How to measure website speed to get the most accurate intel?

Most of the blog posts dedicated to speed just point out that we need to measure website speed and offers links to online tools that can do the jobs, but don't explain how and what to measure. For those who are looking for a one-click-solve-all solution will this article be a great disappointment. But those who stay can learn how to get the most accurate measurement and what tools to use.

1. What's the most important point on the website to measure?

In our previous post Website loading speed explained we describe what matters to the real world visitor. Just as a quick reminder here are the most important points to measure:

  1. First paint
  2. First meaningful paint
  3. Visually Complete
  4. Time to interactive

All these vectors will influence how your visitor will experience your website so that's why important is to measure them.

2. Geographical location

The golden rule of the physical location of the hosting is its geographical proximity to the most important visitors. Where we're making the measurement is as important as what we're measuring. Why? It's because with longer distance increases the lag and distorts the values. Where you want to measure the loading speed of your website?

  1. As close to the server as possible. Why? Because we cannot influence anything beyond the server, I mean the infrastructure that connects users.
  2. Where your most important or targeted audience is. So for example, if you have 80% of your visitors in US and 20 in Australia, you want to measure both, especially if you're using the CDN

2.1 Do you know where your hosting has their servers and are you sure it's actually there?

In our practice, we found that most inexperienced WordPress users have no clue where their website is located. We had a case of a beauty e-shop that the hosting company assured the user of hosting the server in Singapore, but after the test, we found out it was actually in the US. How you find the location of your server? Easy!

  1. go to KeyCDN ping testing tool
  2. enter your server IP address (if you don't know what is it, just ask your support)
  3. look at the column "Min" where is the lowest number, that's location is closest to your hosting

3. Tools to measure website speed

There are few popular tools but after years of testing their reliability, we came to the conclusion that there are only two that get the most accurate readings. Which ones they are?

  1. Webpagetest.org
  2. Google Chrome developer console

With these two tools, you can get the data you need to understand how your website is loading. There are other tools, like GTMetrix, Pingdom or Google Speed Insight, but we find them unreliable, confusing or lacking necessary options to get precise measurements.

 

3.1 Webpagetest.org

After performing thousands of tests and comparing results with real-world data, the WebsPageTest.Org came to us as more reliable with most possibilities of collecting important data. Its most important features are:

  • 30+ location all over the world
  • Broadband and mobile 3G,4G network simulation
  • CPU simulation of mobile devices
  • Variety of desktop and mobile browser simulation
  • The capture of the video of how the tested website has been rendered
  • Waterfall of requests
  • Request/respond headers
  • Unique URL for comparisons of results

It may appear too geeky but to start to measure the loading time of your website, you need to set just a few basic settings like location, connection and you are good to go. But before we dig into measuring itself, let's talk about methodology and the process, and that after Google Develop Console

3.2 Google Chrome Developer console

Google Chrome became the most popular browser some time ago and besides of ability to browse the world wide web, it offers a Developer Conole. If you're not familiar with it, it's a tool that helps developers to create and tune websites so they run as expected. It offers a wide range of features and for the purpose of measuring, we will use only one part called "Network". To get there just press F12 and set up all settings that are indicated with the arrow or triangle:

 

Now we are good o go to measure the loading time on the Google Chrome developer console.

4. The methodology for measuring the speed of the website

4.1 Key performance indicator - KPI

In order to focus on measurement, we've got to have clear our key performance indicators - KPIs. We need to ask the question of what is important and where to measure it. In the beginning, we mention that First paint, First meaningful paint, Visually Complete and Time to interactive are the most important measure we need to get in order to understand our website. The next question is what URL we measure and from what location. Most users measure only the front page, and that's a good starting point but it should be the only one. For example, we have a real estate website where visitors can search for properties. If the front page loads in 1 second, but then it takes 10 to get the search result, you will lose a lot of visitors on the search page. A similar situation applies when you have for example a special landing page, if the first paint is 4 seconds, but the front page loads under 1, that's not very good either. I always recommend taking time and having a look at Google Analytics to see where visitors are landing at your website, as well as where they exiting. If there is a sub-page with a high exit rate, maybe there is something that makes it load slow and visitors leave.

4.2 Geographical testing location

Most inaccurate readings are made due to ignoring the fact that the geographical distance between the website server and testing server matters a lot. As distance increases, loading time too. Therefore, we have to measure as close as possible to the website server.

 

To be continued...

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