BuzzStream Research Improvements: Powerful Tools to Find The Information You Need

BuzzStream Research Improvements: Powerful Tools to Find The Information You Need

Whether you’re putting together your list for the first time, reviewing data that we’ve discovered for a list that you’ve imported, or gathering relevant context to send effective outreach to contacts, you’ve got to find the right information at the right time.

To help you out with that, we’ve added some major functionality that will make your research faster, more direct, and more obvious. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in.

Research Links

First, let me introduce you to your new best friend for gathering context or on page information for contacts that you’ve added to BuzzStream: the Research Link.

Research Links capture the specific URLs that you leveraged when adding a contact so you can quickly use them to gather information, build context, or refer to them when sending an email. For example, if you were running a campaign targeting resource pages and added one based on a Google SERP result using the BuzzMarker, we would turn the specific page found in that SERP into a Research Link that you can return to at any time.

The Research Link is a new history item and can be found by simply clicking on a contact and reviewing the history. If there are a lot of other history items such as notes and emails you can also filter on Research Links to quickly surface all of the ones associated with that contact.

Review with BuzzMarker

With all of those fancy new research links added, we also wanted to give you a new way to quickly review and act on them. Now you can research contacts in your database using the BuzzMarker with our new Review button.

The Review button gives you a great way to vet a list of contacts, gather information from research links, or give context to your team when reaching out.

To use the Review button, just highlight the contact you’d like to review and it will become available to you.

From there you’ll be taken into the BuzzMarker where you can review all of the links associated with your contact, including their top level domain and all of the Research Links attached to that contact.


Bulk Add From BuzzMarker

While we were tinkering with the BuzzMarker, we also figured that we could give our users a faster way to get contacts into BuzzStream to begin gathering metrics and contact information in situations where you didn’t want to vet all of their contacts up front. For instance, if you wanted to add results from a number of SERP keywords then vet and filter them based on metrics such as DA or discovered contact information. So, we’ve given you the ability to bulk add contacts into your BuzzStream projects using the BuzzMarker.

To do that, just start a prospecting list using the BuzzMarker and the option to add all of the prospects to a project will be made available to you. Select that option and you’re good to go. Of course, if you’d still rather view the contacts up front before adding them to your project to ensure quality that option remains available to you.

Smart Behavior for URL Lists in BuzzMarker

So…we just couldn’t stop tinkering. As we were adding the ability to bulk add contacts from the BuzzMarker we realized that the existing process of right clicking on a page with a list of URLs then selecting BuzzStream BuzzMarker and then selecting Start Prospecting was a pain in the ass.

Now, when you click the BuzzMarker icon on a page with a list of URLs we’ll intelligently detect it and start a Prospecting List for you.

Removal of BuzzBar in the Contact Grid View

As we expand and improve the product, some features do sadly need to be left behind. In order to accommodate the new Review capabilities, we are going to stop supporting the ability to view existing contacts in the BuzzBar. Although we know that many users have gotten tremendous value out of the BuzzBar, unfortunately there are major impediments to continued development. Most prominently among these are the requirement to load unsafe scripts in order to view pages in the BuzzBar, as well as difficulty loading some page elements in the BuzzBar frame.

Moving forward, new customers will not see the BuzzBar in their accounts in the contact grid view. However, we will still be keeping the BuzzBar as the primary way to review Prospecting Searches for the time being.

Change in Behavior for Adding From Twitter

One final announcement related to the BuzzMarker that we wanted to make you aware of. Previously, when adding contacts from Twitter using the BuzzMarker we would give you the choice to add them as People or Websites. Moving forward, those contacts will be added as Websites by default.

Although this does remove some of the flexibility of determining Twitter contact type, it has made it difficult to build out our social prospecting capabilities (hint: stay closely tuned here) and has also led to unnecessary confusion for many customers.

Of course, you can still add an associated person to a Twitter record if you want to put together a list of people to reach out to.

Wrapping Up

We sincerely hope that you enjoy the new BuzzStream Research features that we’ve put together. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback, and are more than happy to answer any questions you’ve got as well!

If you haven’t downloaded the BuzzMarker yet, you can do that right here. And if you haven’t started a BuzzStream trial to send better, more intelligent outreach, what are you waiting for? Start a free trial today.

The post BuzzStream Research Improvements: Powerful Tools to Find The Information You Need appeared first on BuzzStream.

