Speeding your WordPress site with ZippyKid (Pressable) managed hosting vs caching?

Speeding up your WordPress site can be done in several ways. ZippyKid (now Pressable) managed hosting offers only WP, and claims to make your site ‘3 times FASTER’. It includes a CDN in its monthly fee of $25 for its base plan.

Background

My site was hosted in Sydney. I’m in Sydney. It was taking about 8-12s to load completely. In particular the ‘Time To First Byte’ (TTFB) was from 1.5-3s. Contrast that to google.com, which loads completely in 300ms or so!

I was using a default WP setup with photon CDN. I was testing using webpagetest.org.

Perceived speed

From what I understand, the important things for viewer experience are in order of importance:

  • TTFB – your browser tells you the server has replied – ie the host isn’t dead
  • Start Render – your browser starts showing stuff
  • Document Complete – the page looks complete and usable (but some dynamic stuff may still be loading – this shouldn’t affect the usability of the page)

Here is a particularly bad test result and here is a more typical result from my old host. Document Complete is about 8s. As you can see, the score boxes are mostly red. All this info can be distilled into a number called the ‘Speed Index’, which the lower the better.

Enter ZippyKid (now Pressable)

The benefits claimed are many. Optimized, WP experts, big name customers, CDN. Sounds great! ZippyKid lives in the same space as WPEngine, Pagely, and some others, but is the cheapest of the lot when you factor in the included CDN which is an extra cost in the others.

Don’t want to read, what’s the quick answer?

Just moving the site to ZippyKid gave little real improvement. A lot of the boxes turned green, but TTFB was still high. The images loaded faster due to the CDN, but the page time was mainly unchanged. The Speed Index was sometimes higher, sometimes lower. I had more to do if I wanted a fast site.

Moving to ZippyKid (now Pressable)

Moving WP sites isn’t easy, but I had done it before. There are many free sites you can setup and play with importing WP, so there’s no reason to pay them $250 to migrate your site. Especially when you need to use the WP importer, which does not work properly unless you split your export file to small sizes. If you really want, pay me and I’ll do it for you! I have a WP export splitter which doesn’t break attachment links, but you have to have well named posts and attachments to use as keywords to split with.

Migrating

ZippyKid has free accounts you can use. I had to use the WP importer as I was moving from multisite to single. I split my export into 800kb sizes, and there were 5 files in total. It still timed out many times (which means broken attachment links). Eventually I settled for 1 import a day, and got it all installed. All in all, it took about a week.

The problem is that ZippyKid doesn’t allow you to alter php memory/timeout settings, which you can in a normal host. These help a lot when importing sites with images.

Testing

ZippyKid free accounts do not include CDN or server optimisations. I could only assume it gets faster once you pay. I fixed a few broken links, verified it was no slower than my Sydney host, and paid for a full account.

As I mentioned I couldn’t get it much faster than before.

What was missing?

Originally I had expected a few things from reading ZippyKid’s site and blog. These didn’t turn out so well:

SmushKid

Seen on their main site, makes images faster. Perfect for a photo blog right?

Unfortunately it’s not available. From their support:

Image Smusher: Again, we’ve never offered this. We did develop some software, but we’ve never put it in to production due to some larger issues, and the cleaner implementation of Pagespeed.

Minify

My theme has lots of CSS/JS files. I guess this is the case for any highly customisable theme. Minify is a great way to cut the number of connections required from almost 90 to about 40. It is mentioned in a few places, particularly this blog post.

Again it’s not available. From their support:

Minify Engine: We’ve never offered a “minify engine” as part of our services. We have been trialing and testing Google’s Pagespeed service as a partner with Google, but it’s not ready to be rolled out.

What’s more, minify plugins are not supported. Any minify plugin, even if all the settings are turned off, will mess up their server settings, and disable the CDN, not only the CSS/JS, but images too. So it’s not an option at all.

I guess in the US they have different truth in advertising standards to Australia. 2 months after I told them of these things they didn’t update their site.

ZippyKid (now Pressable) Support

ZippyKid Support may all be WP experts, but they kept suggesting I employ a WP developer to optimise my site and leading me to believe that my theme was horribly slow. Unfortunately they were reluctant to do anything else.

