Good web developers know that even the most beautifully designed page is worthless if it takes too long to load.
To help you optimize your pages, Google has announced a new Labs feature in Google Webmaster Tools designed to track page load speed. The new Site Performance tool is one part tracking and stats tool, and one part Firefox add-on.
The tracking and stats can be accessed through the Labs menu in Google Webmaster Tools. To get the live profiling add-on, you’ll need to be using Firefox and have the Firebug add-on installed. Yes, like Yahoo’s YSlow add-on, Google’s Page Speed add-on injects some extra profiling tools into the Firebug panel.
These days, nearly everyone has a blog or a website they maintain. Popular publishing systems like WordPress, Movable Type and Blogger do a decent job of keeping your sites slim, but once you load up a complicated theme and add a few widgets, your page load times can start to take a substantial hit. Google’s new set of tools, along with similar tools like Yahoo’s YSlow, are powerful and full-featured, making them a must for large-scale site developers. But they are also easy to install and simple enough to use that even bloggers and small site builders should gain plenty of insight from the data they provide.
To get the new tools, install the Firebug add-on and head to the Site Performance section of Google Webmaster Tools. At the bottom of the page you’ll see a button to install the new Firefox plugin. Once installed, head to your site, click the Firebug icon and look for two new tabs: Page Speed and Page Speed Activity.
So what does Google’s new tool offer that YSlow doesn’t? Well, there is definitely some overlap, but Page Speed has quite a few more details that make it worth having. For instance the CSS profiling looks at the complexity of your selectors — shorter, more specific CSS rules mean the browser has less to evaluate, hence faster parsing. Google’s Page Speed tools parse your CSS and suggest optimizations.
Even some of the tools that duplicate those of YSlow are a bit nicer than what YSlow offers. For example the list of links to external images and files is much easier to see at glance in Google’s interface and the links to detailed explanations are a nice touch.
We did notice an odd conflict between YSlow and Google’s new tools. In our tests, YSlow didn’t report any cookies coming from the domain serving images, but Google Page Speed did. Which one is right? Frankly we’re not sure, our cookie logs don’t show anything for the image domain, but that doesn’t mean cookies weren’t sent.
Despite a couple of quirks Google’s new Page Speed tools for Firebug are a worth addition to your web profiling toolset. There’s definitely some overlap with YSlow, but enough extra features to make it worth having both on hand when you’re testing websites.