Website speed is very important – users like fast sites, and more to the point visit more often and stay for longer on faster sites. A 1 second delay in page load can reduce conversion by 7%, and reduce page views and customer satisfaction too. There’s another benefit too – search engines love fast sites.
Analysing website performance is another specialist task – it requires a very detailed understanding of browsers, PC’s, networking, Internet architecture, server architecture, server software, etc. Also it demands an incredible attention to detail – no element is too small to measure and to gain an improvement. Many sites (most even) have some really big wins you can get quickly, but after that it is a forensic examination of the fine detail from the web browser all the way back to the server, database and the source code. Don’t be put off though – you are rewarded for every 20th of a second you can save.
There are many tools to help, most of them freely available, and on top of that we have built our own in-house systems. None of the free tools will solve the problem for you – they are sign-posts pointing you in the right direction.
The first stage is to monitor and understand your current site performance, break it down – front-end, networking, web server, database, software. At each stage you need a way to measure the performance – the front end is easy, use Google Analytics (site speed section), Google Webmaster Tools, PageSpeed Insights (from Google), webpagetest.org, pingdom, etc. There are likely some big wins there – but follow through with the moredifficult areas – the network and the back-end (web server, database and software).
Performance needs to be addressed before launch, after launch, and monitored through the lifetime of the site. It is normal to need a tuneup every few months (as adding new features and content to the site can degrade performance considerably).