They explained the TTFB was due to the server compression. They made the example of

  • server A serving uncompressed html can start immediately
  • server B compresses content before sending, so TTFB is larger, but completes the page before server A does

This seemed to make sense, the compression score was green, and their main site loads in 2s. Maybe they know what they’re doing.

Optimising

I didn’t want to change too much in the theme, because I would have to reapply the changes for each update in the future. I changed the front page so it had fewer images. Document Complete was down to 7s, and later with even fewer images it was down to 6.

At least 2nd load was down to 5s, this was the best I could do with ZippyKid. I even had a page with just one image and a few paragraphs, and it took 7s, so that was that. At this point support was a bit sick of my questions.

CDN

It turns out one of my issues was their CDN.

I’m in Sydney. They come with NetDNA, whose closest point is Singapore. Edgecast is available in Sydney, but costs an extra $30/mth. The free Jetpack photon CDN is based on Edgecast, which is why I wasn’t seeing much improvement after moving to ZippyKid. Any server optimisations was lost on their slow (in Sydney) CDN.

Now I could go back to Jetpack photon CDN for my images, the problem is that Jetpack photon CDN cannot refresh images which is an issue for a photo blog.

What next?

I didn’t believe this was the best I could do. After all, Google PageSpeed Insights says TTFB could/should be better. Even if ZippyKid was spending its 1.5s compressing, surely it only needs to do it once, and can cache the compressed content for the next test?

Back to generic

I went back to a generic host in Sydney. I committed to do the things myself that ZippyKid promised to take off my mind.

Caching

First thing I did was cache. I couldn’t get W3TC to work, so I ended up with WP Super Cache. I saw an immediate improvement. It took me a while to get the preloading working so that all users would only see cached pages.

CDN/Minify

I still didn’t want to use Jetpack photon CDN. I signed up for CloudFlare free version. CloudFlare actually has an edge point in Sydney, so it had potential to be faster than NetDNA. The other great thing is that it has a minify function, so I didn’t need to add another plugin to WP.

Also CloudFlare allows you to specify how long things live in the users’ browser cache. If you set to a few days, then every visit during those days will be at the speed of the ‘Repeat View’ row of the speed test.

Results

With CloudFlare Rocket Loader I got a TTFB of 127ms, Document Complete at 1.7s and Speed Index of 1320. However the fully loaded time was slower at 4.4s and there were issues in IE.

I settled with it off, and scoring a TTFB of 136ms, Document Complete at 2.6s and Speed Index of 1161.

Conclusion

By simply using a combination of WP Super Cache and CloudFlare, My site now loads in an average of 3s. Basically running the exact same code and data, I can choose to have ZippyKid manage it for me and score a pagespeed of 4159:

Or manage it myself and score a pagespeed of 1161:

To me it’s a bit of a no-brainer. For just a little time spent setting up caching, the first time a visitor hits my site they will be served over twice as fast as ZippyKid. For any repeat visits the whole page will finish loading before ZippyKid even starts sending any data. Don’t forget Google uses pagespeed to rank your site!

To me it seems a bit strange that a company full of WP experts with optimised nginx setup, optimised html and optimised database caching would actually be slower than a standard apache setup run with some free plugins. Obviously if you take what I did, put it on an optimised nginx setup and used Edgecast, it would be even faster. I guess the moral of the story is that no matter what someone claims, if their goals aren’t aligned with yours, you will not get a good result.

Published by Valent Lau

Photographer at https://valentlau.com.au/

9 thoughts on “Speeding your WordPress site with ZippyKid (Pressable) managed hosting vs caching?

  1. I wish I would’ve read this a week ago. I just signed up and went through all the hassle of transferring over to ZippyKid only to find out that my load time increased by 3 seconds compared to GoDaddy. The reply I got from their customer service was a link ) explaining how page speed is calculated all wrong and shouldn’t be used as a basis for hosting. If that was the case, why does their website contiously speak about load times decreasing?

    I, too, am finding out that their ‘smushkid’ image optimization that is advertised on their site isn’t offered at all. Here’s the reply I received on that one: “I got some clarification for you. Some time back, we wanted to introduces our own version of something similar to smush.it, we called it SmushKid. It has yet to be launched and is still in development, so you can still have smush.it installed on your website.”

