How To Check Page Speed – 3 Great Tools and 1 Bad One
by Clint Butler
We have been doing page speed optimization for quite some time and have served several hundred clients with our page speed optimization service. However, no matter what client it is we always have to point out what the site is doing now and what it is doing after we are done. Some clients have never seen a page speed testing tool or know how to check page speed, all they know is their site is slow, or some have their hearts set on scoring big in one and don't know about the others.
In this post, you will discover three great testing tools that you can leverage with your clients, or for yourself, to better understand why your site is (or is not) performing at it's best.
The Worst Option To Choose For Performance
PageSpeed Insights is by far the worst tool you can use to test your page speed.
It is also the worst tool that you could possibly use to show your clients how their sites are performing.
I will go into all my reasons why in another post in the near future, however, I will say that the tool is the last part of the PageSpeed service created by Google that was envisioned to be a Content Delivery Network with the express purpose for helping webmaster speed up the web.
However, the service was a complete bomb.
We installed it on several of our sites when the service was up and running and it actually SLOWED DOWN attached sites.
When we contacted the Google support team, we were told that it is normal and speed reductions are to be expected when connecting to their service?
Needless to say we dumped them rather quickly.
Finally, I will also like you to note that their testing tool often returns incorrect responses.
Sites using browser caching will get told they need to implement it.
Sites with images just optimized will be told they need to optimize them.
And, worst yet, you'll get a lower grade for having Google owned scripts on your site, like Google Maps or Google Fonts for instance.
Come back when I do a complete breakdown on why this tool is horrible later.
The Top 3 Page Speed Testing Tools
Pingdom Website Speed Test is our typical go to source for test results when doing client work or working on our own properties. As a matter of fact, when we were learning specifically what is page speed optimization, this tool is how we did it and helped us when we broke our testing sites (and we did break a lot of them).
The interface is very user friendly and it provides us with a very good snapshot of what is going on with our sites.
Plus, if you are using caching, simply changing the location from where you are doing your test will clear the cache on your primary location making your results more accurate.
That fact that it caches your website when testing is also a great feature because it allows you to see the speed both as a brand new user and as someone who comes back.
You'll also get to see how fast your site loads when your page, object, and database caches are running properly.
The only down side to this tool at the time of this writing is that the California testing server is notoriously slow and inaccurate.
So I recommend that you just skip using that one at all or you'll be optimizing based on bad numbers.
GTMetrix is our fall back when our primary testing tool is going through maintenance or giving us crazy numbers that we know are clearly wrong.
The interface of this tool is actually pretty cool and it gives you a lot of information that normal none programmer types can understand and take action on.
The only con for this tool is that if you don't sign in for a free account it tests your site from servers in Canada.
Now, if you live near that location, you're good to go and will get accurate numbers for your target market, but if you are not then you'll need to get an account.
Free accounts get 7 testing locations which is better than one.
Or you can get a paid account, which bumps you up to more testing sites and some other add-ons that you may find useful.
This tool does not take advantage of caches as much as Pingdom does either.
You can see evidence of it pulling the cached version if you test back to back from the same server right away though, so if your looking to get perfect numbers make sure you do that.
This tool will give you some incorrect suggestions to fix on your site though.
Specifically, image optimization and minification of JS and CSS. This is due mostly to Google scripts, i.e. Google Maps, and since you can't minify those scripts without breaking the maps on your site, there is not much you can do.
Knowing that however, it's pretty easy to get a decent score on this site provided you know what you are doing with the information it provides, plus who doesn't like an A.
WebPageTest.org is really for enterprise users who are running dedicated servers and can use Apache and Nginx to optimize their site.
The biggest pro with this tool is that it has a whole lot more testing locations than the other two services above.
It also allows you to put in your competitions websites in their tool and compare their performance on the fly. If you are beating your competition already, then page speed optimization will really be geared towards making your website run better for your users.
The con is that it provides you with way more information than the average webmaster will need.
The reports are also pretty technical in their language.
This is a good thing if you have a custom site and your own web developer on hand. You give them the report with stuff circled and make them fix or explain it to you.
The site also provides you video's if you are into that sort of thing.
To wrap this all up for you I would like to reiterate, do not trust Google PageSpeed Insights, the tool has a pretty interface however in the end you'll get frustrated trying to get a good grade on a broken tool.
Use Pingdom, it is by far the easiest to use, and the information is presented in a way that is easy for even the newest webmaster to understand.
Finally, regardless of the tool you use, you are going to break your site when trying to make it faster. There is no way around it, we have mastered WordPress page speed optimization and to this day we are challenged by clients who add the latest and greatest features to their sites. So understand, now that you know how to check page speed, it will take a long time to optimize your site and learn what does what in your code in order to fix it, but at least now you have the best tools to do it.
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