Uncategorized

RIP GTMetrix

With the sudden switch to Lighthouse, the once revered optimization platform becomes unrecognizable and unusable.

Today I went to complete an ongoing optimization project for a client of mine only to discover that the entire GTMetrix platform has been converted to use Lighthouse rather than PageSpeed and YSlow. While I am aware of the “advantages” that Google feels that Lighthouse offers (they think all of their software is the best), the service has never provided useful optimization reports for developers like myself, who are generally tasked with updating a site until it scores well in a trusted rating system. For years, that trusted rating system has been PageSpeed and YSlow through GTMetrix.

I have been an ardent supporter of GTMetrix for years, and have continuously found the reports offered through PageSpeed and YSlow to be vastly superior to the gross generalizations made by Google’s optimization platform. Google’s PageSpeed testing platform for example, pitches the need to switch to their proprietary image extension (webp), presenting this as a major issue with website performance when we all know what it is – another effort by Google to use their purchasing power to force more of the internet to be reliant on their tech. Many browsers don’t even support that image format! After over a decade of working as a developer, I can comfortably say that Google often uses their software to pitch services that they offer at every juncture, even if the service won’t actually serve their customer’s best interest.

Now let’s talk results.

Many sites that objectively perform well, and have had every available effort to optimize the site short of stripping it down to nothing perform terribly on the new GTMetrix rating system. This prevents developers from being able to explain to their clients that their site isn’t actually performing at 30%, that there are a few small things that could be changed but largely the third party scripts that have been added to the site (and are completely out of our hands as developers) are making it appear as though their site is performing about as poorly as possible. Irrational scores like this make me constantly have to explain that a single image that can be compressed to save a whopping 1kb of data shouldn’t be reducing a site’s image optimization score down to 60%, but that’s exactly what it does. What’s worse, is that Google can then use these asinine scores to determine the page ranking of your website. Say that again – if you don’t use Google’s proprietary image extension, they may be pushing your page down in search results.

In GTMetrix’s own words, they say that Lighthouse is designed to rate how a page actually loads for the user, rather than how it is built. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Take a look at this real-world example of two sites I manage:

Site A – scoring 39
Site B – scoring 95

I am using a relatively very slow internet connection right now (~12mbps) at my country home, and the user experience in loading these two pages is roughly the same. Neither appear particularly slow or fast. But the reality is that Site B has a large 33.1mb HTML5 video loading in the masthead area that I know for a fact was not optimized properly. It is the slower loading site, and the performance issues are obvious, measurable, and solvable. But according to the new GTMetrix Lighthouse rating system, a system that is supposed to be more accurate, Site B is getting a solid “A” while Site A is getting a very low “E” – which is a special rating for sites that are worse than an “F.” It would be one thing if the sites were in the same ballpark, that at least would be reasonable. But they aren’t even on the same planet in terms of there scores, so what is the value of GTMetrix to developers now that it doesn’t actually provide any objective measure of a site’s performance? In their own blog post they explain how PageSpeed only showed how well a site was built, not how well it actually performs, but it did both and their own screenshot shows that it did both in very clear terms – three percentage based ratings for structure and three objective scores for load time, size, and requests. Just look at the vast disparity between these scores, many of which are using the same optimization techniques and all of which are getting good structure scores:

With the move to Lighthouse, it is highly unlikely that I continue to use GTMetrix for anything, and will assuredly end up cancelling my account. But that’s not the real issue. This change affects the profitability of all active optimization projects for every one GTMetrix’s loyal customers, and may force them to rework large parts of their business and edit marketing materials. Companies that focus solely on optimization now have to purchase credits to run more than three scans, rendering the test and contact business model dead in the water. If you deliver monthly optimization reports your clients are likely suddenly seeing horrible scores without any explanation as to why they have plummeted.

The bottom line

Developers need to be able to show that they did their job well in today’s development world, but if GTMetrix service can’t recognize the difference between a site with a 33mb video loading at the top of the page and a fairly efficient website, or worse, it thinks the efficient website is trash (what else would you call a score of 39?) and the unoptimized website is nigh perfection, how can you possibly rely on their service to represent your work?

