Optimizing Web Performance:
Why 2010 is the year you should care

The first rule of blogging is that every blog has to have an inaugural post that makes some kind of sweeping, epic statement of intent.

The second rule of blogging is that an audience of about six people will read this inaugural post. (Hi, Mom!)

That said, the sweeping, epic statement of intent is a time-honored tradition, and I’m nothing if not a traditionalist, so here goes:

I believe that 2010 is the year that will usher web performance optimization into mainstream thinking.

In other words, if you run a website that purports to meet any kind of business metric – be it sales, downloads, productivity, or ad clicks – then this is the year you will start to care about how quickly your site performs, if you don’t care already.

Bear in mind, the importance of internet speed isn’t a new issue. Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine and make a quick visit to 1999, when Zona released a report warning ecommerce retailers that they risked losing $4.35 billion per year if they didn’t optimize their websites’ loading times. And what did Zona recommend as an optimal loading time for ecommerce sites? Eight seconds.

So what else do we know about 1999?

  • The average web page contained about 15 objects – images, CSS, Javascript, etc.
  • The average page size came in at about 50k.

Back in the glorious present, what has changed?

  • The average web page contains about 75 objects.
  • The average page size is a bloated 498k.

Sites have gotten more complex. Pages have grown enormously. And don’t even get me started on how the browser wars have transformed the performance landscape. (That’s a post for another day.)

One thing that has remained the same is that far too many sites are still aiming for (and still, sadly, not always achieving) eight seconds as the Holy Grail of load times. The unfortunate thing? As far as web users are concerned, that benchmark has changed dramatically. These days, almost half of a site’s visitors will bounce after waiting just three seconds for a site to load.

Another thing that hasn’t changed since 1999: the cost of having a slow site is potentially enormous. Recent tests by Microsoft’s Bing show that slowing down a site by two seconds led to a 4.3% loss in revenue per visitor, and a survey by Aberdeen revealed that slowing down a site by just one second means a 7% reduction in conversions.

But percentages are abstract. Let’s put this into real numbers. If your site typically earns $100K a day, a one-second slowdown could be losing you $2.5 million this year.

There’s hope, of course. This is the internet, after all – the birthplace of relentless optimism. If you care about web acceleration (and I’m assuming that, if you’re still reading, you do), get ready for exciting times ahead.

And here’s where the third rule of blogging comes in: the valiant call to arms.

I’ll be using this site to discuss the issues and challenges of web performance, as well as to explore various solutions. But I’m not doing this alone. There’s a burgeoning web performance community out there. If you’re a part of it, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line in the comments or send me a note: joshua@webperformanceoday.com.

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