Tag Archives: SEO

How to Check and Improve Web Server Response Time

Introduction

In our previous post, we dealt with the time it takes you web pages to travel over the Internet and into your browser. We also discussed why fast response is important. Now it’s time to look at the other element of website response time: server response time. In this post we examine,

  • how to find out if your web server is slow,
  • how to fix the problem.

Is My Web Server Too Slow?

What Is “Too Slow” and Why Does it Matter?

Widely available research tells us that, variously, half of Internet users will leave a web page if they’re not hooked within three seconds, or two seconds… The longest I’ve come a cross is eight seconds.

So, taking the easiest target, if your web page takes 8 seconds to load, half of your potential customers will have already left by the time it appears. With average conversion rates of 1% or less, that means you need over 100 clicks on your ad to get one person interested. And remember, this is just interested, not a real customer by a long way.

So, 8 seconds is far too slow. NB: 8 seconds covers both server response time and page load time. Try 2 or 3 seconds instead for the server alone.

How to Check Server Response Time

Method 1: Ping It

“ping” is a command we use to monitor clients’ server up-times. Handily, it also tells you how long it took to send a tiny packet of data across the Internet and receive a reply.

You need to know your web site’s IP address, and how to use a command prompt. I use Windows 7, so I click the Start button and type cmd into the search field. This is the old DOS window, for anyone who can remember that far back.

Windows cmd showing ping command

  1. At the command prompt, type ping, followed by your website’s IP Address, followed by Enter or Return. E.g. “ping 78.31.107.141”.
  2. You see the time our server took to respond, 32 milliseconds.
  3. To close the cmd window, type “exit”.

Method 2: Pingdom

Fortunately, there is an better way.

Pingdom is a service provided by a Swedish company. It tracks website performance and downtime. Not only does it take away all the hassle, it also keeps history, and shows charts of your site’s performance over time. It’s free for occasional use on a single website.

  1. Set up an account, log in, and identify your website for checking.
  2. Let it run for a day or more.
  3. Log in to your dashboard, where you can see an up-to-date summary: down-time and server response time.
    a section of the pingdom dashboard, showing downtime and response time over your chosen time period.
    This shows there’s been no downtime over the last 24 hours, and the response time was fine too, average 386 milliseconds. That’s very good.
  4. Click the icon I’ve indicated “choose report” and select Response Time.

Poor Response Time Example

chart showing average hourly response time for February sixth.

NB: this chart comes from a different website, which we won’t name. It shows hourly average response times on Feb 6, from 00:01 hours to 24:00. You can see that, after 6pm or so, response time was OK, well below half a second. However, all through the working day it took over 3 seconds just to get a response from the server. You can hover over a point on the graph and Pingdom displays the detail (white box, top of picture).

This is not a good result. Sadly, this website’s graph looks similar every day. Users are losing interest.

pingdom get startedTry Pingdom’s free tool on your own website! Go to their website and click Get Started Now.

TIP. Several people with whom I’ve discussedpingdom logout button Pingdom had trouble logging out of their account for the first time. It isn’t dead obvious how to do it. Look for the “on/off” symbol, towards the top of the screen, to the right of your login name. Being yellow, it’s hard to spot, but it turns red when you hover over it.

How to Fix The Problem

OK, we’re talking about the carriers, here, everything that happens between your browser and the website you want to view. We covered the website’s contribution in an earlier post.

There are two main components: the speed of your Internet connection and the time it takes the web server wake up, find the web page you requested, and send it back.

Step 1: Is it your Internet Connection or the Websites’s Server

Because Pingdom pings from a fast Internet connection, we can ignore the download speed issue. If Pingdom sales a site is slow,then it’s on a slow server. If Pingdom says the site is OK, and the ping command from your own device shows a slow response time, then your Internet connection is the problem.

Step 2: How do you find an ISP with satisfactory performance?

We need to stress that most web hosts, most of the time, will provide satisfactory performance. You might suffer a bit at peak usage times, but that’s all. Here’s a good way to find one.

  1. Find other business’s websites, people you know, and use Pingdom for a day or more;
  2. If they’re OK, ask who their ISP is;
  3. If they’re not OK, point them at this post ;-).

You could also look at PC Pro’s annual web hosting awards and pick one from around the top of the list.

Web Pages Should Load Fast

How to Measure Your Website’s Speed

In this post we examine the importance of making your web pages load fast, the effect of slow pages on usability, and a little bit about how to improve things.

Page Load Speed is Important

Ever had to wait ages for a web page to load? What did you do? Hang around, or look for something else? The modern world, fuelled by the Internet, is making us all very impatient. This study into user reactions to slow page loads was published as long ago as 2009; imagine what the figures are today!

  • 47% of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
  • 40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • 52% of online shoppers claim that quick page loads are important for their loyalty to a site.
  • 14% will start shopping at a different site if page loads are slow, 23% will stop shopping or even walk away from their computer.
  • 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.

chart showing bounce rate vs increasing page load speed

chart showing how pages per visit drops as page load speed increases

Now here are a couple of charts to emphasise the point. They show bounce rate and the reduction in pages viewed per visit, compared with page load speed.

Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who arrive at your page and then immediately go away to another site. The inference being that they didn’t like what they saw (or couldn’t be bothered to wait for another page to load).

Source: Web Performance Today.

Apart from frustrating your visitors – the very people you want to impress – there are other implications, too.

 

  1. Search engine spiders will give up if a site loads too slowly, so your pages won’t be indexed in a timely fashion.
  2. Slow pages depress your AdWords “quality score”, or QS; this in turn increases your cost per click, adding to on-line marketing costs or reducing the number of times your ad is displayed.

How to Measure Page Load Speed

Google thinks the speed of the Internet is so important they’ve developed a tool called PageSpeed Insights to measure it. It’s easy to use. Just go to PageSpeed Insights, enter your website’s address, and click the go button.

enter your website address and click "analyse"After a few moments thought, the tool will rank your website, scores out of 100, for both mobile and static (those conected to a landline) devices.

score out of 100 for mobile and static devicesInsights’ focus on mobiles has intensified over recent months as mobile devices account for a rapidly-growing proportion of all Internet traffic.

So you can see our scores here, above. Now try yours!

What the Scores Mean

So what is a good score? Whilst 100/100 is perfect, presumeably, the law of diminuishing returns will ensure that few sites ever get there. I’d say that:

  • over 90: awesome,
  • over 80: great,
  • over 70: might be fine,
  • under 70: better do something about it.

bluetree.co.uk usually scores 96 or 98/100 for static computers, 86 0r 88/100 for mobiles. However, when first developed it scored only 78. We experimented with the new design to see how close we could get to the magic 100/100. You can read all about our experiments here.

Easy Speed Up for Your Website

The PageSpeed tool kindly offers a list of suggestions on how to improve your website. Most of them are a bit techie for many people, but some of them are obvious – and easy to remedy:

  1. Images can be very big, and very slow to load, so:
    a) don’t have too many,
    b) make sure they’re the correct size,
    c) compress them to make sure the files are as small as possible.
  2. Make sure there are no surplus characters, or spaces at the end of lines and paragraphs: it’s easy to introduce extra characters (and extra download time) if you copy and paste from Microsoft Word, for example.

How Fast is Your Web Server?

One last thing: we’ve been looking at what you can do to to improve your website download speed. That’s changes to your website to improve the transfer speed. There’s another element that’s harder control: your web server.

This is just as important. We’ll look at how to measure server response in our next post.

SEO Progress Report

SEO Progress Report

Well, it’s the beginning of September and we’ve moved from nowhere (i.e. not on the first 10 pages for our chosen keywords), to page 2 in less than a month.

bluetree s e o position chartWe’ve used SERPS position 100 to indicate that our site didn’t show up in the first 10 pages.

Position 1 is at the bottom, so the lower the better on the chart.

Note: we’re talking about “organic search,” the main results listing, not pay-per-click advertising.

How We Made Progress

This is all we did, really, to make this progress:

  1. For the last three or four months, we’ve been building content on our new website, not exposed to Google.
  2. We removed some irrelevant pages on a micro-site we’ve been hosting for a client.
  3. On 12 August, 2012, we submitted our website to Google.

That’s all. We did no page optimisation, no extra link-building. Nothing.

Why the Progress?

We’re testing our theories.

We believe Google wants to deliver the most relevant page in response to every search query. That’s the page the user thinks most relevant, not the one that a search engine optimisation team thinks.

There’s all sorts of SEO advice out there on the web, but we think we should listen to Google. They tell us to,

  • Make sure our websites are clean and tidy;
  • Follow the SEO Guidelines;
  • Deliver useful information;
  • Create good in-bound links with appropriate anchor text;
  • Make sure our pages load quickly;
  • Make a popular site…

And so it goes on. We’d normally address the first two points first, but thought it would be worth changing the sequence, to see what happens.

Well, quite a lot happened. We wouldn’t normally expect to leap up the scoreboard as fast as that. It confirms our theory that content counts for an awful lot, but there’s still some way to go.

In Our Next Report

Next we’re going to look at page load speed. Again, we wouldn’t usually address load speed now, but Google seems to be pushing it.

SEO Start

SEO Start Point

search engine start button

Search Engine Start

It’s hard to believe, but our website hasn’t changed much since 2006! We finally have a new, more mobile-friendly design and it’s time to introduce it to search engines.

Mid-August, 2012. This is the datum for our progress to SERPS (search engine results) page 1. Right now we’re nowhere: not visible anywhere on Google’s first 10 pages.

Our keyword targets are modest: website design or SEO or, maybe, website maintenance in our local area. We serve businesses around Portishead, so that’ll do to start with.

Our website has history from way back that means Google doesn’t see us as we now are: a website design company. More on this later perhaps.

SEO Research

We also want to treat this as an R&D exercise. We follow a set SEO procedure to get clients’ sites onto the first page in search results. Google is focusing more and more on quality content, so this time we’re going to change the sequence of the steps we follow. We’re starting with content, which our clients update themselves. Then we’ll address the more technical aspects, for which we earn a fee.

The Start

So, we really are starting on the back foot. Wish us luck!