Track your website’s speed with accuracy in Google Analytics

Posted on 26th February 2019 by Samantha in Optimisation, Web Hosting, Website
7 minutes read
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While Google has its fair share of critics there is no doubt that the introduction of Google Analytics has been a game changer for many online entrepreneurs. The ability to monitor visitors to your website, popular pages, split between countries/operating systems and track the speed of your website is priceless. This is just a small selection of the metrics available through Google Analytics!

Why is website speed so important?

Over the years there has been a lot of research published regarding website speeds and the impatience of website visitors. The fact is that you have just a few seconds at best before a potential customer will get bored, look elsewhere and probably never come back. The introduction of high speed broadband has been a game changer for the e-commerce sector but it has also increased the expectations of Internet surfers.

Many people also forget that page load speed is an important element of SEO ranking so it is vital that you make use of website monitoring services.

Tracking page load speeds

Historically, one of the major problems online entrepreneurs had with tracking website speeds was that traditionally they could only measure the speed using their device and their Internet connection. It was fine logging onto a website that tracked the loading speed for your connection, but how does this relate to someone in a foreign country, someone using a different type of device, someone using a different operating system? You get the message; it was obvious that a universal tracking system was required to ensure that your website was performing to expectations.

Google Analytics to the rescue

In many ways entrepreneurs are spoiled by the likes of Google. In fact, Google offers a free analytical service that is very in depth. While this obviously ensures that users stay connected with the Google network of services and email addresses, used correctly Google Analytics can be priceless for website owners.

Step-by-step guide to accessing site speed data

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account
  2. Select the appropriate website account
  3. Click on the 'Behaviour' option in the left-hand menu
  4. Then select Site Speed
  5. Then Overview

This is an extremely useful section which shows you the average:-

  • Page load time in seconds
  • Redirection time
  • Domain lookup time
  • Server connection time
  • Server response time
  • Page download time

However, if you dig a little deeper the information is even more helpful!

Browser, country and individual page speeds

The general information is very useful, indicating how the site is performing on the whole, but if you look just below the figures you will see a section called “Site Speed” which takes in browser, country and page. If you click on browser you will see a list of average page load times for the more popular browsers such as:-

  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Chrome
  • Internet Explorer

If you click on country you will see the average page load time for connections in different countries. The default setting is the fastest country first and you will often see a significant variation in page load times. Selecting the page option will show you your fastest loading pages and the variation across different types of page such as forum, blog and e-commerce.

One major flaw in the default option

The main problem with the default website speed metric is the fact that it only samples 1% of total website page views. So, if you only have 100 page views a day then the graph will show the website speed for just one individual out of 100. They could have problems with their own connection, their computer may be running slow which will ultimately lead to disappointing load times (but are they really that bad?). In effect you do not get a meaningful average across the board. However, help is at hand!

Changing the site speed sample measurement

We know from Google that the maximum number of samples which can be taken in any one day per website is 10,000. Therefore, using the default 1% sample figure you would need to have 1 million daily page views to make full use of the 10,000 allocation. However, there are two ways in which you can change the sampling measurement.

Google Tag Manager

In the early days of Google Analytics it was simply a case of copy and pasting Google Analytics ID code into the header, body or footer of your pages. This allows Google to glean as much information as possible to present graphs and tables in Google Analytics. While many people still use this basic Google Analytic ID code you should now look towards Google Tag Manager and set up a universal analytics account. We will look to cover Google Tag Manager in a later blog post.

In simple terms, Google Tag Manager uses dynamic code which reflects the conditions which you are able to set for the tracking code. It allows you to set the site speed sample rate to 100. This means that 100% of page views will be tracked. Giving a fairer reflection of average and individual variable page load speeds.

Changing default Google Analytic ID code

While the vast majority of online entrepreneurs make use of Google Analytics, to a certain extent, many use the old Google Analytic ID code. It is possible to add a default setting which will increase the sample rate from 1% up to 100%. If for example we were looking to increase the sample code to 50%, meaning that page load times for 50% of page views would be collected, the code would be:

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXX-1’, ‘auto’, {‘siteSpeedSampleRate’: 50});

You would simply replace the original Google Analytic code on your website with the above, replacing ”UA-XXXX-1” with your Google Analytics account reference.

However, if you are willing to go through the process of changing the code on your website then you may as well look to install Google Tag Manager. This creates dynamic code which you can add to your websites – referring back to the settings on your tag manager. You can make instant changes without having to touch the code on your website.

The power of Google Analytics

Many online entrepreneurs are literally just scratching the surface of information available through Google Analytics. This is a monitoring service which can be easily added to different platforms such as WordPress websites and offers you the opportunity to monitor your websites from anywhere in the world. If for some reason you found that your website was relatively slow in loading individual pages there are a number of actions you can take to improve page load speed. Simple actions such as:

  • Removing large images which take some time to load
  • Tempering the use of dynamic code
  • Removing old unused code
  • Reducing the use of flash graphics

This is just a small example of the simple changes you can make to your website. It is also worth taking  your website’s bounce rate in account. It helps to effectively measure the number of visitors who left almost immediately – upon landing on your site. Consequently a high bounce rate means that visitors leave your website relatively quickly without looking elsewhere. This could have something to do with loading issues. Perhaps they have been pointed to the wrong page or the content is just not what they were looking for.

Website monitoring services

We’ve looked at some of the top things monitoring tools should cover. Ensure that your hosting provider offers a range of options such as:-

  • Real-time views
  • Frequent check intervals as short as one minute
  • Monitoring history going back two years
  • Shared monitoring and shared reports
  • 30+ strategic monitoring locations to give a broad picture
  • Simple integration with an array of industry leaders such as Slack, Jira, HipChat, OpsGenie, PagerDuty, VictorOps

Rather than taking a scattergun approach to website analytics, focused on the elements that are of importance to your website.

Summary

Many people underestimate the relationship between website speeds and SEO ranking. They often fail to make use of readily available website monitoring services. The simple fact is, if you are not aware of any issues with your website how can you expect to fix them?