On your to-do list, “check website quality” might appear somewhere below “extract molars”. However, if you own a website and haven’t checked the website performance, I suggest you take 10 minutes to use one of the following tools now.
Google Pagespeed Insights – better keep the gatekeeper happy
There’s no getting away from the fact that Google controls much of the traffic on the web. Much like trying to ingratiate yourself with the barman at a busy bar, making sure Google likes you is a good idea. Helpfully, Google do an awful lot to help website owners make the web great. PageSpeed Insight is a prime example.
PageSpeed Insight gives you a feel for how Google grades your website. It’s widely regarded as the benchmark tool and if you only have time to run one test I’d suggest this is the one.
Enter your website address in the box and hit “Analyze”. You’ll get a simple, objective % score for how your website performs on Mobile and Desktop. As a guide, a well put together website should get over 90% whatever the size of the page. If you’re below 75% you probably should raise it with your web developer.
It’s important that you use this score as a guide to performance and as a starter for discussion with your web developer. Do not use it as a be-all and end-all. There are very good, legitimate reasons to get “penalised” by Google. For example, the tool might suggest you optimise a resource, like Google Fonts, that doesn’t actually come from your website. You don’t control resources that aren’t from your own web server so you can’t do much to optimise them. The trade-off between getting a perfect score and having things like pretty fonts is usually worth making.
Mozilla Observatory – check your web server’s security
Mozilla Observatory is a more technical website check than PageSpeed Insights. Don’t worry though it’s still accessible to you dear reader, the “normals” out there.
The organisation behind this tool, Mozilla, are the developers of the Firefox browser and is a true “Grandfather” of the web community. Suffice to say they know their onions.
This test focusses on how your website gets from the server to the user’s browser. We don’t tend to think about web browsers but what they’re doing is incredibly complicated. With complexity comes opportunities for bad actors to do nasty things. As a result, Google (and others) are on a mission to make the web more secure and make being a bad citizen harder.
As a non-techie the results you get back will be largely unintelligible. That doesn’t matter because what you will understand is the “yuge” letter in the top left of the screen that gives you a grade.
If you’re scoring lower than a ‘C’ you should ask your developer to investigate and tidy up for you. If they stare back blankly it might be a signal they’re not focussed on the technical aspects of web optimisation.
As with other tests, there are good reasons why a site’s performance may not be 100%. For example my own site doesn’t implement a couple of suggested features. The cheap hosting provider I use doesn’t allow one of them and the other breaks the 3rd party WordPress comment plugin I want use. The trade off is worth it. But the key point is that I’m making these trade offs with my eyes open.
For context, when I started optimizing my website I scored an F. After a few quick changes, the site scored a B and that’s where I decided to stop.
Pingdom – testing website performance in the real world
Pingdom is the slickest of the tools here. In a beautifully simple interface it shows you how fast your site loads. This can be handy because even if you have a great Google Pagespeed your site might take an age to load.
Looking at the detail of the Pingdom reports, you’ll be able to see where page load time adds up.
A feature I really like is the benchmark that shows your site’s performance vs the rest of the sites they’ve tested: “Faster than 51% of tested sites”.
To investigate a slow page, scroll down the results page to see the “waterfall” of elements that make up your page. The waterfall shows every image, script etc that goes into making up your webpage. A quick glance might highlight a slow loading culprit.
Another benefit is that you can test your hosting from many places around the world. This is particularly useful if you’re trying to attract international audiences.
Webpagespeed.org – the all-in-one website performance test
Google support this open source tool and it’s far more technical (intimidating?) than the other tools mentioned. It combines all the features of Pingdom and Google PageSpeed Insight but the interface is a bit more “utilitarian”. You can really dig into the detail of your webpage’s speed here (pretty charts included!) and even download a video of the loading sequence.
If you’re having problems with your site’s performance, running it through this tool will really help you investigate.
Things to note when you check website quality
- These tools only look at a single page. If you’re interested in the performance of specific parts of your website, run the tests multiple times (different pages will perform differently).
- When running a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, consideration needs to be given to security issues. None of these tools assess those specific issues.
- Use these tools to highlight areas for exploration and deeper examination. A skilled developer may have good reasons for a low score.
More free tools to check the quality of a website
http://nibbler.silktide.com/ – polished alternative to the above that includes additional measures such as social influence in a rounded view of website performance. Nibbler also looks at multiple pages from a website.
http://gtmetrix.com – Includes Google’s pagespeed Insights and Yahoo!s YSlow. I like the ability to track progress (if you’re making changes see how much improvement you’re getting). I also like the ability to download optimised versions of assets.