How to Properly Run a Website Speed Test
The goal of every online store owner is to get traffic to their site that will ultimately lead to conversions.
But not every user who comes to your site will turn into a customer. In fact, not every user will even engage with the content on your site.
The top cause of frustration for site visitors is a site that takes too long to load. The average load time for a web page is 3.21 seconds. Though that might sound fast to you, it might not be fast enough.
Why Speed Is Important
Fast site speed is good for the user experience and for SEO.
The average person’s attention span is just 8 seconds – down from 12 seconds in 2000. If your website takes too long to load, you risk losing the attention that you commanded enough to convince them to visit your site. Long page load time can increase your bounce rate, the rate at which users exit your site before clicking through to another page on your site.
Not to mention, Google takes page speed analysis into consideration as one of its ranking factors. The faster the site, the more chances you’ll have at landing on the highly coveted first page. Plus, user experience is a ranking factor in and of itself – fewer bounces will lead to more favorable impressions on search engines.
Increasing page speed also impacts your conversion rate. One case study found that a mere, one-second faster load time drove 27 percent more conversions.
How to Test Website Speed
Before you run any website load speed tests or diagnostics, check to see if you have the following configurations running on your site:
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Let’s start with caching. When a user visits your website, their device is connected to a network that communicates with your site server. It tells the server which information the device is requesting, and the server then displays the requested information (a page on your website). This means your server must send all the associated data, including image files, code, scripts, and more.
That’s a lot of information to gather, package, and send.
When you have caching turned on, your server can recognize similar requests from different users. Let’s say someone else sends a similar request shortly after the one above. Your server can recognize that they’re similar and send the same package of information that it sent to the previous user. This decreases load time because the server doesn’t have to go through the entire process each time it receives a request.
Now let’s talk about CDN. It’ssort of like a content repository that external servers can use to access your website. Servers are located all over the world – and when you’re serving an international customer base, you want to make sure the site loads fast for everyone regardless of where they’re based.
This is where the CDN comes in: Using a CDN means that all of your online store images are cached at servers all over the world, shortening the “distance” servers and devices need to travel for a global user base. Each individual will access a version that’s closest to them, shortening load time.
Choose Your Test Location
When using a web load test tool, it’s important to keep as many variables as constant as possible. So, when you test your website speed, you want to make sure you’re always testing it from the same location.
Servers are located all over the world, so what takes five seconds to load in one location might take two in another because of its proximity to the server.
If your tests are done from the same location, you know that fluctuations aren’t due to physical location – instead, changes in site speed can be isolated to another variable.
The most important thing with your website page speed test is to be consistent. It doesn’t matter where you test from. If you’re not physically in your test location, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to run the test. This will allow you to choose “where” your device and network think you’re located.
Run the Test Again
And again. And again.
There’s a reason we call this a “test.” You might get different results each time, so it’s important to run it more than once until you have consistency. Only then can you confirm that there’s an issue necessitating further investigation.
Plus, if you run the test once, you’re not checking the speed from a cached version of the site. You want to make sure both the cached and the “fresh” versions load quickly.
Some tools (like web pageTest listed below) will automatically run multiple tests for you. Many paid ones will even monitor your performance over time so you can see any rises or falls in speed and investigate the cause.
You’ll also want to run the test on multiple devices and in different browsers (other features offered by many page load speed tests).
How to Check Page Load Time: 17 Website Speed Test Tools
When you’re ready to run a website speed test, there are lots of tools you can use:
- Pingdom:tests site speed and paid plans to get transaction monitoring and visitor insights – all for free
- Google PageSpeed Insights: provides breakdowns for desktop and mobile page speed test
- Google Mobile Website Speed Testing Tool: analyzes your site for users on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices
- Google Analytics Site Speed: another Google-owned site speed test that integrates with your Google Analytics
- Chrome DevTools: yep, a fourth Google page speed checker – this one’s an advanced developer tool
- web pageTest: alters your location, browser, connection type and speed, and more – plus runs multiple tests
- GTmetrix: allows you to choose browser and location, as well as recommendations to improve
- KeyCDN Website Speed Test: tells you which assets are dragging you down – and they’re shareable so you can pass them along to your team
- DareBoost: a website performance test that identifies issues and opportunities
- YSlow: a browser extension that analyzes pages as you visit them
- Load Impact: offers up to 50 tests for free (or you can pay for more), including visitor insights
- Website Speed Test by Cloudinary: checks site speed with specific insights about your images
- Dotcom-Monitor: an advanced paid solution (with a 30-day free trial) for overall site performance, notifications, dashboards, and open API
- New Relic: another paid web page speed test that also analyzes mobile app performance
- Uptrends Free Website Speed Test: adjusts location, browser, device, bottleneck throttling, and even screen size
- Site Loading Speed Test: an SEO speed test focus that also provides comprehensive SEO analysis
- Sitechecker Website Speed Test: monitors site performance over time and provides actionable advice to address issues
How to Speed up Your Website
The sweet spot for website load time is 2.4 seconds. If yours is taking longer, there are some page speed optimizations you can make to your site:
Ever notice how, on slow websites, the images are often the last thing to load? That’s because those visuals are large, even though they’re static. The bigger your image files, the more detail they convey – and the longer they take to load.
While high-quality product photography is important, here’s the thing: You don’t need tons of detail for the web. You only need all those tiny pixels for print projects. When it comes to your site, you can sacrifice a bit of quality but still have an image that’s up to snuff for online shoppers.
Here are some ways to reduce image file size:
- Use the “save for web” option in Photoshop
- Stick to .jpeg (it allows for the most compression)
- Size your image specifically to the dimensions you need – nothing bigger
- Get an image compression plug-in for your CMS
- Compress files with a free service like TinyPNG
Each of these things needs to load each time a user accesses your site in order for it to operate the way you intend. And that takes up a heck of a lot of space.
To reduce the effect these slow-loading elements have on your site speed, you’ll want to compress them so they’re as minimal as possible. A tool like gzip can compress it for you to mitigate the effect on load time.
Each time your site redirects a user, it adds another step to the loading process. Another step means it takes more time to get your user there.
Google says: “Additional HTTP redirects can add one or two extra network round trips (two if an extra DNS lookup is required), incurring hundreds of milliseconds of extra latency on 4G networks. For this reason, we strongly encourage webmasters to minimize the number, and ideally eliminate redirects entirely – this is especially important for the HTML document (avoid ‘m dot’ redirects when possible).”
301 and 302 redirects are server-side (meaning the site admin creates these redirects) and used when you take down a page and want to avoid a 404 error. To minimize this, change all internal links to the destination URL.
The “m dot” redirects happen in the HTTP request-response cycle. This happens when you have a mobile URL that looks like this: m.yoursite.com.
Site speed is important because it helps SEO, improves the user experience, and drives more conversions.
To test your site speed, make sure you have CDN and caching enabled on your site – and remember to run the test multiple times from the same location for accurate and comparative results.
There are both free and paid page speed test tools available that you can use to see how quickly your site loads, where your issues are, and recommendations to improve.