Last week, we took a look at the top 50 shopping websites according to Alexa. Here is a quick recap (you can get the full story here)… after analyzing the cream of the crop, we noted that the best-performing sites relied on fewer requests and had small file sizes. We attributed this to minimalist design, minified content, and following hosting best practices… just to name a few. This week, we will be looking at the slowest of the top 50 websites to learn what not to do when building and hosting a website.
For starters, Bodybuilding.com was hands down the slowest site, loading in 6.2 seconds. That’s almost twice the overall average page load. Load times were slowed by weighty file sizes and a whopping 249 requests. Both of which, were well over the overall averages.
The average peak load time for sites with high conversion rates is a mere 2 seconds (Source)
But the biggest problem came down to the design of the homepage (look for yourself) with roughly eight screens of content.
Modern websites are usually shorter with an average of 3 screens per page. If you insist on using a very long homepage, limit the interactive content and full page images. Or better yet use a CDN, which will cache the contents of your page at dozens of critical points around the world.
CDN’s operate similarly to how our IP Anycast network hosts your DNS information from many different locations. Some companies have reported that CDN’s have cut their load times in half! If you are determined to use a long homepage with a lot of dynamic and/or interactive content, then you need to be using a CDN.
This is especially important for shopping websites, since a 2-second delay in load time during a transaction results in abandonment rates of up to 87%. (Source)
Directv and Autotrader came in at second and third respectively with only a few hundredths of a second between their load times. Autotrader was bogged down by excessively long request times. A single request to a third party service failed and dragged the load time down by 236 ms. Other than that, Autotrader had very few requests and weighed under a megabyte.
Cambridge.org was a great example of why it is important to minimize requests from third party services, like widgets and plugins. With only 94 requests, well below the overall average, just a few requests from plugins slowed down the load time by nearly two seconds.
In fourth place, Lowes was dragged down by a single script that prevented the page from fully loading. Testing was conducted across multiple days, and when the script failed to load, page load times had doubled.
Amazon was another site that suffered from third party network issues. Testing showed that response times were significantly longer during some periods with as much as four seconds between the shortest and longest page load times. Further research pointed toward an upstream issue likely from a hosting provider.
You would think the larger a file size, the worse a site would perform. Well, Etsy was a big exception with a whopping 11mb on its homepage, that’s over four times larger than the average page size! Despite the large file size, Etsy ranked 26th out of the 50 sites we monitored.
- Too Many Images: Images can take up a huge chunk of your load time. Modern designs favor fullscreen images but only in moderation. The slowest site we looked at had half a dozen large images, which contributed to the long load times.
Overall, we saw a direct link between page size and load times among the bottom 10 websites. Images tended to take up the most space with interactive content like videos and sliders coming in a close second.
- Externally Hosted Content: This is a sure fire way to add a couple hundred milliseconds, or even seconds, to you load time. It’s important to always host your own images, fonts, etc. Otherwise, if your third party service goes down any externally hosted content will be unavailable and (as we saw earlier) can double load times.
- Upstream Issues: During our testing period, a popular cloud hosting provider was suffering an outage. Amazon’s S3 service was downed for a few hours, which blocked many images and scripts from loading. During this time some issues saw very long load times and broken content. To avoid issues like this, it’s important to have multiple layers of redundancy and use multiple providers for your hosting needs.
- Interstitials: All but one of the websites we looked at suffered long load times at the hands of interstitials. They are not only annoying but can cost you precious milliseconds.
- Plugins and Widgets: If you use WordPress or another CMS, you are likely familiar with the impact of widgets and plugins on load times. These services depend on third party requests, which can increase load times or even block content from loading.