Websites Need Health Checks, Too

An important part of Pantheon’s customer success team toolset is an objective way to measure the performance details that matter the most. We do this initially for benchmarking, and then periodically as both internal and external factors change. Today we’re excited to share that we have now made one of our internal tools available so everyone can take advantage of it—introducing the Pantheon Website Health Check.

The health check isn’t meant to be solely a developer’s tool. It’s well known that time is money when it comes to web page response time. Any marketing leader who runs their organization’s website understands that performance matters, but may not be able to identify where their site falls short.

Our goal is to give you and your team actionable, understandable information to improve site performance. Read on to learn more about the tool!

Raising a Happy and Healthy Website

Using our test is pretty simple. Plug in your URL and select the region closest to where most of your viewers are located. Robots will then run a number of tests and send back results, which include statistics about the page and recommendations for improvement. The tool compares your results to other sites we have tested, both on Pantheon and internet-wide.

health check tool screenshot

There are dozens of ways to assess performance, but we want to show the metrics that we think are most important to marketers, developers, and visitors alike. These are page load time, page speed index, and time to first byte (TTFB).

Page Load Time

In the past, load time was the primary measurement of site speed. Over time, that number has become a bit too one-dimensional as a sole metric, although it still matters. If your site consists of simple pages, and your load time is over three or four seconds, it’s time to figure out why.

time to fully load

Start by attempting to identify if an inordinate amount of time is being spent building the page (see here for tips on backend performance), rendering the page (see here for tips on frontend performance), or moving the data from its origin to the browser (CDNs can be a big help here). Chances are, there is room to improve in all three areas.

Page Speed Index

As mentioned, page load time alone doesn’t give a very complete picture. Even if a page takes 10 seconds to load, if a visitor can achieve what they came for to do in the first 1 or 2 seconds, it’s a positive user experience. Loading resources in an order that minimizes the time your visitor is staring at a white screen is ideal.

page speed index

Page speed index is a useful way to gauge this. It creates a score based on the time it takes for the browser to become populated. Loading higher value assets—a form, video, or call to action—before less important assets (e.g., a footer menu) mean happier users and better scores. Like doctors discovered years ago in waiting rooms all over the world, giving your patients something to do while waiting keeps them content.

Time To First Byte

Time to first byte (TTFB) is simply the duration between when a page or other resource is requested to when the browser gets something back. It has become a metric of great mystery and wonder over the last few years, because lower values are said to be correlated with higher Google search engine rankings.

performance vs all sites

Regardless of its magic Google-power, the lower the value, the better. Just imagine if you asked me a question, and I stared at you for 10 seconds before responding—you can appreciate how that would feel, and it’s the same as what your users experience if your site’s TTFB is slow. Stop your site from being so awkward!

Pantheon works hard to handle our side of the street when it comes to TTFB. We use NGINX and other high performance web technologies, plus our Global CDN literally moves the content closer to your web visitors by distributing it worldwide. If you aren’t on Pantheon, you should look at the time spent in the backend processing of your website, as well as your server configuration.

Healthy Sites Get Regular Checkups

Web optimization is a gradual process with many factors, but a key principle is benchmarking. Use our test, check the values, and make some changes. Re-run this test and verify that your work has improved performance. If your scores consistently perform below the average sites on Pantheon, maybe it’s time to do a free migration and run the test on our platform.

We continuously improve this test, so please feel free to contact me if you have any feedback or questions.


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Topics Development, Drupal, Speed & Performance, Website Technology, WordPress