Image SEO: alt tag and title tag optimization

Image SEO: alt tag and title tag optimization

Adding images to your articles encourages people to read them, and well-chosen images can also back up your message and get you a good ranking in image search results. But you should always remember to give your images good alt attributes: alt text strengthens the message of your articles with search engine spiders and improves the accessibility of your website. This article explains all about alt tags and title tags and why you should optimize them.

Note: the term “alt tag” is a commonly used abbreviation of what’s actually an alt attribute on an img tag. The alt tag of any image on your site should describe what’s on it. Screen readers for the blind and visually impaired will read out this text and therefore make your image accessible.

What are alt tags and title tags?

This is a complete HTML image tag:

<img src=“image.jpg” alt=“image description” title=“image tooltip”>

The alt and title attributes of an image are commonly referred to as alt tag or alt text and title tag – even though they’re not technically tags. The alt text describes what’s on the image and the function of the image on the page. So if you are using an image as a button to buy product X, the alt text should say: “button to buy product X.”

The alt tag is used by screen readers, which are browsers used by blind and visually impaired people, to tell them what is on the image. The title attribute is shown as a tooltip when you hover over the element, so in the case of an image button, the image title could contain an extra call-to-action, like “Buy product X now for $19!”, although this is not a best practice.

Each image should have an alt text, not just for SEO purposes but also because blind and visually impaired people won’t otherwise know what the image is about, but a title attribute is not required. What’s more, most of the time it doesn’t make sense to add it. They are only available to mouse (or other pointing devices) users and the only one case where the title attribute is required for accessibility is on <iframe> and <frame> tags.

If the information conveyed by the title attribute is relevant, consider making it available somewhere else, in plain text and if it’s not relevant, consider removing the title attribute entirely.

But what if an image doesn’t have a purpose?

If you have images in your design that are purely there for design reasons, you’re doing it wrong, as those images should be in your CSS and not in your HTML. If you really can’t change these images, give them an empty alt attribute, like so:

<img src="image.png" alt="">

The empty alt attribute makes sure that screen readers skip over the image.

alt text and SEO

Google’s article about images has a heading “Use descriptive alt text”. This is no coincidence because Google places a relatively high value on alt text to determine not only what is on the image but also how it relates to the surrounding text. This is why, in our Yoast SEO content analysis, we have a feature that specifically checks that you have at least one image with an alt tag that contains your focus keyphrase.

Yoast SEO checks for images and their alt text in your posts:image alt attributes assessmentWe’re definitely not saying you should spam your focus keyphrase into every alt tag. You need good, high quality, related images for your posts, where it makes sense to have the focus keyword in the alt text. Here’s Google’s advice on choosing a good alt text:

When choosing alt text, focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and is in context of the content of the page. Avoid filling alt attributes with keywords (keyword stuffing) as it results in a negative user experience and may cause your site to be seen as spam.

If your image is of a specific product, include both the full product name and the product ID in the alt tag so that it can be more easily found. In general: if a keyphrase could be useful for finding something that is on the image, include it in the alt tag if you can. Also, don’t forget to change the image file name to be something actually describing what’s on it.

alt and title attributes in WordPress

When you upload an image to WordPress, you can set a title and an alt attribute. By default, it uses the image filename in the title attribute, which, if you don’t enter an alt attribute, it copies to the alt attribute. While this is better than writing nothing, it’s pretty poor practice. You really need to take the time to craft a proper alt text for every image you add to a post — users and search engines will thank you for it. The interface makes it easy: click an image, hit the edit button, and you’ll see this:wordpress image details with alt attributeThere’s no excuse for not doing this right, other than laziness. Your (image) SEO will truly benefit if you get these tiny details right. Visually challenged users will also like you all the more for it.

Read more about image SEO?

We have a very popular (and longer) article about Image SEO. That post goes into a ton of different ways to optimize images but is relatively lacking in detail when it comes to alt and title tags — think of this as an add-on to that article. I recommend reading it when you’re done here.

Read more: Optimizing images for SEO »

The post Image SEO: alt tag and title tag optimization appeared first on Yoast.

When You Should and Shouldn’t Use the Google Disavow Tool

When You Should and Shouldn’t Use the Google Disavow Tool

The Google Disavow Tool can be useful but it can also be very dangerous. If not used properly, it can mess up with your website’s rankings on Google.


