Do you feel the Need for Speed?
In a world of Amazon Dash Buttons and superfast broadband, people expect their lives, especially online, to be immediate and seamless. To be specific, the average visitor to your website will decide within 3 seconds if they’ve seen enough to stick around and learn more. However, the average landing page takes 22 seconds to load! Any way you slice it, that’s not great UX (user experience)!
Google has used page speed as a criterion since early 2017, so as well as alienating impatient customers, a slow-loading page will hurt your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) efforts on a technical level.
SEO is a deep and complex field all of its own, so we’ve tried out 5 major page speed testing tools, using a selection of our own pages. Your author is not particularly techie by nature, so this is designed to be an overview, rather than a comprehensive guide to optimising your pages.
The full, chargeable product will test your website every 60 seconds, which seems excessive unless you are a huge corporation (you can only imagine what would happen if Amazon was down for 48 seconds).
Fortunately, there is a free page where you can test one URL at a time. The test is quick to run, and you can download the result as a JSON file or share it to an email address or Social Media profile.
The layout is attractive, with headline stats including load time, and comparisons (“faster than X% of sites”) at the top, then recommendations which get increasingly technical as you scroll down.
Google PageSpeed Insights
Let’s be honest, if you want information about anything interweb related, you’ll turn to Google pretty soon.
As you’d expect, the page is slick and minimal, with no room for confusion. The results page has separate tabs for desktop and mobile pages (it is important to note that mobile is displayed first by default).
Each recommendation has a “Show how to fix” dropdown, which is great if you are trying to handle optimisation yourself. Uniquely, Google can also detect what optimisation already exists on the page, including links to explanations of how these optimisations are helping.
Google Mobile Website Speed Testing Tool
Built for agencies and professional marketers, and focusing exclusively on mobile-friendliness, Google’s second offering on this list stands apart from its cousin by calculating the rate of visitor loss your page is suffering as a result of its speed (or lack thereof!)
Google also tests page speed on a 3G signal. 5G may be more commonly talked about, but 3G is still the best connection available for between 15% and 20% of UK users, depending on their network of choice (State of Mobile Networks 2018).
Web Page Test
Despite being an open source project, it is immediately obvious that this is a project built by an engineer (Patrick Meenan of Google Chrome, if you’re interested). The opening page is simple, without being particularly clean, and the results are forensic in detail, but to a non-technical person, not especially clear.
Web Page Test’s major selling point is that it shows links to industry news articles, as well as recent threads on its user forum. Since search engines and customers can change behaviour without warning, this is a good way to see if the issue you are having is specific to you
GTmetrix’s big advantage is the way it tailors its recommendations. It was able to detect that our site uses WordPress, so it displayed a link to their specific resources on optimising with WordPress. The layout is crisp and straightforward, ranking required changes in order of how they score. An arrow icon lets you know how your page compares to the average. This level of detail is unique on this list. It also displays how important each metric is, and whether they are content, styling or server related, allowing you to distribute optimisation tasks to the best–equipped team members. In that regard, clicking on each insight shows detail on how the score was reached, and a “What does this mean?” which explains the criteria in layman’s terms.
Which system is best for you will depend on your technical knowledge level, and whether you have an in-house or outsourced SEO team. However, the worst thing you can do is ignore page speed entirely, as you can be sure that your competitors aren’t! The connectivity of the internet means that you need to work hard to win every prospect who gets in touch, so don’t put them off at the first hurdle with a slow and un-responsive website!