I've been writing about page size and complexity for years. If you've been working in the performance space for a while and you hear me start to talk about page growth, I'd forgive you if you started running away. ;)
But pages keep getting bigger and more complex year over year – and this increasing size and complexity is not fully mitigated by faster devices and networks, or by our hard-working browsers. Clearly we need to keep talking about it. We need to understand how ever-growing pages work against us. And we need to have strategies in place to understand and manage our pages.
In this post, we'll cover:
Chances are, you're here because of Google's update to its search algorithm, which affects both desktop and mobile, and which includes Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor. You may also be here because you've heard about the most recent potential candidates for addition to Core Web Vitals, which were just announced at Chrome Dev Summit.
A few things are clear:
If you're new to Core Web Vitals, this is a Google initiative that was launched in early 2020. Web Vitals is (currently) a set of three metrics – Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift – that are intended to measure the loading, interactivity, and visual stability of a page.
When Google talks, people listen. I talk with a lot of companies and I can attest that, since Web Vitals were announced, they've shot to the top of many people's list of things to care about. But Google's prioritization of page speed in search ranking isn't new, even for mobile. As far back as 2013, Google announced that pages that load slowly on mobile devices would be penalized in mobile search.
Keep reading to find out:
I love conversations about performance, and I'm fortunate enough to have them a lot. The audience varies. A lot of the time it’s a front-end developer or head of engineering, but more and more I’m finding myself in great conversations with product leaders. As great as these discussions can be, I often walk away feeling like there was a better way to streamline the conversation while still conveying my passion for bringing fellow PMs into the world of webperf. I hope this post can serve that purpose and cover a few of the fundamental areas of web performance that I’ve found to be most useful while honing the craft of product management.
So, whether you are a PM or not, if you're new to performance I've put together a few concepts and guidelines you can refer to in order to ramp up quickly. This post covers:
Let's get started...
Performance budgets are one of those ideas that everyone gets behind conceptually, but then are challenged to put into practice – and for very good reason. Web pages are unbelievably complex, and there are hundreds of different metrics available to track. If you're just getting started with performance budgets – or if you've been using them for a while and want to validate your work – this post is for you.
A performance budget is a threshold that you apply to the metrics you care about the most. You can then configure your monitoring tools to send you alerts – or even break the build, if you're testing in your staging environment – when your budgets are violated.
Understanding the basic premise of performance budgets is pretty easy. The tricky part comes when you try to put them into practice. This is when you run into three important questions:
Depending on whom you ask, you could get very different answers to these questions. Here are mine.
Getting visibility into the impact that known third parties have on the user experience has long been a focus in our community. There are some great tools out there – like 3rdParty.io from Nic Jansma and Request Map from Simon Hearne – which give us important insight into the complexity involved in tracking third-party content.
When we released our re-imagined Third Party Dashboard last year, we were excited to be providing site owners with another great tool for managing the unmanageable. Among other things, we took an approach that included:
We received a lot of feedback from our customers, who loved the new third-party functionality but REALLY wanted to see similar functionality for their "first party" content as well. We heard this message loud and clear, and today we're happy to announce a few changes to our Synthetic monitoring tool that address this need while preserving the functionality you already know and love.
For the past two years, the performance.now() conference has been the most valuable performance event I've attended. So valuable, in fact, that I've made some of the talks the cornerstone of this list of performance resolutions for 2020. I'd love to know how many – if any – of these are on your list. As always, I'd love people's feedback!
A while back, our friends at Shopify published this great case study, showing how they optimized one of their newer themes from the ground up – and how they worked to keep it fast. Inspired by that post, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into a few of the best practices they mentioned, which fall loosely into these three buckets:
Keep reading to learn how you can apply these best practices to your own site and give your pages a speed boost.
Raise your hand if you've ever poured countless hours into making a fast website, only to have it slowly degrade over time. New features, tweaks, and Super Important Tracking Snippets all pile up and slow things down. At some point you'll be given permission to "focus on performance" and after many more hours, the website will be fast again. But a few months later, things start to slow again. The cycle repeats.
What if there was a way that you could prevent performance from degrading in the first place? Some sort of performance gateway that only allows changes to production code if they meet performance requirements? I think it's time we talked about having performance regressions break the build.
SpeedCurve now has different chart sizes and a special TV Mode to help you build a performance culture in your organisation.
From its inception, SpeedCurve has always been designed to look awesome on the big screen. We see SpeedCurve as not just a tool for debugging web performance, but as a communication tool to rally your organisation around the importance of web performance. SpeedCurve helps bring together the development, design, and management teams, and gets everyone focused on turning your product into a fast and joyous experience for your users.
One of the longest-standing items on my performance monitoring tool wishlist is an automatically-generated performance improvement checklist, with the improvements ordered by the impact that they will have on the website. In a previous life, I spent countless hours writing performance reports and conducting A/B performance tests to figure out which change would have the biggest impact on a website's performance.
So I'm understandably very excited that today we're announcing the new Improve dashboard – a prioritised performance improvement checklist that aggregates Lighthouse and Google PageSpeed results across all the URLs in your site to identify the most impactful performance changes you can make.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but we don't want you to spend countless hours using SpeedCurve. In fact, our goal is to make your web performance data so accessible, understandable, and actionable that you can get everything you need from us in just a few minutes.
