it all together once I took this screenshot.

One can argue that isn’t an issue BeCaUsE iTz ShOpiFy’s SeRviCe aNd PLatForm, and that is an absolutely correct and valid argument to make. In the end, it IS Shopify’s platform. Not yours.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about Shopify’s willingness to platform MAGAt oriented shops. Trump’s campaign, and Breitbart’s webshop come to mind right away. To be fair, Shopify also hosts shops whose values are much more in line with mine; however, by using hidden backlinks in the footers of websites, Shopify is giving their subtle endorsement of that particular web-shop’s policies and politics, as far as I am concerned.

screenshot of breitbart webshop showing "powered by shopify" anchor text and displaying hyperlink behind it. Also, #FuckTrump #RemoveTrump #FuckMAGA #FuckAltRight and #FuckNazis adrianfeliciano.com
Shopify is using “Powered by Shopify” on Breitbart’s webshop to track the backlink and benefit from the SEO effects it can have.

Beyond the monthly hosting fees and transaction fees (depending on your payment processor), Shopify’s SEO is benefiting from those sites by using them for their SERP-enhancing backlinks.

The biggest factor, however, comes down to trust in the platform and control over my own content. In a nutshell, if I lose trust in one service provider, how easily can I migrate to a new one? As a corporation, my trust in Shopify has always been tolerant at best, and nearly non-existent at worst. This data breech, how they’ve responded to it, their use of un-disclosed backlinks, and their willingness to give a platform to (and use those backlinks to gain additional benefit from) the MAGAt cult, and multiple other minor limitations and factors, which I will get into below, have really started to pile up on top of each other.

I’ve already seen how complicated of a process it was for migrating my website away from Squarespace when it was primarily a blog and portfolio based site. I am now looking at rebuilding a fully functional e-commerce shop because the products, themselves, won’t easily migrate away. Printful, the main print-on-demand vendor I am using, cannot re-connect one shop to another and push all product data back to the new platform.

Once the migration and rebuild is done, several things become possible:

  1. I can have daily, weekly, and monthly backups of the entire website and can restore them at anytime. Shopify does not have backup functionality available for users. This is an enormous risk.
  2. WordPress has more than a few free themes that include backlinks in their footers. No big deal. If I decide not to dig into PHP and CSS code snippets to change it, I can always install a different theme that doesn’t include backlinks in their footers.
  3. SEO can be improved greatly — Shopify SEO is notorious for its poor implementation.
  4. Not that any product I create needs more than three options and 100 variations, but they’d be unlimited under WordPress.
  5. I can create multiple pages and blog posts to look pretty much how I want. With Shopify, the homepage is where most of the ability to alter the design is, at least for the free themes. Separate pages and blog posts are rudimentary, at best, and are very basic in design.
  6. If Dreamhost ever lost my trust, migrating to another WordPress installation on a different host will take, at most, a day if I am feeling lazy. Two if I am feeling exceptionally lazy.
  7. I can add on a support forum or other social features, up to and including a full blown social media site, if I really feel up to the challenge.
  8. Speaking of social features, both platforms allow for guest-checkouts. You can order a product without creating an account. With WordPress, I can help increase the overall security of my customers by requiring a social media account to checkout. That way, no user password is ever stored on my servers.
  9. Product reviews are already built into a WordPress based shop
  10. All of this for about $30 less per month.

Things that I will be giving up are minor, to me:

  1. If I want live shipping rates, I can only use one fulfillment vendor. With WordPress and WooCommerce, I cannot have products from Printful and Printify in my shop and use live-rates from both vendors. I’d have to stick with complicated shipping tables, or just use flat rates and price accordingly. I do, however, have to pay Shopify an extra $20/month just to turn on live-shipping if I don’t want the full $80/month plan.
  2. Shopify does have multiple channels available to sell through, integrated nicely by default, and you can add more. If I want to create Facebook ads, I can do it from within Shopify but they are limited in scope, and not always very efficient. I’d have to do them by hand, through Facebook.
  3. That’s not really an issue, since half of my stuff gets hilariously auto-rejected by Facebook’s algorithms, anyway.
  4. Shopify has integrated a rudimentary abandoned-cart email function. I’d have to find an effective one under WordPress (Adrianfeliciano.com uses a free one that is already more functional than Shopify’s),

In conclusion

What I’ll be giving up, realistically, is only the convenience of a well integrated e-commerce backend and a highly competent front end, for the ability to fully own and control all of my website’s content on a webhost that I trust (Affiliate Link) where I can build it to be whatever I want, to help better protect the privacy and security of my customers by having backups and the ability to improve on our security posture, and to reject a platform that tacitly endorses and benefits from dangerous, anti-American, ideologies.

What do you think?

Given the line of thinking in the post above, would you still consider Shopify for your e-commerce shop? Please me know in the comments below. You can leave comment after securely logging in using your Social Media account. It helps to greatly reduce spam on this website.

Is Cloudflare Necessary With DreamPress?

FTC DISCLOSURE: This website may contain affiliate links to different products or services. You can help to support this website directly by clicking on the link and making a purchase or signing up for a service that I linked to. I may earn a small commission for each referral. You may rest assured that if I recommend it in an affiliate link then I have personally used it or verified it. Even though the links are sponsored, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Thank you, as always, for your support!

-Adrian

This is just quick entry about using DreamPress behind Cloudflare.

Some very broad observations:

Turns out that putting Adrianfeliciano.com behind Cloudflare didn’t seem to have a huge impact on improving overall performance and responsiveness on the public facing end. Originally, my purpose for using Cloudflare was to add another layer to help reduce the overall impact of heavy traffic on my website’s servers, including DDoS attacks, while blocking traffic based on country, to help significantly reduce comments from spam-bots.

Problem was that, in someways, I felt as if Cloudflare actually slowed down initial page loading, from the backend. WordPress is incredibly finicky as it is.

As a result, I removed Cloudflare, and saw an immediate improvement in responsiveness to my website’s front end. I use DreamHost (Affiliate Link) as my webhost and domain name registrar. They already have a solid proxy-cache in place built around NGINX, via my DreamPress Hosting Plan, that can take on a MASSIVE traffic load. Rather than blocking entire countries through Cloudflare or marking individual comments one at a time, I decided to prevent spam-bot comments by refusing guest comments all together. One is now required to be logged in to an active account in order to leave a comment.

If you have something to say, and it is important enough, then you can say it with your name attached.

The only other thing that Cloudflare helped with was domain privacy. By using them as a proxy, Cloudflare also blocked my domain’s registration information from being exposed publicly. Thing is that DreamHost already does this with every domain you register through them (GoDaddy and Hostgator charge extra for domain privacy).

Bottom line is simple:

I trust DreamHost (Affiliate Link) to host my WordPress based website.