How to test your website’s site speed

24 January 2019

It was one of the hot topics at the latest BrightonSEO conference: how fast your website loads can make a big difference to its search engine performance. Here we’ll explain just why site speed is so critical to search engine success, how to measure it yourself, and what you can do to optimise your site’s performance.

The importance of site speed

Yes, slow sites are annoying – but did you know that just a 1-second delay in page loading time could lead to billions of dollars of lost revenue? While most of us don’t have websites on the scale of Amazon, it’s clear that website speed is an issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Here are some of the factors that can be affected by the speed of your site – all of which can have a serious effect on your business:

  • Page ranking on search engines. Google is transparent about this; its algorithms take site loading time into account as an indicator of quality (or otherwise) – so if your site loads particularly slowly, it will appear lower down the list of search results. Google’s latest update prioritises sites that are mobile-friendly, and this means that site speed is now given greater weighting than ever before.
  • Number of ‘bounces’. If you’ve ever checked the analytics for your website you’ll be familiar with this term. It’s the word used for visitors who land on a page of your site, only to ‘bounce’ straight out again without engaging. This is much more likely to happen on a website that won’t load quickly enough.
  • Number of sales or conversions. Some visitors might be willing to persevere long enough to browse your site, but if performance is slow, they’re less likely to stick with it right to the end. An alternative option is only ever a ‘back’ button away, so don’t test your customers’ loyalty by forcing them to wait.

Factors affecting your site loading time

The internet is complex, and by their very nature, websites require smooth functionality from two sides in order to render properly on a computer or device. You can control the technical performance of your website and the capabilities of your server, but the device and connection your visitors are relying on is out of your hands. Third-party website widgets, server load and many other variables will all affect the speed at which you can deliver what your users need. You can only influence some of these, so it’s important to do what you can at your end, to optimise the performance of your site.

Tools to measure site speed

The only way you can know your site speed is to measure it. GTmetrix is a free tool designed to give you all the data you need about how fast your site is loading, as well as offering recommendations to improve your site’s performance.

Your GTmetrix website speed test will give you the following information:

  • Page load time, for the page you are testing
  • Total page size
  • Total number of requests
  • Average performance as compared with other sites that GTmetrix has analysed.

You can opt to monitor the speed of your website over a period of time, to identify any patterns or peaks in demand. It’s also a good idea to test a selection of pages on your website instead of just the homepage, to get a better picture of your overall website speed.

How can you be sure that using this free tool will help to optimise your site for search engines? Well, the issues identified by GTmetrix are very likely to be things that matter for SEO, because it uses tools from both Google and Yahoo! to inform its metrics. Google PageSpeed and YSlow are rulesets that are designed by the search engines to help you improve your site speed and performance.

Common issues, and what you can do to optimise performance

Now that you know how to measure site speed, what should you do with the results? A page on an average website loads in around 10 seconds, but it’s recommended that you aim for 3 seconds or less to keep your visitors happy. If your pages are loading more slowly than this, it could be down to one or more issues:

  • Too many redirects. These take your visitors to another page, so it’s no surprise that they’ll increase the time your visitors have to wait to load the page.
  • Graphics with large filesizes. You don’t need print-quality images for your website, so optimise load time by compressing any large image files.
  • Bloated code. Do your CSS, JavaScript and HTML files contain lots of unnecessary comments or characters? Cut down on the bloat to improve load time.
  • Server response time. This should be less than 200ms; if it’s routinely taking longer than this, it’s time to investigate why.

This just skims the surface of the technical issues that may cause slow page loading. If you’re finding it difficult to get the bottom of your slow website, why not book in for a technical audit with our SEO team? We’ll analyse your site speed for you, diagnose any issues and fix the problems to make your site load faster.