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360º Page Speed Testing: How It Impacts Performance and SEO

February 24, 2022

page speed

You can test your page speed in many ways. 

Free page speed tools provide snapshots of website performance, availability, and user experience. More complex web monitoring solutions, like advanced monitoring, provide continuous reporting and detailed metrics to drill down and closely monitor elements with real website user data. 

Every approach to website page speed testing (either basic or advanced) reveals usability issues and performance obstacles to varying degrees. These insights are then used to improve site usability and experience. It takes a holistic testing approach to show every element that matters from time to interactive to first byte, but any information is useful information. 

What is page speed?

“Must go faster, must go faster.” 

It's not just a line in some Jeff Goldblum movie, but the ultimate e-commerce mantra. In the internet landscape, time isn't just synonymous with how quickly a user can get to your page; it determines whether or not they choose to arrive at all.

High page speed helps websites battle visitor or user bounce rates and helps identify potential causes of outages to pinpoint the root cause and resolve incidents as quickly as possible. Proof of why this is critical for websites and applications of all sizes and segments are the top outages of 2021 and their impact on business. Some of these might have impacted you as a user.

Time has many definitions and variables because not only can we experience time on the web, we also need to measure, analyze, and improve it.

Page speed is determined in two ways:

  • Page load time: The time it takes for all of a website’s content to load. 
  • Time to first byte (TTFB): The time it takes for your server to receive the first byte of information.

The better your page load and time to first byte performance, the higher the traffic and conversion.

What do you measure in page speed?

You can measure different pieces of time, and what you need to measure depends on what metrics are most useful to you. We mentioned the big two: page load time and first byte. These two calculate website speed from your server and a view-only content perspective.

Time to Interactive (TTI) is the time that elapses before a user can fully interact with a web page. This is probably one of the most interesting website performance metrics.

TTI is a non-standard performance measure. It states that a website must meet certain criteria before it’s considered "fully interactive". This includes specifics such as contentful paint (the page should display priority content) and that the page responds to user actions within a specified period (approximately 50 milliseconds).

Page speed isn't just about time; it's also about resources. Page speed tests, from free tools to paid tools, present results with suggestions to optimize websites by reducing unused CSS and avoiding redirects. The information you get back depends largely on your tools and site architecture.

Ways to measure page speed

So how should you measure page speed? What tools should you use?

Think of measuring page speed with free tools like measuring yourself for a tailored jacket. If you take your measurements once and then retake them maybe a month later, you risk different results (and data).

For one, you may not be measuring at the same points. Free tools often pick random server locations to test. There's also a good chance that your site gained weight between measurements due to some new, larger assets or files. 

Free page speed testing tools provide one-time snapshots of website speed metrics. What they don't deliver are professionally adjusted results over time to identify trends and baselines needed to improve website performance.

Does this mean you shouldn't use free tools? Of course not! Free tools are helpful because they’re not all created equal. Different services offer you different data and performance perspectives for free.

The main disadvantage of free tools is that they don’t provide comprehensive website performance data or run on a schedule. 

Suppose you want to know the actual speed of every important site element. In that case, login, checkout, and contact form monitor performance using real user session data with a real user monitoring (RUM) tool. Critical paths like forms and e-commerce carts do this with synthetic transaction audits that mimic site user actions.

This may be a step away from page speed toward performance monitoring. But item response time data and real-time visitor data hold action items to flatten speed bumps before they become a problem.

Synthetic monitoring

Use advanced synthetic monitoring tools (also known as transaction checks) to measure load times by mimicking user actions. The main benefit of such tools is the resulting response time graphs and individual response time metrics per test item.

A synthetic monitoring check for a shopping cart transaction might look something like this:

  • Step 1: yourwebsite.com returns status 200 OK.
  • Step 2: The click navigation from your home page to your shop is successful and validated by page content or URL.
  • Step 3: A specific item exists and can be selected.
  • Step 4: That item can be added to your shopping cart.
  • Steps 5-8: Enter personal details, name, email, credit card, and so on into the appropriate fields.
  • Step 9: The transaction is successful.

