May 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

When it comes to loading web pages, the most popular sites tend not to break speed records

When it comes to loading web pages, the most popular sites tend not to break speed records.

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The good news about the speed of web pages is that, on average, the largest 2,000 web sites by traffic volumes are loading pages faster than in the past. The bad news is that the most popular sites are not quite as quick, according to a study by Strangeloop Networks, a company that helps web sites optimize web content to reduce load times.

The study was based on a review of the web content and page load times of the 2,000 most-trafficked web sites as measured by Alexa Internet Inc., a unit of Inc. that provides Internet data and related analytical services.

The study found an average drop of nearly 11% in the average page load times among the Alexa 2000, to 10.0 seconds in 2011 from 11.21 seconds in 2010. (For the report's ranking of the 10 fastest-loading retail sites in 2011, see page 87.)

But the study also found that the most popular sites are not necessarily the fastest. Compared to the average page load time for the Alexa 2000 of 10 seconds, the average load time for the top 100 sites was 4% slower, at 10.36 seconds. This is because the top 100 sites tend to have more content objects per page, the report says.

Strangeloop noted several other key findings for the Alexa 2000 in 2011:

  • Web site home pages had an average of 98 objects, up from 86 in 2010. Each object, including content such as images and JavaScript, must request data from a host server. Each data request typically takes from 20 to 50 milliseconds.
  • Average repeat page view or page load time for returning site visitors was 6.6 seconds, up from 5.22 seconds in 2010. This increase was largely related to the fact that web pages contained more content in 2011 compared to the prior year.
  • The top-performing web browser was Internet Explorer 9, which had an average page-loading time of 7.l24 seconds, compared with 7.153 for Firefox 7 and 7.505 seconds for Chrome.

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