In order to make sure you use the Google Disavow Tool right, you must first know when you are actually allowed to use it. This advanced Google feature should only be used in specific scenarios.




If you’re interested in finding out when you should use the Google Disavow Tool, keep reading, because you’ll get all your answers in this article.


  1. What Exactly Is the Google Disavow Tool?
  2. When to Use The Disavow Tool
    1. When there’s a dramatic drop in traffic & rankings
    2. When your site has been spammed with Negative SEO backlinks
    3. When you know your SEO Agency built spammy links to your website
    4. When you have a manual action applied on your site
    5. Other cases
  3. When NOT to Use the Disavow Tool
    1. When there’s no drastic drop in rankings
    2. When you’re not sure if it is a penalty
    3. When there’s a small drop in rankings
    4. For testing purposes
  4. How to Easily Disavow Links
  5. Is the Disavow Tool Actually Helpful? (READ THIS)


A lot of webmasters see this tool as the ultimate salvation for their problems when they get an algorithmic or manual penalty. Even though generally  the objective of the Disavow Links tool was to be used as a resort to resolve link problems, it is not as simple as it seems.



What Exactly Is the Google Disavow Tool?


Long story short, the Google Disavow Tool is a feature in the Google Search Console (former Google Webmaster Tools) in which you can submit a list of backlinks that you want Google to disconsider. It was launched in late 2012 and was a pretty big deal back in the day.


The Google Disavow tool became a very popular topic in the aftermath of the Penguin 2.0 update. The changes made to the algorithm “dissolved” a lot of abused black hat SEO techniques and affected a lot of webmasters that found themselves on the wrong side of the street all of a sudden. The effects were harsh and visible and the website owners were desperate to recover their dropped rankings.


It became clear that this tool was developed in order to help webmasters solve their issues regarding penalties. The process seems simple. You have to create a file in order to show which links you want Google to disregard.


However, later on, people found out that the tool is actually much more than that. Through this very tool, Google collects information about spammy links across the web as users submit them. This way, it can improve its database of types of backlinks to better identify spammy and shady ones in the future.


For this very reason, the Black Hat SEO community doesn’t like the Disavow Tool. Many advised people not to use it, because it will help Google get stronger and catch their tactics quicker. But fearful webmasters rushed in to submit their spammy link profiles, in hope that they will be spared or forgiven.


Today, as of the new version of GSC, there’s no actual way of accessing the Disavow Tool from the Search Console. Although Google sends you to the new version, the tool can’t be found there either. 


disavow tool not in gsc


The Google Disavow Tool can be however directly accessed from the web by searching for it, or by accessing the Disavow Links Main Page.


In order to use the tool, you need to have a verified property in GSC. This means you can disavow backlinks only for websites that you own. The process is pretty simple once you have the proper list.


Getting that Google Disavow links list right, however, is another story. I’ll explain it soon.


When to Use the Disavow Tool


Short answer is that there are only a few isolated cases in which you should use the Google Disavow Tool. If you’re not sure you should use it, then the answer is probably don’t.


When deciding to use it, you should take into consideration a couple of things:


First of all, you need to make a quick link audit and see which are the links that are harming your site the most. You need to carefully determine the bad and the good and see which links could influence your site’s ranking drop. If you’re not careful, you might end up loosing some valid links that would otherwise pour some of that precious “link juice”.


Then, you have to take into account the fact that, before appealing to the disavow tool, you could try to remove the bad links manually by contacting the owners of the websites that point to you. Before panicking and running straight for the disavow solution, you should carefully try to clean up your mess the old fashion way. It may sound like a laborious task but you can make use of third-party tools that can help you speed up with the unnatural link detection and outreach.


You may want to use this tool if you stumble upon the following problems:


1. When there’s a dramatic drop in traffic & rankings


Obviously, a dramatic drop in traffic and rankings indicates an issue with your website. However, you should not rush in to disavow your links. First, make sure that that is the issue and try to exclude everything else before you decide on doing it.


The whole concept of disavowing unnatural links must be taken very seriously as it may also harm your ranking. This process should not be done on a haste.



You should take your time weeding out the bad and you should submit a list to be disavowed only if you’re 100% sure of the links that you send. You should also remember to try to manually remove the harmful links, not only to show Google your good intentions but also because you don’t know how long the disavow process could take.



2. When your site has been spammed with Negative SEO backlinks


If your website has been subject to a large scale Negative SEO attack, then you can consider disavowing those bad links.