That's why we're so excited to announce the brand-new Status dashboard – a visualization that lets you see at a glance all your web performance budgets, as well as which budgets have been violated.
Keep reading to find out how to start using your Status dashboard to diagnose and fix your performance pains. But first, let's talk about why we built this feature.
Part of building a strong performance culture in an organisation is lowering the barrier to getting people excited about performance. One of the most effective ways I've found to do this is to send around a performance report every week that can, at a glance, answer an important question: did performance get better or worse?
That was the motivation behind our new Weekly Report feature. Now you can configure any of your Favorites dashboards to be summarized in a weekly email, like this one:
We're excited to announce that we've launched Last Painted Hero as an official metric. Last Painted Hero is a synthetic metric that shows you when the last piece of critical content is painted. Keep reading to learn how Last Painted Hero works, why (and how) we created it, and how it can help you understand how your users perceive the speed of your pages.
When choosing the right performance metric, my soapbox for the last few years has been "not every pixel has the same value". In other words, rather than chase dozens of different performance metrics, focus on the metrics that measure what's critical in your page.
Here at SpeedCurve, we think it's good to focus on rendering metrics, because they're a closer approximation to what the user experiences. There are some good rendering metrics out there, like start render and Speed Index, but the downside to these metrics is that they give every pixel the same value. For example, if the background renders and some ads render, that could improve your start render time and Speed Index score, but it might not have a big impact on the user's experience. Instead, it's better to measure the parts of the page that matter the most to users. We call those parts of the page the "hero elements".
We're excited to announce that SpeedCurve is partnering with Tim Kadlec to provide consulting services to our customers!
Tim is a recognized expert when it comes to web performance. He has spoken at numerous conferences including Velocity, Fluent, QCon, SmashingConf, Beyond Tellerand, and WebStock. He wrote High Performance Images and Implementing Responsive Design, as well as contributing to other books. Mark, Tammy and I have each collaborated with Tim on side projects. We're full of gleeful anticipation as we look forward to this opportunity to work together again.
In the first sentence I mentioned that this is a partnership. Here's what that means: Tim will continue to do consulting outside of SpeedCurve, and if you're not a SpeedCurve customer we encourage you to contact him directly. Tim will also be running SpeedCurve's consulting services. This partnership brings special advantages to SpeedCurve customers:
One of the best parts of my job is getting to talk to so many people from so many different companies about web performance. Every company is different, and I learn a ton from talking to each one. But one question that almost every person asks me – regardless of what industry they're in or the size of their organization – is this:
How can I create a stronger culture of web performance at my company?
Creating a performance culture means creating a feedback loop in your company or team that looks like this:
In other words: Get people to care, show them what they can do to help, and then give them positive reinforcement when you get results. It's basic human psychology, and it might seem obvious when you see it in a super-simple graphic. But it's surprisingly easy to miss these steps and instead skip ahead to the part where you invest in awesome performance tools, and then wonder why all your performance efforts feel like such a painful uphill slog.
In this post, I'm going to share some proven tips and best practices to help you create a healthy, happy, celebratory performance culture.
Being able to track which changes have an impact – either positive or negative – on your site’s performance is an important part of performance monitoring that can provide valuable feedback to your team. We wanted to make it easier to see at a glance all the changes to your site, without the cognitive overhead of interpreting charts. That’s why we created the new Changes dashboard, which gives you a newsfeed-style overview of recent activity in your SpeedCurve account.
Your Changes dashboard shows your performance budget alerts, deploys, site notes, and SpeedCurve product updates:
Being able to monitor and measure the performance of your pages is crucial. You know that already. You also know that the next step is to quickly find out what’s hurting your pages so you can stop the pain.
You want to know:
We’re super excited to announce that you can now use SpeedCurve to answer these questions.
We also measure the CPU usage to different key events in the rendering of the page. SpeedCurve's focus is on the user experience and getting content in front of people as fast as possible, so we show you what the CPU is doing up till the page starts to render. This reflects CPU usage during the browser critical rendering path and can highlight various issues. If there's lots of CPU idle time then you're not delivering your resources efficiently. You want to get the CPU busy nice and early rendering the page, rather than sitting idle waiting for slow resources.
In the test below we see in the first pie chart that the CPU is spending a lot of time on layout up to the start render event, which is quite a different picture from the Fully Loaded CPU usage.
Performance budgets are an important tool for ensuring your site is delivering a great user experience. Steve first experienced performance budgets while Head Performance Engineer at Google. The practice of using budgets to track performance took off with Tim Kadlec's blog post Setting a Performance Budget. The idea is to identify your performance goals and track the metrics that help you achieve your goals.
At SpeedCurve, we give performance budgets first-class status by tracking them in the Site dashboard. Here's an example of tracking a budget for image size.
Before setting your performance budgets, you first have to be monitoring your user experience. Only then can you set budgets and thresholds for improving your baseline user experience. This also allows you to quantify the improvements you're making and share success stories across the organization like "We just improved start render by 32% by reducing image requests to half the budgeted amount".