Trust in web performance metrics is crucial for every web developer but achieving that has its quirks. Performance metrics require careful understanding and the right tools for testing. We find out how to trust those magic numbers and tools to get optimal results.
Understand the Metrics Landscape
Let’s dive straight in. Frankly, you can’t trust a measurement you don’t understand. However, some developers move like white-water rafters, never stopping to sense the current beneath the churning surface. Metrics are the currents beneath, often resorting to a hodgepodge of RUM (Real User Monitoring) and Synthetic Monitoring.
Here’s an everyday analogy. When baking, you need to use the right precise measurements and instructions, or else your cake comes out flat. Similarly, you need precise metrics to evaluate and optimize the performance of your website. Synthetic alone won’t cut it.
Differing Metrics, Common Goal
Now comes the hard part—although RUM and Synthetic Monitoring sound statistically pompous, they answer simple questions:
- Real User Monitoring (RUM): Offers insights on how many users actually interacted with your website? What was their experience like?
- Synthetic Monitoring: Provides consistent and controlled feedback for your website in a lab-like environment.
Luckily, both the RUM and Synthetic give clues on a site’s reliability, reach, responsiveness, and where to fine-tune.
A great example of a Synthetic testing tool is GTmetrix. It’s setting a benchmark by emulating a user experience to test how your website would typically perform. But, real traffic can and will show different results.
The Trust Circle
To trust your website’s performance metrics, don’t just look at the numbers. Instead, get knee-deep, experiment, and benchmark. Remember, inconsistency in RUM data can be due to various variables like user connection speed or device type—a significant point that validates the need for Synthetic Monitoring.
Dive Into the Toolbox
With a clear understanding of metrics landscape and what we’re measuring when, we can swing open the toolbox to optimize web performance.
Performance Testing Tools
Some crucial instruments in a developer’s toolkit include:
- Lighthouse & Core Web Vitals: Already cornerstones of Synthetic Monitoring. Conveniently enough, in the world of web development, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just tweak it. But understand these tools for what they are: Synthetic.
- WebPageTest: WebPageTest is a powerful tool that provides in-depth insights into your website’s performance. It operates by emulating a range of browsers and connection speeds, simulating how a user from a particular location with a specific device and browser would experience your site. It delivers comprehensive metrics, from load times to potential performance bottlenecks, facilitating data-driven optimizations
- Chrome DevTools: It’s already the Swiss army knife of browser tools, allowing inspection and tweaking of your websites in live time. But, it also has the Chrome Developers tool as a built-in feature that allows you to run a performance test. You can use Google PageSpeed Insight to test the performance of your website.
- Pingdom: You might argue that Pingdom almost has become an industry-standard tool for website monitoring.
What Are You Testing?
It’s important to consider the above testing tools will be testing cache. While cache can enhance performance, it should not be your sole reliance for website performance.
The first hiccup here is that cache is only beneficial when filled beforehand—it’s incapable of aiding the first request. Resultantly, when performance tests are reiterated, superior numbers are produced, creating an illusion of a swift website.
Additionally, cache has an expiration date and requires periodic rebuilding to cache web assets again. Therefore, cache should be part of your strategy, not the entire story.
Consider this: a first-time visitor to your site might not receive the cached version. Therefore, testing the site’s performance beyond caching is crucial.
To sidestep caching, which may skew test results, you can use a cache buster parameter in the URL. This method can be employed when running tests using tools such as Google PageSpeed Insight or Pingdom.
Here’s how you do it: If you’re testing for
https://example.com, simply add
?v=345to the tail end of the base URL.
If you need to execute multiple tests, ensure uniqueness by appending a different number after ‘busted’ for each test.
https://example.com?v=345, second test:
https://example.com?v=346 and so forth.
Auditing and Debugging Tools
These tools conduct regular check-ups of your websites, leading to quicker problem detection and solutions:
- YSlow: An open-source project and a Firefox add-on that analyzes web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
- GTMetrix: Is your website feeling sluggish? Use GTMetrix to get insight into how well your site loads and get actionable recommendations on how to optimize it.
Putting It All Together
Likely, getting a grip on metrics and tools may seem daunting, especially with so many moving parts and tools to use. Ultimately, an understanding of RUM and Synthetic Monitoring, as well as a well-stocked tool kit, provides the traction needed for optimal web performance.
Turns out, trusting your website’s performance metrics and having the right testing tools is not a herculean task. With patience and practice, it’s just another day in the developer’s life.
Our hope is that, equipped with this helpful guide, you’ve found your starting point in the wild frontier of web performance optimization. The rest, as they say in the developer world, is just code and coffee.