Do you remember back when the modem existed and we all connected to the Internet with dial-up? If so, You probably also remember what it felt like to wait for a website to load. Graphics would load one line at a time and it was normal for pages to take several seconds or minutes to finish loading. Back then we didn’t really have any other choice than to wait for the the data while crossing our fingers and hoping that our Internet connection wouldn’t be interrupted by the dreaded call-waiting.
Today, with a majority of Internet users connecting with blazing fast home and mobile plans, we have another choice when it comes to waiting for a website to load. Now we can hit the back button and choose another site.
Does WordPress Speed and Performance Matter?
With so many website choices and the decline of the human attention span, getting visitors to come and stay on a slow website is almost unheard of. Add to this the fact that Google started using page speed as a factor in their page ranking algorithm and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how important performance really is. Next to securing your WordPress install, checking your WordPress speed and performance should be towards the top of your list of things to do TODAY.
How to Check Your WordPress Speed and Performance
Once the importance of page speed became apparent, companies and developers responded by creating tools and services that made performance testing simple and available to everyone. We’re going to look at three free tools that you can use right now, without needing to download or install anything. Just a word of caution, chasing after a certain performance score can be both addictive and maddening. It’s important to set an attainable goal for creating a balance between performance and usability.
Note: These tools don’t give you a score for the entire site, only the page URL you enter. It’s important to test all of your pages as each one is likely to contain different content that can impact performance.
1) Pingdom Full Page Test
I like to do an initial performance test with the Pingdom Full Page Test. Although it’s not as thorough as some of the other tools, it gives you a good idea whether your pages have issues or if your hosting provider is performing sufficiently. Pingdom has a nice summary view that reveals statistics like load time, page size, and number of requests. You’ll also get performance grade that allows for quick testing of recent changes. It’s worth mentioning that this performance grade should not be the only statistic you pay attention to. It’s possible to have a slower page or even a technical issue and still receive a high performance grade.
Scrolling down the Pingdom results page gives you a more detailed view of what’s happening when your page loads. You’ll get an idea of the page elements and how long each one is taking to load. It’s worth looking at the waterfall chart as it gives you a visual representation of your elements and makes it simple to spot problematic requests. You’ll also get an idea of your server performance by examining the primary request and looking at the “wait” timestamp. This is essentially your Time to First Byte (TTFB), which is an indicator of how fast your server can start sending data after the request.
With Pingdom, it’s a good idea to choose a testing location closest to your host if you’re concerned with accurate server performance metrics. Although it is an interesting test, adding network latency into the mix by testing from the other side of the globe isn’t going to give you accurate results.
Overall, Pingdom is an amazing tool that combines an appealing user interface with measurable and actionable results. One thing that Pingdom doesn’t do is tell you how to fix the areas you don’t score well in. Instead, they provide a direct link to the Google Developers page, the home of our next tool.
2) Google PageSpeed Insights
It’s impossible to talk about page speed scores without bringing up Google’s offering. The Google PageSpeed Insights tool is in a league of its own and follows the minimalist approach you’d expect from Google. Although there are no advanced charts or ways to save past scores, this is an essential tool if you’re looking for better search engine rankings. Because Google takes user experience and mobile responsiveness into account, you’ll want to ensure you receive decent marks with this tool.
Google scores your page with both mobile and desktop views. This makes sense now that a majority of your users visit websites on mobile or tablet devices. Google announced that they were using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor on mobile searches. You’ll need to ensure your mobile score is high enough to avoid being penalized. Although we’re not covering it as a separate tool here, Google does offer a simple Mobile-Friendly Test. Start there if you just want to ensure your pages work well on phones and tablets.
There’s nothing complex about this tool. Simply run it against a page URL and receive a score from 0 to 100. Anything over 85 is considered good and anything less needs improvement. Results are broken down into two categories: Optimizations Found and Possible Optimizations. You’ll want to work on Possible Optimizations by following the ‘Show how to fix’ links.
Note: You might obtain a near-perfect score with Pingdom and still score under 90 with the Google tool. This is because Google looks at your site from a user experience perspective as well. It’s difficult to get a 100 from Google and still have a fully functional WordPress website.
If you had to rely on one tool for performance testing, this would probably be it. The GTmetrix Performance Analyzer is one of the most comprehensive tools available, free or not.
In addition to basic load details like page size, load time, and number of requests, you also get plenty of visuals to examine. The Timings tab helps identify hosting problems by supplying crucial metrics for connection, back-end, and TTFB. The Waterfall tab displays the page loading behavior with status, size, and host for each request. The History tab lets you compare results with past tests to see the impact of any tweaks or changes.
As with Pingdom, you can choose your testing location to get the most accurate performance results. With GTmetrix, you have a few more locations to choose from. In addition, you can choose which type of browser and network to test from. If you need to test how well your site performs from Brazil with a Android client on a 56-k Dial-up modem, GTmetrix can do it.
GTmetrix uses rules and recommendations from both Google PageSpeed Insights and Yahoo’s YSlow libraries. Together, this gives you an awesome overview of your overall page and site performance. The real beauty here is the ability to test over time and compare past results. You will need to create a free account for this option.
Which WordPress Speed and Performance Tools Should You Use?
The tool you should use is the one that you’re most comfortable with. If you’re not highly technical, you might prefer either Pingdom or Google. GTmetrix, on the other hand, is great for having all the performance details and recommendations in one place. If page rankings are the most important factor, Google Insights is a must. If you are obsessed with getting a high score and ensuring your users have the best experience, try all three. It never hurts to get a second or third opinion.