All online assets, websites, and eCommerce are exposed to numerous challenges that can break or damage your online presence. Additionally, slow-loading websites not only frustrate visitors but also have a negative impact on search engine rankings and user engagement.
One of the best ways to keep your websites (and business!) from falling idle is to stay proactive and continuously optimize your website’s performance using the right tools and metrics. These tools can help you improve your website speed and work wonders for SEO rankings, user experience, responsiveness, and conversion rates.
At Plesk, we understand that optimal website performance is paramount to your online success. That’s why one of the most remarkable innovations from last year was the introduction of the Plesk Performance Booster. A tool that lets you optimize your websites and database server settings quickly to boost your website’s speed by 30% on average, and maybe even more than 50%. Or, in the words of our own Sergey Lystsev, “A powerful feature that wraps a massive pack of the industry’s best practices into just one click.”
So what can you expect from the Plesk Performance Booster? In this article, we will guide you through optimizing your hosted websites with Plesk and show you different tools and tips to measure website performance effectively.
Speed Up Your Website With The Plesk Performance Booster
The Plesk Performance Booster is included in each Plesk license for free and is available for the admin in “Tools & Settings” > “General Settings” since Plesk version 18.0.52 (released on 04/25/2023). Admins can apply Performance Booster settings to individual subscriptions separately. You can find more details here.
What To Expect From The Plesk Performance Booster
At Plesk, we are all about selling hard-hitting technical performance, not hot air. So, we decided to roll up our sleeves and measure exactly how much websites benefit from the Plesk Performance Booster.
To do so, we compared the response times before and after using our Performance Booster on a high, representative five-digit number of productively used websites. No fancy lab settings – just a good, hard look at real websites doing their thing. The verdict? The Plesk Performance Booster gives websites a boost of over 30%, on average!
The best results were observed in websites with a “time to first byte” (TTBF) exceeding 1800 ms. We are talking about more than a 50% reduction in loading times in many cases, with an average improvement of around 40%. Even sites already responding in under 600 ms without the Performance Booster also saw a 40% speed-up on average.
Let’s be honest though, the worst results were achieved by the sites with loading times between 600 and 1800 ms without performance optimization. There, we could only see an improvement of 30% on average.
Here is the thing: about a third of all websites cannot be accelerated by server-side measures. Why? Some scripts spend too much time in program loops filling variables repeatedly, loading unnecessary data, or serving up oversized images that could use a little compression. In such cases, even the most intelligent server software will be powerless.
But for the other two-thirds of websites, our Performance Booster will ignite the rocket engines (seriously, give it a go!). While you can trust the Plesk software to improve your website’s performance, it is smart to stay on top of things to understand what the caveats of your websites are that can cause slow loading times.
To ensure that your website delivers an optimal user experience, regular performance check-ups are key. In the following sections, we will walk you through some nifty tools and metrics that can help you understand your website’s performance. Spoiler alert: the Plesk Performance Booster is your secret weapon that can help you drive your website to peak performance!
Why Website Performance Matters
Before we dive into the tools and metrics, let’s take a quick moment to understand why website performance is such a big deal:
- User Experience: Users have little patience for slow websites. A smooth and speedy browsing experience enhances user satisfaction and encourages them to stay on your site longer.
- SEO Rankings: Search engines, like Google, pay attention to website speed when deciding how to rank them. Slow sites may find it difficult to climb the search results ladder.
- Conversion Rates: Slow websites often experience higher bounce rates and lower conversion rates. Just a few seconds of delay can significantly impact your revenue.
- Mobile Responsiveness: With the rise of mobile browsing, a fast and responsive website is like a golden ticket to reach users on different devices.
Many users who complain about long response times of a website have not measured the times objectively at all. A website “feels slow” – can you be sure about this? When assessing the performance of a website, there are two sides to the story: “perceived website performance” and “measured website performance.”
