In the days of high-speed Internet, most readers are familiar with websites that load quickly. Many readers expect websites to load in next to no time at all.
So if your blog is taking several seconds to load, readers may give up waiting.
How can you find out if your blog has loading issues, and what can you do to address them?
A Fair Test
When you visit your blog, it may load faster than it does for a first-time visitor. Unless you fully clear your cookies and cache, or try a different browser altogether, you shouldn’t use your own browser to see if your blog is running slowly.
A better approach is to use a tool that’s designed specifically for speed tests. Enter WebPageTest.
How to Use WebPageTest
Go to the WebPageTest homepage and enter the URL of your blog’s homepage. You can test any page, but let’s start with the homepage.
Choose where in the world you want the test to run from. You may find this quite interesting to experiment with. My blog is hosted in the US, but I live in the UK. I chose London, UK as the location, and IE8 as the browser (you get different browsers depending on the location).
You’ll now need to wait a short time for the results to come through. Don’t panic – the stage where it’s gathering results will take longer than it takes to load your homepage once. You’ll see why in a moment.
Understanding the Results
The first thing you’ll notice is that WebPageTest runs two consecutive tests on the URL you supply. The second one should be quicker. This shows the difference between a first-time visitor and a repeat visitor. This is why you shouldn’t test the speed of your blog in your normal browser – it will load a lot faster than it would for a new reader.
On the left, you’ll see a “Waterfall” screenshot – a graph that shows how long it took each item on the page to load.
Clicking on the graph will allow you to see the breakdown. Make sure you click on the first graph, as it should have the longer load times.
What to Look Out For
The graph gives you a very clear idea of which images, scripts and stylesheets take the longest to load. Simply look for the longest lines. For instance, in my graph I can see that it takes a while to load one of the images on the homepage.
That’s the image of my ties, which was the lead image on the homepage when I ran the speed test.
How to Improve Your Load Time
For small blogs, it’s better to store the images on your own web hosting than to hotlink files from Flickr or other image repositories. This means you’re not relying too heavily on external sites.
Larger blogs or business websites may be best placed to sign up for a content delivery network (CDN) as these are fast, reliable and can handle a lot of traffic. They don’t come cheap, so aren’t really worth considering for a small blog. CDN Planet is a good place to start.
Resize images before you upload them – don’t upload a huge image and wait for WordPress to scale it down.
Look out for non-essential scripts, widgets or plugins and get rid of anything you don’t need. This is a compromise: it might seem boring to run a bare bones blog with no widgets, but the fewer you have, the faster your blog will run.
To give you an example, the above screenshots were actually taken after I did a bit of optimisation. I noticed some slowness with the Facebook “like” widget, which shows the faces of people who have liked a Facebook page (in this case, the page for QBT). I replaced this with a simple “Like” button, which is now in the blog sidebar. This reduced the load time from 12 seconds for a first-time visitor to 6 seconds. It could be better, but it’s a lot better than it was. You should remember that the next time you think “well, it can’t be Facebook that’s slowing down my blog… they’re huge!”
How long did your homepage take to load on WebPageTest.org? What are the main things slowing down your blog?
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