Such revenue-generating transactions are essential to monitoring speed and response time. If a synthetic audit check fails, you can retrieve specific data for each action, such as filling in a field or clicking a button. This allows you to monitor particular performance issues further so you can fix them before users notice and abandon their shopping carts.

Real user monitoring (RUM)

Real user monitoring (RUM) data helps observe performance load times. RUM reports the data you expect from a speed test like Google Page Speed ​​Insights. This includes load times, bugs, and a bunch of page speed, TTI, and first paint glitches. 

The main advantage of RUM is that it's continuous, helping you establish performance data baselines to compare new traffic and speed. It is this comparison that reveals ways to improve website performance and speed.

Depending on the tool you choose, RUM can track various errors like JavaScript errors from 4xx/5xx and give you page speed data specific to a URL or group of URLs in a particular region. What's often overlooked with free tools are geographic breakdowns of page speed.

Remember, not all locational probe servers are the same. RUM can help determine which vendors are helping and hindering your site's availability. Besides uptime, page speed affects your searchability.

How does page speed impact SEO?

It may come as a shock, but keyword placement isn't the only variable affecting search engine optimization (SEO) results. When it comes to searchability and rankings, page speed plays a crucial role in deciding your site’s fate – the slower the speed, the lower the search rankings.

Why page speed impacts SEO

Search engines attach great importance to page speed when crawling sites as it provides an excellent indication of overall website quality and user experience. Think of it as a core web vitals check. When page speed is optimal, there's a good chance the rest of the site is, too.

When it comes to SEO, slow and steady wins the race. It's a continuous effort that takes time and patience to see small wins. Unfortunately, all of that valuable time and energy invested in SEO tactics is wasted if the site's page speed is unusually slow. This is especially true when compared to competing sites and solutions that rank higher for the same keywords as your funnel.

Due to the SEO importance placed on page load time and first byte type, it’s difficult for your website to be competitive in search results if it’s not competitive with load times.

Tip: Search engines allow a certain amount of time to crawl pages. Your rankings and results will only be based on a partial view if the loading time exceeds the allotted time.

You can use free tools to test your site’s performance and gain insights into your competitors' page speeds. This provides valuable competitive insight into what search engines measure and how they set performance goals for optimizing site speed.

How to improve page speed

Improving load time is essential, but it’s only part of the purpose behind page speed testing. Once the speed data is in, it's time to prioritize and take action to improve page speed.

Back to website performance basics

Never forget the basics! Some easy ways to start optimizing site speed include:

  • Optimizing your code
  • Making sure your media elements are ideally formatted
  • Ensuring your site isn't blacklisted
  • Keeping your certificates up to date 

Optimize website code

Servers download your resources before a browser loads your website. So ensuring your code can download quickly is a big step in improving site speed. Free tools usually suggest compressing CSS and Javascript files. This also streamlines the delivery of your JS and CSS by reducing the number of critical resources required to load your site's content in terms of TTI.

Format website media

Most sites rely on media. From animations to static images and videos, media are the largest files to load. So what are the best tips to optimize media on your site?

First, make sure your format is optimal and provides files in the correct order of priority. You can do this with HTML5 image tags to prioritize image loading based on device and desired loading order.

Run basic website checks 

You don't want to compromise your page speed for something routine. Verifying that your DNS and SSL certificates are up to date seems like a no-brainer. But these basics are often overlooked. Unfortunately, when these certificates fail, the impact is painfully noticeable to external users and internal stakeholders.

You should also ensure you don't appear on blacklists such as DNS or domain blacklists, Google Safe blacklists (and lists for other search engines), or spam and phishing blacklists. You can monitor this with a free or advanced website performance solution. However, remember that free solutions are a one-time deal while paid tools are ongoing.

