Why You NEED to constantly check website speed

No one likes a slow website. Every IT pro needs to constantly check website speed to keep up with the demands of today’s uber-connected world.

Fast websites aren’t just about laptops or desktops anymore. Website users connect from a variety of devices like cell phones and smart TVs.

Connection speeds also vary depending on factors outside your control, including:

  • Physical location
  • Type of connection (cellular, cable, fiber, etc.)
  • Network latency
  • Data center and/or hardware issues

This post will discuss website speed testing, including how often you should test your speed, why one speed test probably won’t cut it, and some tips and tricks related to website speed and performance.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Table of Contents
  1. Website Speed Testing: Baselines vs. Benchmarks
  2. Establishing a Website Speed Baseline
  3. Benchmarking: Do You Have a Slow Website Compared to Your Competition?
  4. Site Changes Affect Website Speed
  5. How many times should you run a speed test?
  6. Slow Website Performance Improvement Pro Tips
  7. Check image sizes and compress big ones
  8. Stick to as few fonts as possible
  9. Cut down on your site’s HTTP requests
  10. Plug-ins waste resources; develop your own
  11. Clean up site code
  12. Misconfigured CDN
  13. Hosting Issues
  14. Not continually monitoring your website speed
  15. Key Takeaways for Website Speed Checking

Website Speed Testing: Baselines vs. Benchmarks

The obvious answer to uncovering a slow website is to check your website speed.

But before you can determine your website is slow, you need to establish an acceptable load time for your average user.

Baselines and benchmarks are the best way to figure out website load times. Baselines use your website’s user data, while benchmarking compares your site load times to the competition.

Which one is appropriate for your site? Let’s find out.

Establishing a Website Speed Baseline

Without getting too technical, a baseline tells you how well an app (or website) should perform under certain conditions.

A variety of factors affect your website’s performance, including:

  • Traffic
  • Infrastructure
  • Web hosting

Though every site should have a baseline, established websites with a heavy flow of traffic will benefit most from baselining.

Websites with less traffic and domains less than a couple of months old don’t have as much data to work with. You can and should still establish an acceptable load time for your site, but you’ll want to focus more on how competing websites are performing.

A great tool to come up with an accurate baseline for website load times is RUM (Real User Monitoring). This test tracks actual website user data to provide metrics detailing how fast your website is loading for site visitors in a variety of situations, such as device type and location.

Brand new or low traffic websites can utilize RUM to see what actual load times are for the little bit of traffic you do have.

What is RUM and How can it Check Website Speed Baselines?

Real user monitoring is different than a speed test.

Speed testing uses a bot to ping your website. While it’s a good estimate of website speed, it can’t completely simulate real world situations like spotty internet connections or device type.

Here’s why speed testing isn’t always best:

  • The tool checks from a fixed number of locations which may not represent your entire user base
  • Speed test servers use static IPs, while your users’ IP addresses may not be fixed
  • Speed testing is not continuous. Tests can’t run at set intervals, so it’s most useful as a periodic evaluation of site speed.

RUM tests give you an accurate picture of your website’s speed from the user perspective. Since your website exists for your users, shouldn’t you have the most accurate data possible to provide the best UX?

Setting up RUM in Uptime.com doesn’t require any coding. You start by creating a new check, then you just copy and paste some HTML into your site’s closing body tag.

rum-html-snippet-sample

Once RUM is active and working on your site, give it a week or two to collect data (depending on your traffic.) Set your baseline slightly lower than the current average site load time.

Benchmarking: Do You Have a Slow Website Compared to Your Competition?

You can’t determine an accurate baseline without a significant amount of traffic and users to test what an acceptable load time is.

Benchmarking is optimal for:

  • Brand new websites with little to no traffic
  • Websites with very low traffic volume

A Practical Way to Establish Website Load Time Benchmarks

To help you get a general idea of how your speed compares to the competition, we recommend running both global uptime and speed tests with Uptime.com.

Global Uptime and speed tests also allow you to test the performance of your competition. Use it to see how your benchmarks stack up to theirs, and to look for methods to improve your website speed.

Why Check Website Speed With a Global Uptime Test?

We mentioned before that physical location affects how fast your website loads.

Your website might load quickly for users in San Francisco, but what if someone in New York thinks you have a slow website?

Testing from multiple locations at once gives you the ability to pinpoint performance problems in a particular region.

