Often times the best way to learn how to do something right, is to learn what not to do first. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the successes and failures of the top sites on the web.
You may remember a few months ago when we did a study on the Do’s and Don’ts of the Top 50 Websites. It was pretty hard to find the “dont’s”, I mean they are the most trafficked and well-staffed websites in the world. And yet, we were still able to find some slip-ups that we could learn from.
This week, we took a look at the top breaking news sites. Right off the bat, we realized this would be a very different beast than the sites we looked at before. Just a few months ago, we ran a similar study of the top IT News sites, so it was still pretty fresh in our minds.
We went in thinking the homepage layouts would be relatively similar, big hero graphics and lots of linked pictures to more articles. Standard stuff. And that’s exactly what we saw on the first 17 pages.
And then we hit PRWeb, Newswire, and their regional equivalents. Page loads and resources dropped significantly. The breaking news category also includes RSS feeds and press release feeds. These sites aggregate content as it is released by the PR sites and often only show the headline of the release and a brief description. As you can see, they are smaller pages with only the bare bones for resources.
We knew our results would have extremely large ranges between min and max page sizes and resources. Usually, we take the average of all the times in each category. However, this time we had to look at the median since there were so many outliers.
To get a better idea of the difference, just take a look at the #1 ranked site versus the last…
You can see in the screenshot above, how different these websites look. No hero image, no ads, and shorter page length.
As we went through the remaining websites, we kept seeing these aggregators and RSS feeds pop-up. We crunched the numbers and found the exact opposite of the trends we were used to seeing! During the past three studies, we consistently saw that the higher ranked sites performed better in every category.
However, breaking news sites had the opposite trend. As we got lower on the list, requests, DOM load, and page sizes all dropped.
This week, for our web performance Do’s and Don’ts we will only be talking about the domains with traditional homepages. IE: not RSS feeds or press release aggregators.
Use a CDN
Most of the websites we looked at used a CDN (Content Delivery Network) which hosts copies of a website from dozens of web servers around the world. This lessens the distance between users and the web servers, slashing load times.
Responsive web design is not just a trend, it is becoming a standard for modern web design. It may not make much of a difference for load times, but it can improve user experience.
One of the first breaking news sites we looked at had a large ad that took up the top 50% of the viewport but eventually shrunk away. We saw this a few more times as we went through the top 50. Large ads like these can weigh heavy on the site and increase load times.
Don’t be lazy
A surprising number of websites resized pictures on their homepages with HTML. While this may seem like a quick way to reuse a larger image, the website is still loading the larger image and then resizing it. Some of these pictures took as long as a quarter of a second to load but were only 150px wide. Take the extra few seconds to resize your images before using them on your homepage. Depending on how many of these pictures you have, you could save entire seconds.
Retire your analytics
You may think that a single pixel for an analytics tag wouldn’t take long to load, but the problem is these pixels are actually scripts that call for an external resource. In past studies, we’ve seen analytics tag fail to load the resource and add seconds to the load time and even console log errors.
Get in the habit of regularly auditing your analytics tags and retiring ones you don’t use anymore, or maybe just don’t use it on the homepage. Eg: if you have conversion tracking, you most likely don’t need it on a homepage.