Overview of Website Performance and How to Measure Website Speed

As more and more of our interactions with companies move from the real world to digital spaces, website performance has become a primary concern for business of all shapes and sizes. Website performance, however, could mean a lot of different things to different people depending on what type of good or service they are offering. Some businesses that handle sensitive information, like banks or government agencies, could be most concerned with security and reliability and consider that to be an element of website performance.

A business focused on user engagement, like online gaming or education, might interpret website performance as how effective their site is at engaging their users. While website performance can be interpreted differently, the central aspect of performance that should be critical to every business with an online presence is speed.

website speed

Why does website speed matter so much? First and foremost, it is a critical factor to achieving a positive user experience. It’s been a long time since dial up modems were how most people accessed the internet, and users have grown accustomed to accessing web pages within just a few seconds. When those pages don’t load within the expected time frame, users are quick to bail. It is reported that bounce rate increases by 50% with every 2 seconds of additional page load time. A website that is quick to load also eases any anxiety a user might have with the quality of the site and builds trust with your brand. If you can deliver a rich online experience quickly, you are much more likely to achieve the desired outcome from your users.

It’s also important to consider the improvements to scalability that come with a faster site. A website that has the ability to serve content quickly to users is less likely to overload its servers and cause outages. When you improve speed through caching, your site becomes more scalable and able to handle spikes in traffic volume driven by holiday seasonality or a successful marketing campaign. Furthermore, a fast website (especially one with a globally distributed caching strategy) has a better chance of standing up to a DDOS attack, which are becoming more and more common.

So now that we know that the speed is the cornerstone of website performance, how do we know how fast a website actually is? The rest of this post will look at what metrics to measure when assessing website performance, and our next post will give you some tools to use to find these metrics.

How to Measure Website Performance and Page Speed

There are dozens of different website performance metrics that can be measured, and can be valuable for diagnosing problems and optimizing website speed. There are several metrics, however, that should be tracked accurately and frequently to make sure website performance isn’t hurting your business.

  • Time to First Byte (or HTML Load Time): Between the time a user attempts to load a page on your site to the time the page is fully loaded, dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different operations will take place. Content needs to be accessed from the server, images need to be retrieved, and style sheets need to be loaded. Before any of these operations can even start, your server must send an HTML document to your users browser to provide the instructions on what actions it needs to take and what files need to be retrieved. The time it takes to deliver the HTML document from your server to your user’s browser is the Time to First Byte (TTFB). An ideal TTFB is around 200 milliseconds which can be achieved when your HTML document is served from a cache.

  • Time to Title: The title is the name of a page which appears in the browser above the web page address. While this metric is sometimes overlooked as it is only one of many pieces of content that are loaded and displayed to the user, it can go a long way to creating a positive perception in the eyes of your users. Most users have experienced sites that fail to load, have been shuttered, or attempted to access a site with the wrong address. The moment a title is displayed for the page within the browser, anxiety for the user that they may be in the wrong spot is reduced. The longer it takes before the title is displayed, the less patience a user is likely to have while waiting for the rest of the page to load.

  • Start Render Time: The start render time is an important measure because it indicates when the viewer first sees the page appear in their browser. While the web page may still need to make dozens of additional server request to gather all the content needed, the faster a website begins to render the more likely the user will hang out long enough to load the entire page.

  • Page load time: The page load time is probably the most common metric used to assess web speed, as it is the easiest to understand. This metric references the time in seconds it takes from the moment a user attempts to access your website until all of the content has been loaded in your browser. The importance of page load time, however, can be overstated, as a user might perceive the page to be completely loaded well before page load is complete. If you have have large images below the fold, or javascript elements loading in the background, your total page load time might be inflated but your user’s experience isn’t impacted. Ideal page load time is under 2 seconds to prevent users from bouncing and increasing engagement across your site.

Improve Your Website Performance Today

To improve your website performance today, measure your page speeds using the metrics above and then consider implementing a caching strategy such as Varnish Cache to immediately improve page load times. section.io makes it easy for you to install and configure Varnish Cache on your website, plus we provided added website speed benefits through our CDN. Sign up for a free CDN trial today and you’ll get 14 days of free service, no credit card needed.

For ecommerce sites looking for detailed information on measuring and improving website performance, we also have an eBook available to download for free:

ecommerce ebook

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