If you just Googled “website speed test” and landed here, it’s ok to admit it — the headline caught your attention because, deep down, you know it’s true:
Your site speed is killing your business.
For some time now, your site has been slow to load, bogged down, and noticeably driving users away.
In this article, we’re going to talk in detail about:
- Site speed
- How to test your site speed with a website speed test
- Why it’s so important to optimize your site speed
- Unique tips on how to improve site speed (and, by doing so, improve your business)
What Is Website Speed?
The term website speed refers specifically to the amount of time it takes for a collection of website pages and media content to be downloaded from a host server and displayed onto a user’s web browser.
Page load time references the time it takes between when a user clicks on a website link and when the full content of the web page is displayed on their browser.
In order to fully understand page and website speed, we need to look at the core aspects that impact site performance and UX (user experience):
- Server speeds
- Site responsiveness
- Browser responsiveness
To break it down in further detail, website speed takes into account the amount of time required to deliver user-requested material, along with the necessary HTML content, to a browser. Of course, the speed in which a site loads will partially depend on how a user’s browser responds to the site server’s page load requests.
The ultimate measurement of website speed and page load speed is how long it takes an end-user to click on a link and start actively browsing the full content of your site.
It’s important to understand that site speed and overall website performance also impacts SEO rankings. Search engines such as Google use proprietary algorithms to measure key factors about your site, including:
- Site speed
- User experience
- Site responsiveness
To really maximize site performance (and push those SEO rankings), we need to focus on optimizing page speed from the ground up. Of course, plugins, server-side scripts, and other final tweaks can help provide noticeable improvements in load times and page speeds. Many developers and website owners make the mistake of overlooking their page load times during the all-important stages of design and development.
If possible, the design and development stages are when you should start doing the bulk of your website speed testing and optimization.
If you’re already past the design and development stage, there’s no better time to start speed testing and optimizing your site than right now.
What Does a Website Speed Test Measure?
A simple page speed test will measure how much time it takes for all of one specific URL’s content to load. A website speed test is used to determine the speed of an entire site and how it performs as a whole.
A speed test is scored by looking at various load times on your website, such as:
- Page load times
- Page size
- Time to first byte
- Round-trip time
Time to First Byte (TTFB)
A key metric that determines how responsive your server is. It measures how much time passes between when a connection is made to your server and when the page contents begin to download to the browser. Optimizing your TTFB improves the user experience because it reduces the wait time of your visitor. Additionally, due to the decrease in load time, you’ll see increased customer engagement and retention.
“Most people focus on frontend optimizations, which is fine, but it is the backend optimizations that we focus on at Mindsize. I know that with our team’s work on the backend we can cut TTFB making a huge impact.” – Patrick
Round-trip time, or RTT, is the time (in milliseconds) that is needed for an initial network request to travel from its starting point, to the destination, then back to the starting point. For example, a user in Boston makes the initial request, which then pings across several different servers across the globe before terminating in Tokyo. The server in Tokyo then responds to the request made from Boston, also pinging on servers across the globe. The round-trip time measures the time between the initial request and the arrival of the response.
Your round-trip time metric is important because it helps determine how healthy of a connection your site has to your local network and the Internet as a whole. It’s a common metric used by network administrators to diagnose the reliability and speed of their network connections.
Free services like Google PageSpeed Insights will help you compile your site speed numbers and metrics, while giving you key insights on how they can be improved.
Why Does Website Speed Matter?
Have you ever stopped to think about how much time, energy, and resources you’ve put into designing your site, developing and promoting your products, and building your business infrastructure?
Unfortunately, it’s possible that none of this matters if your site is running slow.
A fast site promotes:
- Better SEO: Google and other search engines favor fast-loading site in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages)
- User Stickiness: Users stick around longer on fast-moving sites. And when they stay on longer, it leads to…
- Higher Conversion: Every second of load-time improvement will increase user conversions and revenue
One interesting note is that, if your website loads slowly and you share a link to your site on your Facebook page, Facebook will deliberately reduce how often that post shows up in a person’s feed.
