At one time when everything on the web was slow, users learned to tolerate web pages that took ten, fifteen or twenty seconds to load. Today, due to faster web servers and high speed Internet access, most users have become accustomed to speed and barely tolerate page loading times of five seconds. If your web pages do not load fast, users will abandon your web site in a heartbeat.
Now that web site page loading speed is officially a ranking factor with Google, tuning a web site for peak speed performance is more important than ever. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a problem with slow page loading times, but one of the most important and easiest to identify is page weight.
You can think of page weight as a specific volume of water and an Internet connection as a pipe. The larger the pipe, the faster the water can pass through it. But when the pipe is smaller, it takes longer for the same volume of water to get through the pipe.
Since the introduction of high speed Internet access, many designers and developers with high speed access have been led to believe that all Internet users are experiencing the same fast load times that they see with the sites that they develop. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Web sites should be developed with the lowest common denominator in mind. That would be the typical Internet access speed for the average user who visits your site. If your site caters to upscale urban dwellers or large businesses, it may be safe to assume that most users have high speed access. But if the site focuses on elderly users or a wide demographic of users across the country or around the planet, you have to assume that many users will have slow Internet access. For example, if a site focuses in part on users in rural areas, the truth is that many rural users do not have access to DSL or cable Internet access, and satellite connections are very expensive. In fact, there are a large number of rural users who are still using very slow dial-up connections.
To measure page weight, the size of each object requested from a web server when a page is loaded must be combined. For some web sites, this can be tedious to determine. Fortunately, there is a free online tool that will do this for you. It is called the Web Page Analyzer and is found on the WebSiteOptimization.com web site.
The Web Page Analyzer generates a report that details the size of all of the objects requested from the server. It also includes estimates for the downloading times for users with various Internet access speeds and a list of recommendations to reduce the page weight where it is excessive.
How much page weight is too much
As a general rule, the page weight for any web page should not exceed 150,000 bytes (150k). A web page of 150k or less in size–without any other complicating factors–should load and render in five seconds or less with a typical high speed connection. If you have a web site with a large number of images, such as an e-commerce site, you can push this up to 200k, but anything beyond that will significantly and negatively impact page loading and rendering times for any user with a slow to medium connection speed.
Unfortunately, we frequently find web pages that are grossly bloated with excessive amounts of code, images and Flash objects. Anything over 500k is grossly excessive. We have found home pages for some web sites that exceed 1.5 megabytes in size, which can take over two minutes to load on slow or dial-up connection. When companies make that mistake with their web sites, they are losing out on potential business from anyone who does not have a high speed connection.
How to reduce page weight
Sometimes it can be quite a challenge to reduce the page weight to an acceptable level, but once this is accomplished a web site will run much faster and users will be easier to retain. As a bonus, Google might even reward your site with higher rankings.