    Also, if you want to utilize goggle mod_pagespeed and really get your page speed decreased you have to transfer your site to a whole new server and go through the hassle of transferring all over again (it will be 2 times in 5 days my site will experience downtime due to transferring) just to be on a Beta service. Here’s the exact email reply I just received:

    “Hi! Thanks for your interest in participating in the Google Pagespeed Beta. We’re ready to start testing this with your site(s), however we wanted to let you know what is going to be involved with this, and what your expectations should be during this time.

    To begin this process your site(s) will need to be migrated to a special set of servers. The process for this is much like a migration to a new hosting provider, so there may be some downtime and this will require DNS changes to be made. Our team will handle this migration, but you’ll need to work with them to schedule time during business hours to complete this and make any DNS changes. You’ll also be responsible for checking your site to ensure functionality.

    Keep in mind, if you have multiple sites, ALL of your sites need to be migrated to this new system, even if only one or a few, will have Pagespeed actively enabled.

    Once your site has been migrated and tested, the Pagespeed service can be activated for any site that you request. This can only be enabled or disabled by the ZippyKid team.

    What should you expect during this process?

    There may be bugs or certain things that don’t work properly (particularly with some JavaScript elements). There will be limited support for issues with your site. You should also expect longer support times as the support team assigned to these systems is smaller. Site stability may also be an issue as these system may need maintenance performed for new builds of the Pagespeed service.

    If all of this sounds like something you’re still interested in, or if you have any questions, please let us know so that we can begin the process of migrating your site(s).”

    Why didn’t they just let me transfer over to that in the first place? I’m in the US so there’s no excuse for the higher page loads and plain out lying. I don’t know what to do now, I guess I’m going to WP Engine. Geesh.

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    1. Sorry I missed your reply. Unfortunately my dealings with their customer service is similar to your experience, mainly being told I was wrong. I think I’m spoiled with great customer service here in Australia, people go out of their way to help even when it’s not completely part of their job spec, I just chalked it up to the difference in attitudes in the US.

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  2. That’s strange. I have had nothing but great luck with ZK, my graphics heavy site is <2 seconds on the main page.

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    1. If you are based in NetDNA’s network, ie USA, then you will be making full use of the CDN. As I am based in Sydney, their CDN was in fact worthless compared to the free WP Proton network.

      Even ignoring that fact, if you move to a self host, use NetDNA’s network, and add caching, you will knock at least another second off your load time.

      There is nothing ‘bad’ about ZippyKid’s service, but it frankly does not make your site ’3 times FASTER’, nor is it the fastest your site can go. Running caching does take a little work, but it’s better than making your users wait 2s while the server generates and gzips each page every single time.

      If you want to test, simply put your page into webpagetest.org and post your results here.

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  3. Thanks for the review. I found this because one of my clients is using ZippyKid (Pressable now) and I’m noticing time to first byte of 1.6 to 2.0 seconds. That’s an eternity. I was considering trying out managed WordPress hosting but the restrictions they have, as you mentioned, leave you with no way to optimize if you’re receiving these times. Maybe I can find a good cloud hosting account somewhere…

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    1. Interesting they changed their name. Lucky you still found this.
      Hopefully the name change means their attitude has also changed and no longer blames the clients’ code for being slow. After all as an inexperienced admin I was able to fix the lag with just a little caching.

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  4. I got sucked in by pressable’s slick marketing and claims too. They have different standards there from the UK. Talk about best customer satisfaction? I got told off by support for asking too many support questions! Not what I would expect as a paying customer.

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  5. Thanks for the heads up on Pressable Valent (I was looking at going with them). I found this as I was looking at managed WordPress hosting, as I was being taken away from content with tech issues on my last hosting provider (that has a data centre in Sydney).

    I’m based in northern NSW and have just moved to Page.ly managed hosting. So far I have to say it’s pretty good. They use amazon data centres (there’s one in Sydney) and on webpagetest, the only thing that changed was TTFB, which went from an F to an A. My other server was reasonably fast too, but so far my experience with Page.ly is better.

    Thought this might help any Aussies looking for managed WordPress hosting.

    Cheers.

    Like

    1. Good to know. The info out there is so biased towards the US it’s good to get some real Australian user stories.

      Like

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