Arts organisations’ website speed and performance

Posted on May 28, 2013

For this post in the Arts Analytics series, I wanted to see how much effort arts organisations are putting into the performance of their websites.

For this I just looked at homepages and asked the following:

  1. How big are those pages?
  2. How quickly do they load?
  3. How much effort has been put into improve performance?

Armed with that information, I then wanted to see which organisations might have the most to gain by improving their site’s performance.

How to measure performance

For page size (in megabytes) and page load time I used the Network panel in Chrome DevTools. To find out how much the sites had been optimised for performance I gathered scores from YSlow and Google PageSpeed Insights (I’ll explain these below).

To try and gauge which websites show the most scope for improvement, I did a quick and dirty calculation by dividing the page load time by the YSlow score and multiplying by 100. It’s a long way short of scientific but it’s enough to make a very rough comparison.

Here are the numbers, sorted by YSlow score:

Data collected on 5 May 2013.

Findings

  • Average homepage load time: 3.48s
  • Average page size: 1.28MB
  • Average YSlow score: 52

That’s not too bad. The load time could do with being lower, but that’s skewed by a few offenders clocking in at 10+ seconds. Average page size is a bit big and it’s notable that many of the bigger ones only manage low-ish YSlow scores, meaning there are probably things they could do to improve matters.

I’ve been playing with Infogr.am, so here’s the data in a scatter graph (try hovering over the dots).

There’s a reasonably clear correlation between the size of the page and the time it takes to load. The closer you are to the top right corner, the more chance those homepages are being served inefficiently.

Looking at the numbers in a bit more depth, Bristol Old Vic’s site looks nice and speedy until you go to the site and see that they’re using a splash page. Hmm. Their actual homepage gets a YSlow score of 47 and loads in a (still respectable) 1.59s.

In the case of the New Vic Theatre, mac, Stephen Joseph Theatre and York Theatre Royal, it looks like their load times could be sped up significantly by removing those Issuu embeds. (Sidenote: nothing says ‘we hate our website’ louder than an embedded print brochure).

About website performance

Quicker websites provide a better user experience, higher levels of user satisfaction, lower bounce rates, better conversion rates, a higher percentage of return visitors and better search engine optimisation.

If you want to delve into this, Econsultancy have rounded up some of the research. UPDATE James Baggaley has also recommended an interview with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos that includes this nugget:

Amazon has metrics showing that a 0.1 second delay in page rendering can translate into a 1% drop in customer activity.

There’s a tendency to increase the size of web pages with bigger images, interactive elements, personalisation, embedded media, etc. Why not now everyone’s on broadband? Thing is, lovely as those things are and even with better bandwidth, by loading them onto your website you’re likely paying a cost in terms of poorer performance.

There’s actually a balance to be struck here. I mean, if you really wanted a blazing fast site then you could just use a bit of text, tiny thumbnail images and as few embeds and interactive elements as possible. But that’d be boring.

Happily, there are plenty of smart techniques that can be used to make a site run more quickly and Yahoo (with YSlow) and Google (with their PageSpeed Insights) have developed tools to see how many a website uses.

Take YSlow. Yahoo has identified 23 testable rules that affect web page performance. They include things like minimising HTTP requests, using a CDN, Gzipping components, reducing DNS lookups, avoiding redirects and minifying Javascript and CSS. Weighting is applied and a total score is given.

Sorry if I lost anyone there, it basically means that everything should be made as small and efficient as possible.

A couple of caveats:

  • There may be some perfectly valid technical reasons for not implementing something on your site.
  • The cost of getting a developer to implement something might be disproportionate to the improvement it would make.

Recommendations

You don’t need to be looking at your website performance every day, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

  • Take it into account when developing a new site or carrying out updates.
  • Every so often, take a look at your key pages and make sure they’re not taking forever to load. You can see stats in Google Analytics.
  • Day to day, be sensible and don’t overload your pages. Optimise your images using a tool like ImageOptim (Mac) or Smush.it

This post is part of a series called Arts Analytics where I’m using digital metrics to see what a group of arts organisations are doing online.

If that sounds like your sort of thing then definitely sign up to the free Arts Analytics newsletter. Please share this post with any friends, colleagues and followers who would find it useful too.