One unfortunate side effect of quick and easy access to information in our world today is that our attention spans have gotten shorter, our concentration is more likely to be divided, and we’re just a bit less patient.
Perhaps even just while you were reading that sentence, you got distracted by something or skimmed ahead hoping I would get to the point (it’s coming, I promise).
Navigating and browsing websites is no different. I think it’s safe to say that if a website takes longer than a few seconds to load, you can count on most people getting impatient and possibly closing the window without ever landing on the page.
Not only can this result in a poor bounce rate and potential reporting discrepancies for your website analytics, but page load time has an influence on your SEO rankings. Google is more likely to give rank to websites that deliver positive user experiences, and a shorter load time definitely adds to this overall experience.
What are the factors that influence page speed?
There are many, but some of the main ones are:
- Formatted and compressed images
- Avoiding redirects
- Reduced server response time
- Using a content delivery network
- Cached static content
What tools can I use to check my page speed?
There are many tools out there, but here are some of the most common free ones.
Google PageSpeed Insights
There is a lot of contention among developers about Google PageSpeed Insights, the most commonly-used page speed tool. So many poor developers have ripped their hair out trying to get the score to 100, sometimes sacrificing site usability, functionality and visual aesthetics.
In reality, PageSpeed Insights doesn’t actually measure the site’s loading speed at all. What it does is simply categorize the site according to a series of performance best practices and produce a score based on how many boxes you’ve ticked.
We ran a few big brands’ websites through the tool just to see what would happen.
According to PageSpeed Insights, our friends Qantas, Woolworth’s and The West Australian got dinged pretty badly, even though you’d expect big names like these would be able to afford to build an optimised website. Yet when I go to all of these sites I don’t experience a noticeable lag time. What gives?
Though WebPagetest is not as “pretty,” it provides richer data because it checks your page speed from different locations and browsers at real user connection speeds. You’re given A-F gradings for different categories such as first time to byte (how fast your web server response time is), if keep-alive is enabled (the connection is kept open for multiple page requests) and more.
Using The West Australian as an example, WebPagetest has a much more kind result, except for static file browser caching. However, for a news site with changing content every few minutes, much of the content isn’t static so it makes sense that many files aren’t cached locally on a user’s browser.
Test My Site
WebPagetest actually powers a different Google tool called Test My Site, which helps you understand how your site speed compares to those of your industry peers.
Here The West Australian see that their load time is considered good and is actually one of the top performers compared to other news sites.
Moral of the story: There are many page speed tools out there, but with any of them it’s recommended to take the results with a grain of salt. They should be viewed as a guide, not the be-all and end-all. Use your best judgement in what you decide to optimise on your website, and don’t worry too much about striving for that perfect 100. The last thing you want to do is optimise it so much that it removes from your website’s overall design and aesthetic appeal, turning off potential customers from the very start.