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With Valentine's Day on its way, how better to celebrate than a review of the top flower sites? Will these sites enjoy the sweet smell of success or wilt under the traffic? To find out, we compared six of the top flower sites to see how fast and accessible they are for people with disabilities. Did they pass the sniff test?
It depends on how you define the phrase "fragrant online bouquet." All of the sites tested were above our size and download time guidelines and all failed our accessibility tests.
To see how well the top flower sites complied with the speed guidelines published in my book Speed Up Your Site (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) we analyzed 1800flowers.com, FTD.com, Proflowers.com, Teleflora.com, VirtualFlorist.com, and VirtualFlowers.com for download speed. The home pages were analyzed using our free Web Page Analyzer tool plus an additional tool to detect dynamic content. The results of our analysis are listed in Table 1.
*The download times were measured on a Macintosh PowerBook with a fast 56Kbps connection. The first number is the time in seconds it takes for useful content to display. The second figure is the time it takes for the entire page to load (i.e., useful content/entire page).
1These sites uses Akamai to reduce latency with image downloads.
3FTD.com performs a redirect, which lengthens both load times. In trying to determine if the FTD site was using compression, we achieved inconsistent results using a variety of tools. Based on the analysis we have performed, it appears that the FTD site has a content accelerator and compression device in place directly in front of their web servers. However, only one of the devices that FTD has installed is serving compressed content.
X-Cache: HIT from ftd40c\r\n COMPRESSION X-Cache: HIT from ftd41c\r\n NO COMPRESSION X-Cache: HIT from ftd42c\r\n NO COMPRESSION
It appears that the accelerator device may be undergoing tests to see if there are potential issues during peak traffic times, or the other two devices are not configured correctly and only one-third of the FTD traffic is being compressed.
4Virtualflowers.com did not include height and width on some images.
For most last-minute Romeo's who use a "narrowband" connection of 56Kbps or less (King 2004) these home pages took almost 12 seconds to load useful content to the screen and averaged over 117K in size. This is beyond the attention threshold of most users. Ideally, you want to deliver something useful for your users to interact with within 1 to 2 seconds. Overall, users prefer page load times of 8 to 10 seconds without feedback, regardless of bandwidth (King 2003).
Sites that are perceived to be more credibile are more likely to succeed, according to Stanford's B. J. Fogg (Fogg 2003). With the proliferation of web sites, users have become more skeptical of the information they find online. Thus web designers face increasing pressure to create sites that are perceived to be more credible. According to Fogg, perceived credibility is result of perceived trustworthiness and perceived expertise. How you design your site can make a significant impact on perceived credibility.
Some of the sites tested used popup ads on entry, and on exit. Popup ads, typos, errors, and slow downloads are some of the most cited factors that detract from web credibility (Fogg 2002). Only disguised ads, uncredible or broken links, stale content, and difficult navigation were found to harm credibility more. Avoid popup ads, and make sure that your site has no programming or typographical errors before you go live. Little mistakes can have a large impact on web credibility, and thus your bottom line.
<script> document.write("<link rel=stylesheet type='text/css' href='/350/ftd.css?b=" + browser_info + "'>"); </script>
At the other end of the size spectrum 1800flowers.com was the slowest to load useful content and the entire page, and second in size to Proflowers.com which weighed in at over 189K in total file size. However, Proflowers actually displayed content faster than 1800flowers.com, even though it has a larger total size. This is due to Proflowers.com requiring fewer HTTP requests than 1800flowers.com, 27 versus 55 for Proflowers.com and 1800flowers.com respectively. However, 1800flowers.com had the most effective use of space "above the fold" (see Figure 3).
We found a number of problems shared by some of these flower sites. In particular, the most common performance problems that we found were:
We analyzed the above flower sites for the five key elements typically included in accessible web pages. We found partial support for
alt attribute values and no support for the other common accessibility elements including a "skip to content" link, link
tabindex attributes (see Table 2).
|Flower Site||Alt attributes?||Skip to content link?||Link title attributes?||Accesskey?||Tabindex?|
These flower sites would be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. To improve accessibility convert graphical rollover menus to text and CSS2 for higher speed and better accessibility. For the remaining images, add descriptive
alt attribute values to functional images, and blank
alt attribute values to non-functional images. Include accesskeys in menu options and important links with visual cues to identify the matching key combination. Our other suggested solutions can be found in our presidential homepage review.
In our opinion, all of these flower sites don't pass the usability sniff test. On average their home pages took 11.8 seconds to load useful content and 38 seconds to fully load on a 56Kbps modem. Total page size averaged 117.6K requiring 30.3 HTTP requests. As you'd expect, images contributed the bulk of the total payload, contributing over 65% to the total page size. The page size ranged from 72,352 bytes for Virtualflorist.com to 193,961 bytes for Proflowers.com, a factor of 2.68.
Ideally you want to give users something to interact with within 1 or 2 seconds, and have your page load in 8 to 10 seconds. To achieve these times layer your content and limit high-traffic pages to 30 to 34K in total. As Valentine's Day approaches the load on these sites, especially the ones that do not utilize services like Akamai, will surely increase. Don't be cruel like Claudius, engage them like Cupid with a fast, flow-powered experience (King 2003).
Andy King (whose expertise herein is not unrelated to his Valentine's Day birthday) is the founder of five developer-related sites, and the author of Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) from New Riders Publishing. He publishes the monthly Bandwidth Report, the weekly Optimization Week, the weekly Speed Tweak of the Week, and the WebReference Update. Thanks to Stephen Pierzchala and Konstantin Balashov for their assistance.
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Last modified: November 09, 2004