Test Often

Test Often

As the owner or administrator of a website, you must monitor the performance of your website. It has been said many times, but it is worth saying again: a slow website can lead to fewer users, higher bounce rates, and potentially lower sales.

This is a dark future and one that you should do everything to avoid. Luckily, you have a wide array of tools at your fingertips.

To put it simply, the performance is your friend. You must utilizing it on a frequent basis. This is to ensure that your users (and potential users) are enjoying a positive experience on your website.

While this tool is available for every administrator to use, many administrators often leverage this tool just once or twice per year. This can be a for a variety of reasons. Those administrators, for instance, may be preoccupied with other important tasks on their plate. Or they may only use a performance test once or twice per year out of sheer laziness.

To be clear, I applaud those website owners or website administrators who are running a performance test in the first place. The absolute worst case scenario is these individuals refusing to run any performance tests at all. This nonfeasance can lead to websites that inch along and that upset users. So those web administrators who act and run a performance test or two should be applauded for doing so in the first place.

However, this isn’t enough.

Regular and Repeat Performance Tests

Ultimately, I recommend that website owners and web administrators run and execute hundreds of load tests per year. This is significantly more than one or two per year, yet it is absolutely critical—especially if you operate or oversee a website that is expected to see heavy traffic.

But let’s back up for one second. Let’s further define what “regular and repeat” performance tests really means. While I may not have every single answer in this area, I believe my process is highly effective. For me, regular testing means that testing is baked into your development process. This means that when you are developing and maintaining your website, there are certain points in the process where you force yourself to run a performance test.

As just one simple example, let’s say that you or a team of developers recently changed some code that affects a particular feature on the website. You and the team didn’t spend much time on the code change, as it is simply benign in the grand scheme of things. Yet instead of automatically pushing that code change into production, the team should run a simple website performance test. While it may seem pointless or moot to run the test beforehand (as you and your team didn’t change much code), running a test can be your backstop. It can ensure that you aren’t going to break your website and create some unhappy users. Ultimately, testing should include all point releases along with any patches that are produced. Here, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Now, let’s speak about what I mean by “repeated.” It seems simple on the surface, but there is more here than meets the eye. I recommend that most test run at least three times. You may wonder why. I believe that a test run at least three times can uncover some of your website’s biggest bottlenecks.

It can be frustrating being a web administrator. You may run a single test and appear to solve a particular problem in your code base. Yet you later encounter a new bottleneck, and that rises to the top of the pack, preventing your website from being as fast as it can be. This isn’t a silver bullet, but testing your website by running at least three performance tests per testing period can help you realize much greater performance.

I’d like to present one simple example that shows the power of repeated testing. One of my customers ran a single performance test, saw several corrections that he should make to speed up his website, and made those corrections. And those corrections were certainly helpful: the customer saw a 20 percent increase in the performance of his site. But having said that, the customer ran two additional tests to see if he could increase performance any further. Indeed, he was able to increase performance. The performance improvement increased by another 25 percent. This is a significant improvement and one that would not have been realized had the customer simply moved on after the first successful test.

When Should I Test?

As you can see, regular and repeated testing is absolutely critical in regard to your website. It should be incorporated into your development process so that it simply becomes routine.

But having said that, this premise leads to another question:

“At what parts of the development process should I include performance testing?”

This is a difficult question and one that may require some customization on your part. However, there are several key moments or instances where you should include website performance testing.

You will want to test prior to any expected spike in web traffic. While some of these events may be difficult to anticipate, at other times they are easier to foresee. If you can foresee a spike, incorporate testing before the spike actually occurs. You should incorporate testing when looking for application bottlenecks. Clearly, you should also incorporate performance testing before (and after) each major and minor release. This is especially important and something that you should not ignore.

There are also a few other times you will want to run performance tests. For instance, run several tests before and after rolling out any patch. Run several tests before and after any update or upgrade of your application server. You’ll want to run these tests before and after rolling out new hardware or hardware configuration changes. And finally, deeply consider running tests both before and after moving content off of your servers and onto a Content Delivery Network.

As you can tell from our above recommendations, website performance testing is absolutely critical when you are making major changes to your website. You simply cannot ignore web testing at these stages.
Having said that, it is an even better idea to test all the time. It isn’t too difficult to do; all it takes is some of your time and your willingness to correct some bugs (even minor ones) that are impacting the speed of your website.

The Necessity of Now

While website performance is undoubtedly something that is on your mind, it can sit dormant on your to-do list. There are other pressing tasks that face us throughout our workday and we are often offered incentive’s to put out the strongest fires first.

Even considering this reality, I highly encourage you to make repeat and regular performance testing a regular component of your development cycle. Doing so will lead to happier users and, as mentioned, a higher bottom line.

I encourage you to get started today, whether that is researching the best way to conduct a website performance test or even running an actual test today. By acting now, you will be saving yourself from headaches in the future.

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