Smashing Magazine: Website Performance Check

When starting this web project, it has been extremely important to make a comprehensive saftey audit and a website performance check first. Read this project report to find out why both is very important when implementing web projects.

Smashing Magazine: The Largest Online Magazine Wordlwide

Around 180,000 unique visitors per day, mainly professional web designers and developers, use the magazine. Smashing Magazine has more than 2,400 articles, 402 pages, 215,000 comments and one or two more articles each day. It had grown across various WordPress installations over the past few years. Now, Inpsyde migrated everything to one WordPress entity, a so-called Multisite, and also improved the data structure.

The Challenge: Data Migration and Audits

A Website Performance Check helps to find out how to increase the website's speed.

The actual data migration, the continuous, smooth operation of the website during the migration, the constant, responsive support and the continued development of the website all posed a great challenge.

Inpsyde: WordPress Agency with Professional Concept and Competent Implementation

Various audits were carried out in collaboration with Inpsyde regarding the security and performance of the entire website and a concept was created. Inpsyde is responsible for periodic system maintenance, servicing and updates.

We also go to Inpsyde for professional advice, concepts such as the reworking of our mobile and responsive area and a number of other requirements which Smashing Magazine regularly asks of Inpsyde.

The support and the migration of Smashing Magazine to a new server was also done in collaboration with Inpsyde: The server configuration was coordinated, the migration of the data structure to date was completed, the existing data was moved to a new database and the entire project management was planned and rolled out. Inpsyde also adapted the structure and the implementation of the rights system for editors and authors to the requirements of smashingmagazine.com.

The Outcome

The results are multifaceted. You can admire the end result here. A widely available, high performance WordPress platform.

We would recommend Inpsyde, because …

Smashing Magazine and Inpsyde gave an interview with Smashing Magazine (only available in German) for Upload Magazine in 2014.


Read for yourself what Markus Seyfferth (Smashing Magazine) and Alex Frison (Inpsyde GmbH) had to say:

How big exactly is Smashing Magazine?

Markus: Here are some figures at a glance:

  • 2,371 articles
  • 402 pages
  • 214,970 comments
  • Visitors: on average 4.5 to 5.5 million unique visitors per month
  • Page views = on average 9 to 11 million page views per month
  • 1 to 2 new articles each day
What does your hosting solution look like?

Markus: 2 WWW servers and 2 servers for delivering image files and CSS. And all of that with an upstream load balancer. We are working on changing all that mid-term and on improving server performance, which is why we are currently not actually working with state-of-the-art hosting.

What optimizations did you implement for WordPress?

Markus: Most notably things that improve frontend performance, e.g. lazy loading of our ads and web fonts. Both of these changes have really made a difference, especially for mobile end devices. In terms of the optimization of caching via plugins: We are working with a customized plugin – but improvements are already in the works.

Other than that, we try to use as few plugins as possible, but we do use WP SEO Premium, Remove Blog Slug to get rid of /blog/ in slug, a plugin for comments and one for the RSS feed. That’s it. 🙂

Plugins for the lazy loading of images are usually pretty useless and may even have a negative effect on Google page speed; even if some plugins call themselves lightweight – they usually aren’t.

Alex: In all that we did, we never touched the WordPress core. That means that WordPress and plugin updates remain quick and easy. In our own developments, we also keep with the standards to ensure that we always work with the high level of security WordPress provides.

Our WordPress is a Multisite, which was created in early 2014 from six individual WordPress installations for Smashing, Coding, Mobile, WordPress, UxDesign and Fireworks. We consolidated the individual pages into one single WordPress installation and mapped using a category taxonomy.

We also migrated all the previously used plugins and themes to a single code basis, we got rid of unnecessary clutter and wrote large parts from scratch. These optimizations brought the request times down from 400 ms to only 40 ms.

We now only use free plugins like Antispam Bee and WPSeo (Premium) for convenience. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Under the hardware hood we have two root servers for redundancy and one Varnish cache server to generate as few database requests as possible and therefore keep the server load as low as possible.

What are the most important tweaks in your opinion?

Alex: The key criterion you have to think about is the program concept of that large WordPress installation. We have to weigh up exactly which parts we have to write ourselves and which we can implement via free plugins to ensure optimized performance, security and updatability. WordPress.org currently offers over 32,000 free to use plugins. Many of these can – due to a bad code basis – lead to huge problems long-term. Most WordPress operators unfortunately don’t have the necessary know-how and will sooner or later face the problem of having to invest a lot of time and therefore money in fault finding and troubleshooting.

It is very important to make sure that the code base for the development of plugins and themes is clean and maintainable. It should conform to the WordPress standard and utilize proprietary APIs. But you should avoid any other kind of implementation (e.g. proprietary MySQL tables) where possible. Another important decision: What belongs in a theme and what belongs in a plugin? Many make the mistake of filling their theme with lots of features. And then, they are surprised when everything stops working after a theme change.

Static data like JavaScript, CSS or even images should be bundled, minimized and optimized for delivery. In larger projects, it is worth using CDN services. The same methodology can also be applied to many calculation-intensive processes, e.g. search servers.

What would, in your opinion, speak against using WordPress for large projects?

Alex: There are generally no limitations to using WordPress. Millions of websites illustrate not only its massive scalability, but also its security and great performance. Despite the fact that WordPress is so widespread, there are only very few known security gaps. And professional developers can patch them up  immediately.

One of the few hurdles for using WordPress is the lack of know-how. WordPress can manage thousands of pages with millions and millions of posts if you tweak it correctly.

We would only consider other CM systems for smaller websites. We use Kirby, for example, for our conference pages. For large projects like the magazine, we will continue to work with WordPress for all of the above reasons.

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