How to use Pingdom to Measure (and Monitor) the Speed and Performance of a Website – Effectively!
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How quickly your website loads affects everything from user experience to search engine rankings, conversion rates and more. If you have a website, you need to understand its load times so you can make improvements if needed.
Pingdom is a freemium tool/service that helps you to do just that. At first glance, it may seem like a relatively simple testing tool — because of its seemingly basic free speed test — but once you register, a whole world of other features becomes available.
In this post, I’ll show you how to use Pingdom to analyze and improve your site. I’ll start with a look at how to use the free speed test tool, then I’ll show you some of the more advanced features you get if you’re willing to pay for a Pingdom account.
Pingdom offers a 14-day free trial. So, even if you don’t become a long-term paying customer, I’d encourage you to at least use the premium tool for 14 days to dig into your site’s performance.
How to Use Pingdom’s Free Speed Tests
When most people think of Pingdom, they probably think of Pingdom’s popular free speed test tool.
To use it, all you need to do is:
- enter the URL of your site
- choose where to test from (i.e. the test location closest to your target audience)
- click Start Test.
After a few seconds, you should see something like this:
Let’s go through some basic FAQs/tips for how to use and understand Pingdom’s basic speed results. Then, we’ll dig into some of the deeper analysis tools.
How Does Pingdom Calculate Load Time?
While it’s easy to get caught up in optimizing your website’s ‘speed score’, the only thing that really matters is your site’s Load Time. Generally, you want to aim for under two seconds if possible.
However, it’s important to understand that ‘Load Time’ isn’t always the same across different tools because there are different metrics.
There are two main ways to consider a website as ‘loaded’:
- Fully Loaded Time — the time when the page has completely stopped loading content. This will always be slower than the onload time.
There’s nothing wrong with using this metric, but it’s important to understand that, because of how it calculates load time, your site’s ‘load time’ will usually be faster in Pingdom than it is in other tools, because you’re often comparing apples to oranges.
GTmetrix has an excellent article that explains these differences.
Which Pingdom Test Location Should You Use?
Currently, Pingdom offers seven different test locations for its free speed test tool:
- Asia — Tokyo, Japan
- Europe — Frankfurt, Germany
- Europe — London, UK
- North America — Washington D.C., USA
- North America — San Francisco, USA
- Pacific — Sydney, Australia
- South America — Sao Paulo, Brazil
So, which location should you choose?
If your site targets a specific geographic area, you should choose the test location that’s closest to that area. For example, if you have a local business in Los Angeles, you’ll want to pick the San Francisco test server.
However, if your site targets visitors worldwide, you’ll want to run tests from different locations. This will let you see how your site will load for visitors around the world.
If you notice slow load times in certain areas, you may want to start using a content delivery network (CDN) to speed up your global page load times.
What Is the Pingdom Performance Grade?
In addition to your site’s load time, page size and HTTP requests, Pingdom also gives your site a ‘performance grade’.
You shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the performance grade itself — the most important metric is your site’s load time, as this is what your visitors will actually experience.
However, the performance grade does give you a quick glance at how optimized your site’s front-end performance is. The other aspect of performance is back-end performance, such as choosing quality website hosting.
Your performance grade comes from the weighted average of the Improve page performance suggestions (more on those in a second).
Overall — don’t obsess about improving your performance grade — focus on lowering your load time. If your site loads in under two seconds, your visitors won’t care what your site’s performance grade is.
How to Use Pingdom’s Free Advanced Performance Analysis Tools
In addition to basic information on your site’s load time, file size and HTTP requests, Pingdom also includes some advanced analysis tools that dig deeper into your site’s performance.
Whereas the metrics in the box at the top are basically a snapshot of how your site is doing, the analysis metrics below it help you to dig in and improve your site’s performance.
- Summary box — ‘how is my site doing now?’
- Advanced analysis — ‘how can I make my site better?’
Let’s go through the different sections…
Improve Page Performance
The Improve Page Performance section includes seven popular optimization tactics, as well as a score that indicates how well your site is already implementing each tactic:
- Make fewer HTTP requests
- Add Expires headers
- Compress components with gzip (here’s how)
- Use cookie-free domains
- Reduce DNS lookups
- Avoid empty src or href
If you’re unsure what something means, you can click the arrow icon on the right to view an explanation.
Note: In some cases, you may not have control over everything you’d need to bring the score up to 100%, but that’s okay — the goal is to tick off as many as possible. Don’t stress if you still have a few hard-to-solve yellow (or even red) warnings at the end of your efforts. Again, these are suggestions to improve your site’s load times, but you can still have a quick-loading site even if you fail a few tests.
For example, WinningWP still loads in under one second even though it only has perfect scores for two of the suggestions. Always remember — page load times are what matter, not scores.
