Behind the scenes: interview with Brian Jackson, co-developer of Perfmatters

interview brian jackson

Performance matters, and websites are not an exception. Brian Jackson, co-founder of forgemedia LLC, develops performance-driven WordPress plugins. Let’s talk with him!

altsetup: More a job or a passion?

Brian: I’ve learned over time that consistency is everything. And one of the best ways to achieve consistency is to get a job that involves your passion. Otherwise, you’ll eventually burn out or find yourself looking for the next best thing.

I’ve been an entrepreneur since high school and have always preferred blazing my own trail to working for someone else. I also went down the whole corporate-cubicle rabbit hole and quickly knew it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself doing the whole 9 to 5 thing for the rest of my life.

WordPress has been the one constant throughout just about every job I’ve had. And performance is always something I’ve gravitated toward, having worked at a CDN and hosting provider (probably the nerd in me). Also, having a passion for content marketing, I find the whole relationship between SEO and performance fascinating. So building Perfmatters and Novashare, both hyperfocused on performance, is fun, challenging, and keeps me on my toes.

For me, this is more than just a job; it’s truly a passion.

altsetup: What’s the project you’re most proud of?

Brian: Perfmatters is definitely the project I’m most proud of. It’s approaching six years since launching the first public version of the plugin. Brett (co-founder/brother) and I have poured our blood, sweat, and tears into it, and we have a lot of exciting features and improvements in the works.

altsetup: Perfmatters is recognized as one of the most effective and easiest to use WordPress optimization plugins, we use it ourselves on our site. How did the idea behind it come in your mind?

Brian: First off, thanks for the kind words. Happy to hear our plugin has been helpful.

The idea for the plugin came during my time working at Kinsta. After seeing many clients still struggling with performance, I realized just how bloated many themes and plugins out there really are. Fast hosting can help speed up response times, but it won’t fix all of the unoptimized code. This is where you really have to dive in and optimize the front end of your site.

I tried many of the existing plugins that were around in 2017 but wasn’t really happy with any of them. I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer. So I wanted a way to easily deploy all the little tricks and hacks that you could do in WordPress to speed things up. I pinged my brother, we put something together, and the rest is history.

altsetup: Do you think WordPress will gain or lose market share in the next 3 years? How much will performance count?

Brian: I think WordPress will continue to grow, but it will be slow, and we probably won’t ever see the huge growth numbers we did in the past. There are just too many other solutions taking users away from the WordPress ecosystem. With that being said, I still think it has a bright future, and there is no other platform I’d rather be building on. Being open source and having endless options is what makes WordPress awesome, but it’s also its Achilles heel.

As we continue to move into a mobile-first society (many could argue we’re already there), performance only becomes more important. I think WordPress core needs to focus more on this area if they want to say relevant. I was excited to see the introduction of the WordPress Core Performance Team in 2021. Things are slowly heading in the right direction.

altsetup: Would you be happy if WordPress didn’t need your tools to perform well? Be honest 😉

Brian: Honestly, yes, nothing would make me happier. I don’t take pleasure in the fact that our Perfmatters plugin only exists because many themes, plugins, and even WordPress core weren’t built with performance in mind. But that’s where we are, and I don’t see it rapidly improving. Perfmatters was built because it was needed.

If WordPress had been fast from the start, I would have taken a very different career path. I probably wouldn’t have worked for Kinsta, and Perfmatters and Novashare wouldn’t even exist. I most likely would have started a company focused on Bitcoin education. That’s another topic and area I’m passionate about.

altsetup: There is no trace of you and forgemedia in the official WordPress Plugin Directory. Why?

Brian: Our plugins are not on the WordPress repository because they are premium only. We’ve never been a fan of the freemium model, where you silo off pro features behind a paywall. That model isn’t very sustainable for a small business. We wanted to provide beyond great support, and that requires a lot of time and effort on our part. An advantage of being premium only is that we can spend more time helping our clients, which we truly enjoy.

