Everyone who has been computing for any length of time knows if you have too many applications demanding attention at one time on your computer the applications will begin to run more slowly. At other times applications seem to slow to almost a crawl and it is not always instantly perceptible why. Websites slow down, too, and knowing the reason, and what to do about it, can help deliver your visitors a much better user experience.
What I am showing you here is by no means a secret or a revolutionary repackaging of existing knowledge. In fact every webmaster and developer should already know these things but sometimes we all need a little reminder. The reason I am writing this today, in fact, is because my development center index page was taking some time to finish downloading. Even though the page appeared to be fully loaded I was still getting the loading icon in Google Chrome.
After noticing it was taking well over 15 seconds for the icon to stop I wanted to see what was happening on that page, and check to see if it was only that page, causing the slow finalization. Having a couple of third party widgets on that page is always suspect but since I also have some widgets on there I created I had an increased need to know.
On loading and reloading the page I noticed the content of the page hosted on that server and in that directory loaded quite quickly – within about 3 seconds total. Then the widgets began to load. I paused a little when I noticed my own widget, a widget which reads the RSS feed from this site (thekencook.com) and posts a snippet of the three most recent posts, was taking about 4 to 5 seconds to load. A Feedburner widget which shares links from some RSS feeds was taking about the same amount of time but then everything seemed to be loaded though the loading icon was present for up to 15 to 20 seconds.
Running the speed test
Since I no longer lease my own servers and rely on the same type of hosting account as the majority of my clients I wanted to run a load time test. For this I used the free service to test Full Page Time at PingDom.com for no particular reason than I was aware of them. There are others, feel free to good page load time test and see what you find. Share your best one with the others.
The results were not helpful because they only verified that my page load time was, to quote the little Slowsky turtle in the Comcast commercial, “shlow”. The page load time on the first test was 60 seconds. That’s a lifetime in web visitor scale. The second test was also 60 seconds. I had to know, which element on my page is causing the slow loading? Furthermore it gave me doubt about the validity of that test since my page was slow to load but only in the 5 to 6 second range, not the 60 second range.
First I loaded other pages that have the same elements and got the same results. I knew it had to be one of the widgets and hoped it was not one of mine. The template I use for most of the pages includes the Google analytics script, a Twitter widget from Twitter, a widget I created to post my three most recent articles from this site, a Feedburner widget, a widget I wrote to monitor the number of visitors on the site, and a widget for skype.
I remembered Amit Singhal Matt Cutts addressing this some time ago so I did a quick search and found an article he had posted back in April 2010 which looked to deliver the answers I needed on which element on my page was causing slow loading. I smiled when I saw it and instantly remember how great the results were from WebPageTest.org and you will from now on! Take a look at the results from the image and you’ll see how valuable this tool can be. If you don’t understand it or need help with it you can always call me or contact me.
Now that I know what the loading time delays are (I know, it doesn’t seem that slow but I’m a developer and want things to be smooth and fast) I can decide which elements to remove or tweak to get my load times down. At least I know the order of loading and the load times for each element.
What is really considered slow? The answer is actually subjective. If your visitors know they are expecting a lot of activity on your page perhaps they will wait 30 to 40 seconds or more. For my purposes my visitors are usually new, have found me through a web search and are looking for answers. Some of them are in distress when they are search for answers and my pages need to load quickly and load now. For this site, the one you are on now, it loads in an acceptable range for a WordPress site.
Go check yours now and post your results below!