Figuring out how fast is fast enough for your website

Determining how fast is fast enough for your website is not always an easy matter and may take a combination of tools to figure out.

Yesterday we started covering O’Reilly Radar’s video interview with Web Performance Optimization(WPO) expert Steve Souders from Google. In yesterday’s post we looked at the relationship between WPO and SEO. Today we look at how fast is fast enough for your website — and how do you figure it out.

Souders says it’s not always easy to do. In fact, he says since he has been discussing the notion of WPO, people have pushed him for an absolute value for the perfect speed. Unfortunately, there really isn’t one and the answer is, ‘it depends.’ He says, you have to develop a comfort level for your site’s speed based on your own knowledge of the site and what you’re hearing and seeing from customers.

But even he admits, that’s probably not going to be a satisfactory answer for most IT Pros looking for ways to measure the site’s speed.

One thing you can do if you use Google Analytics is watch how your site’s speed performs over time. The graphic below shows the site speed for data for the Real User Monitoring blog over the last several month.

Real User Monitoring Blog site speed data on Google Analytics.

As you can see, other than a few spikes that appear to be anomalies, it appears the site has performed decently with an average overall load time of 6.39 seconds. I’ve found it loads faster than that on my machine (a Mac Book Pro running 2.2 Ghz i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM), but since I’m on the site frequently, it’s also cached on my machine. Others coming in cold might load more slowly.

It’s worth noting that any good web site monitoring tool should also be able to perform similar speed tests over time.

That lets you measure your own site’s performance over time, but what about how you measure against other sites out there? ┬áSouders admits that it’s not always easy to do, especially if you want to measure performance by vertical market such as all travel sites or all sports sites, but you can see your overall performance against other tracked web sites in your Google Web Master Tools.

This is a pretty broad metric, but at least it gives you an overall benchmark of where you stand against other sites that are being measured with this tool.

In a time when everyone is talking about Big Data, you would think there would be more data about this, but Souders was thin on details. I did a quick search and found that Pingdom lets you measure your site’s speed and it gives you a score based on how it compares to all other sites that have taken this test.

At the very least this could let you get some kind of comparison between your site’s load time and your primary competitors and it gives you a surprising amount of rich data to work with. The graphic below shows the overall results for the Real User Monitoring blog site.

Pingdom's site speed test could let you get scores for yourself and competitor sites, at least giving you some meterics for means of comparison.

In fact, a Google search picked up many of these types of test, but it’s more difficult to find aggregated data about performance, especially within a given market vertical.

For now, it’s good to know just how well your site is performing in terms of load times, at the very least over time and if you have the time and resources, figuring out how it compares to other sites that are important competitors.

It may not be the be-all and end-all of site monitoring, but understanding your overall speed and how it fits in with other similar sites is good benchmark to understand.

If you know of some openly available sources for aggregated web site performance data, please leave a comment.

Photo by familymwr on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

2 Comments

  1. Steve Watson says:

    Hi Ron.

    You could look at http://www.webpagetest.org which will give you a page score and ratings, similar to what you have from Pingdom.

    Another tool, Dynatrace, will give you a much deeper level of information for each request made, and has the added bonus of being able to be driven from your automated tests – ie a Selenium driven test to open a particular web page can also call Dynatrace to perform the monitoring of that page.

    Hope this helps,

    Steve

    • Ron Miller says:

      Hi Steve:
      Very helpful. Thanks for sharing these tools.

      Ron

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