First thoughts on Google’s Page Speed Service

I’m currently Beta testing Google’s new Page Speed Service on my site. It’s basically a transparent page content optimiser and CDN which aims to speed up delivery of sites to end users. This could be a huge deal for anyone who, like me, hosts their site from home.

Hosting a personal site from home is a great idea, and something I’d strongly recommend to anyone. As well as learning the basics of server configuration and maintenance you also get several unique benfits, like:

The one problem with hosting from home is bandwidth. A basic DSL or Cable line is fine for handling modest everyday traffic (this site gets between 300 and 1,000 visits per day), but isn’t suited to handling large spikes. Hopefully, Google’s Page Speed Service (PSS) will be able to smooth out those spikes and give me the best of both worlds. So far it’s looking good.

Set up

Setting up PSS is pretty straightforward. Once you’ve signed up and have been accepted, you just need to confirm ownership of your domain (by adding a TXT DNS record) then provide Google with a ‘reference domain’ on which they’ll be able to access your site. The reference domain needs to be something new, because you’ll be redirecting www to Google’s servers. The final step is to update your CNAME record to redirect your www to Google’s page speed domain, then it’s just a case of waiting for DNS propogation.

The process was pretty painless, taking less than half an hour even though I was being super-cautious throughout.

Results

Initial results are pretty impressive. Independent speed tests suggest an improvement of approx 50% in page delivery times and that’s while my server is otherwise quiet. I suspect the difference will be much more noticeable when my Cable line is busy downloading the latest multi-gigabyte OSX/PS3/Windows 7/Wii/iOS update.

Issues

I had a few teething problems with specific pages on my site. My weather station graphs showed garbage data and the lightbox effect stopped working on my photo gallery. I’m sure it would be possible to view source and debug where it’s all going wrong, but for simplicity I added the weather page to Google’s handy page speed blacklist which stopped them trying to process that page.

For now I’m going to put up with the missing lightbox on my photo gallery. Those galleries are only there for pre-2010 content anyway – more recently I’ve been using Facebook and a handy WordPress plug-in to import pics back onto my site. Plus, I’m more interested in Google taking the strain of image delivery than I care about the lightbox effect.

Final thoughts

I’m really impressed so far. Every test I’ve run on the site suggests the pages are far better optimised and download faster. For a completely transparent, coding-free solution that’s a great result.

My only slight concern is over Google’s as-yet-undisclosed pricing for PSS. I like that my site is faster, but it’s not something I’d be willing to pay a lot for. Hopefully pricing will be based on usage with a free entry level for personal sites like mine.