I would rather not have to write such a scathing review, but the truth is that I am far from being the only developer who will be negatively affected by this change. My hope is that this article helps to serve as a wake up call for GTMetrix and potentially, Google, and that our voices as developers are heard.

We are the ones who are ultimately tasked with optimizing websites. As a paid subscriber, why didn’t we receive notifications in our dashboard area that this change was coming? Why weren’t we given an option of using the legacy software while we transition to another service (edit: this was added and announced in late November following backlash from customers, but like most major updates, customers should have been given the option to switch to Lighthouse, not the other way around). Both would have been thoughtful moves for their customers, but with this move it is clear that we are not a priority. Just look at the comments they received on their Facebook page announcement, do these look like happy customers?

🎉 Welcome to the new GTmetrix – by powered by Lighthouse. Learn more about our new performance metrics, new test…

Posted by GTmetrix on Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Nostalgiaphiliac – Part 1

Well, its 2020. Two-thousand-and-twenty. Holy fuck.

What is it about the arbitrarily assigned significance of a new decade that is so captivating to humans? You see the same effect throughout all of numerology. It really pulls at my heart strings to think of the amazing memories that I have made over the past decade. Some of the memories are of joy, others of heartache. Some of accomplishment, some of failure. The beauty of all of that merged into a single thought – “last decade,” is almost too much to bear, yet I can’t look away or diminish its significance. I graduated from college and started my career in this last decade. I found the love of my life. I lived in three different states. A lot has happened!

The feeling of wanting to revisit some of these memories brought me to dig through my old portfolio, dating back to some of my first professional projects created back in 2010-2011. It was amazing to see how much I have grown since then, as a web developer, as a designer, and as an artist. Some of the work still stands on its own! Some of it, not so much. Either way, I am grateful for each learning experience and the abundance that this universe has provided for me. The truth is, I made a lot of sacrifices. I worked my butt off at multiple jobs all the way up until I landed my first full time professional gig. I had a lot of people help me out along the way, and I had a fair amount of luck. I am not one to bullshit – luck is a big part of it. In order for that luck to be converted into growth however, you have to put in the work. From January 1st 2010 – December 31st, 2019, in the voice of Mark Jackson, I. put. in. the. work.

To honor this time in my life and to reflect on the miles traveled, I am going to create a short professional journal right here in my blog. I want to go through each part of my career, discussing the connections, projects, relationships, and lessons learned along the way. I will speak as candidly as I can in respect to my current and past clients, as there is always a balance between professionalism and brutal honesty. There is also a fair amount of NDA stuff to avoid or rewrite, so don’t hate me if I have to flat out skip over some shit. Mostly, I hope to bask in the brilliant nostalgia, the humor of my failures, and turn the page into 2020 with a new-found sense of completion. I hope maybe someone who is starting a career as a developer or designer happens to come across blog and finds a nugget of wisdom or two, should I be able to dig any up to begin with.

Here we go…thank you for tuning in and your support!
– Merritt

Anti-lytics: Let Data Inform Decisions, Not Make Them

The rise of analytics has ushered in a new era of business management. Once only obtainable through expensive market research, data is now available, and used by businesses of all shapes and sizes. Google Analytics, when used properly, is one of the most commonly used and powerful analytics tools on the market. Its also fucking free. Everyone is, or should be, using it. Sadly, many website owners misinterpret their website analytics data and rush off to hire a web developer fix things that aren’t actually broken.

Many website owners look to see improvements in two categories: pageviews and conversions. After all, a store that gets busier and sells more product is growing right? Perhaps, but if pageviews or conversions are not increasing, does that then mean that the business is dying? You see, this becomes an area where you want to dig deeper into the data and perform experiments in order to discover what is working and what isn’t. Maybe your product is missing a key feature. Maybe the prices are too high. Maybe your traffic is coming from off-topic search terms or bad advertising. All of this can be researched through a careful examination of the existing numbers.

Seasons Change, Data Does Too.

