CDN performance
26 Apr 2020

Testing the Performance of Your Website – The Correct Way

Testing the performance of your website is vital. As the world continues to embrace digital services to meet their commercial needs, ensuring your site loads rapidly and efficiently is crucial in delivering the experience modern users demand from any online interaction. Not only does a fine-tuned, fast loading website enhance the relationship you build with your visitors and customers, but it is also crucial in obtaining desirable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings.

A poor performing website is not only punished by search engines that rank them lower in search results, but it can also lead to lost business. Research has shown that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. However, fine-tuning your site for optimum performance can be challenging. Modern web applications have numerous moving parts that all need to work in perfect harmony. From the database, app, and web server at the origin, to the Content Delivery Network (CDN) and other technologies that lie between your service and end-users, identifying potential performance bottlenecks can be complicated.

Map Your Value Chain

Testing the performance of your website requires a comprehensive understanding of all the components that unite on a user’s browser to create their experience. Taking a ‘value chain’ approach can assist you in determining the critical combination of elements that deliver your final digital product. By identifying and documenting every call your web server makes to external resources such as stylesheets, JavaScript files, images, and advertising services, you can start building a list of test items. Taking this concept one step further, you should also determine the network route your traffic takes when an end-user sends their first HTTP GET request. Leveraging this ‘value chain’ approach is a crucial starting point in creating a comprehensive test plan for your site or online service.

Test Each Component

The next step in testing the performance of your website involves benchmarking the state of each component. While many browsers have built-in web development tools that allow you to check the load times of each web resource, gaining some insight on the metrics for each element helps you in defining the perfect page load strategy. By isolating and determining the load time of each external component, you can improve the overall web experience of your end-users by having your page appear faster. For example, if you determine that a particular JavaScript file takes longer to render than other elements that create your web page, you can shift these slower components to the bottom of your HTML Document Object Model (DOM). Another example could be images that take a longer time to render. In that instance, you could look at resizing your images and optimizing them to improve your page load times.

Baseline Load Times from Your Origin Server

As network speeds differ from location to location, obtaining accurate and consistent readings needed for performance benchmarking can prove challenging. Ensuring your metrics are precise requires a stable testing platform that takes any network-related impediments out of the equation. As your web server hosts the majority of the digital resources that combine to form your website, it serves as the perfect platform to benchmark every web asset such as text, images, video, and other related files hosted on the server. If your origin server does not have a graphical user interface, installing and configuring a test machine in the same environment that hosts your web server is your next best option. 

Testing the Performance of Your Website from Various Locations

In addition to examining the individual elements that together create the experience you deliver to your end-users, testing your page load times from various locations is also beneficial. By conducting element load time benchmarking from several locales, you can not only identify possible network-related challenges but also determine how each of your elements perform in the real world. Location speed benchmark testing can also assist you in ascertaining the benefits of leveraging the services of a Content Delivery Network (CDN). 

Internet speeds also vary at various locations across the world. For example, average fixed line speeds in countries such as Singapore and Romania are far higher than download speeds in Greece and Turkey. Mobile Internet speeds are another factor to consider as locations that have superior fixed line speeds do not necessarily rank as high in this category. Although Singapore and Romania may lead the world in fixed-line performance, it is the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Qatar that offer the best mobile experience to their subscribers. When you test the performance of your website, you need to consider all these factors, especially if users across the globe access your services using various device platforms.

Disable and Enable Caching

If you leverage caching on your origin server, web application, or CDN, testing the performance of your website with caching disabled and enabled provides you with the definitive data you need to benchmark your page load speeds. Not only will this give you the real metrics of the performance of each of your web elements, but it will also give you a clear indication of the speed improvement your cache configuration provides. If you have various caching solutions configured, benchmarking your site with multiple variations can also lead you to discover the ideal balance between the app, server, and CDN cache configurations.

Perform Your Tests at Different Times

As the earth revolves around the sun, Internet speeds measured from different locations across the world vary as countries move in and out of various commercial cycles. For example, when it is early morning in Europe, Internet traffic thresholds are higher than they are in the Americas as their standard working day has not started. If your site offers services to users across the globe, you must take the time you conduct your performance testing into consideration. For example, if you run a performance benchmark once while it is 10h00 in Europe, you may miss issues that present themselves in the Americas. As the bulk of the American Internet users may not be online at the time you run your test, you will not get an accurate measure of the experience for users in that region.

Multiple Factors Affect Testing the Performance of Your Website

There are multiple variables in play that affect the performance of your website. The various components that render in real-time to create your end-user experience, the resources available on your origin server, the different networks across the world, and your cache settings all play a role. Conducting tests that measure the performance of each of these components in isolation can help you identify any underlying issues that affect your page load speeds. However, it is also vital to test your site taking an end-to-end approach from different locations and at different times of the day to ascertain the ultimate experience you deliver to your end-users.