Tools to Speed Up Your Site

Matt Cutts recently referred to a movement inside Google to begin using page load times as part of the organic ranking algorithm, describing the factor as one of his ‘what to expect in 2010? bullet points in a presentation at PubCon Vegas 2009.

Most webmasters and SEO’s have seen this as a positive change, and Google have already started doing a lot to support webmasters in their quest to pursue a faster, more efficient website. They’ve even begun developing a new protocol, “SPDY” to improve upon the “HTTP” protocol to create a “2x Faster Web”. Google’s make the web faster project provides background reading and resources as part of their mission to “improving the web for all“.

I’ve picked out some useful tools that you can use to start improving your client’s site performance now. Does it make sense to start including recommendations related to serious site performance issues in your SEO consulting from now on? I think it does.

Pingdom tools – full page test

pingdom-results

The Pingdom “Full Page Test” loads a complete HTML page including all objects (images, CSS, JavaScript, RSS, Flash and frames/iframes). It mimics the way a page is loaded in a web browser, reporting on total loading time, the number of objects on the page and the results can be sorted by useful metrics such as load order, load time and file size.

The tool is particularly useful for identifying slow loading internal objects or external scripts through the “order by” functionality, though the tool itself does not provide a commentary and recommendations on potential performance issues.

Google page speed

Google page speed chart

On the tool, Google writes:

Page Speed performs several tests on a site’s web server configuration and front-end code. These tests are based on a set of best practices known to enhance web page performance. Webmasters who run Page Speed on their pages get a set of scores for each page, as well as helpful suggestions on how to improve its performance.

Google’s plugin integrates nicely with Firebug, the code preview plugin, standard in all Firefox SEO setups and seems a lot more reliable than the earlier versions. It’s strength (Over Y!Slow) is that the recommendations made in the speed test sometimes contain actual examples. For example, if you’re told to minify your CSS, Page Speed will provide you with an example of your own CSS file in its minified form.

page speed recommendations to minify CSS

WebPagetest.org

Based on the Internet Explorer specific, AOL developed tool Pagetest, the online version offers the ability to choose test location (US, UK and New Zealand), Browser (IE7 or IE8), and more advanced settings such as repeat testing for more reliable data. Matt Cutts mentioned this tool in an interview with Mike McDonald at Pubcon 2009.

Webpagetest results

The test is surprisingly powerful (don’t be put off by old school UI design) with an optimization check list and waterfall report, similar to Pingdom’s tools. The downside of the UI experience is an inability to sort by performance metrics – all of the reports are generated as images, not ideal for deep data analysis.

WGET

If you’re careful to get the arguments right in the command line, WGET can provide a useful breakdown of page load times as the crawler fetches and stores web pages on your computer. Normally WGET is for Linux users, though I wrote a how to install WGET in Windows guide for the Vista / XP / Win7 crowd. If you’re interested, definitely have a go.

WebSiteOptimiser.com

page objects report

WebSiteOptimiser produces a basic, but useful page objects report with a particular focus on bandwidth saving through the use of compression. The report also makes comments and gives warnings on image size, scripts and CSS. Very handy, though bypassing the CAPTCHA to get to the report was an unwelcome step in the process.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google webmaster tools site speed chart

Don’t forget Google’s Webmaster tools – though extremely basic, the crawl stats section can give you a directional feel for the overall performance of your website. In the example from Builtvisible above, you’ll see a sharp decrease in time spent downloading a page in mid October. That was due to a site redesign and relaunch, where a lot of inefficient code was replaced with something much more nicely put together. If anything, it just goes to show that a site update with a good development team can usually provide performance improvements without having to do anything to the server or hosting!

It’s great that Google are actively involved with research and tools that can deliver a faster web. I do hope though, that Webmaster Tools gets an upgrade in the site monitoring department before any page speed related upgrades are included in the ranking algorithm. In the meantime, there are already plenty of tools (and good developers) that can help you with your site performance issues.



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26 thoughts on “Tools to Speed Up Your Site

  1. jaamit says:

    Nice – good to be starting to focus on page load speed – the fact is it’s important to look at this even now, because (a) it affects usability, and ultimately conversions – many people will just hit ‘back’ if your site is too slow to load, (b) it may not be part of the ranking algo yet but it certainly affects indexation, esp on large sites – G is always trying to reduce its server loads – if each page on your site takes too long to load because of a giant image or uncompressed script include then the tendency is to index less pages. We’ve certainly seen this trend looking at WMT – time spent downloading a page is inversely proportional to no of indexed pages.

    A couple of tools I would add to your list Richard:
    1. YSlow!, an addon to the Firefox plugin Firebug, developed by Yahoo, is a fantastic tool which actually grades each section of your page and gives you actionable steps you can tweak to improve load speed.
    2. There is actually a way to measure page load speeds within Google Analytics – awesome tip for figuring out how long pages are loading for actual users.
    3. LoadImpact is a pimped out version of Pingdom which allows you to do funky things like emulate different user agents (hat tip to @danbarker for showing me this one)

  2. That’s a great list thanks for contributing! I mentioned YSlow but left it out of the review – I was actually very impressed with Google Page Speed in comparision. Some really useful tools here, thanks again.

