Website Performance Audit: A Step-by-Step Guide

Improve your site with this easy-to-understand introduction to website performance audits. Learn key tips, ideas, and tactics that will get results.

POST UPDATED:

May 20, 2024

what is website optimization

Businesses invest thousands of dollars in their websites, but many are not as profitable as they could be. One key factor that can make or break the success of a website is its performance. Slow-loading pages, confusing navigation, and an overall poor user experience can drive away potential customers with a click of the mouse.

In this step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through the process of conducting a thorough website performance audit that will turn your site into an asset that drives revenue.

Table of Contents

    Why is a website’s performance important?

    Did you know the top three websites in a search result (SERP) get over 54 percent of all traffic for that search term? And a site that isn't on page one of any search engine results will not get any visitors.

    If your site isn’t generating positive ROI, then it's nothing more than a digital brochure. Website performance issues develop over time because technology and user needs evolve. An audit helps eliminate technical errors while reducing marketing and customer service costs.

    When do you need a website performance audit?

    If your website takes over three seconds to load on mobile devices, you should consider a site performance audit. High bounce rates, low conversions, and decreasing website traffic are also signs. A performance analysis reveals any underlying potential issues and provides recommendations for fixing them.

    Benefits of a website performance audit

    Better site performance makes ranking higher on search engines easier, which means you'll avoid wasting money on ineffective search engine optimization tactics and content marketing. Sites with high search rankings also gain a greater share of online visibility.

    In the sections that follow, we'll look at some other key benefits of a website performance audit.

    Site load speed

    Are you losing potential customers because your site is slow?

    Sites that load quickly keep users on the page. In fact, if it takes over four seconds for your site to load, the user abandonment rate goes up to 90 percent.

    There is a direct link between the average time on the page and conversion rates. A slow website will lose potential customers at approximately four percent per second.

    Auditing your website helps you be sure it is performing at the highest level possible. High-performing sites attract more organic search traffic. Generating buyers from free traffic sources reduces the average cost of customer acquisition.

    Algorithm updates

    A website performance audit can protect a site from massive traffic drops. Traffic levels often decrease with search engine algorithm updates, and since algorithms change often, it doesn't take long to fall behind.

    Display errors

    It's also crucial for your site to display correctly on all device types. Website visitors use various devices, including desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. A site’s layout changes depending on the device’s screen size. An audit ensures the display is correct, regardless of the device used.

    Website performance audit: An overview

    A website performance audit can be complex. I would have to write a book to discuss every step in detail, so I'll only address the most common areas covered in the following sections.

    Web Page Test Sample Report
    Web Page Test Sample Report (Click to expand)

    Website conversion funnel: Turning visitors into customers

    When businesses think of a website performance audit, most focus on the technical aspects. However, the main objective is to make sure your site is aligned with your business goals.

    A key focus of any audit should be your website's conversion funnel. This model visualizes a visitor's journey from the moment they land on your homepage to becoming a customer.

    Understanding website funnel stages

    A typical conversion funnel looks like this:

    Marketing Funnel Graph
    Marketing Funnel Graph

    Here's a refresher on the goals of each conversion stage:

    • Awareness: Visitors learn about your brand through search, social media, or ads.
    • Interest: They explore your website, products, or services.
    • Consideration: They compare your offerings, read reviews, and weigh their options.
    • Decision: They purchase, fill out a contact form, or subscribe.

    Why it matters

    By understanding your funnel, you can identify where you may be losing potential customers and pinpoint areas for improvement. Optimizing each stage can significantly increase your conversion rates.

    Strategies for optimization

    Now, let's look at some audit goals for each stage of the conversion funnel:

    Awareness:

    • Create high-quality, targeted content that solves your audience's problems.
    • Invest in SEO and targeted advertising to get important web pages in front of the right people.

    Interest:

    • Ensure your website design is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
    • Use strong calls to action (CTAs) to guide visitors to the next step.

    Consideration:

    • Provide compelling product/service descriptions and benefits.
    • Offer social proof (testimonials, reviews, case studies) to build trust.

