SiteGround web hosting Black Friday sale

I got a notification today that SiteGround, the web hosting company that I use to host all my sites, are having a Black Friday sale with discounts of up to 75% off their hosting plans.

The discounts apply to their shared hosting plans, and are available from Friday 23rd to Monday 26th November 2018 inclusive, and might be worth looking at if you’re in the market for new web hosting.

I’ve been with them since February this year and have been very happy with their service – in particular the way they optimise performance of WordPress websites. My sites load so much more quickly than they did with my old host, and the integration with free SSL cert provider Let’s Encrypt is also welcome.

As a caveat, I would say that SiteGround already heavily discount their hosting plans all year round. Their standard discounts tend to be around the 65% mark, and so this Black Friday sale has to be seen in that context.

To make the most of this discount you need to consider if you can afford to prepay for your hosting for a number of years. If you are willing to pay for 2 or 3 years in advance, you will pay the discounted price for the whole of that period. But at the end of the discount period you go back to paying full price, which can be a big price jump.

For example, the GrowBig plan at present is charged at £14.95 per month. It’s currently discounted by 66% to £4.95 per month. Presumably during the Black Friday sale, that price after the 75% discount will be even lower such as around £3.75 per month. If you signed up for 1 year, you’d be paying 12 x 3.75 plus VAT (at 23% in Ireland) which is a total of £55.35 (approx €64).

However after the discount period, to stay on the same plan would cost you £220.66 (approx €253) at full price for the next year. That’s quite a hike, so it’s worth bearing this in mind before you sign up – particularly if you don’t relish the prospect of moving hosting providers again next year.

This isn’t the greatest sales pitch, but I prefer to be honest and up-front with people so that they are going into something with their eyes open. And along those lines I’d also like to declare that by clicking on any link to SiteGround in this post has the potential to earn me referral income. 

Cancelling Direct Debits with N26

I wanted to cancel a Direct Debit from my N26 account, and couldn’t find any reference to it in the app, so I contacted customer care.

Here’s the process they explained to me to cancel a Direct Debit:

  1. Download the form https://docs.n26.com/cs/N26DirectDebitBlockEN.pdf form their site, and fill in the details the Creditor ID or Merchant Reference
  2. Ensure the form has your physical handwritten signature on it
  3. Scan the form, and email to support(Replace this with the @ sign)n26.com
  4. N26 will then cancel the Direct Debit for you

There’s no help within the app or website that tells you the Creditor ID or Merchant Reference for an existing Direct Debit. Neither of these values are listed against a transaction, so you need to find them elsewhere.

I checked the website of the company that I was paying my Direct Debit to, and their Creditor ID was listed – so I was able to the get the value fairly easily.

The Creditor ID is a unique reference that identifies an organisation collecting payments through a  SEPA Direct Debit, and is usually issued by the organisation’s bank. It reads a bit like an IBAN, but may be shorter, with a mixture of letters and numbers. The Direct Debit Mandate form – whether electronic or paper – should show the Creditor ID on it.

Here’s an extract from the Bank of Ireland SEPA Direct Debit Creditor’s Guide that explains the Creditor ID format:

I’m not sure how you find out the Merchant Reference! If you find out, let me know!

Reversing Direct Debits already paid

If you want to initiate a refund on a Direct Debit that has already been paid, you can do this from within the mobile app:

  1. Tap on the Direct Debit transaction to view the details
  2. Scroll to the bottom and select the option “Initiate refund”
  3. Send the request

N26 state that the money will be returned to your account within 2 banking days.

Screenshot of N26 app, with “Initiate refund” option highlighted

6 Ways to Improve the Performance of your WordPress Blog

How fast does your WordPress blog load? Have you tested performance on mobile as well as desktop? Did you know that performance is one of metrics that Google uses to rank sites?

When talking about performance its important to remember that around half of all traffic these days comes from mobile devices, and these devices can often be on limited data connections. So when you look at site performance (as with web design these days) you should adopt a mobile-first strategy.

I used a tool https://testmysite.withgoogle.com/ to check on the performance of my WordPress blog, and it reported that my site takes 7 seconds to load over a 3G connection – which apparently results in me losing a quarter of visitors that simply give up before the site ever loads!

Google has a goal that its sites should all load within half a second. That level of performance might not be achievable for everyone, but we can all do better.

So how do you optimise your WordPress site to load more quickly?

1. Keep pages small

A testing tool like GTmetrix can tell you how fast your page loads, and how big your page is. If you are loading lots of images, videos and scripts, then the size of your site could be huge – and therefore slow – without you realising it.

My site comes in at just over 1MB which is actually pretty good. If yours is more in the range of 3-5MB (or even more!) then you need to start thinking about page size.

