Updated on December 2018.
Page speed can make or break a website. The reality is, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and will usually abandon sites that don’t load within 3 seconds.
So ensuring your site is lightning fast is essential (and that’s what WP Rocket is for!) – there really isn’t much room for sites that can’t keep up.
But before you go making performance improvements to speed up your site, it’s important to actually know what your page speed is.
That’s where benchmarking comes in.
Benchmarking your website enables you to test your page speed, assess how your site is currently performing and work out what you can improve to make it faster.
In this post, we’ll cover what page speed is and how it impacts SEO, and then look at benchmarking and the best tools to help you benchmark your page speed.
What is Page Speed?
Page speed is a measurement of how fast the content on a web page loads. It’s often confused with “site speed”, which is the page speed for a sample of page views on a website.
Page speed can be described as either “page load time” (the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page) or “time to first byte” (how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server).
Note: Keep in mind that “page speed” (with a space) and “PageSpeed” (as in Google PageSpeed Insights) are two different things. Ironically, PageSpeed Insights does not even measure page speed (i.e. load time or time to first byte).
Why Page Speed Matters
It’s pretty simple, really: the faster your web pages load, the happier your visitors will be, and the more likely they will stay on your website.
How quickly your pages load affects every metric on your site that really matters – user experience, bounce rate, search ranking, conversions, and page views.
If you run a business or an online store, a drop in page speed can really hit your bottom line. Econsultancy research has found 88% are dissatisfied with a website’s performance say they’re less likely to buy from the same site again, and more than a third will tell their friends about the bad experience.
And don’t forget mobile: Google neural net research has found that as page load time goes from 1 second to 7 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 113%. Similarly, as the number of elements, such as text, titles and images, on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%.
Google/SOASTA Research, 2017.
But let’s look at page speed in terms of revenue. According to Hubspot, if your site makes $100,000 per day, a 1 second improvement in page speeds brings $7,000. Meanwhile, a 1 second delay in page load time means an 11% loss in page views.
How Page Speed Impacts SEO
Again, because it gets confused so often: Page speed is about load and response times; it’s not your score from PageSpeed Insights that will affect your ranking directly.
It’s no secret that Google is on a mission to make the web faster and is now focused on mobile-first indexing.
Page speed is one of the signals Google uses in its search algorithm to rank pages. More specifically, research has shown that the company might be measuring time to first byte when it considers page speed.
It’s also important to keep in mind that if your pages load slowly, it means search engines will crawl fewer pages on your site using their allocated crawl budget, and this could negatively impact how your site is indexed.
What is Website Benchmarking?
There are plenty of free tools that can help you determine your site’s page speed. But first, it’s important to benchmark your site.
Benchmarking your page speed provides a quantifiable measurement of how well your site is currently performing, which you can then track and compare over time. Why is this so important? Because testing your site before and after making performance improvements will tell you right away whether the changes you’re making a difference.
Google offers some great free tools for measuring and tracking performance. Google Analytics can give you information about real world page load speeds over a period of time, but if you use Google PageSpeed Insights to test your page speed, you can get a quick indication of your site’s overall performance.
Let’s take a look at some fantastic free tools you can use to benchmark your page speed.
Pingdom’s website speed testing tool offers a simple, user-friendly interface that gives you a page loading waterfall analysis of your site in real-time as the service is checking your site.
After scanning your site, you get a performance grade out of 100, load time, page size, and server requests. Additionally, get performance insights, which you can expand for more detail about specific files on your site that are loading slowly.
There’s also information about content size by content type (which file types are taking up the most space on your site), requests by content type (which types of files are making the more server requests), content size by domain (which third party sites are impacting your page speed), and requests by domain (again, third party services that are impacting your speed).
A full waterfall analysis of server requests is provided further down the page, give you a file-by-file overview of requests, helping you pinpoint areas where you can focus your optimization efforts.
We also suggest to check out our in-depth guide about how to use Pingdom Tools and correctly measure your website’s page load time.
GTmetrix analyzes your page speed performance using Google PageSpeed Insights and YSlow, an open source performance testing tool. It then generates scores for your site and provides actionable recommendations on how to optimize it.
Each suggestion can be expanded to reveal more information, i.e. specific images you could optimize, files that could be minified, components of your site that could benefit from using a content delivery network.
What’s great about GTmetrix is how in-depth its reports are, making it easy to quickly rectify performance issues and speed up your site.
One possible problem: trying to improve upon your performance scores and make your site faster can be addictive!
WebPageTest lets you run speed tests from multiple locations around the world using a huge variety browsers at real consumer connection speeds. This means the results reflect real-world conditions.
When you scan your site, the service checks your page three times, and after benchmarking your site it gives a summary of your page load time, time to first byte, and other information such as the number of server requests.
The summary view provides a resource loading waterfall analysis and how long it takes to load each element on your site. When you scroll further down the page, you get a very detailed diagnostic summary of each and every server request your site makes, as well as suggestions for improvements.
For more details about the differences between Pingdom, WebPage Test and GTMetrix, check our guide!
Google PageSpeed Insights
PageSpeed Insights checks your site against common performance best practices, including avoiding landing page redirects, enabling compression, leveraging browser caching, and other speed and usability rules. Simply enter your URL and the service checks it twice, once for mobile and again for desktop. It then provides a score out of 100 and a list of possible optimizations you can make to your site in order to get a better score.
It’s worth noting that PageSpeed Insights is under active development so the rules are subject to change. While the user interface is very easy to handle, the results generated by PageSpeed Insights target a tech-savvy audience. Unless you’ve gained deeper understanding of the load process of a WordPress site, you may want to rely on a different tool for your benchmarking.
Test your mobile speed
More people than ever are using their phones to get online, yet most sites lose half their visitors while loading.
The average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds. Yet 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s a huge problem.
In response, Google is rolling out “mobile-first” search indexing, which places a greater emphasis on the mobile versions of sites.
To help people test the mobile version of their site, Google’s free “Test your mobile speed” tool checks your mobile page speed and tells you how many seconds it takes to load on a 3G connection. It also tells you the estimated visitor loss due to loading time.
When you scroll down the page, you get an industry comparison that sets out how fast your site is compared to top-performing sites. You also get an estimation of how fast your site could perform if you were to make fixes.
Overall, it’s an easy to use tool that provides a quick overview of your mobile performance.
No matter how you measure it, page speed matters. Faster websites don’t just offer a better user experience but also rank and convert better.
So if you’re not already making page speed a priority, start by benchmarking your site with one of the free tools above. Once you have a complete overview of how your site is performing, you can then start making optimization improvements, such as adding a caching plugin like WP Rocket.