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New book on Website Optimization Secrets
Speed of delivery is important on and off the Web. Just ask three of the top overnight shipping companies, FedEx, UPS, and DHL. All offer speedy delivery of packages the next day, and even the next morning. But how do they deliver to their customers on-line who absolutely have to have it within 8 to 10 seconds? To find out, we compared these three shipping staples for speed and accessibility. How well did these shipping sites deliver?
All three US homepages were better than average, while one worldwide homepage took over a minute to load. All three US homepages did not meet our speed guidelines. FedEx bested UPS and DHL in the online homepage speed race, with a home page over 40% smaller and 20% faster than DHL and UPS. DHL.com was over three times larger than FedEx.com's US home page.
To see how well they comply with the speed guidelines published in my book Speed Up Your Site (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) we analyzed the US home pages of FedEx.com, UPS.com, and DHL.com. Each home page was analyzed using our free Web Page Analyzer plus an additional tool to detect dynamic content. The results of our analysis are listed in Table 1, sorted by total page size.
*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)
^DHL.com includes a "Select Your DHL.com" popup that takes 177 seconds to load in a 56Kbps modem (see Figure 1). DHL.com's worldwide home page was over three times slower to load than their US home page.
Figure 1: DHL.com country selector popup
For most US homes that use a "narrowband" connection of 56Kbps or less (King 2004) all of these home pages take over 11 seconds to load useful content to the screen. This is above 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).
For US homepage speed, FedEx is the clear winner compared to UPS and DHL (see Figure 2: FedEx.com Home Page [US]). FedEx's smaller total size (56,775 versus 95,690 bytes for DHL, and 96,535 bytes for UPS) is the product of tighter HTML, optimized images, and well-abstracted CSS. The attention to detail shows, the FedEx page feels more responsive.
Page size and complexity have a direct influence on download and display time. Slow load times are the number one complaint of users on the Internet, and can raise bailout rates, bandwidth costs, and frustrate users. In fact, some studies have shown increased blood pressure, heart rates, and decreased blood volume in users who were subjected to slow (Scheirer et al. 2002) and ill-designed sites (Ward and Mardsen 2003). While the total response time of a web page is the product of many factors, page size and complexity determine in large part page display speed (Zhi 2001).
In our opinion, all of these shipping home pages need faster delivery times. While all US home pages were faster than the average page we've tested, DHL.com took over a minute to display useful content. Overall, FedEx was over 40% smaller and 20% faster than DHL and UPS. FedEx pioneered the tracking of packages online, and appears to still lead when it comes to online delivery speed.
Andy King 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, Speed Tweak of the Week, and the WebReference Update.
Any trademark or tradenames used in this article are owned exclusively by their owners and they do not endorse or sponsor this site. Optimization Week and the author are not affilliated with FedEx, UPS, or DHL in any form, and we do not endorse these companies. All opinions expressed herein are based on information that we believe to be reasonably accurate at the time of publication. If you find any errors or misstatements of fact please contact us.
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Last modified: November 09, 2004