How Fast is Your Website?

Lori Halley 19 April 2010 7 comments

You’ve put a lot of effort into getting your nonprofit’s website to rank well in search engines, without the budget for an SEO expert to help.  And now Google says your site needs to be fast, as well as “relevant”? Let’s take a quick look at the implications, and what you can or should do about it.

To begin with, how can you know whether your website is fast or slow, by Internet standards? Short of the obvious, of course – if you have time to go for coffee before your website loads completely, that’s a clear issue. But differences in web page loading speed are usually too subtle for us to so easily perceive, and that’s where a (free) speed test tool comes in handy:

Take a Speed Test

A selection of website speed test tools and debuggers is suggested at http://code.google.com/speed, but it’s aimed at tech types and may not be useful for nonprofits without an IT guy on call. I’d skip it in favour of Richard Baxter’s write-up at SEOgadget.co.uk, which explains the need for speed, and runs down a number of tools to speed up your site, or Mike Huck’s excellent Sitepoint article, Practical Web Design - Speed Up Your Site: recommended reading.

No time for all that research, when you’re just trying to get a fundraising appeal sent out before your only intern heads off to Nepal?

webpagetestFor a basic quick do-it-yourself assessment, take WebPageTest.org for a quick spin. Put in the URL of the web page you suspect might be loading a bit slowly, and these tools gives back a nice set of graphics to help identify any page elements that are holding up the load.

Web Page Analyzer is another free online tool, associated with Andrew King’s book Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets (O’Reilly, 2008).  Again, simply submit the URL of any web page you’d like to test, and let the tool do the rest. Web Page Analyzer will calculate the size of individual elements on that page and sum up each type of component. Based on these page characteristics, the script then offers advice on how to improve page load time.

WebSiteOptimiser is a third, similar, speed test tool to consider. Whichever tool you choose to use, do run a couple of different pages for comparison purposes. You’ll soon get a sense of where the hold-up is, if any, and will know better where to go in and tweak your site – or at least, what questions to ask your organization’s tech guru!

Does Website Speed Matter?

To some extent, yes.

Keep a new visitor to your website waiting more than a couple seconds to see your page? They’ll click on out of there before your slideshow has a chance to appear in their browser window – never mind your “Donate Now” button! And if your audience tends to access your site via dial-up – in rural areas, for example – or by mobile, as is increasingly the case for many, then, yes, the amount of data that has to be transferred to render a page will have an impact on your readers’ ability to access it and the quality of their experience.

As well, we’re becoming more and more aware that the ever-growing Internet is pushing the physical limits of its infrastructure; some technical limitations with mobile web surfing mean that all those phones pull a disproportionate amount of resources and will continue to do so; and all of this technology is costing a bundle in energy and environmental terms.

Add to that the possibility of your website taking a hit in the Google SERPS...

Don’t Panic

Google says:

While site speed is a new signal, it doesn't carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point. We launched this change a few weeks back after rigorous testing. If you haven't seen much change to your site rankings, then this site speed change possibly did not impact your site.

Nevertheless,

We encourage you to start looking at your site's speed (the tools above provide a great starting point) — not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone's experience on the Internet.

Bottom line: There’s no need for us to lose much sleep over Google’s addition of site speed as a factor in its search rank calculations, but when it comes to All Things Web, yes – faster is better.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 19 April 2010 at 4:39 PM

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Comments

  • Jeff Pfaff said:

    Monday, 19 April 2010 at 9:28 AM

    Now... if we can only get the cellular networks and mobile devices to catch up - we can extend the fast loading to the mobile web, anytime and anywhere!  

  • Richard Baxter said:

    Monday, 19 April 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Excellent round up and thanks for the mention!

    We did a follow up to the Site Speed post that looks at the business / user benefit of improving page load speed. There's some excellent stats via the Velocity09 conference that I think you'll like:

    http://seogadget.co.uk/improving-site-speed-talk-about-the-business-benefit/

    Thanks once again - great read!

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 19 April 2010 at 10:47 AM

    Richard, thanks much for the update!

    Interesting, too, to read the stats you've quoted from the Royal Pingdom study, about the impact of website loading speed on the visitor behaviour - and especially these points:

       * 47% expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.

       * 40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.

  • Sue said:

    Thursday, 22 April 2010 at 5:33 AM

    Hi Jen

    Another excellent tool is a firefox addon to an addon, Page Speed. It is an addon to Firebug. I ran it on this page, you got a 72/100, which was pretty good. It doesn't give you a time of load, what it does is analyze certain things like caching, css, images and more. It lets you know what, if anything, is bogging down a page.

    It's available at http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/ and you must have the firebug addon installed first (http://getfirebug.com/).

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 22 April 2010 at 12:48 PM

    Glad to know we passed the test, Sue! Thanks for the tip on Page Speed: I'm trying it out right now...

  • Antti Kokkonen said:

    Saturday, 08 May 2010 at 8:52 PM

    Rebecca, I just found this blog, and I'm glad I did. The concept of do more with less is what I "preach" as well ...and coincidentally, faster website goes with the theme :)

    All those speedtest sites are good (especially webpagetest.org), and with many options, it's good to check the site speed with multiple services, since the speed varies based on where the speed testing servers are.

    For personal testing, adding Firebug to Firefox and the Google's Page Speed and Yahoo's YSlow plugins is good too. They give quick data, analysis and tips to speed up things.

    For simple speed test, I use Pingdom tools http://tools.pingdom.com/ - it also caches the results, so you'll see how your site speed has changed over time (without recording the times yourself).

    For more in-depth, and way geekier stuff, the REDbot (http://redbot.org/) is amazing. It shows header information of requests, checks compression and caching info, etc.

    Personally, I enjoy tweaking websites for speed, SEO-benefit or not. I think it's just smart to optimize things and make a site fast.

  • josefina Argüello said:

    Thursday, 21 October 2010 at 4:07 AM

    This is great advice. I pay a lot of attention to my load times. Very often I will put a new widget on my blog and not notice that it takes forever to load. I think that this really hurts a blog. Paying attention to load times is very important.

    Josefina Argüello - <a href="http://buscadores.ws/">motores de búsqueda</a>

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