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Is Your Web Hosting Fast Enough?

By: Derek Vaughan
Published: April 30 2005

Ever try to get to your own web site only to discover that it seems to take a long time for the page to load? Here are a few pointers on how exactly to understand and quantify your page load times.

First a few basics - there are many potential culprits when trying to track down why your page is loading so slowly - for example:

Your Local Internet Connection and Modem - Are you only connected to the Internet with a dial-up connection through a 14.4 K modem? Well-HELLO!-it's gonna take a while for those large graphics on your page to load at that speed.

Your Local Personal Computer - Are you still using that "boat anchor" computer that you got back in the early 1990s? Does it have an 8086 processes or with 64 meg of RAM? If so, your machine can slow down your Internet page loads.

Network Congestion - This is a catch-all phrase that most of the tech support folks will use when you call them. While it is possible for the specific portion of the Internet that you are connected with to be experiencing a general slowdown, this is rarely the cause of a slow loading web site.

WAY Too Many Large Graphics on Your Pages - Now we're getting somewhere. A fairly common cause of slow pages load times (especially on a dial-up connection) is simply too many humungous files to download.

A Glitch in Your Script - Many times a simple plug-in or script that is expecting a common browser setting or cookie condition can hang. This is most common when you are testing or uploading new components to your web site.

Broken Links or Images - Often a simple typo in a URL will cause pages to hang while the Internet is off looking for a page or graphic that doesn't actually exist.

Got Spyware? - Let's face it, unless you watch your system like a HAWK, it's possible that there are internal stealth programs that can slow your browsing experience to a crawl. Check early, check often for spyware.

Finally, Maybe Your Hosting Provider is Just Plain S - L - O - W.

Here is a simple step-by-step way to check your web site and to quantify how fast the page is actually loading from multiple locations around the world.

We're going to use a free tool located at: www.alertra.com. Go to the upper right hand corner of the Alertra site to an input box labeled "Spot Check" with the words "Enter URL" next to it. Type in your website's URL and click the "check" button to the right of the input box. Below are the results I got when checking "Yahoo.com".

Alertra checked the site from multiple worldwide locations including Hong Kong, China - Las Vegas, USA - and Atlanta, USA. Under "Result" we see that the site loaded okay at each location. The page size is listed under "Kbytes". The real deal is the next column: "Secs". That is the exact time that the page took to download entirely at that location. As you can see, the site loaded in under a second in Las Vegas, while it took a long 7.66 seconds in Atlanta.

Use the tool for your own URL and see what the results are. You can also type in the URL of several competitors and see if their sites load faster or slower than yours. You can also make changes to your site and quantify the difference in page load times.

Experts generally agree that if your pages are taking any longer than a few seconds to load, you could be losing visitors and sales to a faster loading competitor.

Good luck using this free tool to examine and understand your page load times. One last thought, make sure to check your pages multiple times throughout the day and get an average page load time. This will even out any irregularities that might sneak onto the Internet during the day.

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