Performance is a crucial issue for anyone who runs a company website - the rewards can be great and the consequences of failure can even impact the organisation's 'bottom line' financial performance.
But a website's performance does not just depend on the power of the web server involved. There are a number of elements that will affect the performance of any site, starting from the very first decisions made.
Managers with responsibility for operating a website should also beware of internal testing that can often mask performance issues - tools that are part of the content management system or run by the company's IT department often can see the website from the inside, rather than from the point of view of the end user.
At Sitemorse, we often liken the performance issue to a car . There is no point in comprehensively testing the performance of a car if it's running, for example, on the wrong type of fuel. Or if the wrong tyres are fitted. A flat tyre will hamper performance even more!
A website is only usually as good as its weakest link, so a badly-planned site, like a badly-designed car, is going to be left behind by its competitors before the end of the race.
Problems often come down to the same old things - bad links, images larger than necessary, poor code that makes the site work harder than it needs to.
Talking to potential clients, we are often surprised to hear they are not finding problems with their websites. Frankly, this issue is quite well-known, and we are not the only ones testing, and finding the same problems. One manager we spoke to recently said we must run our tests on their 'bad days' , but it does seem unlikely that major companies would allow the same level of carelessness in other important areas of communication, such as annual reports.
The real problem here is the nature of the web, a much more complicated operation than printing and distributing documents and literature, for example, where standards have been gradually built up over a long period.
Defining a precise colour for a brochure, for example by giving a pantone reference , is not feasible for the web, because the huge variety of monitor set ups, lighting etc mean that colours are experienced differently by different users.
The example holds for almost everything about a website - there are probably more contributors to a website than to any brochure, perhaps scattered internationally or across a wide area, using different set-ups, equipment, browsers, just to quote a few examples.
A good web manager knows a little about lots of things, and needs to develop his or her own way of developing checks on everything they are told from design and technical agencies, fellow employees, members of the IT and other specialist departments and even company management. Few have the big picture when it comes to a website, and there can be a tendency to not see the wood from the trees, particularly when all the messages are good ones ( such as, "our new site is online and breaking all records".
The Sitemorse Web Managers Toolkit provides hard evidence of problems and can be a very useful check for web managers and editors wanting to see their site from the users point of view but who don't want to spend their entire day clicking on links or running free tools over the site.
Our free Snapshot tool will warn you about performance issues found on any tested webpage. The Performance icon gives information of the elements of the page being tested that can affect load, such as large images, for example. Clicking this icon will give a more detailed report so the web content editor can make the necessary changes quickly - and then re-test the page to ensure the changes have fixed the problem. The free service can be extended to check for IP/trademark infringement and alert you to brand issues or spelling problems.
Snapshot is not a download but requires saving a small 'bookmarklet' - Get started with Snapshot.
Geoff Paddock is a web consultant who has managed corporate websites for ICI , Wolseley plc and a number of less well-known clients.