Can you imagine if you doubled your weight from 180 lbs to 360lbs in 3 years? You’d be a little embarrassed, right? Yet this is what has happened to web pages, and no one seems to be taking much action.
Web pages have become massive since their minuscule proportions in the early 2000s. But what’s shocking is that despite our faster connection speeds, sometimes sites are loading even slower than they did back then. Slow loading means losing your audience’s attention and that’s not good. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Let’s examine why websites have become so bloated and what we can do to trim the fat.
Causes of the Website Obesity Epidemic
Why are websites so much bigger now? The changing nature of our Internet usage is having a big impact on this issue.
If you’re old enough, you may remember an early-internet when getting an image onto a website was a lot of work. Depending on your budget and the technology available to you, you’d have to have a physical printout of a photo and a scanner to even consider putting pictures on a web page. The closest thing we had to an animated gif was tiny pixelated dancing baby. It was primitive and that’s why it was so small.
With modern web designers, everything is geared to a fast-active responsive web design—enormous file sizes and graphics, including high-resolution images, almost infinite font sizes, improved bounce rates, banner ads… the list is almost endless and everything has to load instantly when typing in the web address into the browser window, even on mobile devices of different screen sizes. In fact, images make up more than 50% of the weight on an average website so there’s a pretty clear culprit for this upward size trend. The ironic thing is that images are actually really easy to optimize. Whether you compress them, shrink their dimensions, or simply take their resolution quality down a few notches, you could lose a huge chunk of weight from your website just by optimizing images.
If you thought images were heavy, consider video – which is essentially a collection of images – plus audio. Luckily compression has come a long way, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to include a 10 MB video on your homepage. Look into a video CDN that will stream parts of your video only as it is needed (instead of making the user download the whole thing).
One smart way to avoid letting video make too big a footprint on your website? Only use it where it makes sense to do so. Don’t just throw a video up on your site for the heck of it.
Does it Really Matter?
So, now we know why websites are getting so chunky. Is it really important? Does webpage size matter for you?
No, It Doesn’t Matter
You may have heard the saying that “correlation doesn’t equal causation.” This basically means that a seemingly clear connection between two things doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing caused the other or that they couldn’t exist independently. In this case, the ability to plot website growth and slow load times on a graph doesn’t necessarily mean that bloat causes slow loading. It certainly does in many cases, but it is theoretically possible to have a large webpage load quickly. There are a lot of factors at play other than size alone.
Plus, it may not actually matter whether a website is bloated and slow if it’s actually delivering content or services that people want. Type amazon.com into Google PageSpeed Insights and marvel at how shockingly low its optimization scores are. Amazon’s user experience isn’t exactly top notch in terms of page load time, but it’s still one of the most popular services on the web, desktop and mobile included.
There’s a reason behind this: Amazon doesn’t optimize its mobile site because it wants to drive users to its app. And most people are willing to wait a few seconds on their desktop to get the lowest price they can find on a 20-pack of toothpaste or a new pair of shoes. Amazon really isn’t in a place where they need to worry about slow load times.
Yes, It Matters
That’s all well and good for Amazon. However, most of us aren’t Amazon, so incentivizing app usage and banking on existing customer loyalty isn’t necessarily going to save us from website bloat. When an organization has Amazon’s market share, it can write its own rules. For everyone else, it’s a good idea to keep website design svelte and pay close attention to speed.
It’s hard to keep the average Internet user’s attention and, if you’re still trying to capture that audience and convert considering customers, you don’t really have time to waste. While it is possible that a large web page doesn’t necessarily correlate to slow load speed, the connection is strong enough to warrant attention. Fat sites that load quickly are outliers that have likely been optimized within an inch of their lives and, if you’re going to go this route, it makes sense to start out with an optimized slim page before you add a bunch of weight.
Ultimately, when you’re still on your way to Amazon-style market domination, it’s important to avoid letting any potential advantage fall by the wayside. If your site loads faster and is generally more agile and navigable than that of your competition, you’ve already got a leg up. Speed testing should absolutely be part of your front-end testing approach. If you aren’t already testing that out, give MachMetrics (automated speed testing and monitoring) a try and see whether your site is sagging under the weight of its own unnecessary bloat.