First, compare your data trends to previous quarters, then to one year ago, and then two years ago. Most websites go through natural fluctuations on a seasonal basis. For me, November and December are usually big months, while April and May are usually pretty slow by comparison. This is likely due to tax season fluctuations. Having been through a few years of this, I now know what to expect but initially I was caught off guard!

New websites haven’t been around long enough to demonstrate how the seasons will impact your analytics data. Your first year, your first quarter, and your first month are all experiments. You don’t have a large enough sample size at this point to fully understand the data, so you will have to rely on your professional instincts and short term experimentation to draw strong conclusions.

Where’s Your Traffic Coming From?

Where your traffic is coming from makes a big difference. Often times, this is reflected in your bounce rate. Think about it this way, if you ran an ad on the radio for a sale on cars but you actually run a billiards store, you would likely get a bunch of visitors who immediately turn around and leave once they see that you don’t have what they want. Your bounce rate is just that: customers who bail right away.

One of the best ways to analyze your bounce rate is to look at individual traffic sources and see where they are coming from. Start from your highest traffic pages and highest bounce rate pages, and go down the list. Are the visitors arriving through organic searches? Paid advertising? What are the search terms that are attracting them? For example, a user searching for “restaurants near me” and landing on a web page that talks about restaurants in a different state are going to leave. These people are hungry. Don’t do that to them, and don’t do that to your bounce rate, even if it means that your pageviews are improving.

Run experiments through A-B Testing

If you feel confident that your product is priced properly and your traffic is consistently coming from good sources, then its time to analyze the design of your site. To do this effectively, run an A-B test using Google Experiments so that you can compare and contrast page style and content variations so that you aren’t left guessing. The results will show you which page variation performed better, helping you to understand which parts of your website design are working better than others.

One good way to see if your website design is impacting your sales is to run a short A-B test where you put your product in a very simplified page. I’m not talking a page that sucks, just a page that is ultra minimalist – like this page. A page that this leaves little for the user to be turned off by in terms of design, so if it performs as poorly as your main product page, then you can bet that your website design isn’t impacting your conversion rate as much as your product is. Here’s the thing – a good web designer or developer is going to push you to isolate variables and take a good look at your entire online presence rather than just jumping into redesigning the site. This isn’t because they are proud of the site and are unwilling to change it, rather that they are willing to tell you not to spend your hard earned money on their services if they aren’t going to solve the problem.

…and cut yourself some slack!

The internet is an extremely competitive and confusing place. In 2019, there are a 1.8 billion sites and 51.8% of all internet traffic comes from bots. All Cyberdyne jokes aside, this means that most of the traffic coming to your site could be completely irrelevant. In the next article, I will show you how you can configure Google Analytics to filter out bot traffic and get closer to the truth!

– Merritt

Valier (pronounced “Va-leer”) is a boutique graphic design and website development studio focused on creating unique projects for unique clients. We work with companies and individuals that are pushing the boundaries within their industry and are looking for a partner in media development that can inject life and creativity into their marketing presence. With over 10 years of experience in the graphic design and website development industries, Merritt Lentz (Founder), has a proven track record of producing successful and innovative projects for a wide variety of clients ranging from artists and ski companies to government agencies and payment processing companies. Regardless of the size or complexity of your vision, we will help you hone in on a digital actualization of that vision and deliver a product that is rich and captivating.

Is Google Drive Too Slow? Try this pro tip…

The first time that you sync your files with Google Drive can be a doozy. This is especially true if you are a web developer or graphic designer who likely has tons of smaller files nested within your shared folder. While each file, may upload quickly the system has to check each individual file for changes and then upload them individually, which really slows down the upload process.

A quick intro to Google Drive (solution not in video)

The Solution

Exit out of Google Drive on your local computer if it is running; you will re-enable it once the files are in their proper locations. Then, group your files into separate zip files and then upload them to your drive manually before you start the syncing process. For example, I zip my files in my WAMP directory one website or app at a time. This helps to consolidate things like giant JavaScript libraries while maintaining an easy-to-organize file structure.

Unzip!

