How is website page speed measured?
Website page speed is a measurement of how fast the content on your page loads. This metric is split into three types:
- Time to first byte – this is the time it takes to start the loading process
- Fully loaded page – this is the time it takes to fully load a page on the website
- First meaningful paint – this is the time it takes a page to load enough of its resources to be readable
Why does it matter?
Page speed impacts the overall user experience of your website. According to Kissmetrics, over a quarter of users click away from your webpage if they are waiting for more than three seconds. This has a huge impact on the usability of your website which in turn damages conversion, engagement and ultimately sales.
Page speed also has SEO implications. Google has used page speed as a ranking factor for over a decade and since then have only made it a more and more important factor when deciding how to rank a page in search results. Google’s blog on the Speed Update in 2018 explains how important it is for people to be able to find answers to their questions as quickly as possible and shows that they really care about the speed of a page.
More and more people are accessing websites from their mobile phone and studies show that most mobile users expect their mobile to load almost as fast or even faster than desktop. It is important to have an awareness of both desktop and mobile users when optimising website speed. Google Analytics can show the proportion of users on each device in Audience > Mobile > Overview.
What kills website speed?
The number one contributor to a slow loading page is multimedia that is large and not optimised. Due to the nature of website design, the biggest culprit for this is almost always large, uncompressed image files. Fixing this is as simple as resizing the image to a smaller size that still looks good on the page. Taking this one step further, images can be compressed in Photoshop or using a plugin, and up to date file formats, such as WebP, should be used.
A website host ultimately decides how fast a website is based on their server’s response time. A better host, with stronger servers, will have a faster response time. Furthermore, some hosts offer a content distribution network (CDN). A CDN stores copies of your website at geographically diverse sites on several servers so that the load can be distributed. This means that website speed can be kept consistent across all locations, and a heavy load from all over the world will not slow down the site as much.
Too many plugins
WordPress plugins can do all kinds of amazing things but loading them takes up a lot of processing power. A lot of plugins will be required to load every time a page on the website is loaded. Having many extravagant plugins can make your website efficient and beautiful, but will drastically affect its loading time. Keeping as few plugins running on your site as possible will greatly improve loading times.
Too many ads and lots of external content
Ads add a lot of extra multimedia to pages in the form of images and videos, and sometimes even sound files. Poorly optimised ads and other external content slows down the page speed.
If there is media on a page that is incompatible with some popular browsers, the browser will attempt to load it repeatedly until it eventually times out. Timeouts like this are far longer than recommended loading times and will always affect fully loaded page speed, but also impact the first meaningful paint. This can be easily avoided by using simple, compact multimedia elements and extensively testing any more complex multimedia usage.
If you have had to use redirects on some URLs, you must make sure that they are redirected to the most recent version of the target URL. If an old redirect goes to a page that no longer exists, or another redirected page, then a redirect loop occurs. This means that the user must effectively travel through multiple pages to get to the right one, which adds time to their loading. Exceedingly long redirect loops/chains can also fail completely causing the page to not load at all!
Testing your website’s speed
There are a number of tools that can be used to test website page speed such as Google PageSpeed Insights, which can also show the areas in which your website is having problems. Google PageSpeed Insights breaks down your website performance and allows you to see exactly where to make the most impactful changes.