Evaluating your website with speed tests like Google PageSpeed, GTMetrix or Pingdom can be an eye-opening experience for someone who has never taken the time to optimize their site. These tests can provide great recommendations for ways to improve your site’s performance, but they can also cause unnecessary panic if your website scores low, especially if the suggestions provided aren’t feasible.
A speed test is a benchmarking tool to gather feedback about website performance and offers plenty of valuable insights. But, terms like “eliminate render blocking scripts,” “specify a cache validator” or “avoid URL redirects” aren’t widely understood, so all that technobabble gets summarized into an overall score. Unfortunately, that score is a very poor indication of actual website performance and probably the least relevant piece of information shown on the results screen.
Did a perfect grade mean you were smart? No, it just meant that you knew how to take a test. But there are many intelligent people who simply can’t perform well in a testing environment, and the same can be said for websites.
Your website might load in under 1 second and still receive a low score. And, it’s entirely possible that a website which takes more than 10 seconds to load could actually score higher. So, while a higher score is usually more favorable, it doesn’t always mean that you have a blazing fast website.
While it certainly isn’t the most important data provided, you shouldn’t completely dismiss the overall score either. If your website scores low, it’s important to read what that particular test thinks you can do to improve performance. For instance, your site may grade poorly if you are making a number of “external HTTP requests,” such as:
We’re not suggesting that you remove any of those items, but you should understand that fetching information from other servers will affect the test score. And, while a speed test may knock your grade for adding a Facebook widget or Live chat to your home page, typically those load after the rest of the page has finished and have little impact on your visitors’ experience.
A website speed test may tell you things that can be improved. For instance, if you’re uploading very large images and scaling them improperly, it may suggest that you “optimize images” or “serve scaled images.” Or if your site hasn’t been optimized, you may see recommendations to “leverage browser caching” or “enable gzip compression.” All of these suggestions can certainly help improve your site’s performance.
It’s also a good idea to run any speed test multiple times to get an average score and load times, since many factors outside of your control can affect the results.
In the end, it’s important to remember that website speed tests should be used to improve your website, not to grade it. If you need help understanding or implementing the performance recommendations for your website, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And if we’re hosting your site, optimization is part of the website maintenance and care services we provide.