Once the files upload, simply unzip them right in the Google Drive online interface. To unzip files, you just need to add an app that can process zip files.

Add an app to Google Drive

Click the + symbol in the upper left corner and then go to More > Connect More Apps. Then choose an app like Zip Extractor, or another app that has good reviews. Once you add the app and grant permissions, you will then be able to right click on zip files and extract them right in your browser.

Reorganize the files

Make sure to move the zipped files into their proper locations within your Google Drive folder so that the system can match them up with your local files. The end goal is to have matching files and folders in both your local and remote Google Drive folders before you tell it to sync. Then, turn on Google Sync and let it match things up! In my tests, this reduced the sync time by over 50%, but keep in mind that this works best if you have a large number of small files, as most website developers, application developers and graphic designers do.

About Valier

Valier (pronounced “Va-leer”) is a boutique graphic design and website development studio focused on creating unique projects for unique clients. We work with companies and individuals that are pushing the boundaries within their industry and are looking for a partner in media development that can inject life and creativity into their marketing presence. With over 10 years of experience in the graphic design and website development industries, Merritt Lentz (Founder), has a proven track record of producing successful and innovative projects for a wide variety of clients ranging from artists and ski companies to government agencies and payment processing companies. Regardless of the size or complexity of your vision, we will help you hone in on a digital actualization of that vision and deliver a product that is rich and captivating.

Website Builders – Fact or Fiction?

There are a number of affordable “Website Builder” services available to startup businesses that are designed to help you fire up a marketing presence with minimal time and effort. They often advertise that you can build a “Professional-looking website in minutes.” They also all seem to have the same cheesy commercial featuring overly happy actors that are building their website while hanging out at a park listening to the same song that sounds like it was invented by a 10 year old with a xylophone. Let’s throw some tomatoes at these.

“Build a professional-looking website in under and hour” – Fiction

What are some things that can be done in one hour? Cooking dinner, working out, holding a company meeting, and taking the dog for a walk. For comparisons sake, I spend at least an hour selecting imagery for the masthead area of a website. It is unlikely that anything other than the most basic website could be built in one hour, regardless of how easy it is to use the website builder. At a minimum, you will still need to select a theme, write your website content, select and add photos, insert your logo, add company contact information, and test the end product, all while using a software platform for the first time. This isn’t happening in under an hour unless you rush through the process, which means that you are rushing your presentation of your business. This won’t reflect well on your company, and it won’t look professional to your customers and competition.

“Start a store for free” – Fiction

For business owners, time is money. Whether you take time out of your day to build the website or you ask one of your employees to take care of it, there will be an inherent cost incurred by the business owner. Furthermore, the “free” part of that statement usually refers to a free trial, after which you are locked into paying a subscription cost until the end of time. If you cancel before the trial is up, then you have wasted even more time by creating a website that only existed for a month, only to have to start from scratch. For example, you can’t port a GoDaddy website builder site over to Wix, and visa-versa. These are proprietary systems that are designed to function within the company’s hosting environment. You are locked into paying monthly fee, or you lose your site and start over. For a business that depends on maintaining an active online presence, this could cost the business owner tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales while they work on building the new site with a new developer and getting their site back online.

“Every tool you need to grow” – Fiction

The internet is an amazing place in that there are a constant flood of amazing ideas and solutions that have fueled a revolution in business technology. Every day, new and innovative ideas become reality through the power and flexibility of the modern internet. Need a service that orders a free pizza to the home of a contest winner every month? Easy. Need to install such a service in your website builder? Unlikely. No pizza for you. These are extremely limited systems that offer only the most generic services, and are unlikely to offer the flexibility that is needed to run a state of the art business.

“Nobody wants to deal with code, anyway” – Fiction

Developers do. That is specifically what we do, and we love it! So why wouldn’t a business owner? The assumption that writing code is everyone’s worst nightmare is wrong. I have worked with plenty of business owners who love contributing to the development of their site and have taken the steps to learn some basic HTML and CSS in order to give them the skills they need to do the job well. Surely, this is a small percentage of owners. However, if you are building a site yourself, then you are a DIY-type. In my experience, few DIY-type owners are afraid to get their hands dirty with a little coding.