While both provide valuable insights, they offer different viewpoints that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of a website’s user experience. Let’s delve into the pros and cons of each approach:
Perceived Website Performance:
- User-Centric: Perceived performance is based on real-time user experiences and emotions while interacting with a website. It provides direct insights into how users perceive the site’s speed and responsiveness.
- Holistic: Perceived performance accounts for various factors beyond technical metrics, such as visual design, content relevance, and overall usability.
- Qualitative Feedback: User feedback on perceived performance can offer nuanced insights that quantitative metrics might miss.
- Engagement: Positive perceived performance can lead to higher user engagement, longer sessions, and improved conversions.
- Subjective: User’s feelings about performance can differ based on factors like device, network conditions, and personal expectations.
- Limited Scope: It’s challenging to measure perceived performance consistently across all users and scenarios.
- Difficulty in Benchmarking: Perceived performance lacks standardized metrics, making it harder to benchmark and compare across different websites.
- Complex Interpretation: Analyzing qualitative feedback requires interpretation and may not yield easily actionable insights.
Measured Website Performance
- Objective Metrics: Measured performance relies on quantifiable metrics like load times, page sizes, and scores from tools like PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix.
- Consistency: Metrics offer consistent data points for comparison, enabling benchmarking against industry standards and best practices.
- Actionable Insights: Specific recommendations from performance tools guide developers in making optimizations for better speed and responsiveness.
- Technical Focus: Measured performance highlights technical bottlenecks and opportunities for optimization, such as image compression and code minification.
- Partial Picture: Measured performance may not capture the complete user experience, as it focuses primarily on technical aspects.
- Limited Context: Metrics may not consider user-specific conditions, such as device capabilities or real-world network speeds.
- Lack of User Emotion: Metrics can’t directly capture user emotions and satisfaction while interacting with the website.
- Overemphasis on Speed: Solely relying on technical metrics might neglect other crucial aspects of user experience, such as accessibility and content quality.
Part of Both Worlds: Time to First Byte (TTFB)
The Time to First Byte (TTFB) is given special attention in both cases – the perceived, but also the measured Website speed. TTFB measures the time it takes for a user’s browser to receive the first byte of data from a web server after making a request.
Let’s explore why TTFB is a metric that web developers and site owners should keep on their radar.
TTFB encompasses the server-side processing time that occurs before any content starts loading in a user’s browser. It’s a composite metric influenced by several factors, including the server’s processing power, database queries, code execution, and network latency.
The Impact on User Experience
TTFB directly impacts the perceived speed of a website. A fast TTFB means quicker page load times, which can result in enhanced user satisfaction, lower bounce rates, and improved SEO rankings. On the other hand, a sluggish TTFB can lead to frustration, increased abandonment rates, and negative effects on search engine visibility. Therefore, TTFB is important for the perceived speed of a website, but in itself is a hardcore technical criterion in the speed game.
Factors Influencing TTFB
Several factors contribute to TTFB:
- Server Performance: The efficiency of the server’s hardware and software significantly affects TTFB. A well-optimized server can process requests more swiftly.
- Network Latency: The distance between the user’s browser and the server plays a role. Geographic proximity and network quality impact how quickly data travels.
- Code Execution: Complex code or resource-intensive operations can increase TTFB. Efficient coding practices and caching mechanisms can mitigate this.
- Database Queries: If a website relies on databases, slow database queries can extend TTFB. Optimizing queries and database structure is essential.
Enhancing TTFB requires a comprehensive approach involving multiple strategies:
- Optimize Server: Choose a reliable hosting provider with robust hardware and optimized configurations for your website’s technology stack.
- Utilize Caching: Implement server-side caching and leverage content delivery networks (CDNs) to reduce the load on your origin server. You can use Cloudflare with the free Plesk Cloudflare extension to proxy part of your content.
- Minimize Redirects: Excessive redirects contribute to longer TTFB. Keep redirections to a minimum.
- Reduce Code Overhead: Streamline your codebase, eliminate unnecessary scripts, and optimize resource loading.
- Database Optimization: Fine-tune your database queries and ensure efficient indexing to minimize database-related delays.
