July 15, 2010, 12:25 PM

Google says: Let’s make the web faster

E-commerce sites can make web pages load faster, Google says.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

Lead Photo

Google recently released a report loaded with information about the web pages it crawls and indexes on the Internet. It offers some insights into how site operators can make their pages load faster.

The search engine giant analyzed 4.2 billion web pages, looking at not only the main HTML address content  of the page but all the embedded resources on pages, such as images, scripts and stylesheets. Scripts, such as JavaScript and Ruby on Rails, are used to display content linked to web servers; stylesheets include software code that determines how content appears on a web page, including the amount of space between text and images.

It found:

  • The average page size is 320 kilobytes.
  • Only two-thirds of the compressible material on a page is actually compressed.
  • In 80% of pages, 10 or more resources are loaded from a single host.
  • The most popular sites could eliminate more than 8 HTTP requests per page if they combined all scripts on the same host into one and all stylesheets on the same host into one. HTTP requests are sets of commands sent to a server to return data.

It also found that each web page had an average of 43.91 resources and 7.01 unique host names. More specifically, there were an average of 29.39 unique images per page, with an average size of 205.99 KB each. The average number of external scripts per page was 7.09, with a script size average of 57.98 KB. For stylesheets, there was an average of 3.22 per page, each with an average size of 18.72 KB.

Site operators can make changes to improve their site speed, Google says. For example, they could eliminate an average of 3.75 requests if they combined all scripts on the same host, and 2.02 requests if they did the same for external style sheets. For the most popular sites, these figures climb to 4.75 for scripts and 3.54 for stylesheets.

It should be noted that 17 million of the pages studied by Google were Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) pages that encrypt data transmitted over the web to keep sensitive information secure. These pages typically require more resources and time to load.

“The Google data points out that there is much low-hanging fruit to improve the performance of most web sites,” says Mike Gualtieri, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “Web performance is not getting easy though for e-commerce sites because users want more content and more features, and they want it increasingly faster.”

He says the Google data is a good starting point for web operators and he also recommends a free tool from Google competitor Yahoo called YSlow to find ways to make pages load faster.  An add-on to the Mozilla Firefox web browser, YSlow analyzes web pages and suggests ways to improve their performance. It also summarizes the pages’ components, displays statistics about pages and provides tools for performance analysis such as Smush.it, which offers optimization techniques specific to image formats to remove unnecessary bytes from image files and make them smaller, and JSLint, a tool that looks for problems in JavaScript programs.

YSlow also features a list of 35 best practices, divided into seven categories, to speed page loads. The categories include: Minimizing HTTP requests and using a content delivery network, a collection of web servers distributed geographically to deliver content more quickly and efficiently to users.



Comments | 1 Response

  • Ecommerce sites are by nature resource heavy - lots of images and scripts. I manage 5 sites for our company and since November 09 when google first hinted that they were going to make page speed a ranking factor we've have given a lot of attention to the page load speed of out homepages and other main entry pages e.g. catalog landing pages. First, one of our developers did some hand optimization but this ended up taking so much of his time and as the site changed he needed to go back over his work. The best thing we ever did was automate the process of optimizing our web pages for speed with a website accelerator called Aptimize. We have seen a big increase in page views, time on site, return visits plus an impressive conversion increase. The big surprise for me was that our hosting bill went down dramatically - because the website accelerator we used reduced the page requests need to present a page that meant that less data needed to be transferred to the visitor for the webpage to appear - less data = less data charges.

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