Additionally, if you’re using Google AdWords for paid campaigns, it’s important to know that a slow landing page attached to your AdWords offers actually lowers your Quality Score. This means you’re paying a higher amount per click than what faster sites are paying.
Site speed is also a critical factor for user experience (UX). Improving UX is important for every website owner, but even more so for eCommerce sites looking to build trust and loyalty that translates to sales.
An eCommerce site simply can’t afford to be slow because it directly impacts conversions and revenue. Think about the patience (or impatience) of your typical customer. When shopping at a brick-and-mortar location, the majority of Americans will refuse to wait longer than about 15 minutes.
However, when shopping online, users abandon slow sites much quicker. Think seconds.
For every one-second delay in load times you will yield, on average:
- 16% decreased rate of customer satisfaction
- 11% fewer overall page views
- 7% decrease in conversion rate
That’s for every single second of delay. Imagine the positive yields you’d experience if you were able to optimize your site to load pages three seconds faster, on average. In theory, that could increase your conversion rate by over 20% by only improving a single thing.
Let’s imagine that your business makes $50,000/ month – what is each second of delay costing you?
|Delay in Load Times||Percent of Customers Lost||Potential Revenue Lost|
Slow loading sites essentially cause your business to hemorrhage revenue. This is why it’s so critical to get your site running as fast as possible. But before you know how to speed your site up, you’ll first need to know exactly how it’s currently performing.
Website Speed Test
We’ve already discussed what a speed test is going to measure on your site. We’ve also shown you why site speed is so important to the success of your online endeavor.
Earlier, we mentioned Google’s PageSpeed Insights as a free and powerful tool to use for site speed testing and optimization. There are additional free and paid tools that can help you knock those all-important seconds off your load times.
“We use Query Monitor, which is free, with all of our clients. When things are wrong with your site, Query Monitor lights up. Red is PHP errors, burnt orange is slow queries, and bright orange is API calls. However, we highly recommend New Relic. It’s not cheap but it tracks everything.” -Patrick
If you want to look into other products, take some time to review each of these tools and decide which ones make the most sense for you to employ:
- Varvy Pagespeed Optimization (Free)
- WebPage Test (free)
- Site 24×7 (free and paid)
- GTMetrix (free and paid)
- Pingdom (free and paid)
- Uptime (paid only)
Before you begin running any site speed tests, it’s important that you first have your caching configured and a CDN running on your site. If you’re not sure, check with your hosting provider.
You’ll also want to:
- Test from various locations: Run your tests from a location close to your data center, then ones that are far from it
- Run your test multiple times: To test properly, you need to see your site load from both your host and CDN cache
To start out, it’s typically best to run three consecutive tests. Tools like Pingdom limit the time between tests (typically a couple of minutes) so you may need to be a little patient.
Website Load Testing
The speed of your site depends on how it performs on two different fronts: the frontend and the backend.
The performance of the frontend has a focus on standard browser metrics, such as:
- Loading time
- Rendering time
- Interactive time
Conversely, backend performance mainly focuses on server response times and how many errors are returned.
But which one should you be most focused on, the frontend or the backend?
The answer to that will depend on your unique situation.
There’s a “golden rule” in site performance that tells us that 80 – 90% of site speed is gained in the frontend. Generally speaking, however, it’s safe to say that the old golden rule isn’t necessarily accurate in every situation.
Let’s say you’ve had a recent influx in site traffic. The response times of your frontend is going to remain basically the same as it was before the increase. The backend resources might be struggling to keep up with the rise in users, causing your site speed to slow down.
When Should You Run a Load Test?
You should run load testing whenever you’re concerned about the scalability and availability of your site.
If you don’t have a lot of users, your backend performance probably won’t be an issue. Your time will be better spent on optimizing the frontend. But as your site grows and your user base multiplies, it’s time to test and improve your backend performance.
Load Testing Your Site
On a load test, the two fundamental areas that will be analyzed are server response times and number of returned errors.
As an example, a load test that simulates thousands of concurrent users may show you that:
- The server responded with 14 errors
- The response times for 8% of your users is above the recommended 400 milliseconds
- The response times for 15% of your images is above the recommended 600 milliseconds
You’ll then be given suggestions and details on how these issues can be improved.