- Content Compression: Compress assets like images, stylesheets, and scripts to reduce the amount of data transferred.
The Plesk Performance Booster is a powerful tool that can assist you in optimizing your database server, PHP, and web server, which will ultimately result in faster website loading times. It is included with every Plesk license, and can be found under “Tools & Settings” > “General Settings.”
Striking a Balance
To gain a comprehensive understanding of website performance, it’s essential to strike a balance between perceived and measured approaches. Combining both perspectives allows you to identify areas where user perceptions align with technical metrics and where they diverge. This mix can help you make more informed decisions on what to optimize first, improving significantly user experience.
Incorporating user testing, surveys, and feedback alongside performance metrics can help bridge the gap between perceived and measured performance. By understanding the intricacies of how users experience your website and aligning those insights with technical improvements, you can create a website that not only loads quickly but also delights and engages visitors.
We have learnt that perceived performance is very personal and almost impossible to optimize automatically by a tool. The measured website performance, however, can deliver reliable, comparable benchmarks. In the following section, we will focus on measured website performance and the tools you can use for your website.
Tools to Measure Website Performance
PageSpeed Insights is a free tool provided by Google that evaluates the performance of your website for both mobile and desktop devices. The tool assigns a score ranging from 0 to 100, indicating how well your site performs in terms of speed and optimization. As well as the numerical score, it offers practical suggestions and actionable insights to enhance performance.
- User-friendly interface.
- Offers specific suggestions for performance improvement.
- Provides separate scores for mobile and desktop.
- Focuses primarily on technical aspects and may not cover all user experience factors.
For Plesk users, there is a convenient integration of the “Google PageSpeed Insights” extension, allowing performance measurement directly within the Plesk graphical user interface. For more details, please see here.
Pingdom Tools is another popular tool that helps you assess the loading speed of your website. It breaks down the load times of various elements on a site, providing valuable insights into the performance of third-party components and helping identify potential bottlenecks.
- Offers a detailed breakdown of loading times. This is essential information when you want to track down the cause for long loading times of specific elements of a website.
- Highlights third-party components impacting overall performance.
- Provides performance history and trends.
- Some advanced features may require a subscription.
GTMetrix combines the power of PageSpeed Insights and YSlow (another performance analysis tool), delivering an in-depth performance report. It assigns grades to various aspects of your website’s performance and provides actionable recommendations for improvement.
- Offers a comprehensive analysis with multiple performance grades.
- Suggests optimizations based on PageSpeed Insights and YSlow.
- Monitors performance over time.
- Some advanced features are behind a paywall.
Lighthouse is an open-source tool developed by Google that can be run as a browser extension or through the command line. It evaluates various aspects of a web page’s performance, accessibility, best practices, and more. Lighthouse generates a performance score along with detailed recommendations.
- Covers a wide range of performance and user experience factors.
- Provides actionable recommendations for improvement.
- Allows customization for specific use cases.
- Requires some technical knowledge to interpret results effectively.
Additional Tips for Effective Website Performance Measurement
Now that you know popular tools for website performance measurement, consider the following tips to adjust your workflow for optimal monitoring:
- Regular Testing: Conduct performance tests regularly to track changes and improvements over time.
- Test from Different Locations: Understand that websites can load differently based on geographical locations. Testing from various regions provides a global perspective on performance.
- Analyze Third-Party Scripts: Monitor closely the impact of third-party scripts, such as those from analytics or advertising providers, on overall performance.
While the free Plesk Performance Booster included with every Plesk license can contribute to website performance enhancement, regularly measuring performance remains an essential practice for website owners and developers.
Utilizing tools like PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom Tools, GTMetrix, and Lighthouse Scoring can help you identify areas for improvement and deliver an exceptional user experience. By staying proactive and continuously optimizing your website’s performance, you can enhance user satisfaction, boost SEO rankings, and achieve better business results.
And remember, it’s not just about speed; consider other factors such as mobile responsiveness and accessibility as integral components of the user experience.