But how do you know when your site was attacked? And how do you know which links are good and which links are bad?


Well, you can always use the CognitiveSEO Tool to monitor your backlinks and see if your link profile suffers major changes in a short amount of time. You can also use the tool to determine which links are natural and which links fit the patterns of spammy links by using our Unnatural Link Detection feature.


unnatural links tool


I’ll tell you more about how to exactly identify the bad links in a bit, so keep reading. First, let’s take a look at some other scenarios where you should consider using the Disavow Tool.


3.When you know your SEO Agency built spammy links to your website


Many times, webmasters hire companies to do SEO work for them. If you don’t choose your SEO agency right, you risk ending up with an SEO that will use BlackHat link building tactics to try and boost your site.


This might end up in a manual action penalty for your website, which are usually pretty hard to recover from.


If you find out that your SEO agency has been building unnatural links to your website instead of using techniques accepted by Google’s Guidelines, then you should consider using the Disavow Tool.


However, keep in mind that you should never disavow links massively if your website has not yet been penalized!


4. When you have a manual action applied on your site


Manual actions aren’t something you will often see. They are rare, isolated cases. However, they do exist and, if your website is one of them, you can consider using the disavow tool.


There are multiple types of manual actions, so make sure you start disavowing links only if you see the “Unnatural Links” warning. 


Other types of actions are related to Thin Content or User Generated Spam. These problems are fixed in other ways, without using the Disavow Tool.


To see if any manual actions have been applied to your website, go to the Google Search Console and find the Manual Actions section in the left menu.


Hopefully, you’ll see something like this:


disavow manual actions


If you see any warnings here, make sure you fix them and then submit your site for reconsideration (also done in the GSC under Manual Actions).


5. Other cases


Now of course, there are some other certain situations when you might want to Disavow some links that you’re sure provide no value, for example when the linking sites have viruses or malicious software.


However, if these links take 1% or less of your total links, then you probably shouldn’t bother (except if that 1% means thousands of links, which looks more like an attack).


John Mueller said that it’s also possible to disavow links in order to prevent future penalties and achieve ‘peace of mind’. That’s a sneaky way of threatening webmasters that they will get penalized if they don’t submit their links.


However, Gary Illyes later said that he would not bother to disavow some spammy links.


I have a site that gets 100,000 visits every two weeks. I haven’t looked at the links to it for two years, even though I’ve been told that it has some porn site links. I’m fine with that. I don’t use the disavow file. Don’t overuse it. It is a big gun.

Overusing it can destroy your rankings in a matter of hours. Don’t be afraid of sites that you don’t know. There’s no way you can know them all. If they have content, and they are not spammy, why would you disavow them?

Sites like this are very unlikely to hurt you, and they may help you. I personally trust the Google filters.

Gary Illyes
Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google / @methode


Our recommendation is to ignore these links unless there’s a visible penalty on your website, such as a manual action in GSC or a massive drop in traffic/rankings which can’t be attributed to anything else (HTTPS migration, redesign or some other major modifications to the site).


If you think your site is suffering from some bad links and you really want to remove the links you suspect, start slow, by disavowing only 5-10 links at a time. Wait for a couple of weeks to spot any effects and then expand by updating the disavow file with some new spammy links.


Track your rankings carefully to spot any differences and if you see massive negative impacts, remove the disavow files and stop messing with the tool immediately.


When NOT to Use the Disavow Tool


Usually, the answer is to never use the disavow tool except for the cases mentioned above. Some people think that it’s a good idea to use the Disavow Tool from time to time to make sure they clean their link profile, but they end up messing things up very badly!


To get a better understanding, here are some specific scenarios when you should not disavow the links:


1. When there’s no drastic drop in rankings

The reasons for which you may experience a drastic Google ranking drop may vary from website to website and in generally there is a serious guideline violation. But if you don’t experience that, you shouldn’t be panicking.


You may just be outranked by a competitor. As a consequence, there is no need to rush and get the disavow tool from your link survival kit.


You should try to analyze and track your competitor and see what is their SEO and content strategy. Also, you should maybe step up and improve your own approaches.


2. When you’re not sure if it is a penalty


When you receive a manual penalty the situation is pretty clear. Especially if you make use of Google Webmaster Tools ( which we strongly recommend). You will receive a message in which they warn you about the actions taken against you.


