The Problem with Directory Themes

You may or may not know, that I came up with and run it’s the website for Op Shops here in NZ.

It started as a random idea, and I’ve had it for a while now, and get around 12,000 visitors to the site a month.  Which for something that has hardly been updated and just sits there is in my opinion pretty good.

But recently I decided I should update it, and spend more time with it and the audience I seem to have gathered.

I started looking for a directory themes for WordPress

There are a lot out there to choose from, with varying features and prices.

The idea of having a whole map of NZ, and then zooming into where you want while all the listings are marked on a map seemed really cool to me.

So I went for one of the popular ones over at Theme Forest.

I read the details and installed everything and got everything all updated, the Op Shops themselves went from about 315 listed on the old one to 519 on the new version apparently they just keep opening so I had a lot more to add to the site.

Everything seemed to be going well until I added all the sites onto the listing part of the directory.  Then everything grinded to a halt.

It was taking around 20 seconds to load the page, and that seemed crazy as to me.  So I talked to my hosting and they said there were big spikes of requests from my site, best to talk to the developer of the theme.

So I started talking to them, and they were helpful sort of, they said the theme was OK, it is a server type issue, you will need better hosting and to get off of shared hosting.

I spoke some more to my current host and they said they couldn’t see what better hosting could really do, but it would be an option.

Their prices were too much for me, so I went and set up a Virtual Private Server with Digital Ocean.  Sweet, I thought, and I started looking into how to set that up, with being a blank server you have to do everything through the command line, think black screen with white writing and typing commands into it.

I then got a Pakistani dude working

Not really my cup of tea as I have no idea what anything was.  So I went and paid some dude on Fiverr $20 US dollars to set it all up for me.  Which he did, although his English seemed to be getting worse with every exchange of emails, I’m not sure if there was a bunch of Pakistani guys I was dealing with or what.

So after all of that, guess what, my directory theme was still slow.  Actually it was exactly the same speed as before, WTF? I thought.  I was getting a bit over it at this point.

I ran some more tests with the website.  And I could see that my request was going out fast, the response was coming in fast, but the wait time was about 20 seconds, all this waiting was from Google and their map API’s.  My site was asking for around 116 requests with each page load of the map.

I’m not sure if that is a lot or not, or if the server was at fault, or how you are supposed to get it all working nice and speedy.

But I thought I would look into maybe another directory theme, and I headed over to Themeforest yet again and started looking at their top rated directories.  I started reading up on the most downloaded one there, it looked good, it looked better then the other one I had.  I was almost going to get it, but I started reading the comments on it instead.

It turns out there are lots and lots of people who are trying to set up a directory website and they are all running slow.

The standard answer from the developers is that you need a better server.  They, of course, can’t actually provide you with any actual specs you may need, but keep reassuring you that there are people out there using their product for sites that have 60 – 120,000 listings all running fine.  They can’t tell you who they are due to privacy etc.

But what they can do is point you to some expert web hosting place apparently that can tune the server to exactly what is required.

One comment stuck out though, after being told to get a better server the customer did.  With a massive specced out server that must have cost mega dollars.  His site still went slow, and he managed to find someone that had a lot of listings all running on a lesser specced server, the developer then suggested maybe a slower server would help.  I think at this point the customer lost the plot.  And rightly so.

So while dealing with all of this, I was trying to look up solutions and reasons for the slowness.  There doesn’t seem to be too much info out there.

I thought I had a solution

And I thought I really did have the solution, so much in fact that I emailed the developer and my web host to say I had worked it all out. (turns out I hadn’t) but what I thought was the problem was the form I had to fill out with the addresses seemed to work with very little info put in to show me the point on the map.

But then I read something about coordinates vs typed locations.  And I realised there was a little button to get the proper address for google within the theme. So I went through and clicked this button on all my listings.

The idea was that the wait was the time it took Google to match up my crazy addresses with the proper ones and send it back to me.

What I didn’t realise was that I had deleted a bunch of listings, and the cached info hadn’t cleared, so the map would show me 500 listings, when in reality there was actually only 20 being loaded.

So a bit of premature excitement had occurred and my search for a different theme went on.

So I have finally settled on a different theme that handles directory stuff a little bit different, you do a search from the start, and I have it set to only show 30 listings at a time, so the map will only ever have to load 30 points, and it seems to able to cope with that quite well.

In conclusion:

Unless you have an amazing web host who can configure servers exactly like you want/need and you have a lot of money to pay for all of that.  Then most themes, and I am guessing the cheap ones are worse than say a proper custom built ones may let you down and burst your expectation bubble.

Where I am at now:

The new theme has really good documentation, better than the old theme which I thought had good documentation too.

There is a plugin I used to transfer listings across, but it was quite technical and for some reason it couldn’t move all the data over.  So I have to go through and fix up bits and pieces on some of the listings.  Once that is done I can make that site live and share it with my followers.

Oh and I still have this other server set up, but it turns out you have to set up a mail server just to handle mail from the site, for things like contact forms.  And from what I have read that looks complicated, and I can’t be bothered paying for someone to do that.

So once I have the new site sorted on the old hosting, I will cancel the new hosting and chalk that up to experience.

*I haven’t named the themes in question because I think you should do your own research, and they did offer fast replies and some solutions to try.  If you really want to know what themes I was talking about, flick me an email.

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