    Decision:

    • Make the conversion process (checkout, form submission) as seamless as possible.
    • Address any potential objections (shipping costs, return policies) upfront.
    Google Analytics Sample report
    Google Analytics Sample report

    Data-driven insights

    Website analytics tools like Google Analytics help track visitor behavior within your funnel. Combining this data with tools like heatmaps lets you see where users are engaging, hesitating, or dropping off. This information is essential for pinpointing bottlenecks and prioritizing optimizations to boost conversions.

    Heatmaps

    Website session recordings can also help companies map user behavior flow. Heatmaps can give you a 360-degree view of visitors' engagement with a webpage.

    Heatmaps record where users click, how they scroll over a page, and the time spent on each page (see the screenshot below). Your marketing team can use this data to increase conversions.

    plerdy heatmap tool
    IMAGE: Plerdy heatmap tool

    Technical SEO: Optimizing your site for search engines and users

    While many factors contribute to website performance, technical SEO is foundational. Let's focus on three critical areas where significant improvements can often be made:

    Google PageSpeed Insights Page Speed Test (Click to expand)

    Image optimization

    Oversized images dramatically slow down site speed. Optimizing them is one of the quickest ways to boost a site’s performance.

    How to compress images:

    • Tools: Photoshop, TinyPNG, Squoosh, or image optimization plugins for your specific website platform (e.g., Smush for WordPress).
    • Format: JPEG is generally optimal for photos, while PNG works well for graphics or images needing transparency. Consider newer formats like WebP if your platform supports it.
    • Quality: Aim for the smallest file size without noticeable loss of quality. Tools often offer a quality slider to find this balance.
    • Alt image text: This is important for accessibility and SEO. Briefly describe the image using relevant keywords (e.g., "red Nike running shoes with white laces").

    Keyword usage

    Research is key. Use tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to find top keywords that match what your audience is searching for.

    How to Place Keywords Smartly:

    • Page titles: The most important spot. Keep it clear and include your main keyword, like "Miami Landscaping Services | Green Leaf Pros."
    • Meta descriptions: This short text shows up under your search result. Make it catchy and use a secondary keyword.
    • Headings (H1, H2, etc.): Put keywords in headings but make sure it still reads well for your audience.
    • Body copy: Spread keywords throughout your text naturally to make it engaging without overdoing it with "keyword stuffing."
    SEMRush Keyword Overview
    SEMRush Keyword Overview

    Additional technical SEO notes

    • Code optimization: As mentioned, minifying code and deferring scripts whenever possible significantly improves loading times.
    • Metadata: Go beyond the basics and explore structured data (Schema markup) to help search engine crawlers understand your content even better.

    HTTP requests

    Every time a visitor lands on your website, their browser sends multiple requests to your server. These "HTTP Requests" are how the browser asks for the various elements needed to display the page: images, stylesheets, scripts, etc.

    The number of requests a site makes determines its loading speed. The average number of HTTP requests to load a webpage is between 69 and 75 requests.

    Why reducing requests matters

    • Speed is king: Each request takes time, even if it's just milliseconds. The more requests a page requires, the longer it takes to load, which damages usability.
    • Limited resources: Browsers and servers can only handle a finite number of requests simultaneously. Excessive requests can create a bottleneck, further slowing things down.

    Common culprits of excessive requests

    • Large Images: Unoptimized images are a major offender. Always compress images before uploading.
    • Too Many Plugins/Scripts: While plugins add functionality, each often generates its own requests. Evaluate if all your plugins are truly essential.
    • External Resources: Embedding third-party content (videos, social media widgets, etc.) can introduce additional requests. Use these judiciously.
    • Inefficient Code: Poorly written code can lead to unnecessary requests. It is important to regularly optimize your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

    How to check your HTTP requests

    Tools like HTTP Requests Checker or your browser's developer console (Network tab) will show website owners exactly how many requests a site makes and identify the slowest elements.