While this is easy and straight forward, an algorithmic penalty is not that obvious. You’ll have to make a personal assessment to see if it’s a penalty or it’s just the fact that the links are low quality. And if it is indeed an algorithmic penalty, what is harming your site’s ranking?


3. When there’s a small drop in rankings


It may just be a quick road bump in the road. You may always experience a flux in ranking that is unpredictable. As a golden rule, if you don’t have an explicit message from Google that you’ve been penalized or if you know you have an unnatural link profile, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.


Your ranking could just recover on its own after a day or two. Moreover, a small drop in search engine ranking may just be influenced by the fact that you have many low quality links pointing to your site.


The solution here isn’t to remove those links, but to focus on building higher quality ones.


Usually, an algorithmic penalty will take place after an algorithm update. Sure, sometimes you might get penalized much later after the update, but usually, if that’s the case, chances are that it’s rather a manual penalty than an algorithmic one.


If you’re not sure whether there’s been an update on Google’s algorithm, you can check the CognitiveSEO Signals Tool.



You also have to check what the algorithm was about. Google doesn’t say much, but sometimes it says things like “this update will affect website that are not optimized for mobile”. If you can correlate what Google says with your website, then you have an issue.


4. For testing purposes


The final advice on when not to use the Google disavow tool would be to not just use it so you can see how it works. Cyrus Shepard made such an experiment and here are his “sad” findings.


DON’T DO THIS AS HOME!!! – Just don’t toy around with this tool, you may get fried!


The saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is very much true in this case. This is one of those tools that you just don’t want to learn at your own cost. It’s too powerful and the damage it may do if misused may be irreversible.


The Disavow Tool is an advanced feature and should not be used unless one actually knows what they’re doing. It’s risky and shouldn’t be played with.


disavow tool is dangerous if not used correctly


Unless it’s one of the scenarios mentioned above, which are pretty critical if you ask me, it should be avoided.


Don’t disavow links or domains with low performance. Low DA links are part of a natural link profile. In the end, disavowing them might do more harm than good.


Maybe a new, small website with low domain performance writes about your website and links to it. Should you disavow these types of links? Definitely not.


Someday, that low domain performance website might become really popular and have a great deal of domain authority. Not only this, but the link might already be contributing to your site’s well being.


How To Easily Disavow Links


As stated above, you usually have to disavow links in severe cases of web spam and negative SEO attacks or manual actions. In case your site was massively spammed or already penalized and you have no way of removing those links, then you can use the Disavow Tool without any limitations to try and fix things.


Remember that you’re doing this at your own risk. Don’t rush Disavowing links if you’re not penalized yet. 


The truth is that disavowing links is a very difficult and time consuming process. In the end, it sounds as simple as uploading a text file on the web, but generating that text file correctly can be a bummer.


You’ll have to differentiate the bad links from the good ones and Google doesn’t actually help you do that. It will just tell you that your site has been penalized for spammy links.


Luckily, there is an easy way of dealing with unnatural links. By using the CognitiveSEO Unnatural Link Detection Tool. The tool makes it very easy to identify those links using an algorithm. The links that fit spammy links patterns will be marked as unnatural.



It is not, however, 100% automated. Before the tool can actually determine which links are good and which links are bad, you’ll have to sort out your anchor texts. This is usually done quickly in the tool via the anchor text classifier.



spammy anchor texts


The graphic above has been modified for privacy purposes. It is just an example.


The tool will automatically identify most branded keywords. However, the ones only containing keywords your site wants to target will be Misc by default. You can use the search filter on the left and bulk classify. The more diverse your anchor text distribution, the better for SEO, but the longer it will take to classify.


After that, you will get to see the unnatural links:


unnatural links tool



Once you have your list of unnatural links, you can mark them for disavow. You can also choose to reclassify the links as natural (OK) if you want. We highly advise you to take a look over your unnatural links (if you don’t have thousands). Mark any links that aren’t obviously spammy as Suspect and decide later if they really need to be disavowed.


generate and export disavow file quickly


After that, from the Unnatural Link Detection menu you can Export Google Disavow which will result in the Browser downloading a text file containing all the links/domains in the proper format for uploading it to the Disavow Tool.


It’s best if you try the tool yourself. You can sign up for a free trial and also get a live demo in which one of the cognitiveSEO team members will showcase the tool for you.


Remember, if there’s no penalty yet, those links might be the ones keeping your website near the top. Disavowing links can also result in a drop in rankings, so be very careful how you play with it!


