Mar 07 2013

Google PageSpeed: Website Optimization Out Of The Box

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Rumor has it that there are literally countless aspects influencing the ranking of websites in Google. Besides the ever so valuable content and the still important backlinks to your site, our greatest search engine tends to throw long hard looks at the performance, the loading time of your digital subsidiary. Long loading times get on everybody’s nerves. Google knows that and ranks optimized pages better, a big advantage in terms of SEO. Optimization does not only cost time, but needs a lot og knowledge, too. Google has two solutions in store with which optimizing your websites can become a whole lot easier, easy even. Ever heard of PageSpeed?

pagespeed-rocket-w550

PageSpeed may sound familiar in a lot of webmasters’ ears. PageSpeed Insights has been around for quite some time, letting you find out whether any given website is a real performance disaster or quicksilver. All you had to paste in was an URL, and Google started to calculate a score. The closer to 100 that got, the better the future ranking could be expected. Additionally Google provides a whole arsenal of small optimization possibilities. Up until not so lately webmasters had to undergo the tedious task of executing all the optimizations painstakingly. It’s been quite a while ago that Google started to offer a cloud service as well as a webserver plugin to automate the tasks of optimization. Still, a whole lot of webmasters don’t know about that.

PageSpeed Cloud Service

I you like the easy swing of things, take a look at the cloud-based PageSpeed service. Once logged in, you only hand over the URL to the website to be optimized. After an update of the name-server all future requests will be redirected and rerouted to Google. From there the PageSpeed service calls the URL of your website, loads all data and delivers an optimized version, complying with all recent standards, to the visitor. Installation doesn’t cost you more than 10 minutes of your time. Afterwards CSS and JavaScript is compressed, images are processed, optimized and stored in Google’s own CDN, unnecessary HTML elements are removed and correct cache headers are sent. You can rely on standard settings or fine-tune everything from the service’s dashboard.

Google presents its marvel in this video:

Sounds too good to be true? You’re right. On second sight things come down to be less heavenly. Services, especially those essential to me, shouldn’t get on my nerves. PageSpeed in the cloud does. It’s in typical beta, a simple registration or sign-up is not possible. You’ll need to plead for entry using this Google spreadsheet. It is totally unclear, whether there are eligibility criteria or how long you would have to wait in the worst case. I was lucky and only had to wait a few days.

Once being able to use the service, you’ll find that it does everything you’d have expected. Even for relatively well optimized websites, the software is able to boost their performance by 20%. On not optimized sites the performance boost is predicted to reach a whopping 65%, says Google…

Fans of good response times will not cheer, though. As far as I can see, the service runs via US servers exclusively, which makes for a more or less noticeable delay, depending on your location and the condition of the data superhighway to America. But it’s not only a problem of locations and connections. As per the concept, Google always needs to go two ways to deliver your content. Even at a time where all your images might be cached at Google, this takes time. Visitors get directed to Google, Google fetches your HTML and delivers it. This is far from an optimum solution. And then there’s one more thing: You need to trust Google quite a bit to interweave it in such an intense way with your own digital subsidiary.

mod_pagespeed for Apache

Much more elegant and without most of the flaws of the cloud service is the plugin mod_pagespeed for Apache. This piece of Google software hooks into the server and does the optimization locally on your own machine, without redirecting your data multiple ways back and fourth across the world.

Installation is a snap. CentOS/Fedora and Debian/Ubuntu have ready-made packages available. If you have rrot rights, installation is done in a few minutes. In the following example I assume that you are using a 64bit server. If you need 32bit packages, check the website of mod_pagespeed.

First we wget the most recent packages:

Debian/Ubuntu

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wget https://dl-ssl.google.com/dl/linux/direct/mod-pagespeed-stable_current_amd64.deb

CentOS/Fedora

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wget https://dl-ssl.google.com/dl/linux/direct/mod-pagespeed-stable_current_x86_64.rpm

Once done, installation can be invoked:

Debian/Ubuntu

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dpkg -i mod-pagespeed-*.deb
apt-get -f install

CentOS/Fedora

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2
yum install at #if "at" isn't yet installed
rpm -U mod-pagespeed-*.rpm

That’s it. After a reboot of your Apache the plugin is active and working. Take to the configuration file to fine-tune details, such as a specific CDN or adding individual parameters. If you don’t want to, you don’t need to. The default configuration is totally sufficient. During the installation of the package Google’s repository gets installed, too. This way keeping PageSpeed updated is done in the same way all other software on your machine is maintained.

While calling the URL of your website things work in the same way they do with the cloud service. We only leave out the cloud. The whole magic happens locally, all control is in your hands. And – unsurprisingly – response times are much better without having to send the data to America and call it back. This will probably decide on whether you or one of your contestants reaches a higher rank…

But be aware: PageSpeed Cloud as well as mod_pagespeed do an aggressive job in terms of caching all JS, CSS and image files. If your content changes while file names don’t change, these changes are bound to be visible not immediately but with a more or less perceivable delay.

Which system you choose is a matter of taste and effort. I would always recommend mod_pagespeed, if you’ve got installation access to the server. If you haven’t or if you don’t want to put the effort into it, PageSpeed’s cloud service is a solid alternative with its own little weaknesses. Either way, the automatic optimization techniques are worth using. The optimization effect is perceptible and not only an academic value. In the end I don’t want to wait for my own website to load, either…

Article originally written by Adrian Bechtold for our German daughter Dr. Web Magazin

(ab/dpe)

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Comments and Discussions
  • Farzana Neha, 26 April 2013

    I have started using page speed for my website for a week. My webpage is loading amazingly faster than before. I hope they charge a reasonable price when the limited trial is over.

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