A slow, overloaded WordPress site is bad for business. When pages take too long to load, visitors give up and may not come back. If a site is down and administrators don’t notice quickly, people will see it as a sign of an unreliable business.
A sudden drop in performance can result from changes in usage, or it could indicate active malware. When malicious code pulls confidential information from a server, it can slow down legitimate server responses, and this could be the first warning of an intrusion.
Several tools are available to monitor a site’s performance and alert administrators of any problems. They’re a different category from security monitoring and simple downtime checking. They follow performance on an ongoing basis and provide periodic or on-request reports. All of them use a third-party service, and some require a subscription. Monitoring can be external, not requiring any server-side software, or it can use an agent installed on the application server to collect more detailed information.
Monitoring techniques include synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring (RUM). The first runs simulated users to check response times; the second observes normal users’ interactions. Each approach has its advantages, and using both provides the most complete picture.
The following are some of the best tools for tracking a WordPress site’s performance. Their features vary considerably, and the pricing ranges from free to expensive. Look carefully at the range of offerings before deciding which is best for your site.
Google Pagespeed Insights
The Google Pagespeed Insights (PSI) service is a popular way to measure the performance of any kind of website. It costs nothing, and site managers consider a high score a valuable SEO metric. It checks mobile and desktop performance, using the open-source Lighthouse tool. It classifies page performance as “good,” “needs improvement,” or “poor,” based on four metrics.
The Pagespeed Insights plugin lets WordPress sites use the service automatically. Administrators can obtain report summaries that show the average page score, best and worst performing pages, and most significant areas for improvement. Reports can be for desktop access, mobile, or both.
The plugin can be configured to automatically run periodic checks. The interval can be daily, weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. Administrators can extract snapshots from reports to keep a record of performance at a particular point in time.
SolarWinds / Pingdom
The Pingdom WordPress plugin uses the SolarWinds monitoring service to gather visitor and performance data. It requires a Pingdom account, which starts at $10 per month. The available services are Real User Monitoring, which analyzes performance from a user perspective, and Synthetic Monitoring, which covers transactions, uptime, and page speed.
Pingdom was a separate monitoring company until 2014, when SolarWinds acquired it and merged Pingdom’s services into its own.
The service shows where visitors are connecting from and how performance fares for each country. This helps to pinpoint performance issues and indicate whether enhancements such as a CDN would lead to meaningful improvement.
Reports show which pages are most accessed and how well they perform. If important pages are slow to load, redesigning them could improve their performance, which means happier visitors.
The GTmetrix online platform is popular for analyzing website performance. It’s necessary to register on the site, but a Basic account is free and will serve for small sites. Time tracking follows a page’s performance from day to day, showing whether it’s getting slower under its load. Alerts can be set up that will report when a page exceeds specified metrics.
Over 30 simulated devices are available to find out how pages perform with various mobile and desktop clients. Test locations give information on page speed when accessed from different parts of the world.
The GTmetrix WordPress plugin integrates these capabilities into a WordPress installation. It lets administrators schedule periodic analyses, view reports, and configure alerts from within the admin pages. As of this writing, the plugin hasn’t been updated in a year, and it hasn’t been verified to work under WordPress versions more recent than 220.127.116.11. Hopefully it will be brought up to date soon.
Cisco AppDynamics is an APM (application performance management) tool that monitors all types of websites and is WordPress-aware. It conducts internal monitoring using an application server agent. A dashboard lets the administrator see the current state of the server at a glance. In addition, the admin can define rules to trigger alerts when certain conditions occur. There’s no plugin; the tool runs separately from WordPress.
Business performance monitoring correlates performance with business transactions, making it easy to see what aspects of the business a performance issue affects. AppDynamics uses machine learning to distinguish genuine performance issues from normal variation.
It’s not cheap; the APM service starts at $60 per month per CPU core. It’s highly regarded, though, and its agent-based monitoring provides more information than external monitoring can. A free trial is available.
Finally, New Relic is a widely-used APM tool which can monitor all kinds of servers and has functionality specific to WordPress. When using it with WordPress, the hosting system runs a PHP agent.
New Relic provides a free option; pricing for the paid levels is somewhat complicated.
Performance monitoring helps to make sure that a site is healthy and customers get a pleasant user experience. Even a simple tool will help to recognize when a site is bogging down, so it can be fixed before visitors start to dwindle. The more advanced tools make it easy to locate and fix the causes of performance problems.
Whatever you choose, monitoring should run on a regular basis. That way you can establish a baseline and be able to tell when improvements are necessary.
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