time to first byte
Waterfall chart showing web performance.

Site speed is increasingly important. Google now takes page load time into consideration when ranking search results and the attention span of web site visitors continues to decline. Here are some tools we use to help speed up sluggish sites.

Any time you start optimizing a site, be sure to make backups and keep careful notes. If you are not doing formal testing, make small changes and observe the results through at least 2 busy periods for you site. Making too many changes at once can introduce problems that are difficult to unravel.

Ready? Speed up your web site with these 5 tools.

1. WebPageTest

WebPageTest is a great online tool that wraps up many tools in one. Google’s Pagespeed, Yahoo’s Yslow, Time to first Byte and other measures are all delivered with one simple report. The waterfalls views are great for spotting where bottlenecks may be happening. Sometimes 3rd party includes, especially javascripts, can significantly delay a page’s render time.

2. PageSpeed

Google’s PageSpeed is a Firefox Plugin. If you have a lot of pages to optimize, using PageSpeed and Yslow together can be a lot faster than some web based tools. Don’t get hung up on the score or grades – the benefits are in the details. In some cases, the recommendations may actually result in reduced performance or compromise server stability.

3. Yslow

Yslow is a great tool. In fact, we have an entire series dedicated to speeding up your web site using Yslow.

4. Compression Testing

Your server can compress content on the fly. Many PHP applications have this built in or it can be enabled at the server level. Compressing content means the payload is smaller. HTML can compress as much as 90%. So a 20KB HTML page may end up being only a few KB. The browser will decompress the content on the fly. You can use this tool to check if your site is using HTTP compression.

5. Cacheability

Setting long-lived (years) cache information for content that does not change often can have a huge impact on your site’s performance. With good caching policies, the browser will save local copies of files and only fetch them from your server again if the cache expires or the content is modified. This both reduces server loads and delivers a better end user experience. You can use this caching tool to check the settings on your site.

Bonus: Sysstat

All of the tools above focus on the end-user side of the performance optimization challenge. As part of our server management services, we always install sysstat on the server. Sysstat collects RAM, Disk IO, and CPU metrics every 10 minutes. Using these metrics, we can often spot areas for performance improvement. Sometimes simple server configuration changes can yield excellent results while other cases may require more powerful hardware.

Your Tools

Do you have any great performance tools? Let us know.