I am providing an HTML copy of this newsletter article only to make this excellent commentary easier to read on-screen.

  Original Document: WebReference Update Newsletter (Aug 1, 2002)


Fast Loading Pages: A Fresh Look at Internet Speed


   No matter who you are, be it a large multinational business or a local hobbyist, you will most probably have a web site that you have invested a large amount of time and/or money in to attract as many visitors as is humanly possible. More and more sites are developing rich web content in order to increase their visitor quota and as the content grows, the sizes of your web pages may inflate as well. Is it subsequently all too much for your lowly 56K modem visitors to handle?

Let's face the music...

   Having built your web site, added your content and attracted a steady stream of visitors are you still not seeing results? Are your pages taking longer than 10 seconds to download on a 56.6kbps modem? The harsh facts are then, that you are losing anywhere from 10% to 25% of your visitors because your site has been deemed as 'sluggish' by those passing through (and straight back out of) it. Why make visitors wait for your pages to download if you are offering rich content that would appeal to them should they reach it?

"Waiting for content to load is just behind spam in most users' top ten hates about the Web." - WebReference Newsletter (Mar 28, 2002)

Technology and the Psychology of the Common Man

   Behind the technology of the Internet is the psychology of its users. Drawing from my personal experience, a web site that took 78 seconds and presented only one relevant page later will always be perceived as inferior to a competitors' site that I could handle with greater agility and personal satisfaction.

   Everybody has had the same experience at some point on the web and this superiority and inferiority rating between yours and competitors sites is being judged by your visitors in every market sector and every interest area in every time zone of the world. The flood of personal home pages, that dwarf business pages at a ratio of 15:1, sometimes unfortunately present 'the artist formerly known as MIDI' and around 3% of that 249K GIF image by the time I click back to where I came from. Unfortunate is the fact that many business sites are employing the same bandwidth eating components as these home pages and, to be blunt, it is not big and it is definitely not clever.

   Here's the 'acid test,' if you like, for testing your site download speeds as described by Jason Cook of WebMonkey:

"Find a two-year-old computer and connect it to a phone line. Dial into AOL or another common ISP. Have your site's manager look on as the least technical person you can find in the office tries to download your pages and then your competitors' pages. Have the test driver surf back and forth between fast and slow pages. If this simple demo doesn't convince everyone that download time directly affects your site's "brand equity," as well as its page views, it's time to update your resume."
 - Site Optimization Tutorial, WebMonkey

   Alternatively, look at download speeds this way: visitors to your site will stay for an average of X amount of time before they move on to other sites and as Jacob Nielsen (www.useit.com), a web usability guru puts it, those pages viewed must download within 10 seconds to keep users attention on the task at hand. (No ifs and buts from the gallery should be necessary at the present time).

Business @ the Speed of, well... Thought.

   The classic example of the fast loading web site is Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com). Having navigated to the news site of Yahoo you are almost instantly presented with the news summary page. You can visit 10 content pages in the time it took to visit 4 on a previous site because it only takes 5 seconds to download each one and you have only spent 20 (as opposed to 78) seconds downloading the first 4 pages. Yahoo is an extremely 'content rich' web site and its main aim is to deliver this content to visitors as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, it took over 20 designers to create the current Yahoo web page template and the home page still remains relatively unchanged since its beginnings in the mid-nineties.

   Should it be your priority to engage the visitor in your web site so that they do not have a second to think of moving on? Yes of course it should, and at many points Yahoo is like this, and it becomes intensely clear why Yahoo is the most visited web site in the World today and will continue to be in the near future. Yahoo is stickier than almost every other site and it focuses on giving its visitors what they want - Speed and Content in equal proportions. This is not to say that your web site needs to be a carbon-copy of Yahoo, but webmasters should focus on the balance between speed and content for optimum visitor satisfaction and return visits. Ask yourself these questions:

Web Site Optimization

   Making your site fast is easy with a few simple steps. There are plenty of articles and tools related to this subject on the web today and a search on any of the major search engines will keep you busy for around a half hour. I personally recommend checking out NetMechanic (www.netmechanic.com) which will check amongst other things the download speeds for your web site, check your HTML code validity, Web Page Link Validity, and reduce your web image sizes for optimum performance. Consider the following points as a rule of thumb:

Design for your Audience and their Machines

   Page download speeds are as important as ever, even with the latest boom in Broadband Services. There are some countries and regions of the world that have never even heard of DSL and so, web sites should always be trying to expand their visitor quota in any way possible. Try to design to a 56.6kbps specification and even consider designing for 28.8kbps Internet users. In the process you will be claiming back that 10% to 25% of visitors that you lost in the past whilst also increasing your visitors satisfaction and return rate... starting now!

Related Resources

Jacob Nielsen's Online Resource for IT Usability
NetMechanic's HTML Toolbox - Improve ALL areas of your site
WebMonkey's Site Optimization Tutorial

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About the Author: Richard Tibbett is a writer specializing in current Internet and Electronic Commerce issues. Mr Tibbett is also the Managing Director of SiteXpress LTD an E-Commerce Systems company based in Middlesex, UK and has been working with the Internet since 1997. His site is at http://www.sitexpress.co.uk and he can be reached at richard[AT]sitexpress.co.uk.


  Original Document: WebReference Update Newsletter (Aug 1, 2002)

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    The above figure, that 10-25% of visitors may leave before they see the first page, might be on the low side. As the article "Small is Beautiful" indicates, any Webpage with a size that actually qualifies as "bloated" could loose up to half its visitors.

    I wonder how many stores could still do well, if up to half the potential customers turned around in the doorway and left— before even seeing what the retailer has to offer?