  3. jaamit says:

    Doh! Sorry I seemed to have completely skimmed over the para where you mentioned Yslow! This not the first time my dodgy skimreading methods have been called into question… sorry bout that, gonna check out Google Page Speed instead of YSlow!…

  4. Sockmoney says:

    Another great piece of software for speeding up your site is called “memcached”. It is a server side caching solution with an API. You can essentially cache anything via your perl or php code and retrieve it later by simply storing it as key/value sets in memory.

    We use it extensively for caching complex query results for our popular pages. YouTube, Digg, Slashdot, etc all use it as well.

  5. Cool – thanks Sockmoney. Loved reading a few pages from your blog btw. Will return later.

  6. SEO Boy says:

    Looks good. Will try webpagetest to see how it works.

  7. John Paul says:

    Great list. I been running Super Cache,, but I read on yoast that he runs W3 and memcached,

    Mite have to make some changes afetr I run few tests on these sites.. TY for the list.

  8. toby says:

    At work, we use a website accelerator called aptimize – you got to be on dedicated though, it does an awesome job of automating optimization and increasing website speed which we used to ‘try’ by hand and does a way better job it it.

    Agreed – YSlow, Fiddler and WebpageTest.org are also essential web performance testing tools.

  9. Thanks putting it all together. Here’s another tool that you might find useful. It let’s you check yout site’s speed and compare it against your ten top ranked competitors:

    http://www.link-assistant.com/news/check-your-site-speed.html

  10. FWIW, on webpagetest.org, the data table below the waterfall is sortable (click on the column headings). Still not a full rich experience but a little better than completely static. Some UI hints need to be added to make it clear that it can be sorted.

  11. Ahh – thanks Patrick, that is something I missed. Grateful for your input!

  12. nachia says:

    hi thanks for your example

  13. hung bui says:

    This is brilliant idea. We all should have considered this for long time ago. However, since the internet speed has improved so quick, it is hard to notice if the site is slow or fast.
    I definately support this for SEO ranking.

    Cheers.

    Hung

  14. T-SEO says:

    ” In the example from SEOgadget above”

    Are you sure you are ok with this number, 4 seconds for Google to load one page of seogadget.co.uk, I have never seen a number like that before, most the time this number is less than 1 second, please confirm if this number still showing 4 seconds and the site still crawled well by Google

  15. josh says:

    great info, many thanks FYI

  16. Hi T-SEO – yeah my site ranks well in Google for the moment. I admit, though, that I’d like it to be a little faster myself. That’s why I did the research on these tools :-)

  17. These are some great tips, I have noticed a lot of my sites slowing down as I am adding more content to them so speeding them up is a big priority for me. Sweet tips, and good job hitting the front page of Sphinn!

  18. Cata says:

    Now we just have to wait for the page loading time hysteria to hit the forums… it’s going to be really hot!

  19. Great feedback so far and interesting points made – it will be interesting to see how page load times are interpreted by the SEO’s in the forums.

  20. In fact nothing new – page loading time is one of first criteria of on-site optimization process. And very important too, as some heavy un-optimized pic or monstrous js can ruin your career.

  21. Ashkan Parsa says:

    Tool heaven! I have so many Firfox pugins now I have lost track! :)

    Tested WebPagetest.org. useful for measuring page performance from different locations and countries. But those tables a bit of a nightmare to make sense of.

    Tested YSlow. Really useful tool (you have to also install Firebug, another fantastic tool). The speeds it marks every time a page loads doesn’t seem very accurate, so a bit flaky there, but the report is great. nice breakdown of data.

  22. Ashkan Parsa says:

    Ok, having tested most of them now here are my faviourits:

    http://tools.pingdom.com/ to see how long it took for the page to load and a breakdown of files downloaded. Great to immediately see which files are not optimised.

    http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/ to get a easy to follow report on areas you can improve

  23. Lots of helpful and constructive comments on this post for which I’m extremely grateful. Thought I’d update the post (via comments) with some learning / further useful resources I’ve come across since writing this post.

    By now you’ll be aware that Google Webmaster Tools now has an enhanced page speed / performance report in Webmaster Tools Labs. More on that on my post on Blogstorm.

    I’ve found Google’s Chromium blog an excellent insight into the world of performance obsessed software developers. This video series titled: “Technically speaking, what makes Google Chrome fast?” is well worth watching, as is the Chromium blog subscribing to!

    I’ve reduced my blog load time from 9 seconds to around 2!.

    The majority of this is owed to the WordPress plugin, WP-Super Cache which, with GZip compression enabled, makes this site pretty darn fast!

    Have fun with your sites and let me know what performance improvements you make in the next few weeks!

  24. Google webmaster tools is a great start for speed testing but I do like some of the other tools you’ve pointed out. I think that speed is something that is often overlooked in a typical seo analysis. Very well done.

  25. Claudiu says:

    Great post, I use them all in every project I do as they are just genius and a very welcomed help. Page speed is one plugin that made me squeeze everything I could out of the website and as a result here are two great articles on CSS and JS minification and caching/archiving and generally improving page speed drastically:

    http://blog.hazardousgaming.info/122/reducing-the-size-of-your-scripts-by-70-percent
    http://blog.hazardousgaming.info/120/minifying-and-gzipping-css-files-with-php-and-caching

    Thanks,
    Claudiu

  26. Svetlana says:

    Thank you for useful tips, guys!

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