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Breaking down site speed metrics & how we can use them

November 9, 2021 / Reading Time: 4 minutes /
Libby Caraher
CRO & UX Research Assistant

Focusing on optimising your site’s load time in 2021 is a must. We’ve heard all of the data from Google about how even a small increase in page load time can have drastic consequences on your conversion rate, and for most businesses having a website which loads rapidly has become an essential part of their marketing strategy. 

site speed blog

Informally, we’ve heard that a good site speed is less than four seconds, an excellent site speed is less than two seconds – whilst there will always be a trade off between UX and the time in which the page loads – that isn’t necessarily a bad rule of thumb. Generally speaking, if your page is taking longer than four seconds to fully load, there’s almost certainly room for improvement.

When reviewing a web page’s load time however, most people look at just that – the full time it takes to load the page. This is often the headline metric given on platforms such as Pingdom and PageSpeed Insights, or for example – ‘Average Page Load Time’ found in Google Analytics. 

But there are actually a whole host of other really important metrics you should be looking at to fully comprehend your page’s site speed.

Within this blog, we’ve highlighted five metrics beyond “page load time” that will help you to identify problem areas, empowering you to target improvement areas more accurately and efficiently and speed up your site speed. 

Breaking down site speed.

To begin with, it is important to understand that “page load time” is the last metric of the process of a page loading. This is the metric which is bandied around the most, and it would actually be much easier if this was referred to as “complete page load time” or “full time taken to load page.” 

The other five metrics we’ll be looking at then, are “steps” before the page has fully loaded. The graphic below breaks this down nicely:

NB: It’s handy to think of this process as a waterfall. It should be noted however, that some of these steps can take place at the same time, and others cannot – we just didn’t want to make our designers get overly technical with the graphic!

These five metrics in chronological order are:

These are just some of the key “milestones” on the path to a page being fully loaded – there are even more! It is only after each of these steps have been completed, that a page would be fully loaded, and that “page load time” metric comes into play. 

The vast majority of online speed assessment tools will break down these metrics individually – certainly the good ones will. Positively, you can also find these metrics and the performance for each within your Google Analytics account too.

Further understanding what these metrics mean.

By having an understanding of these metrics, we are able to understand where the problem lies with pages that have very long load times.

Quite often slow pages aren’t suffering at each step of the loading process – instead they often suffer at just one or two. By “breaking down” page load time into these smaller steps, we can identify exactly where the delay is being caused.

For example, if your Server Response time and First Contentful Paint time is slow, but your other metric speeds are okay, this might indicate the issue is with your server. You may need to migrate to a quicker, more powerful server. It could also mean that your server is very far away, or isn’t establishing a healthy connection with your users.

If you are hosting your website on a server in a country with a weak internet infrastructure, this can also impact these metrics negatively, by causing slower speeds. Therefore, you might need to look into hosting your website on servers geographically closer to your target users or using content delivery networks (CDNs). 

Alternatively, if your Document Interactive time is slow, but the remaining metrics are fine, this indicates that it could be the website itself that is slowing down the load time. It might be  large images, or issues with the files or codebase of your site, but it’s likely that the problem is with what the site is loading – not the server. 

Again, this is a very top-level overview of what can be a more complex situation – but hopefully this is a helpful, introductory explanation of the more complex picture behind that “page load time” metric.

Do you need to improve your site speed?

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