How to measure the speed of your wordpress website
Measuring your WordPress website's speed is the first step in improving performance. Here's where to do it and how.
I don’t like waiting in queues. I don't think anyone does.
Google may not know everything but they do know that.
That's why making sure your WordPress website is as fast as possible should be one of your top priorities as a WordPress website owner.
The first step to getting a faster website? Measure!
These tools help you measure your site’s speed so you can make changes and track improvements over time.
In coming articles I'll cover many way you can dramatically speed up your site. But not today.
Today we’re dealing only with that first step of measurement.
Why test my WordPress website speed?
We know why by now: because it’s important.
It’s important to Google; it’s important to your website visitors; it’s important to your business.
Important Things to note
- Each of these tests will give a different result.
- The results given by these tools will vary over time, often by quite a lot. This is because of the varying load on your website server and on your local internet connection. This variance is completely normal.
- A user visiting your website for the first time may not have the same experience as one who has already visited.
- It’s also important to note that your website speed varies around the world. Is your website hosted on simple shared hosting in the US? Then a user in Australia may have a very different experience with your website than one in the US.
What to do with the speed test results
It’s important to realise that our measurement should shed some light on where we need to improve things on our site.
It's also important not to get fixated on the actual score in these tests. Scores don’t matter as much as making gradual speed improvements to your WordPress site over time.
Use the results to guide you toward making those improvements. Don't waste effort trying to get top marks on all tests.
Do this and you won't freak out about the occasional 8 second load time. Nor will you get ecstatic about that random 468 millisecond lightning performance.
The most popular website page speed testing tools
These are some of the most popular free online tools for measuring WordPress website speed. As you go through them, note the wildly different results for the same site.
Gtmetrix - add images
GTMetrix gives a great all-round view of your WordPress website performance. It actually uses two other tools: Google Page Speed Insights and Yahoo’s YSlow.
It’s easy enough for beginners to get started quickly. It's also comprehensive enough for more seasoned professionals.
Like most tools here, it provides a waterfall chart of your site's performance. It takes some work to understand the chart and this may be a bit technical for most. But GTMetrix does provide good help via links in the test results.
Particularly useful for beginners is the list of images that need optimising.
Tests are free to run but if you create a free account you have more options; you can save tests and pre-configure test settings.
Learn to make the most of GTMetrix with this article.
The Pingdom speed test is probably the most popular tool of all for testing WordPRess website speed. You can run a test from various parts of the globe and again get a waterfall view of the results.
Here's one useful feature of Pingdom's results that I really like: I can see exactly what is taking up space on my page. In the example below it's clear that images and Google fonts make up 75% of this website page and maybe the owner should look into using fewer fonts as well as optimising images as much as possible. (This problem is getting more common, by the way, so make sure you don't load too many of those free fonts.)
All previous tests for your site are stored so you can easily track improvements over time.
Read how to use it well at this link.
Google page speed insights
Of course Google has their own speed testing tool.
The best thing about this test is that they give you a very useful guide to HOW to improve your score. It pays to follow this advice since it is, after all, Google.
Read how to use it here.
Google also has a separate test for mobile devices, the Google Mobile Website Speed Testing Tool.
Load impact adds a new dimension to the average website speed test: it mimics the behaviour of many users visiting your site at once.
This small load test (25 users in the free version) can reveal some interesting points about the performance of your hosting plan.
It’s also very interesting to watch the test progress on the chart as the test adds new users.
Patrick Meenan is an engineer at Google who’s been working on web site performance for over 16 years. This open source tool he wrote, simply called WebPageTest.org, has some nice little features, e.g. selecting a location from a global map or testing on a variety of browsers.
It also gives some different data that the others above don’t give.
Do you need a report on website page speed for management or for a presentation? Then DareBoost is the tool you need. You get 5 free reports per month and the best thing here is the very professional design.
As a bonus they highlight some potential security issues on your website.
The best thing about New Relic's web page test is that it shows plugin speeds and external services that are slowing things down.
You do need to sign up to use it, though; always a bit of a deterrent for me.
Dotcom-Monitor Website Speed Test
With Dotcom-Monitor's website speed test you can view your fastest-loading elements to boost your ego. And your slowest-loading elements so you know what to work on.
Uptrends Website Speed Test
The Uptrends website speed test is nice and simple to use; just select a city and a browser on desktop or mobile.
I had problems when testing it though, as it just froze whenever scanning my site ...
There are a few WordPress plugins to help pinpoint speed bottlenecks. They can’t do the same job as the sites above. But they do offer the convenience of being reachable from your WordPress dashboard.
This group of plugins are generally for more advanced users. As such they don't tend to gain a lot of traction in the WordPress community. While researching for this article I came across a bunch of plugins that haven’t been updated in years. As is best practice when choosing any WordPress plugin, just stay away from the outdated one.
Plugins come and go and evolve rapidly. It's best to install the plugin you want to use, run your tests and make your reports, then remove the plugin. When you come back to test speed again, you can check for the best plugin at that time.
You’ll see recommendations all over the Web for the GoDaddy plugin, P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler).
It was the go-to plugin of its kind for a while but it hasn’t been updated in 3 years! Stay away from the plugin and stay away from anyone who recommends using it!
Below are some safer alternatives.
This plugin comes from the makers of Dareboost, mentioned above. Simple to use, easy to understand and with a link to a full, beautiful DareBoost report.
WordPress inspector does speed, SEO and security checks. A useful feature is checking for broken themes and plugins!
WP Hosting Performance Check
This plugin gives you an interesting - if you're into that sort of thing - look behind the scenes of your website and into the server performance. From what I can see it does a nice job of it; nice graphs and some useful info about your server you wouldn't otherwise know.
Unfortunately, I found it quite buggy on a few test sites.
Query Monitor helps debugging by showing your website's database queries. It's very useful if you’re technical enough to understand what the queries are trying to do but otherwise it's probably too advanced.
Another advanced one, this can shows database queries, memory usage and function calls. Again, it's quite advanced.
Google PageSpeed Insights for WordPress
This plugin has been around for years and is as reliable as ever. Nice shiny graphs etc. that would probably be good for management. It shows clearly the top areas for improvement.
You need to have a Google API key, which is easier said than done because Google keep moving it around. Also, the plugin hasn't been updated in 6 months; not really serious, yet but worth keeping an eye on. If it's not updated by the upcoming major release I would forget it (and I'll remove it from this list.)
Again aimed at Administrators rather than end users, this plugin does just what it says, showing the most important metrics to help check where you might have site problems. Actively updated and the author also gives a nice summary of the metrics on the plugin page.
Browser Tools to measure website page performance
I won't go into these beyond listing a few you can take a look at. They're for the more advanced user and, if you just want to quickly see where you can make some major site improvements quickly, not very useful.
Chrome Developer Tools (built-in)
YSlow (browser plugin)
Conclusion & Next Steps
So, you've run your tests and know that your site isn't as fast as you'd like! Now what?
Stay tuned. In upcoming articles I'll be going into detail on exactly how to make regular improvements to your WordPress website that will guarantee a site that's fast enough for both Google and your visitors.
In the meantime, take a look at the first post in the series, how to optimise images for wordpress. It shows you the technique that will give you the highest speed increase for the least investment in time,effort and money.
At WPStrands we scan every customer website daily with Google Page Speed Insights and YSlow. The result of those scans is the starting point for our attack on a sluggish site. From there we'll also regularly use pingdom to get a different point of view and if the case demands it we'll use some of the more advanced tools mentioned above.