The response codes section tells you what’s going on with all of the resources you’re loading on the page, and is especially useful if your website’s been up and running for a while. Response codes that are in the 200s or 300s are usually fine, but you’ll want to weed out all 400 and 500-class errors.
You can also use the waterfall (more on this in a moment) to figure out which resources are giving you 404 and 500 errors, and take the appropriate steps to remove them or modify your site.
Content and Request Breakdown
There are four tables that give you information about the distribution of your content and your requests.
The requests by content type table shows the number of requests your site is making — another way to optimize it — and if you’re pulling in lots of separate scripts, perhaps it’s time to concatenate them into one (or at least a few).
Content size by domain and requests by domain show similar information regarding the origin of your content, and let you quickly see how much external content you’re loading on your site.
You want to load content mostly from local sources or from a CDN. If you load a lot of content from off-site sources, you may risk slowing down your site if it has to wait for the slow responses of others.
File Requests (Waterfall Analysis)
Pingdom’s waterfall analysis (the file requests section) shows a deeper look at every single HTTP request on your site. For example, if you saw 45 HTTP requests in the summary box at the top, this section will have 45 entries, one for each HTTP request.
This tool is used by developers to gain a visual understanding of how a site loads and where the bottlenecks are. It shows a wealth of information, especially if you use the expander arrows to get to the details of each request.
The icon on the left indicates the type of content being requested. If the response isn’t of the 200 class, you’ll see an alert icon — hover over it for more information. Next comes the request URL and the request size. Finally, there’s a horizontal bar graph that shows you when and how the resource loaded.
The further to the right the bar starts, the later the resource loads. The length of the bar shows the loading time, broken down into:
For local resources, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the connect sizes. Lengthy connect times can indicate a problem with your host — assuming your site is otherwise well-configured. Search for long bars that hinder the loading of your website, or external resources with a lengthy DNS or other metric — these should be weeded out.
If you’re using WordPress, another use for this tool is to discover plugins or themes that are slowing your site down — you can use the search box at the top to search for specific ones. For example, to find all of the assets the Avada theme uses, you could search for Avada:
If a plugin or theme has tons of slow-loading requests in the waterfall analysis, it could indicate you should try to swap it for a more performance-optimized alternative.
Limitations of the Free Pingdom Speed Test Tool
Because of its easy-to-use interface, Pingdom is an excellent tool if you’re just getting started with analyzing your website’s performance.
However, as your understanding grows, you should know that it does have some notable limitations when you compare it to other tools, such as GTmetrix or WebPageTest.
We already covered one — Pingdom only gives you the onload time for your ‘load time’, whereas GTmetrix and WebPageTest both give you multiple metrics (including onload time). This is why your site will often load ‘faster’ when you test it in Pingdom.
Finally, Pingdom doesn’t let you adjust the connection speed. In the real world, each visitor will have a different connection speed — for example, someone who’s tethered to their smartphone’s 3G will have a slower connection than someone with an ultra-fast wired connection.
Pingdom uses an ultra-fast connection for all of its tests, which is another reason why your site will load ‘faster’ in Pingdom. However, to get an accurate picture, you’ll want to test your site with different connection speeds, which both GTmetrix and WebPageTest allow. For example, look at all of the connection speed options WebPageTest gives you:
Overall, Pingdom’s free speed test tool is certainly useful, especially for casual users. However, advanced users may appreciate the additional flexibility of tools such as GTmetrix and WebPageTest for free performance analysis.
Or, you can use the paid version of Pingdom to solve a lot of these weaknesses. Speaking of…
Premium Pingdom Features — These Are Where Pingdom Stands Out
While the free version looks nice, it’s a little bit more limited than both GTmetrix or WebPageTest, as we discussed above.
However, when you grab a pro account, Pingdom becomes a powerhouse of handy features. Let’s take a look at all you can do with the premium Pingdom features.
Again, you can test all of these features with a 14-day free trial. Even if you decide not to keep paying after the free trial, the information you’ll gain during this time will already be quite valuable.
Uptime monitoring (your host may not be as reliable as you think) is the most basic type of monitoring Pingdom offers. It consists of a graph that combines the average response time with any downtime your site may experience.
Below the chart, Pingdom will also list each downtime event and its duration:
You can also set up real-time alerts if your site goes down. You can receive alerts via email and send alerts to different people depending on the issue.
When you add an uptime check, you can choose your own check interval from between one minute and 60 minutes. For example, if you set it equal to one minute, Pingdom will check your site’s uptime every minute.
Page Speed Reports
Page speed reports are the same as the free tool on the site combined with historical data — excellent for catching nasty trends or code-related slowness. By default, Pingdom automatically tests your site’s performance every 30 minutes, so this data comes from 48 checks per day.
