In the run-up to Christmas especially, web users love to hop around from site to site. Whether they’re looking for the best deal, the perfect gift, or just the right piece of content, it’s common for users to shop around on numerous websites.

All this makes website performance more important than ever. If a potential customer is flicking between several sites and one of them loads slower than the others, no prizes for guessing which browser tab gets closed.

Why optimise loading times?

While most users will perceive a delay of under 100 milliseconds as instantaneous, anything above that is noticeable, with one second being the upper limit before the user becomes distracted by loading. With a delay of more than three seconds, studies have shown that around 40 percent of users will abandon the site.

So a faster-loading site can result in a lower bounce rate and increased conversions, not to mention a better user experience in general. Search engines are also known to reward better-performing sites with higher rankings.

Fortunately, getting your site up to speed is fairly straightforward thanks to a wide range of online tools. But what are the best tools for testing and improving your site? And what are the most effective ways of implementing performance improvements?

Website performance testing tools

There’s no shortage of performance testing tools to choose from. Of course, it’s a safe bet that Google’s developers know their stuff when it comes to website performance, so the Google suite of tools is a great place to start.

PageSpeed Insights tests your site for potential optimisations, while also identifying the things you’re already doing right. The tool provides an optimisation score out of 100 for both the desktop and mobile versions of your website, with a clear list of recommendations and instructions on how to fix issues.

Aside from the Google offering, a whole host of website speed tests are available. Pingdom analyses your site and provides not only an optimisation grade out of 100, but also a range of additional performance indicators. These include visual representations of how long each website element takes to load, as well as performance metrics based on various geographic locations.

Website optimisation: what to do next

It’s all well and good getting feedback on where your website has room for improvement, but how do you actually go about boosting performance? Performance and speed testing tools will give you indications on the measures required, and these can be broken down into several categories.

One of the biggest obstacles to website performance is known as render blocking. This refers to JavaScript or CSS that delays the page rendering. Render blocking can be eliminated from above-the-fold content by removing or deferring the offending JavaScript, potentially resulting in significantly faster page load times.

Native browser tools such as Chrome DevTools and Firefox Developer Tools provide a range of options and functionality for developers looking to find and rectify issues with HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Minification is the practice of removing any unnecessary characters from HTML, JavaScript and CSS. This should result in less code requested by the client from the web server, and faster overall performance. Free minifying tools such as CSS Minifier and JavaScript Minifier, as well as WordPress plugins like Autoptimize, make this process a lot easier.

Caching can also be enabled to increase website performance. Browser caching works by keeping files saved in the user’s browser for faster access later – by using the 'mod_expires' module in the Apache web server, for example. Tools like Memcached can also be used to cache dynamic content and minimise loading associated with database access.

These are just a few of the ways you can use online tools to test and optimise your website’s performance. For more details on image optimisation, page compression, reducing HTTP requests and other performance tuning techniques, take a look at our previous article: 7 ways to improve page load times. It’s also worth checking Google’s performance best practices for a detailed explanation of the various ways to optimise your site.

And of course, one of the primary contributors to website performance is your hosting provider. At Fasthosts we offer a full range of web hosting and dedicated server solutions, as well as powerful and highly scalable cloud hosting with both managed and root server options. With UK data centres and top levels of connectivity, look no further for your ideal, high-performance hosting platform.