Why it takes so long for news, sports, and travel sites to load
What’s the price of a second?
When Amazon.com went down for 20 minutes earlier this month, it cost the ecommerce giant an estimated $3.75 million – $3,125 per second.
Many other sites are leaving money on the table even when their sites are fully operational. The 2016 State of the Union: Multi-Industry Web Performance (Desktop Edition) found that most travel, news, and sports sites fail one of the most fundamental tests of web performance: load time.
Expectations have grown in recent years. Since 1999, the optimal load time for an ecommerce site has gone from 8 seconds to under 4 seconds. By 2010, 57 percent of online shoppers stated that they would abandon a webpage after waiting 3 seconds for it to load.
Website abandonment is a real issue, regardless of the industry, and all sectors have to adapt or watch as their users take their attention and patronage elsewhere.
Consider this transactional equation and substitute your own numbers, if you have them:
Assuming your site
- averages 100,000 visitors per day
- with a 2% conversion rate (a common conversion rate for ecommerce sites is ≈ 2%)
- and those conversions average $54 each (90% of ecommerce shoppers spend an average of $54 per order)
You would ideally be looking at $108,000 in daily revenue. But if 57% of your total visitors leave, that equates to a loss of $61,560 daily, or $22,469,400 annually. Here’s the equation, where x = visitors and y = average revenue per customer, multiplied by 365 days:
(.57x)(.02)(y)365 = $Lost Revenue$
The risk of poorly optimized sites – not to mention the ballooning elements that go into them – is lost customers and revenue – a gamble too costly to ignore.
Here are three of the report’s key findings that show what’s causing the slowdown in four major industries – travel, news, sports, and ecommerce — and recommendations for how to speed up a dragging site.
Finding 1: Sites Rendered Feature Content Too Slowly in Every Industry We Tested
While the load times and the Time to Interact (TTI) varied by industry, websites in all four industries missed the 3-second target users expect.
- News sites’ medians were slightly larger than ecommerce sites at 1.6 MB, 122.5 requests, and a TTI of 4.1 seconds.
- Travel sites weighed in with medians of 3.3 MB and 92 requests, and tied news sites in their TTI of 4.1 seconds.
- Sports sites’ medians were the bulkiest, with a size of 4.2 MB and 148 requests. Predictably, they delivered the slowest TTI — a disappointing median 5.2 seconds.
But there were rays of hope. Forty-eight percent of the ecommerce websites tested rendered in 3 seconds or less. There’s still room for improvement, however, with 8 percent of sites exceeding 6 seconds for their TTI – twice the time users expect and in the danger zone of site abandonment.
News and travel sites performed average, with 22 percent and 20 percent of sites meeting or surpassing the 3-second target, respectively. On the other hand, 16 percent of news sites and 28 percent of travel sites delivered TTI of more than 6 seconds.
The story’s pretty bleak for the sports category: Only 6 percent of the sites tested rendered in less than 3 seconds, while a whopping 34 percent exceeded 6 seconds. In fact, the slowest site tested in this category had a TTI of more than 10.8 seconds, with 480 requests.
Finding 2: Page Composition and Optimization Levels Vary by Industry
Different industries build their respective homepages around what their users want to accomplish – and of course, what the respective industries want their users to do. Form serves function.
According to HTTP Archive, the average website in general looks like this:
Source: HTTP Archive
While the average site on the internet is 1998 KB, that doesn’t mean that’s an ideal size. The bigger the website, the more data there is to move.
For the sports sites we tested, images were the number one reason for slowdowns, and they played a major role in the news sites that offer a more tabloid-style layout.
Ultimately, the bigger the website, the more information that has to be moved. The round trips from all the requests – whether from scripts or images – generally make for a slow page, although some sites were better optimized than others.
In examining the sites squarely in the middle of the results of the four categories, you can see some major differences.
This major ecommerce site is predominantly composed of images, with 170 out of 215 requests pulling images. This is fairly common among the ecommerce sites we tested, and yet 36 percent of the sites scored an “F” rating for image compression from WebPagetest.
The sites tested in the sports category were far and away the slowest of the four industries, and had the largest and most complex pages.
This site had 208 of its total 301 requests related to images. While the total page weight wasn’t nearly the largest we’ve seen — at 1,434 KB — the many requests contributed to its sub-optimal TTI of 5.2 seconds and total load time of more than 13 seconds.
Unless sports sites – of which 46 percent received an “F” grade from WebPagetest for image compression – get a handle on their images, they will continue to fumble the ball, so to speak.
This travel site is an interesting case. Despite what seems to be a relatively svelte profile with a mere 725 KB footprint, just 59 requests, and a total load time of 5.447 seconds, its feature image doesn’t pop up until 3.8 seconds into its loading sequence, throwing off its TTI score.
In examining its waterfall chart, the culprit emerges:
The feature image (highlighted in yellow at the bottom of the screenshot) is delayed while other resources load first, including a fair number of smaller PNG images. These hog the available connections, making users wait with an empty gray page until the main image finally renders. It’s a shame, because this site is keeping its footprint small and its number of requests down.
Travel sites in particular should prioritize above-the-fold content to welcome and orient users quickly. An empty gray page doesn’t quite capture the imagination of would-be travelers.
In our test, only 26 percent of travel sites received an “F” grade for image compression from WebPagetest — the smallest percentage of all four industries — but it’s still too high.
Finding 3: Most Sites Still Fail To Employ Core Image Optimization Techniques
The majority of websites tested across all the categories researched aren’t utilizing core optimization techniques, despite the availability of tools and resources.
Only a small minority of sites from each category are getting an “A” in this category from WebPagetest:
|Ecommerce||Sports||News & Media||Travel & Hospitality|
|A – 10%||A – 10%||A – 8%||A – 6%|
|B – 8%||B – 6%||B – 10%||B – 8%|
|C – 20%||C – 12%||C – 18%||C – 12%|
|D – 8%||D – 4%||D – 14%||D – 12%|
|F – 36%||F – 46%||F – 30%||F – 26%|
|N/A – 18%||N/A – 22%||N/A – 20%||N/A – 36%|
Image compression is a core performance technique that minimizes the size (in bytes) of a graphics file without degrading the quality of the image to an unacceptable level. Reducing an image’s file size has two benefits:
- To minimize the amount of time required for images to be sent over the Internet or downloaded.
- To increase the number of images that can be stored in the browser cache, thereby improving page render time on repeat visits to the same page.
Compressing image files lightens a web page’s overall payload. Fewer bytes mean reduced bandwidth and faster pages.
Adopting image optimization best practices is clearly an area all sites would benefit from.
There are clear missed opportunities when it comes to meeting user expectations, and unless web performance optimization is better prioritized by all industries, these sites will continue to leave revenue on the table as users abandon slow websites for faster ones.
Even though page growth and complexity present critical web performance challenges, addressing these issues smartly with the proper optimization and automation tools can finesse significant site performance gains and keep users engaged.
Based on the price of a second, businesses can’t afford not to.
Since 2010, we’ve been analyzing the performance of the top ecommerce sites, looking at key web page metrics from load time to TTI, page size/composition, and the adoption of performance best practices.
This time around we expanded our focus beyond just ecommerce, adding in the top 50 sites from the news, sports, and travel sectors, as ranked by information technology company SimilarWeb.
We utilized widely-available tools, including WebPagetest.org and HTTPArchive.org, to obtain real-world snapshots of these pages’ metrics and examine how the various sectors compare in page size, composition, and optimization. Our findings are detailed in our quarterly "state of the union" reports, some of which you can find here.