Google has added a useful new feature to the Labs section of its Webmaster Tools (WMT) called Site Performance. If you haven’t already done so then I would suggest that you signup for a Google Webmaster Tools account and go through the Google site verification process for your web site(s).
Once you have an account, log into WMT. Once you click on your site on the WMT home page and go to that site’s dashboard, expand the +Labs in the left navigation to reveal all of the Labs utilities. You should see the new Site Performance feature listed as an option. Click on Site Performance in the left navigation and the new Site Performance page will appear as follows:
Why would Google include site performance metrics in WMT?
I think it is quite obvious “why” they have added this. Google wants webmasters to improve load times because it is not only good for the user experience, but it is also good for their crawler. The less time Googlebot spends waiting on a response to each page request when crawling the web, the more pages it can crawl in any given period of time.
On Nov 12th at the 2009 Pubcon in Las Vegas, Matt Cutts announced that Google was seriously considering adding page load times as a ranking factor. So this may also be something done to prepare webmasters for a Caffeine update to consider load times. Personally, I thing that page load times as a site performance metric is likely already part of the Caffeine update, and Cutts was simply preparing webmasters by saying they were considering it.
What does this site performance feature in Google’s WMT include?
The Site Performance page reveals performance statistics for your site based on load times recorded when Google crawls your site. It includes several tidbits of information that can be used to improve the performance and thus the user experience of your site.
Feature 1: Site performance overview
The first section of the page is a performance overview of the site. It includes the average load time for pages on your site with a note of when the data was last updated. The performance overview section indicates the percentage of all sites on the web which are faster than your site. This section includes a trend graph of average load times over the last several month:
Obviously, I need to consider caching my WordPress pages. LOL
Feature 2: Example pages and corresponding load times
The Labs Site Performance page includes a small sample of pages with their actual load times. You can sort the list by URL or by Load Time. This particular feature didn’t appear to me to be that useful. The section appears as follows:
NOTE: One thing I noticed of interest: I have my /wp-admin/ folder disallowed for all user agents in my robots.txt file as you can see here:
Yet two of the three URLs in this section are located in my /wp-admin folder. So how can Google get load times for those pages if they are obeying my robots.txt?
Feature 3: Page speed suggestions
This is probably the most useful section of the new Site Performance page in Google’s Webmaster Tools. This section of the page includes an even larger sample of pages from the site with suggestions for decreasing the load times of the page.
These suggestions are based on Google’s new <a href=http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/>Page Speed</a> tool. Of course, all of the URLs on my site have the same suggestions since it is a blog and all pages are rendered using the same theme – Thesis from DIYThemes.com. The section appears as follows:
Each URL can then be expanded to see specific examples of potential problems and suggestions of how to fix them.
Feature 4: Page Speed plug-in download link
There is a link at the bottom of the Site Performance page where you can install the Google Page Speed add-on. This plug-in requires Firefox to install.
Summary of the site performance feature
This new Labs feature seems like it should be useful, especially to novice webmasters who might not know that load times are important to the user experience and who might not know how to identify and correct problems leading to load times.
Though not tremendously useful to me at the moment, it does provide some insight into what Googlebot is encountering when crawling your site. I’m sure the tool will likely be tweaked to provide more useful information over time.