It’s always a better idea to try to completely remove any spammy links to your website from the web. It’s time consuming, but it’s the more efficient way and it’s also what Google recommends.


If you want a step-by-step approach, you can take a look at this more in-depth guide on using the disavow tool.



Is the Disavow Tool Actually Helpful?


There’s a lot of controversy around the Google Disavow Tool. Is it actually useful? Will it prevent a penalty? Does it actually work?



The truth is that for each of the successful penalty recovery stories documented by us, there are indefinitely more out there that have not seen any success, even when using the Disavow Tool as recommended by Google.


In 2016, Google introduced Penguin 4.0 which supposedly made Google capable of ignoring spammy links altogether, as they were posted. In other words, the Disavow Tool worked and the spammy links database has improved the algorithm by making it able to run real-time.


disavow tool improves penguin


But in this case, is disavowing the links needed anymore?


This question has been asked many times around different events, on social media and throughout Webmaster Hangouts. Some answers came up to help us draw some conclusions:


Gary Illyes said on social media that:


For penguin specifically there’s less need, yes, but if you see the crap, you can help us help you by using it.

Gary Illyes
Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google / @methode


Also, John Mueller said this about keeping or removing the disavow files:



The question wasn’t really about cleaning the links, but about the necessity of keeping the disavow file post Penguin 4.0. However, John’s answer instead reminds us that the spammy links should still be removed from the internet, which is something Google mentioned when they first launched the Google Disavow Tool.


Eric Kuan from Google said that “Google may not process them (disavowed links) if they don’t see you making a serious manual attempt at removing those links.” If you’ve spammed the website yourself, that makes sense. However, if you’re the victim of a negative SEO attack, it’s kind of unfair, don’t you think?


If you disavow links Google says you still have to try and remove them from the internet


The truth is, there’s no guarantee that using the disavow tool and submitting your site for reconsideration will remove a penalty. The best way to not get penalized is to not do anything that will get you penalized. However, it’s worth a shot in critical situations.


In the end, you have to consider that the Disavow Tool:


  • Takes time: If you want to do things the right way, you’ll have to spend a lot of time researching your link profile and making sure that you’re not disavowing any useful links (remember, the CognitiveSEO Tool can help you speed up this process)
  • Can mess things up: Remember, the Disavow Tool is an advanced feature and should only be used in specific cases. You shouldn’t waste your time with it if you’re not 100% sure it’s the right way to go.
  • Has actual guarantee it will work: Even if you know what you’re doing, there’s no guarantee it will help. Who knows, it might actually make things worse.




The main point that you should remember is that this tool shouldn’t be used if you’re not 100 percent sure how it works. Disavowing links is a powerful and irreversible process that may resolve your ranking drops or may throw your site into search engine oblivion.


Even though the Google Disavow Tool proves to be an invaluable asset to use in times of need, it can very well be misunderstood and easily used for the wrong purpose.


If you couldn’t prevail at removing unnatural links through traditional methods, you should obviously try disavowing them. But the tool should be used only in specific situations, such as a Manual Penalty. If you’re unsure how to use it and what it’s capable of doing, you should avoid it. However, if you think you’ve tried everything else, it’s worth a shot.


By adding smaller amounts of links at a time to the disavow file, you can avoid messing things up very badly, although this process is more time consuming.


What are your experiences with the Disavow Tool? Have you successfully recovered from a penalty? Did it not do anything at all? Have you used it to try prevent any future penalties? Let us know in the comments!


The post When You Should and Shouldn’t Use the Google Disavow Tool appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

How to check site speed

How to check site speed

Learning how to check your site speed doesn’t need to be daunting. This short guide will give you the basics, and point you in the right direction.

There’s no single metric

The first thing to understand is that there is no single metric or measurement for ‘speed’. There’s no simple number which you can use to measure how quickly your pages load.

Think about what happens when you load a website. There are lots of different stages and many different parts which can be measured. If the network connection is slow, but the images load quickly, how ‘fast’ is the site? What about the other way around?

Even if you try to simplify all of this to something like “the time it takes until it’s completely loaded“, it’s still tricky to give that a useful number.

For example, a page which takes longer to ‘finish loading’ may provide a functional ‘lightweight’ version while the full page is still downloading in the background. Is that ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ than a website which loads faster, but which I can’t use until it’s finished loading?