Always try to run load tests in pre-production and make sure the environment closely mimics your production environment. By regularly testing in pre-production, you’ll be able to assess the performance of your site over the course of time and find regressions in performance before they enter production.
Running load tests in your production environment can be risky. However, if your team and processes are mature, consider running load tests in production as a part of chaos experiments.
There are times when the only way to get a full picture of reality is by testing in the real world.
Load Impact is a good tool, with a free plan but you need to be able to record a test to use Load Impact.
“Don’t skip testing the load impact on your checkout. If you don’t test your checkout for real scenarios then you are missing the biggest and most important part.” – Patrick
Website Speed Optimization
Mindsize Focuses on Backend Optimizations
We have seen all the posts out there showing waterfall photos and talking about image optimizations. It isn’t that these efforts do not make a difference – they do – but really it is the behind the scenes work that can make the biggest impact.
First, offload as many plugins as you can on your site. This does not mean you can’t have those functionalities. You can find providers to keep those functions. For example:
- Jilt: For transactional emails, abandoned cart recovery, email marketing, etc
- S3: For media storage
- Imgix: For image optimization
- Feedonomics: For product feeds
- Metorik: For intelligent reporting. It’s important that you don’t use WordPress
Just because you can use a plugin for everything it does not mean you should.
Second, keep your data cleaned up. This does not mean to delete orders, never delete that type of data. But continue to monitor your data and keep it relevant.
Finally, your hosting could be an indication that there is more backend work to assess. Serious website owners aren’t on $4/month basic hosting plans. Switching to a higher-end host could substantially speed up your site instantly. But slow sites cannot simply be fixed by adding more money to your hosting plans.
“For larger stores, hosting costs should be less than 5% of gross sales. If a site is paying more than that then I am not happy with it. If one of our clients is paying over that then I know there is too much hardware to overcome the site being slow.” -Patrick
While many of the tools we’ve presented here will give you site-specific strategies to optimize your site speed, there are some key strategies that any site can start using to speed things up.
“Changes to improve performance on large stores may have less impact on small stores but still have an impact.” -Patrick
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN): Using a CDN can help deliver a consistent experience for your visitors as well as help prevent site crashes during traffic surges.
- Cleanup redirects: Multiple redirects on the same link drastically increase load times and slow down your site.
- Reduce how many plugins you install: If you have plugins that are downloaded but not in use, remove them. If plugins are activated that aren’t serving a tangible purpose, deactivate and remove them as well.
- Use a caching plugin: Installing and activating a caching plugin can provide an immediate and noticeable improvement in site speed. For WordPress, some of the best caching plugin options are W3 Total Cache, WP Rocket, WP Super Cache, Hyper Cache, and Comet Cache.
- Optimize all site images: There are plenty of free plugins you can use to knock out this task.
- Limit how many tracking codes you’re running.
- Use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Sites that are optimized for AMP are faster, rank better, and convert more mobile users into buyers.
- Improve Java & CSS: If you’re not an expert coder, find one that can comb through your website’s Java and CSS to clean it up for improved performance.
Of course, improving the above may not always get the results you want or need. We recently worked with a client, Marshall Street Disc Golf, because their website load time was anywhere from 20 seconds to 42 seconds. As you now know, that is an astronomically long load time for any website. Their site was powered by WordPress and WooCommerce and featured hundreds of variations of products. Though WooCommerce is equipped to handle multiple product variations, it’s best when it’s just a few. Some pages were running 15,000 queries and just a few customers would overload the site and cause the excessive load times.
We were able to determine that what we needed to do was change the way WooCommerce loads variation. We worked hand-in-hand with the WooCommerce team to develop a custom solution to optimize queries. This solution reduced the page load time to three seconds.
“Never assume the results will meet your expectations.” -Patrick
While this is not the ideal load time – we much prefer closer to 300 milliseconds – it was a huge improvement for our clients. We continue to work with Marshall Street Disc Golf, as well as the WooCommerce team, to increase performance.
Your site speed doesn’t need to kill your business anymore. Get in touch with us today and let’s work together to increase your site speed and drive more conversions.