So you’ve built the perfect website. It looks amazing, has awesome content and is super user friendly. Would it surprise you to learn that none of that is going to matter if your site takes forever to load. It’s very likely that the people who would have looked at your site and gone ‘wow’ will be heading directly to your competition instead. All because they didn’t want to sit and wait for your site to load. Patience is not a virtue often seen in people waiting for a site to load. Website speed is key to getting visitors onto your page.
So what can you do about it? Simple. You can use one of these awesome speed testing tools. Instead of trying to guess how quickly your site loads, these services will provide you with accurate times down to the milisecond. To make it even better, they’ll go a step further and tell you exactly what’s slowing your site down and how to fix it.
Why loading speed matters
When was the last time you sat on your computer / phone / tablet and thought ‘I wish this site would take a bit longer to load’? I’d guess the answer was never (unless you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, but even then I doubt it). Long loading times can be more significant than simply annoying your potential visitors. High loading times can usually be directly linked to an increased bounce rate and lower conversions. Putting it simply, failing to optimise your sites speed is certain to be costing you visitors, conversions and money. Of course if losing customers and money isn’t a big deal to your business, there’s a really funny video about cats for you to watch right here.
Let’s assume you do want your site to perform well. Generally speaking you should be just fine if your website takes less than two seconds to load. Even if you’re below the two second mark though, it’s still a good idea to try and lower your loading time even further.
My favourite 3 services to test your sites loading time
Generally speaking, the services I’ve listed here all fulfil the same function. You give them a page, and the’ll tell you how quickly it loads. You could always sit at your computer, hit F5 and start a stop watch, but that’s very old school and is very unlikely to provide accurate data. Some of these services also give you additional tips on how to improve your website’s performance.
For best results, I always run these tests multiple times per page using more than one service, and then average out the data. It’s also really smart to remember that no page is created equal. These services test the page you tell them to, not your entire site. So test multiple pages!
1. Pingdom Tools
Pingom Tools scores a website in various ways. Not only will it tell you how quick your site loads, it’ll compare the time with other results in their database. Then it’ll provide you with an overall performance score. All you have to do is type in the URL of the page you want to test on the services homepage and pick a server. Test your page using different servers to get an idea of how geography impacts loading time. Once you hit ‘Start Test’, Pingdom will do it’s thing and your results will appear. It can take a few seconds for the results to come through and the page to load – isn’t that ironic.
Don’t kid yourself. Using the server that’s located closest to your website’s data centre might give you the best looking results, but how many of your customers are going to live that close to where your site is hosted? I’d always recommend you use various servers to get accurate results.
As well as your results, Pingdom will display a list of insights into your websites performance.
Clicking any of the performance results will give you more information about what it’s showing you. It’ll also provide help on how to improve the measure. All green results? You’re doing great.
GTmetrix is very similar to Pingdom Tools when it comes to functionality, except this one’s probably my favourite. In most cases, the tests I run on both services give similar page speed results. The bit I really like about GTmetrix is that they go a little further and explain what each of its insights mean. So using Google as an example again, here’s some of the results.
gtMetrix usually uses a server in Canada to test your sites speed. This is usually fine, especially if your web host is located in America or Canada. As we’ve already learnt though, it’s always a good idea to test your page speed from various geographical locations.
Scrolling down below the results, you’ll be presented with a list of insights. Click any one of them to display the elements you need to work on. There’s even a handy ‘What’s this mean’ button you can mouse over to learn more about what you need to do to fix the issue.
GTmetrix also offer a premium service. This service provides more in-depth results and even let’s you schedule tests. Lovely features, but not required. The results you get from the free service should be plenty to get you going on the right path.
WebPagetest looks a little outdated, it’s almost certainly not as shiny as the site you’re testing. Don’t let that fool you. It provides incredibly in-depth results for it’s loading time tests. Never judge a book by it’s cover.
When you first load the service, it’ll default to the ‘Advanced Testing’ mode, which is perfect for what we want. From here, you can choose the location of your test server AND which browser or device you want to run the test with.
Between these settings, you’ve dozens of options available to customise your test. Once your results are in, you’ll see a clean and simple scorecard. This gives you an overview of your site’s performance during the test.
Scroll down a little more. You’ll find the more detailed results. These results include how long the website took to load overall (wouldn’t be much of a loading time test without these results). You’ll also see the time it took the server to respond (first byte), and how long it took for the site to start loading (start render).
Combining all this information is going to provide you with an in-depth picture that many other services just can’t offer. Jumping over to the ‘Performance Review’ tab, you’ll find a few suggestions for making improvements.
If you get a little confused by what each term means, scroll down to the bottom of the ‘Performance Review’ tab. You’ll find a glossary that explains what each term means. Identify your sites weak spots and tackle them, one at a time to get results.
It’s not possible to overstate how important speed is for your website. Even if your hosting provider has done everything they can to optimise for performance (which let’s face it, they probably haven’t), you still need to monitor your loading times. Websites can often slow down, and keeping a close eye on your sites speed performance means you can react quickly to your site running slow.
It’s also worth mentioning that Google has it’s very own page tester which can be really helpful. PageSpeed Insights can test your page in seconds and provides helpful tips on improving performance. Google even provides you with optimised versions of your content – ideal if you’re running a static HTML site. Be careful if you use this service though, the optimised images they provide could ruin your site’s pretty face which is another turn off for potential customers.