Reduce the number of posts displayed on your page. Do you really need to show 10 posts at a time? I have my site set to only show 5 posts at a time, and by halving the number of posts I also halve the page size!

Also think about whether you need all the content served from 3rd-party sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, that could be slowing down your site.

2. Minify your code

Use code minifying plugins such as Autoptimize to reduce the size of your HTML, javascript and CSS files by removing all unnecessary space in the source code. It won’t have any effect on the way your page looks, but it will reduce the size of the files being served.

3. Optimise images

A picture paints a thousand words, but it can also slow you down!

Loading lots of large images can be one of the primary causes of poor site performance. So consider the number and size of any images you display. Obviously for a photographer’s portfolio site you’re going to need to show large high-quality images – but you don’t need to show them all on one page.

Use a plugin such as Smush to automatically optimise images as you upload them to your site. It will reduce the file size of your images without losing any of the quality.

4. Eliminate unnecessary plugins

It’s tempting to keep installing more and more plugins to help add new features to a site – but every time you add a new plugin, it’s more code for WordPress to have to run before it can render your site. So have a clear out and get rid of any plugins you don’t need.

It’s also a good idea to minimise the number of plugins and themes you have installed for site security. The more plugins and themes from different authors you have installed, the higher the potential sources of vulnerability to hacking.

5. Select your hosting account carefully

Not all hosting providers are the same, and although most will allow you to run WordPress from your account the performance of sites can vary wildly from one host to another.

If you’re shopping around, look at hosts that have specific WordPress optimised hosting. I like SiteGround as they have optimised their hosting to serve WordPress sites as fast as possible.

And if you’re getting a lot of traffic to your site, then ditch the shared hosting and get your own virtual or cloud server. It will give you a lot more resources to serve a lot more people at once.

6. Upgrade PHP

PHP is the programming language that WordPress runs on, and many hosting providers use an older version of it by default. However if your host allows you to upgrade to a newer version (or they can do it for you) then your site will get a good performance boost.

When upgrading from PHP 5.6 to version 7, WordPress performance doubles!

Source: http://www.zend.com/en/resources/php7_infographic

Pebble or Fitbit Versa

I love my Pebble smartwatch. I’m on my third one, having backed them from the start on Kickstarter. And so I was naturally quite upset to learn that Pebble closed down just over a year ago.

Knowing that the Pebble servers are due to be switched off at the end of June 2018, I feel a pressing need to look into alternatives. I’ve already bought and abandoned a Wear OS watch, and am now considering the Fitbit Versa as an alternative, but I’m torn.

A lifeline for Pebble

It’s heartening to know that a group of enthusiasts at Rebble.io are working hard to keep Pebble watches working after the servers are switched off in June. And if their efforts pay off, I could keep using my Pebble with pretty-much all of its functionality still intact.

The only problem is that the Pebble is now old technology. There’s never going to be an updated version of the hardware, and with the best will in the world the good folks at Rebble.io are probably not going to do more than keep the lights on. They’re not going to have the resources to innovate and add new features.

And that’s the heart of my concern. Pebble watches are only ever going to decline in usage. You can’t buy them any more, except for the odd one that pops up on Amazon or eBay at inflated prices. So when my current watch breaks, or the battery becomes too old to hold a charge, I won’t be able to get my Pebble repaired or replaced.

Fitbit Versa as an alternative?

So I’m looking at the Fitbit Versa as an alternative. There are plenty of good things going for it. It seems to have a decent 4-day battery life, and the fitness tracking would probably be a step-up from the Pebble. But there’s one or two things holding me back from buying:

  • It doesn’t support Spotify. Fitbit seem to have done a deal with Pandora and Deezer as their music streaming partners, and have no plans to support Spotify.
  • The screen doesn’t stay on. I would need to flick my wrist or press a button to get the screen to light up and see the time. And because its motion-enabled the watch screen has the potential to come on when I don’t want it – say in the cinema or in bed at night.
  • The smartwatch features aren’t very mature. Support for quick replies to messages is coming for Android phone users (but not iOS) later this year, but this will be limited to picking from a pre-defined list. There is no support for voice dictation of replies. Also I’ve heard that the range of watch faces and apps available is still pretty limited.

On the other hand, I like the fact that I will be able to wear it 24 hours – due to it being waterproof and having a 4-day battery life. The Wear OS watch I tried ran out of juice after a day’s usage, so I could never use it for sleep tracking.

I also like the Fitbit dashboard for viewing health tracking stats. I’m not exactly an athlete, but I do like to track my daily steps and my cycle commuting to make sure I’m getting some exercise. I used to use a Fitbit Charge HR (until it literally fell apart), and liked checking the Fitbit app and website.

So I don’t know. Should I go head and try out the Versa? I’d be interested to hear from people who are using one – especially if you have migrated from using a Pebble!

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