Page load testing is a relatively small task that, when done correctly, can have a large impact on your company website and overall results. Almost half of all consumers expect a website to load in two seconds or less, and 40 percent will completely abandon a page that takes more the three seconds to load. Load speeds also factor into a website's organic and paid search results: poor load times can lower your firm's ranking in Google results and drive up your AdWords costs.

As search engines and end users' expectations for website load times increase, business success hinges more on website functionality than ever before.

Tools for Website Load Testing

The first step to effective load testing is selecting the right tool. Fortunately, there are a number of free, viable resources available to get you started. Here are three commonly used tools:

  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics offers site speed reports that review a page's historical load time data. These reports detail average load times by browser, country and page, and drill down into specific page resource performance, such as an individual video's load speed.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights: This Google tool measures high-level page performance across mobile devices and desktops. After a quick analysis, PageSpeed scores websites on a scale of 0 to 100 based primarily on above-the-fold and full page load times. It also provides quick recommendations for optimizing site elements, such as consolidating the page's CSS or HTML code.
  • Web Page Test: Webpagetest.org is another free resource that diagnoses load times across location and desktop or mobile browsers. This tool provides a quick analysis of each web page load request, including a high-level content breakdown for images, fonts, CSS and other page elements.

What to Measure During Load Testing

Regardless of the tool you use, there are a handful of metrics you need to include in any website load test. The most commonly measured factors are those that gauge the time it takes specific site elements to load, such as:

  • First Byte Time: When reviewing the results of a website load test, the time to first byte indicates how long it takes a site's HTML to download from the web server. This should be a small figure (it's typically measured in fractions of a second). Ultimately, anything less than one second is normal but some of the best websites clock in at 0.2 seconds.
  • Render Time: This is the length of time between an end user's initial request and when the browser starts showing certain website elements (e.g., text, background color). These visual cues typically occur once the browser downloads the site's CSS and scripts. Elements render based on the order in which the browser downloads each file. Three to four seconds is the typical threshold to reach—anything higher encourages users to abandon the page.
  • Document Complete Time: This is the elapsed time it takes for a visitor's browser to download everything on a website (usually measured in seconds). The download performance of individual elements included in a page's CSS, JavaScript and HTML heavily influences a website's overall document complete time. As you optimize each specific page element, this figure should shrink.

Next Steps for Website Load Testing

Performing regular load tests on your company website and reviewing the results is only one step toward strengthening your online presence. Load tests are only as useful as the tangible improvements you choose to make based on their results.

If you're struggling to decipher your website's load test results, or are unsure about how to start optimizing certain site elements, Walker Sands Digital is here to help. Contact us today to learn about our variety of web redesign and development services, and the results our clients have achieved.