Yeah, but wait. You’re a web developer.
Of course you hate website builders!

Of course, there is a ton of natural bias on my end because I am a web developer, but none of that comes from a fear of losing potential business. Price-wise, I can’t compete with a $5/month subscription to a website builder tool, so I don’t directly compete for the same client pool. I do however, have a hard time with the type of false advertising that sends new business owners down the wrong road with false hopes and misconceptions. As a business owner myself, I can attest to the frustrations and lost capital associated with taking the wrong turn. I don’t think that it is fair to try to sell business owners on the notion that their web presence can be slapped together with minimal effort or and no investment at all. If it looks like it was designed for free, in one hour, using the same tools as every other cheap website, it will make your business look cheap.

Of course, there is always a place for these services and they aren’t all bad. I know plenty of people who have built effective websites on their own using website builders. These people have also spent much more than a single hour working on their site, and were at places in their business development where they had the time to spare. Many of these individuals also had some sort of formal training in art, design, or marketing. In addition, some website builders have come a long way since their inception and have started to include more advanced tools to give the owner greater control over how their website looks and functions.

I strongly encourage any business owner to weigh their options before making a decision regarding their website, to evaluate their needs in comparison to the costs associated with each option. Either way, a website builder solution is essentially going to be your first website and will eventually be replaced with a professionally designed site.

Before using a website builder to build your site, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. “Does this system offer all of the features that I think my website will need in the next year or two?” Remember, these systems are restrictive and usually cannot be transferred to another hosting service.
  2. “Do I have the spare time to take away from running my business to get this up and running?” You should give yourself a minimum of 20 hours to devote towards learning the website builder and polishing the website.
  3. “Do I have a friend or family member in the web design community that can critique the project?” Even web pros ask for feedback before launching a website.

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then it may end up costing you more in the long run to spend your time distracted from running your business and battling the shortcomings of website builders.

New Website Launched!

You know what they say, “the cobbler’s children have no shoes!” It took a while to get around to finishing this, but I am very excited with how it turned out. The main goal was to create a SPA, or Single Page Application, that comes right out of the gates hot and gets down to the content that you want – project samples and company information. Your time is important – why waste it asking you to browse through some behemoth of a site littered with infinite rabbit holes into repetitive content?

The major goal from a visual perspective was to convey the feeling of a vision coming to life and taking flight. The child in the masthead image represents that child in all of us, excited and captivated by the unknown mysteries of the world. I believe that we start our lives as our most imaginative selves, and the years that follow are a quest to understand and define that energy through experiences and creation. If only we could harness those thoughts in our adult lives! My goal and vision with Valier is to partner with individuals and companies and help them tap into that creative pathway, and to use that to collaborate on digital materials that ignite an emotional response from viewers. Once you create that emotional response, you have built a connection with the viewer that can be used to guide them effectively and effortlessly through your product overview, latest art project, or informational database. Impact is everything.

I have also opted to forego the standard approach to communicating with my visitors. After years in the marketing game, I have found that honesty is rarely a consideration with most marketing verbiage. Sure, it might not be a “lie” to call fast food “Fresh” for example, but its bullshit. Marketing professionals know this, and we exploit it. I want to build Valier on something different, and that is the notion that honesty sells, and more importantly, it will better serve humanity. I have written every word on this site and have designed every pixel from a place of honesty and intention – the voice that you read on this site is my voice in person. My hope is that this will foster a better relationship and give us the best ability to create marketing materials from an honest place.

“The best of all lost arts is honesty”– Mark Twain

The fledgling blog will be updated frequently (I am holding myself to this) with everything from industry topics and advice to random ramblings that are loosely related to emerging technology and our relationship with it. More to come on this!

Please take some time to browse the site and check out some of our most recent projects. If you are curious about the work you find on this site or the services that we offer, please, give us a shout. I will personally respond to your inquiry, in a timely manner, and will never, ever give your information out to anyone 🙂

Merritt Lentz, Owner/Founder