This will give you lots of data points, and it also lets you see how your site’s page load times change during the day. For example, you may find your site drags a bit during peak hours or when your security plugin runs its automatic daily scan.
If you want to test different pages or from different locations, you can set up multiple alerts.
Transaction reports are one of Pingdom’s most powerful features. They allow you to make sure user interactions spanning multiple actions and pages work smoothly, and are invaluable for eCommerce, SaaS applications and other interaction-based sites.
For example, you can set it up so Pingdom can monitor your eCommerce store’s checkout process. If there’s a problem, you can be alerted right away, so you don’t lose revenue.
The idea is to use a simple editor to tell Pingdom how to navigate your site and how to check the results. You could instruct Pingdom to load your homepage, check that it gives a 200 status code, fill in a search field and then go to a result.
If you have some development knowledge, you can set up transaction sequences using a back-end editor. As you go, Pingdom will suggest actions to track based on your actual website. For example, on WinningWP it automatically scans every link, so we can track clicks as a transaction:
For casual users, Pingdom also includes a really cool tool that lets you record transaction sequences using a point-and-click solution.
Note: Pingdom has an excellent tutorial video on transaction reports and how to set them up.
Visitor Insights (RUM)
Page speed tests tend to be artificial. You load your website in your browser, or you initiate a test using an external service such as Pingdom. These are great and mostly follow what actually happens in reality — although not always.
Visitor Insights, part of Pingdom’s Real User Monitoring solution, gives you a bit of code to add to your site — just like Google Analytics. Once added, you’ll see real data rolling in — you’ll see how long it took for your site to load for actual visitors, as opposed to you or some automated bot.
Real data will give you insight far beyond the available test locations, since your visitors will come from all over the world. You can set the load time conditions for satisfied, tolerating and frustrated visitors to segment your view better.
By collecting this real data, you can overcome a lot of the limitations of Pingdom’s free tool. You’ll be able to see how your website loads for visitors from different locations, using different devices, and with different connection speeds.
Putting all of those variables together means you can get a really accurate picture of your site’s real-world load times.
Pingdom offers you a basic alert system out of the box. You can get emails, basic app notifications and SMS messages, and your alerts will come within minutes.
Pingdom also has built-in integrations for certain apps, such as Slack, and you can also set up your own integrations with Webhooks, such as using Zapier and Webhooks to connect to any app.
If you’re working as a team, you can also add multiple team members, each with different alert policies.
Basically, all of these options make it easy to quickly get notified if something goes wrong, such as downtime or an issue with a transaction you’re monitoring.
The Pingdom Mobile App
Pingdom has an extremely handy free mobile app (available for both Android and iPhone) that works brilliantly and looks amazing. It’s a superb companion for receiving notifications and keeping yourself updated about your sites, wherever you are.
The mobile app also shows you basic data, such as response time and uptime checks, and is a great bonus to your pro account that really is a joy to use — which is relatively rare for services that haven’t originated on mobile platforms.
First off, as I’ve mentioned a few times already, Pingdom offers a 14-day free trial that lets you test everything (no credit card required).
After that, Pingdom offers two paid services, each of which has scaling prices depending on your usage:
- Synthetic Monitoring — this includes transaction monitoring, page speed monitoring (via Pingdom’s tests) and uptime monitoring.
- Real User Monitoring (RUM) — this is what lets you see the actual load times your real human visitors experience.
You can choose to use one or both of them, depending on your needs.
Each service starts at $10 a month, and the price scales up from there based on the following metrics:
- Number of checks for Synthetic Monitoring.
- Monthly page views for Real User Monitoring.
To calculate the exact price for your needs, you can use the following calculators:
The 14-day free trial includes access to both Synthetic Monitoring and Real User Monitoring.
Overall, where Pingdom really sets itself apart from the competition is in its paid tools.
The free Pingdom speed test tool is useful, but there are more flexible options when it comes to free performance testing (GTmetrix and WebPageTest are two of the best — here’s how to use GTmetrix). That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the free version of Pingdom for performance analysis — you just shouldn’t rely on it alone.
However, with the paid service, you get access to a ton of useful performance and uptime analysis tools in a beautiful package.
Pingdom has built a service that’s equally useful to both people trying to grow their personal sites and much larger web-based companies. The dashboard is a joy to navigate, the mobile application is incredibly useful, and the on-site help is extremely easy to understand and follow.
Two of the most notable features are:
- Transaction Monitoring to quickly detect issues with important parts of your site.
- Real User Monitoring to see how quickly your site loads for all of your human visitors from around the world.
Even if you’re not in a position to pay for performance monitoring at this time, you can still take advantage of the 14-day free trial to collect 14 days of real user monitoring data for your site. This, combined with the other premium features, will give you some deep insight into your site’s real-world performance without costing anything.
Any experience with Pingdom? Any other useful tips or tricks?