The Global Uptime test shows a variety of useful metrics including:

You can use this information to decide if you need to make adjustments to site caching, like reconfiguring your CDNs. In addition, if you are noticing serious performance degradation in a region where you have a high volume of traffic, consider investing in (or adjusting) Premium DNS services.

global-uptime-test-screenshot

Site Changes Affect Website Speed

Organizations should continuously monitor site speed because every change you make to a website can have an impact.

In addition to continuous monitoring, you should run speed tests after hefty site updates.

According to David Sanchez of Mammoth Web Solutions, “We recommend testing site loading speed before and after every update and added integration.”

If you don’t test after an update, problems can pile up quickly.

“After a series of updates, you eventually realize your domain is bogged down, you’re losing organic traffic due to slow loading times, and you don’t know where the problem started,” says David.

In WordPress, certain plugins can really slow down your site. Tracking code and pixels from third-party sites like AdRoll and Facebook can also create problems because they add additional HTTP requests.

How many times should you run a speed test?

One of the biggest mistakes users make during speed testing is only running the test once.

If you’ve got caching enabled on your site or just cleared your site’s cache, the speed test may not be testing from the cache and will show speeds as slower than they really are.

So, how many times should you run a speed test?

There’s no magic number. Run the test as many times as you need to get two results that are similar.  If your first two tests come out very different, run it a third.

When running multiple speed tests, free tools have their limits. For example, our free speed test tool only allows two tests per minute, 10 per hour, up to 25 tests per day. Once you hit your limit, you’ll see an error message on the screen.

Slow Website Performance Improvement Pro Tips

Ready to give your slow website a tuneup?

The following are some of the most common problem areas when it comes to website performance:

1. Check image sizes and compress big ones

The larger the file size of your image, the more it will slow it down. When a website is new, it’s not that big of a deal. But as you add more pages to your site, you’re also going to add more images. Keep image file sizes as small as possible; 100k or less is ideal if you have hundreds of pages.

2. Stick to as few fonts as possible

The more fonts you use, the more you’re likely to be eating up resources serving them to your users. The speed test results pictured below are for a site with less than 100 pages. Using the Analysis tab on the Speed Test in Uptime.com, you can see the impact of the fonts on total load time as in the picture below.

content-graph-website-fonts

3. Cut down on your site’s HTTP requests

The more HTTP requests your site requires to render properly, the longer it will take to load for the user.

4. Plug-ins waste resources; develop your own

Plug-ins are great timesavers. They add functionality to your site instantly, without wasting development resources. But every shortcut has an impact on site loading time. Though WordPress plugins are the most common, other CMS also have similar functionality. They may be called modules or add-ons, but they have the same impact.

5. Clean up site code

The more code is on a site, the more resources a website visitor’s browser requires to render it. Contrary to popular belief, writing clean code isn’t mastered overnight. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and practice to improve site code, especially if your site is hundreds or thousands of pages deep. Learn to minify and simplify your code where appropriate.

6. Misconfigured CDN

Content Delivery Networks make websites faster…if they’re configured properly. Sometimes code isn’t the issue. There could be a problem with your site caching configuration, which is keeping it from working as well as it could.

7. Hosting Issues

Web hosting isn’t always the problem. However, it could be if you’ve done everything possible to improve your site speed and nothing changes. It may be time to look for a better web hosting service.

8. Not continually monitoring your website speed

Because website speed isn’t entirely in your control, uptime monitoring software can help you detect problems before your website crashes.

RUM is a great way to check website speed because:

  • It uses insights from real user visits, not bots like a speed test does
  • You get alerts when speeds are too low, allowing you to correct issues quickly
  • It runs automatically in the background of your website without affecting load time

Key Takeaways for Website Speed Checking

Fast websites won’t always stay that way. But you can do your best to stay on top of site speed by following the above tips.

Here are some points to remember:

  • Users access the web from a variety of devices, locations and connection speeds
  • Check website speed after every update to avoid a slow website
  • RUM gives you more accurate data than a traditional speed test tool
  • Website uptime monitoring helps you catch performance issues before your site crashes

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Sharon McElwee is Uptime.com's content manager. Her focus is helping the team create great content for Uptime.com users. Sharon lives in Central Virginia, USA and enjoys scrapbooking, building websites and hiking.

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