    HTTPS Debugger (Click to expand)

    Scalability and hosting

    As your business grows, your website must evolve alongside it. Scalability ensures your site can manage increased traffic, more content, and new functionalities without compromising performance or speed.

    Hosting checklist for scalability:

    • Traffic analysis: Understanding your average daily and peak traffic levels is essential. Knowing your current usage helps you plan for future requirements.
    • Storage space: If your plan is nearing its storage limit, you'll need additional space to accommodate images, videos, and site expansion.
    • Bandwidth: Adequate bandwidth is vital for handling data transfer efficiently. Low bandwidth means slower loading times during high-traffic periods.
    • Server type: Shared hosting is budget-friendly but may not suffice for a growing site. Consider upgrading to VPS or dedicated hosting for more resources.
    • Security measures: Ensure your hosting service provides SSL certificates, malware scanning, and regular backups to safeguard your website.

    Advanced considerations:

    • Server-side caching: A crucial element for enhancing scalability, particularly on content-rich sites.
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): A CDN can significantly reduce loading times for international visitors by hosting your content on multiple servers worldwide.

    If you're uncertain whether your current hosting plan aligns with your expansion goals, conducting a scalability audit can provide valuable insights, guiding you to the most suitable upgrade options.

    Broken links

    Sometimes, links used for external sites or other pages break. This happens when the URL address changes, a file is missing, or even when a domain expires. Internal links can also break when a website’s content structure changes.

    To fix broken links, locate the link using a web analysis tool, such as Google Search Console or Ahrefs. Once you have identified the issue, you can update or delete the URL if it is no longer needed. Test all recently created links to make sure they are working.

    Ahrefs backlink checker
    Ahrefs backlink checker

    Caching

    Caching is used to store site data on a local server. This reduces load speed when users access the same page many times. Caching can decrease bandwidth usage and improve response times.

    You can use a plugin or module on your content management system to set up caching. You should also fine-tune configuration settings to optimize it. Expirations and type of content to cache are examples. Also, be sure to set up a process for clearing your cache. Flushing older cached files is also essential.

    Site performance audit tools

    It's important to use the right tools to check your website's performance. Here is a short list of our favorites:

    • Google PageSpeed Insights is a go-to free tool that offers in-depth reports for desktop and mobile versions and tips on improving things.
    • GTmetrix mixes metrics and insights from Google PageSpeed and Yahoo's YSlow, giving you scores and practical improvement advice.
    • Pingdom lets you test your site's speed from various locations around the globe, perfect for websites with an international audience.
    • WebPageTest, which thoroughly looks at your site's performance, including options for detailed content breakdowns and simulating different network conditions.

    By making the most of these site audit tools, you can find and fix any hidden problems to optimize for the best performance.

    IMAGE: Pingdom Website Speed Test

    How often should you optimize your site?

    We recommend running a website performance audit at least once per year. Quarterly audits are ideal. Regular audits minimize site performance problems and reduce the annual cost of site maintenance.

    Do you need a website performance audit?

    Site errors can be challenging to identify and fix, but they could cost money. So, how can you eliminate errors, increase conversions, and cut costs?

    The answer lies in website audit services. The Brand Auditors can help you be sure your site is running at peak performance.

    Click on the button below to schedule a free consultation to learn more.

    Chris Fulmer PCM-Brand Auditors

    Chris Fulmer, PCM®

    Brand Strategist | Managing Director

    Chris has over 15 years of experience in brand development and marketing. He has designed strategies across various industries, such as technology, B2B services, and healthcare. His expertise includes brand positioning, competitive analysis, content marketing, and web development.

    Click to learn more about Chris

    Are you ready to find out how a brand audit can transform your business?

    Our brand audit process is a comprehensive analysis designed to help companies optimize performance.

    • Increase ROI on lead generation and sales conversions.
    • Reduce marketing expenses.
    • Strengthen brand positioning to become more competitive.

    We guarantee satisfaction or get your money back! Schedule a discovery call with a brand auditor to find out more.

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