24 Jan Website Performance 101 – Do You Have a Healthy Website?
Welcome to website performance 101, where you learn how to answer the question, “do I have a healthy website?” In honor of the new year and the focus on personal health, this month’s blog post shows you how to measure your website’s health via four key website performance metrics.
One way to tell if your website performance is good is to look at speed. Specifically, your website’s load speed. The good news is that there are so many free tools to help!
The first (DIY route) is to open a new “incognito” window or private browser. Type in your website URL and count out how many seconds it takes for your homepage to load. This method isn’t foolproof, but it’s a quick and hopefully less daunting way to test your website speed without needing an additional tool. The one thing that’s especially important with this method is to use a private browser. This disables all of the cached images that help your website load quickly for returning visitors, so you can get an accurate view of your website speed.
The second option to measure page load speed is located in the Google Chrome browser, which you could already be using! Using Google Chrome’s “Lighthouse” feature, you can inspect any page on the web and find out how long it takes for all of the content on that page to load.
Another option is Cloudflare. If you’re more comfortable with tech and your domain’s DNS records, Cloudflare is a great option for security and speed. You can also get helpful stats and tips for improving your website performance within their dashboard. If your website uses WordPress’ content management system, you can also use Cloudflare’s free plugin.
Once you have an idea of how long it takes for your website content to load, the next step is to compare your load speed to your competitors! You can use either of the first two approaches above (DIY, Google Chrome) to find your competitors’ load speed. If you find that your site is faster, great! Your website is healthy and performing well. If your site is slower than your competitors’ websites, it’s time to make some changes like reducing your image size and installing a lazy load app or plugin.
2. Bounce Rate & Session Duration
Bounce rate and session duration can also be used to measure website performance. These two metrics pair together because a low bounce rate means a higher session duration, and a low session duration means a high bounce rate. Both terms are measures of how quickly people leave your website, and Google uses this information to determine whether the content on your website is relevant for certain search terms. You want to aim for a low bounce rate (ex. 20-40%) and a high session duration (ex. 1-2 minutes and up).
SEO is an important component of your website performance, but it’s a broad category to measure. If you do nothing else related to SEO, install Google Analytics on your website so that you can begin collecting anonymous website usage data.
Once your Google Analytics account has been running in the background for a few months, you’ll be able to measure SEO more accurately using your traffic breakdown by organic search. In this report (located under Acquisition > Overview), you want to see increasing percentages of organic search volume over time. For example, if 20% of your website traffic comes from organic search, in a few months, you would ideally want to see an increase in the number of people who came to your site and in the percentage of traffic driven by organic search (ex. 25%).
Another way to measure SEO over time is through Google Search Console. Google Search Console does a lot of different things, but it also integrates seamlessly into Google Analytics to give you a breakdown of which terms people use to find your business. When you’re looking at Search Console data, you want to measure which search queries people use to find your website, and each landing page’s clicks, impressions, and average position in search results.
4. Easy-to-Use Navigation
One final component of website performance is interwoven into the first three pieces of the performance puzzle above – your website’s navigation. Without easy-to-use navigation on your website, people can’t access the information they’re looking for, and they leave your site… Often heading to a competitor.
By keeping track of your most popular landing pages and users’ behavior flow in Google Analytics, you can view an average of how people interact with your website and make updates accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, you want to start with a navigation menu that answers your customer’s main questions. You also want important information to be accessible from anywhere on the website within 1-2 clicks.
Another way to keep your navigation up to date is to get feedback from family and friends. Ask them to visit your website, and then avoid giving them too many prompts as you peak over their shoulder to see which buttons they click and how they intuitively navigate the site. Make a mental (or physical) note of what order they visit pages in. If you love analytics and want more in-depth data to peruse, Lucky Orange is another good option for heat-mapping.
Let’s bring it all together with an example.
If you’re an e-commerce retailer who sells women’s clothing, an ideal customer experience would look something like this:
- A potential customer searches for “womens striped shirt” on Google.
- Your website comes up on the first page of results.
- The customer clicks through to your website’s “Striped Shirt” collection and all product images load quickly on the page.
- The customer adds the product to their cart and uses the navigation to search for a pair of pants to complete her outfit. She has multiple navigation options and finds what she’s looking for quickly.
- She completes the checkout process and you get an order notification!
In step 1 -2, the website performance focus is SEO. No matter what you sell online, you want to be descriptive and use words that your ideal customer would use so that you appear in search results. In this example, the query “womens striped shirt” doesn’t use an apostrophe – it’s not technically grammatically correct, but it’s important for SEO. On the back end of things, you can see how your performance for the query over time in Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
In step 3, your website’s speed is the most important piece of performance. You can test the load speed of your pages to ensure customers won’t run into long loading times, and you can also look at bounce rate and session duration. If you have a low session duration and high bounce rate, there’s a chance that your customers are leaving your website due to content loading slowly.
Finally, in steps 4 and 5, your navigation is the focus of your website’s performance. Your customer can search, navigate, and filter products, and then make her way to the shopping cart to complete her purchase.
Fine tuning your website’s performance takes time, data, and customer feedback. But it’s absolutely worth it – from a customer experience and dollars perspective – to put in the work.