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SEMA News—October 2011

Page Speed Service

Google Offers to Speed Up Your Website—For Free

Google has turned more than a few heads in the business community by rolling out a new, free service that promises to dramatically speed the download of websites. The technology, called Page Speed Service, works by fetching content from your web-hosting service, rewriting pages using optimization techniques and then rebroadcasting the pages directly to your website visitors using Google computers.

“Your users will continue to access your site just as they did before, only with faster load times,” said Ram Ramani, an engineering manager at Google. “Now you don’t have to worry about concatenating CSS, compressing images, caching, gzipping resources or other web performance best practices. In our testing we have seen speed improvements of 25%–60%.”

The free offer, which is limited, is available at the Page Speed Service sign-up page.

“Page Speed will be a handy resource for smaller sites with little to no complexity, whose owners don’t have developer time to pour into hand-tuning their sites or the money to put into investing in an advanced performance automation solution,” said Joshua Bixby, author of the “Web Performance Today” blog. “It fills an important gap in the market, and while it may not solve every performance pain, it should solve some—hopefully giving small-business owners a chance to level the playing field by speeding up their sites enough to remain competitive in an increasingly brutal online marketplace.”

Ultimately, Google plans to charge for its Page Speed Service, which will compete with similar offerings from CloudFlare, Blaze,
Torbit and Yotta.

“On an average site, 80% of the time a user spends waiting is actually on the front end—downloading images, etc.,” said Jon Fox, co-founder of Torbit. “This means that the majority of the performance of your site is actually determined by the contents of the page rather than the servers generating it. There are a lot of relatively simple things developers can do to improve their performance. But many of these are still not done because they’re annoying and tedious to do and developers are often focused on other things. Many of these optimizations—along with many others—can be automated, though, freeing developers from the hassle.”

Fortunately, businesses that miss Google’s limited-time offer can still sample the efficacy of Page Speed Service by visiting an online tool, Measure Speed Up and punching in their website address. Essentially, the tool returns an analysis on the typical download time for a website, as compared to the enhanced download time for that same website after auto-optimization by the Page Speed Service. Users can also change variables in the test, including the type of browser used, the type of Internet connection used (cable, DSL, etc.) and the like.

Ramani said that Page Speed Service works by evaluating the performance of a webpage based on a number of speed performance best practices widely recognized on the web. Those best practices get a bit technical, but they generally fall into six primary categories:

  • Optimizing browser rendering—improving the browser’s layout of a page.
  • Minimizing request overhead—reducing upload size.
  • Minimizing payload size—reducing the size of responses, downloads and cached pages.
  • Optimizing for mobileNew!—tuning a site for the characteristics of mobile networks and mobile devices.
  • Minimizing round-trip times—reducing the number of serial request-response cycles.
  • Optimizing caching—keeping your application’s data and logic off the network altogether.

Page Speed Service is part of a larger ongoing effort by Google to raise awareness about the importance of lightning-quick download times. In Google’s view, faster websites mean happier web users, increased sales and more revenue for every facet of digitized commerce—including Google. Consequently, besides the automated service, Page Speed technology is also available in alternative applications for web marketers and designers.

Marketers looking for a speed optimization tool they can add directly to their browser, for example, will want to check out Page Speed Browser Extensions. The tool allows users to do a speed analysis of their webpages and then make changes manually. Currently, extensions are available for the Google Chrome browser and Firefox.

If you prefer using an online tool that will analyze your webpages but again leave the changes up to you, Google has one of those as well: Page Speed Online. The tool also features Page Speed Mobile analysis, which lets developers analyze their sites as viewed by a mobile browser and get suggestions specific to mobile optimization.

Meanwhile, web designers and IT types may be interested in another spin on Page Speed technology, which can be downloaded onto an Apache server. Essentially, this tool performs the same analysis and automatic rewriting of webpages as the new Page Speed Service but does so locally on your Apache server and under the complete supervision of your IT department. For more info, check out the “mod pagespeed Apache module."

Still need more? Google’s got it with another speed analytics tool that it recently incorporated into its online Google Analytics package: Site Speed Report. This is a handy free tool for those who are already using Google Analytics (also free) to analyze user activity on their websites.

Site report will tell you which of your landing pages are the slowest, how page download time impacts your e-marketing campaigns, how page load times vary across the world, how your website performs in different browsers and the like, according to Trevor Claiborne, a Google Analytics team member.

As web greybeards know all too well, web technologists have been tinkering with all sorts of tools that help get cyberspace in gear ever since the first webpage was abandoned due to an agonizingly slow download speed. You can find a representative sampling of these tools at “Let’s Make the Web Faster."

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Contact: 631/256-6602; joe@joedysart.com; or www.joedysart.com

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