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Getting Started With Website Performance Testing

Websites are getting bigger and as they spiral out of control the average web page is now around the same size as the classic computer game Doom, and there are much bigger web pages out there that are not hard to find.

Large web pages can affect user experience, which in turn negates our SEO efforts and affects our bottom lines. Large pages also affect bandwidth and server resources, which can lead to the websites that we build grinding to a complete halt. Fortunately by testing as our website progress we have a much higher chance of competing with the top performing websites, which will yield the best results for what we are trying to achieve when people are making the journey through the web pages we have carefully crafted.

Search Engine Optimisation

According to Google, most Internet surfers will abandon a slow loading website, and never try to re-visit it again. In order for Google and other search engines to provide the very best results for its users they must ensure that the top listed websites within their search results page are not only accurate, but also relevant and fast. With Google leading the way by including page speed in its ranking algorithm, not only do we need to consider it when building websites for our visitors but also to help the websites rank well in search engine results.

User experience

In order to please our websites visitors we should be designing with performance in mind. Not only should we be creating top-level experiences to do well in search engines, but also we should be thinking of visitors that come to our websites regardless of good search engine rankings. They come to our websites for a reason, so we must take responsibility to enable them to avoid frustration, it may be that they need to purchase an item right away in order to receive it on time, or they need to find certain information to allow them to go about their day. Whatever it may be, if we do everything in our power to make things easy for our visitors we are sure to have every chance of them visiting again, or telling their friends all about it.

Performance needs to be considered throughout the project; in order to improve user experience we must consider it throughout our workflow. We can do this by discussing each project with all members of the team, such as designers, developers, managers and whomever else is involved. By talking to each other at each stage as the website progresses we can ensure that performance considerations have maximum effect every step of the way. Here are some of the things that should be taken into consideration as the website progresses.

  • Web fonts
  • Third-party scripts
  • Unnecessary features
  • Images
  • Social sharing buttons

By challenging how certain features affect the performance of our projects as they progress and discussing this between all involved, we can ensure that we have our users best interests in mind.

Server resources and bandwidth

A good performance driven website should not only take into account it’s bandwidth and affect on the server, but it should also respect the users device and data plan.

By keeping our users in mind and being aware of the types of devices they will be using to access our websites and the types of data plans they have, not only can we work towards providing a great experience and ensuring that the website can handle a lot of traffic, but we can also ensure that our creations load fast in different scenarios and that they do not use up our visitors precious data.

When it comes to websites that were either not built with performance in mind, or that they are overdue a check-up there are some things that we can do to fine-tune them. By giving your website a clean up, upgrading some of it’s servers components and implementing things like caching we can improve our load time, put less strain on the server, use less bandwidth, and we can provide better load times and lower payloads for our visitors.

Metrics

There are many things you can test for when analysing your websites and each project may have different priorities, but some of the important ones you should be keeping an eye on include:

  • Page size – How big your web pages are
  • Number of requests – Elements required to load the page
  • Load time – How long it takes for the browser to load your page

The first two of these metrics depend on the site itself, whereas the third is a combination of the site and where the website is being requested from, so it is important to not only work on your website, but also bear in mind where most of your visitors are viewing your website from.

Tools

Fortunately there are a range of tools you can use to get a good idea of how your websites perform, most of which also give you ideas of how you can make improvements. Not only can you use your browser’s developer tools, but you can also use tools easily accessible on the web. Such tools include:

  • Pingdom – A simple overview of load time and server response times allowing you to test from different data centres and view additional insights as needed.
  • WebPageTest – Test from many locations and different browsers, get a repeat view time, a video view and several ratings and results.
  • PageSpeed Insights – Measure speed and user experience across mobile and desktop versions with suggestions on how to improve.

Conclusion

By testing as our websites progress, improving along the way, and preparing for the future we can become more aware of how our decisions can impact the performance of our websites in the long run.

Not only can we improve our websites search engine ranking and user experience, we can also use less resources server-side and client-side resulting in a more reliable and efficient website that outshines its competitors and makes it a joy to use for everyone involved.

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About Steven Watts

Steven WattsSteven is the founder of Newt Labs. He's a WordPress specialist with an interest in building the most effective websites possible. Since 2010, he's been helping businesses with their online goals.

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