June 25, 2014, 4:07 PM

How Sports Authority shaved 4 seconds off its mobile site’s load time

Hint: It wasn’t by reducing the number of elements on the page or the page size. It was by fixing a content error.

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It took Sports Authority’s mobile site an average of 11.9 seconds to load during the week that ended June 15. A week later, that average load time dropped to 7.89 seconds—an improvement of 4 seconds. That improvement helped the site jump eight spots in the Internet Retailer-exclusive Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending June 22, from No. 17 to No. 9.

Keynote tests the 30 retailers on the index (28 standalone m-commerce sites for smartphones and two responsive design sites on smartphones) on a blend of 3G, 4G and 4G LTE networks.

“When we see an improvement of this sort we generally assume that the modifications were made to the page structure by reducing a number of objects on the page or by considerably reducing the page size for the page to load fast,” says Venkatesh Giri, mobile performance expert at Keynote. “Neither is the case here. We still see the same number of page elements and their page size has not changed considerably.”

What changed, Giri explains, is that the retailer fixed a number of content errors that had been slowing down the site. Content errors indicate the objects being requested are not present on the server receiving the requests. While it doesn’t affect the overall site availability, it does affect the page load time because the device continues to ask the server for the missing item,which slows down load time. In this case, Giri says, four images from Amazon Cloud Services weren’t served.

“This is a common problem retailers really need to look out for on mobile sites—always check for missing elements or rogue code references to elements not present on the server,” Giri says. “Removing content errors improves page load times by decreasing the number of server requests, which in turn allows other objects to render quickly.”

Sports Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Sports Authority’s success rate, also known as site availability, was 98.48% last week. Keynote weighs and combines load time and success rate to reach an overall score. Sports Authority’s score was 799 out of 1,000. The average success rate was 97.95%, and the average score 718.

To see complete results (including response time, site availability, page weight in kilobytes, total page elements, and index score) for all 30 retailers on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, click here.

Keynote measures, exclusively for Internet Retailer, 28 standalone m-commerce sites optimized for smartphones and two responsive design sites, which are single sites that render content in ways that fit the screen size of a device, including desktop PCs, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs. For the index, Keynote measures the smartphone versions of the responsive sites.

The 30 representative sites include merchants in multiple categories and channels, and of multiple sizes, ranging from such giants as Amazon.com Inc. to mid-sized retailers like Toolfetch.com LLC. Keynote tests the sites in the index every hour Monday through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. through midnight EDT, emulating the Apple iPhone 5 smartphone on two wireless networks: AT&T and Sprint, both using 3G, 4G and 4G LTE networks. Keynote runs the tests in Dallas, New York and San Francisco.

Keynote combines a site’s load time and success rate, equally weighted, into a single score. Given that both performance and availability are important, the score reflects the overall quality of the home page; a higher score indicates better performance. Scores also reflect how close sites are to each other in overall quality. The index average score is the midpoint among all the sites’ scores. To consistently rank high on the Keynote index, sites must hit availability targets of 99.5% or better and be faster than 10 seconds to load on average. Top-performing sites load in under five seconds.

Today, 20% of U.S. Internet-enabled mobile phone users have 4G or 4G LTE wireless data connections, 71% have 3G, and 9% have 2G, according to research firm Informa Telecoms & Media. And according to research and consulting firm Deloitte, 63% of U.S. smartphone users most often connect to the web on their devices on a Wi-Fi network.

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