I have been approached many times by site owners who have shown me “site audits” that they’ve spend many hundreds or thousands of dollars for. And all too often, these reports only highlight the problems found on a site without providing solutions.
In this article I will show you 4 free tools you can use to audit your site to see what fixes, if any, you need to make to make your site more search engine friendly. 3 are web based, while one is probably already sitting on your computer, you just never knew it.
Google PageSpeed Insights
You may have heard of this one already. Chances are if you have a website you have. You may have even used it. And while it is handy showing you some things you can do to fix your site, some of the information is cryptic and hard to understand. But because it’s a Google tool, and Google is the most used search engine, it is the #1 tool we recommend.
How to use PageSpeed Insights
Using Google’s own site audit tool is relatively easy. You go to this URL and put your website address into the box and press the “Analyze” button. It takes a few seconds, but then produces a report showing both your desktop AND mobile performance.
When the analysis is complete, you will see an overall score as well as some “Page Stats” and “Optimization Suggestions”. Keep in mind that these are best practices and may not necessarily impact your ability to rank. These are suggestions Google makes to try and help you make your site perform faster and better for users.
You should also know that some things like “Reduce server response time” may be out of your control. You could talk to your hosting provider about things which they or you can do to help reduce the reaction time of your server, but in my experience there’s not a lot that you can do on your own, short of moving hosting providers.
Further, you will find things under “Leverage Browser Caching” that you can’t change – such as with Google analytics or Facebook Pixel code as they aren’t hosted on your site and therefore you can’t make changes.
But overall it does provide a good starting point.
GTmetrix Website speed test
I often refer to this site as I find it provides fixes that you CAN do. While it does look at external scripts, for the most part if focuses on your site and things you can do on your own. It even provides some easy-to-understand tips for making those fixes.
How to use GTmetrix
As with PageSpeed insights, you go to the GTmetrix site, enter your URL and hit the “Analyze” button. When it’s complete you will get a snapshot of your site, along with some basic stats like load time, page size and a PageSpeed percentage score out of 100.
Scrolling down you will see a breakdown of recommendations, along with a current “score”. Clicking the dropdown arrow beside the recommendation, you can see the specific issues.
I’d also suggest looking at the “YSlow” tab to see what other issues you may have, and then the Waterfall tab, as it provides you with a visual representation of how your site loads. Here you can scroll through your site and see just how long each item, whether it’s an image, stylesheet or script, takes to load.
Pingdom Page Speed Test
Much like the previous 2 tests, this one allows you to test your speed and provides a score like GTmetrix. One interesting thing this tool has is it allows you to test from different servers around the world. I often use this tool in combination with the other 2 as it’s a little more forgiving.
How to use Pingdom Tool
To use this test, go to the website, enter your URL, optionally select the city to test from, and click “Start Test”. In a few seconds you should see a report showing your site’s “Performance grade” along with a load time. Scrolling down further, you will see “Performance insights” outlining what fixes can be made.
Much like GTmetrix, you get an overall score for various areas of concern. Pressing the down arrow shows you the specific items to address.
If you do use the tools together as I do, you will see a lot of the same things. But this just reinforces what is more important and what is not.
Chrome Developer Tools Audit
If you use the Chrome web browser, then you already have a build in site audit tool that you probably don’t know about. It is built into the Chrome developer tools and can be accessed any time you open any website.
How to use Chrome Developer Tools site audit – Lighthouse
There are many ways to access this tool. To start your audit, load your site into your chrome browser. Once it’s loaded you can either browse the Chrome menu (using the 3 dots at the upper right of the browser) and select “more tools” then “developer tools”. A new smaller chrome window will open. These are the developer tools.
Alternatively, you can Hold your computer’s Control Key, then press Shift and “I”, or simply press the F12 key on your keyboard.
When the window opens you will see a series of tabs across the window:
To perform the audit, select the “Audits” tab:, and then click the “perform an audit” button.
Here you will be presented with various options to audit. You can select which ones you want, such as performance and SEO, while not performing others you don’t feel are relevant. When you’ve chosen the audit(s) you want, simply press the “Run audit” button.
This test can take a little longer than the web based ones, depending on what choices you make, but the end result will be a report showing a score, with suggestions for improvements.
In the background you will see Chrome start doing things. While the Lighthouse window shows progress and gives you little pointers and tips to keep you occupied.
When the audit(s) are complete you will see a small report showing the overall score (again out of 100) with suggestions for improvement. As you scroll you will see the results of the various audits.
A note about this tool. If you are watching it and you see your browser window go grey it usually means the audit is paused. Simply switch the view back to your chrome browser window and un-pause the audit.
I have seen this happen when the focus shifts back to the Developer tools window. Sometimes you must do this a few times until the audit is complete.
There is a lot more to developer tools which I haven’t gotten into here, such as testing mobile versions of your site, viewing the HTML and CSS code and more. Those will be topics of other articles.
I Have all these tools, now what?
So you’ve run a few audits of your site, and have a list of all these fixes – now what?
Well, I’d suggest you start working through them with your developer, if you have one. Some fixes are easy, while some are more complex.
For example, most audits will report your images aren’t optimized. If your site uses WordPress, for example, there are many free and paid plugins which can take care of that for you.
The same goes for items like enabling gzip compression and minifying code. A few Google searches should help you figure out how to deal with most of the issues identified.
And if you can’t get to 100% on any of them don’t worry about it. If you can get into the 80’s and 90’s consistently then you should be OK.
Personally, I found simply using a caching plugin resolves many issues, while also optimizing images adds further improvement. All my sites sit around 80-90 and the closest I’ve gotten to 100 is the high 90’s for 1 of my sites.
Will these changes help with rankings?
I won’t lie to you, I have had mixed results. Some sites have seen improvements while others have not. This is not a silver bullet to first page rankings. But they aren’t also just “best practices”. Site speed is an important ranking factor in Google, therefore it can’t hurt to make as many of the improvements as you can.
Of course, if you are concerned with doing these things on your own, we are always available to help. Just contact us.