Web site speed has now become a more important factor following Google’s recent announcement that page load speed will be introduced to their 200+ factor algorithm. In a video interview with WebProNews software engineer for Google, Matt Cutts, said “It should be a good experience, and so it’s sort of fair to say that if you’re a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don’t want that as much.”
With their announcement, Google and many others have constructed tools to test the many characteristics involved with Web page load time. What you might not know is that most of these tools test the site itself and provide information that you can do something about, independent of your service providers.
First of all it is important to know how Web site speed actually works and the factors involved in moving your data. Secondly, the most common reasons you may experience poor site performance; and finally a handful of great resources for testing your site.
Web Site Speed
Perceiving the speed of your site also involves many factors.
- Depending where you are in the world, your route to the server will take different paths called hops. A major factor in Internet speed depends on the speed of the network hops between you, point A, and your destination, point B. Just because you connect quickly to one Web site does not mean you will connect with the same speed to another.
This is illustrated by a trace route from a server to Google.com
Traceroute to www.google.com (184.108.40.206), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
-1 69-36-160-13.WEST-DATACENTER.NET(220.127.116.11) 0.466 ms 0.43 ms 0.625 ms
-2 18.104.22.168.west-datacenter.net(22.214.171.124) 0.858 ms 0.82 ms 0.818 ms
-3 126.96.36.199.west-datacenter.net(188.8.131.52) 0.799 ms 0.78 ms 0.748 ms
-4 ge11-1-0d0.mcr1.saltlake2-ut.us.xo.net(184.108.40.206) 1.20 ms 1.193 ms 1.175 ms
-5 220.127.116.11.ptr.us.xo.net (18.104.22.168) 17.629 ms 17.855 ms 17.838 ms
-6 22.214.171.124.ptr.us.xo.net (126.96.36.199) 17.816 ms 17.882 ms 17.850 ms
-7 188.8.131.52.ptr.us.xo.net (184.108.40.206) 17.870 ms 17.845 ms 17.822 ms
-8 220.127.116.11 (18.104.22.168) 18.786 ms 18.759 ms 18.737 ms
-9 22.214.171.124 (126.96.36.199) 23.953 ms 24.177 ms 24.160 ms
-10 nuq04s01-in-f99.1e100.net (188.8.131.52) 18.646 ms 18.899 ms 18.854 ms
As you can see, there were 10 servers hit, or hops, between me and the eventual IP of the server hosting Google.com. Each one had a different connection speed, measured in milliseconds (ms). In this case, nothing was abnormal; but sometimes a server between you and your destination can be extremely slow or overloaded causing timeouts and other nasty errors.
- Your personal Internet service provider connection could be slow. You can check this by viewing your Web site from a computer connected to a different network.
If your site is slow due to issues between your chair and the keyboard, it will typically be one of the following reasons:
- You may be using a greedy add-on or plug-in on one of the many content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. CMS applications have extensive, active communities who develop oodles of neat little add-ons and plug-ins to add to your CMS site; however, many of these are extremely greedy and eat-up server resources resulting in slow Web site speeds.
- Some developers create scripts (mail scripts, image management scripts, etc.) that, if developed improperly or used too frequently, can cause problems in the backend and affect the speed of your site load time.
- You are getting too much traffic. This simply means you have outgrown your current hosting package and it is time to upgrade. Congrats!
- Your pictures are too large! Many sites contain images that are much larger than necessary and cause slow load times. You can decrease the file size by compressing the image to reduce the resolution and shrink the pixels or size of the image itself. Most programs have an option to save a file for the Web which automatically compresses the image. It is also important to remember that most digital images are much larger than the area you are trying to fill. For example if you take a picture of your family with a 3.1 megapixel camera the image will contain more than 3 million pixels, and a picture that is 2048×1536 pixels. Most of the time an image this size is much larger than necessary and will bog down your site.
- Google Code
Google’s resource to make the Web faster. Through this link you’ll find hundreds of great articles, active forums, and several great tools providing real-time tips to discover site speed variables, script compilers, and more.
- Yahoo! Developer Network
Yahoo!’s resource for developers. Offering tools, Yahoo! APIs, and other resources to help developers build a better site. Perhaps the favorite tool here is YSlow. It is a Firefox add-on created to provide a grade for each site based upon Yahoo!’s algorithm of best practices.
Originally created by AOL for use on its own sites, WebPageTest provides a more technical, location specific, “waterfall of your page load performance as well as a comparison against an optimization checklist.” WebPageTest is available with any URL and can be searched from a few different US locations with 2 different browsers.
- Web Page Analyzer
A private company offering a free tool providing information to increase site speed. You simply need to enter a URL and the system calculates page size, composition, and download time. The script then calculates the size of individual elements and sums up each type of Web page component. Based on these page characteristics the script then offers advice on how to improve page load time. The script incorporates the latest best practices from Website Optimization Secrets, Web page size guidelines and trends, and web site optimization techniques into its recommendations.
Another great post created by WebDesignBooth offers additional resources.
What resources have helped you develop a fast site?