Deep dive

Different types of website monitoring checks need to be combined to go beyond the basics of speed testing. It's okay if some tests overlap with free tools or monitoring solutions you pay for. In fact, having redundancy in monitoring your website only further helps you avoid potential problems and outages.

Test websites from multiple locations 

What’s causing the problem? Is it a site element? Or server-related? Do all users experience the latency or is it just in specific locations? When it comes to page speed, location is everything as speed can fluctuate depending on the servers.

To capture the page speed market, test across multiple locations – ideally the areas that drive the most traffic to your site. Building a simple HTTP(S) check can be a solution if you configure specific test sites.

Remember, you're looking for monitoring that ensures status OK 200 and generates response time metrics that enable observing unexpected timeouts. It’s a bonus if your monitoring allows you to customize your timeout thresholds.

Create synthetic monitoring and RUM 

Pairing synthetic and real user monitoring services give websites a holistic view of the user experience, from general page interactions to specifics of form submissions or shopping carts. The added elements of RUM provide detailed performance reports based on browser type, operating system, device, and geography.

Page speed best practices

What are you doing right or need to get right when it comes to page speed? Is your page speed on track or negatively impacting your site's performance? Let's look at some best practices to better understand this.

Best practices for free tools

Free tools have their unique advantages compared to advanced website monitoring. They provide quick snapshots of site performance, uptime, and user experience. This, in turn, offers amazing benefits, insights, and perspectives on your site or application.

Layer free monitoring tools

Use free tools for a comprehensive overview of page speed performance. This tactic also offers the security that comes with monitoring redundancy, which helps compare and validate the accuracy of your free tools' results.

Create a schedule

Create a schedule for using free tools. Unlike advanced website monitoring tools, these are not automated and provide a one-time site analysis. Planning when and what tools to run on your site helps you stay organized and aware of any issues that may arise.

Implement the information

The information you get from free tools varies depending on your choice. Some provide list-like recommendations for optimizing code, while others simply offer time and metrics.

Keep in mind that free tools don't always put you in control of testing intervals or locations. Without the reports provided by advanced monitoring solutions, you don't have the same visual reference to identify legitimate performance issues.

Best practices for advanced website monitoring

If an advanced monitoring solution seems like a good fit, keep these must-haves on your list.

  • Choose a tool that allows customization. In terms of page speed, it helps to control your thresholds and server locations. Basic checks like HTTP(S) can only validate a response or validate strings, headers, and so on.
  • Ensure you have testing control. The ability to configure the testing frequency of your monitoring checks is one of the most significant benefits of advanced monitoring tools. Use a tool that puts you in control of continuous testing intervals so you can collect the performance data that matters most to your website or application.
  • Reporting shows trends over time. Reporting is mission-critical when looking at overall response times and RUM metrics. Seeing your metrics’ trajectory is a visual tool for quickly identifying latency and performance gaps.

Page speed performance is a priority 

All companies (and business units) want to deliver great website performance and experiences, not just IT. This is why monitoring page speed and load time must be a priority for any organization to improve speed, bounce rates, and SEO.

Monitoring page speed and time to interactive are crucial, but other assets and elements are also important. Understanding your response time for each key user path and real-world user experience data provides a high-level overview of optimization opportunities.

The final piece of the puzzle is location. Free tools provide the server's IP address used for the page speed test. In contrast, advanced monitoring allows configuration and performance testing of sites of your choice (depending on your provider) while generating detailed reports.

Not all businesses require the same level of monitoring but monitor performance to remain competitive in their fields.

Whether you decide to use free or advanced performance monitoring tools depends on your site structure, where you want to monitor, and whether you need customization and reporting to optimize and scale. Regardless of your choice, your website performance determines your company's sales and reputation.

Manage web pages, track changes, get notified, and improve site performance with website change monitoring software.

website monitoring software
An eagle eye for your business

Monitor, test, and report your site speed and performance with website monitoring software.

website monitoring software
An eagle eye for your business

Monitor, test, and report your site speed and performance with website monitoring software.

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