The answer is, “it depends”, and there are many different ways in which we can think about or measure ‘site speed’.

Understanding the loading process

From the moment when you click on a link (or hit ‘enter’ in your URL bar), a process begins to load the page you requested.

That process contains many steps, but they can be grouped into broad stages which looks something like this:

The “one second timeline” from Google’s site speed documentation

While Google’s documentation might be a bit ambitious about the timings of these stages, the model is helpful. Essentially, the process can be described as three stages of loading.

1. Network stuff

First up, the physical hardware of your device needs to connect to the Internet. Usually, that involves moving data through transatlantic fibre cables. That means that you’re limited by the speed of light, and how quickly your device can process information.

It’s hard to measure or impact this part of the process!

2. Server stuff

Here, your device asks your server for a page, and the server prepares and returns the response.

This section can get a bit technical, as it’s focused on the performance of server hardware, databases and scripts. You may need to ask for help from your hosting provider or tech team.

We can measure the performance of the server with tools like NewRelic or DataDog, which monitors how your site behaves and responds from the ‘inside’.

They’ll provide charts and metrics around things like slow database queries and slow scripts. Armed with this information, you can get a better understanding if your hosting is up to scratch and if you need to make code changes to your theme/plugins/scripts.

The Query Monitor plugin for WordPress

WordPress has some great plugins for doing this kind of analysis, too – I’m a big fan of Query Monitor. This provides some great insight into which bits of WordPress might be slowing you down – whether it’s your themes, plugins, or environments.

3. Browser stuff

This stage is where the page needs to be constructed, laid out, colored in, and displayed. The way in which images load, in which JavaScript and CSS are processed, and every individual HTML tag on your page affects how quickly things load.

We can monitor some of this from the ‘outside-in’ with tools which scan the website and measure how it loads. We recommend using multiple tools, as they measure things differently, and are useful for different assessments. For example:

  • WebPageTest is great for providing a ‘waterfall’ view of the website, and how all of the assets load.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights is a bit simplistic, but it provides ‘real user metrics’ of your website, straight from Google.
  • Lighthouse for Chrome provides an incredibly sophisticated analysis of the performance and behaviour of the site, but it can be hard to digest!
  • Chrome Developer Console shows you exactly what’s happening as your site loads, on your computer, in your browser.

WebPageTest results for

These kinds of tools are great for spotting things like images which need to be optimized, where your CSS or JavaScript is slow, or where you’re waiting for assets to load from other domains.

Universal metrics

Despite all of these moving parts, there are a few universal metrics which make sense for all sites to measure, and optimize for. These are:

  • Time until first byte, which is how long it takes until the server responds with some information. Even if your front-end is blazing fast, this will hold you up. Measure with Query Monitor or NewRelic.
  • Time until first contentful (and meaningful) paint, which is how long it takes for key visual content (e.g., a hero image or a page heading) to appear on the screen. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.
  • Time until interactive, which is how long it takes for the experience to be visible, and react to my input. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.

These are much more sophisticated metrics than “how long did it take to load”, and, perhaps more importantly, have a user-centric focus. Improving these metrics should correlate directly with user satisfaction, which is super-important for SEO.

A Lighthouse report for showing key metrics

You can read more about these metrics in Google’s documentation.

Wrapping this into a process

  1. Use an ‘outside-in’ tool, like WebPageTest to generate a waterfall diagram of how the website loads.
  2. Identify bottlenecks with servers and the back end. Look for slow connection times, slow SSL handshakes, and slow DNS lookups. Use a plugin like Query Monitor, or a service like NewRelic to diagnose what’s holding things up. Make server, hardware, software and script changes.
  3. Identify bottlenecks with the front end. Look for slow loading and processing times on images, scripts and stylesheets. Use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse for Chrome for suggestions on how to streamline how the page loads.
  4. Use Lighthouse for Chrome to measure your key metrics, like time until first meaningful paint and time until interactive.

Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!

Read on: Improving site speed: Tools and suggestions »

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How To Boost SEO With Question Keywords Optimization

How To Boost SEO With Question Keywords Optimization

How To Boost SEO With Question Keywords Optimization

Question-related searches are a significant part of the overall searches Google receives each day. Internet Live Stats suggests that there are around 3.5 billion searches per day in 2018, and a study predicted that approximately 8% of search queries are phrased as questions. Find out how you can use question keywords for SEO and traffic.