Also, we buy plugins just like everyone else. We always prefer premium plugins over free ones because we get to help support their development. This ensures they don’t disappear down the road. That’s what makes the whole WordPress ecosystem better. Free is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. We should all be supporting good projects.

altsetup: You’re also a SEO and marketing expert. Google has made it clear that Core Web Vitals is and will increasingly be a ranking factor. How has this changed your motivation for developing your projects?

Brian: Core Web Vitals plays a massive role in our business and strategy. In fact, almost everything we do daily, from support tickets to developing new features, is focused on improving different aspects of a site for Core Web Vitals. And this goes for both our Perfmatters and Novashare plugins. Google continues raising the benchmarks you need to hit, which keeps us on our toes.

altsetup: Some say speed test scores don’t matter. How do you think?

Brian: I would say yes and no. Scores themselves don’t matter much, but passing Core Web Vitals metrics is important in terms of how it might impact your SEO. Also, the goal is that if you’re passing Core Web Vitals, your site loads quick, feels fast (perceived performance), and has a good user experience. Sometimes one of those gets lost in translation, so it’s important you’re looking out for all three of those aspects when optimizing your site.

Core Web Vitals is not just about scores; it’s how efficiently your code is loading.

altsetup: Some of your competitors have been accused of using unfair, cheating, black hat and super pervert techniques to get higher scores in speed tests. Do you think there is a clear dividing line between what should be done and what not?

Brian: I do think there is a right and wrong way to approach things. But it comes down to each developer.

For example, delaying JavaScript on user interaction. At first glance, some might call this a “hack.” But in my opinion, you’re simply delaying the JavaScript that isn’t needed right away on first load. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Google even says to remove unused JavaScript.

But we don’t keep up much with everything other plugins are doing these days. We have our own internal development roadmap and feature requests from clients that keep us plenty busy.

altsetup: CDN, edge cache, cloud hosting, proxy… does traditional hosting still matter for frontend performance?

Brian: Traditional hosting matters less than it used to. Everything is moving to the cloud, and you have powerful features like edge caching, which stores copies of the entire site at different global locations. Increasing the cache length on a site can dramatically decrease the number of requests hitting the host. However, you’ll still have times when the cache expires or more dynamic WooCommerce sites where things can’t always be cached, requiring more power.

With that being said, some hosts have integrations like Cloudflare Enterprise that front-end features like image optimization, minification, etc. And these can save you time from implementing other solutions. But of course, if you’re on a budget and are comfortable managing things yourself, you can also implement the same features on a small VPS.

Hosting depends on each user’s unique situation, time management, budget requirements, technical experience, etc. It’s never just about performance.

altsetup: What is the first tech thing you have optimized?

Brian: In the 9th grade, I started a company (HighWire PCs) selling custom-built computers on eBay. In those days, there was no fast next-day shipping or tons of competition. I would sell a computer on eBay, order the parts from Newegg, assemble it at home, and then ship it to the customer. That was probably my first experience optimizing something in the tech space regularly.

altsetup: Is there a person you want to publicly thank for helping you on your business?

Brian: I definitely want to give a shout-out to Brett, my brother and business partner. They say never to work with your family, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s the one coding behind the scenes, so there would be no business without him.

I think we make a great pair, and we’re never afraid to tell each other what we really think of an idea for a new plugin feature, UI change, etc. Sometimes that is lost when working at larger companies with coworkers you might not be close to. Being 100% honest at all times can have its advantages.

altsetup: Do you think that in a year it will be enough to type “optimize my site” in ChatGPT to get the job done?

Brian: We are nowhere close to AI being able to optimize everything. WordPress is still kind of a mess regarding plugins, themes, and how everything plays into performance with Core Web Vitals. There are just too many variables right now. However, I’m excited to see how AI can help offer better suggestions for optimizations.

altsetup: You’re a speed specialist in a world running fast, maybe too fast. Is there something you like to do slowly?

Brian: I would definitely say the world is moving too fast. It can be hard these days to keep up. To slow down and mentally recharge, I completely turn off my phone and computer on Saturdays. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and it helps me keep my sanity. I also enjoy going for a long hike or bike ride.

Disclosure: all links to Perfmatters and Novashare in this article are affiliate links. It means that if you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission and you get a 10% discount.

There is a Brian Jackson’s backlink to this interview on Twitter.

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