The Internet’s obesity crisis

In 2001, I published a report on website weights and their impacts on website performance.

Why, may you ask, was I researching website weights all the way back in 2001?

The great broadband divide

At the time, in the United States and many other countries, homes and businesses were in the process of upgrading from dial-up internet connections to broadband connections. Because businesses were on the leading edge of this upgrade, many web teams designed fancy new websites that relied heavily on images and this fancy new technology known as Flash. But at the time just 5% of US homes had broadband connections, so they were forced to wait 30 seconds and beyond for many of these fancy new web pages to display.

For example, in 2001, the home page of Wal-Mart weighed 238 kilobytes, which, for a dial-up internet user, required up to a 30-second wait for the home page to display.

Around this time period, a startup was emerging that prioritized speed to such a degree that its home page subsisted of nothing more than a few words of text and a logo, weighing all of 13 kilobytes. It’s home page loaded in less than 3 seconds.

That startup was Google.

The Google home page weighed less than half of the Yahoo! home page, and users noticed. It wasn’t just the quality of search that won Google its customers, it was the responsiveness of the interface.

Flash forward to 2017.

Here is the weight of the Google home page in 2001 (blue) compared with today (in green). Google now comes in at a whopping 550 kilobytes (on average). But you don’t have to look far to find websites that weigh many times more than Google, such as IBM and Microsoft and Amazon.

The mobile broadband divide

So what does this mean in terms of website performance?

If you don’t have a high-speed connection, it means the difference between a fast-loading website and a website that you might just give up on.

Not everyone has a high-speed connection

So let’s say you have a smartphone on a 3G network — which represents vast portions of China and most emerging countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey. A web page that weights more than 3 MB could take anywhere from six to 10 seconds to load. If you want your website to display in under the coveted 3-second threshold, you would be wise to keep your website under 1MB.

Based on my research for the Web Globalization Report Card, mobile websites have been steadily increasing in weight. Just over the past two years they have nearly doubled in weight.

Mobile website weight is now one of the many elements that factor into a website’s total score.

If you want to better understand the speed of Internet connections around the world, check out the Speedtest global index.

The Speedtest Global Index compares internet speed data from around the world on a monthly basis. Data for the Index comes from the hundreds of millions of tests taken by real people using Speedtest every month. To be included in the Index, countries must have more than 3,333 unique user test results for fixed broadband and more than 670 unique user test results for mobile in the reported month. Results are updated at the beginning of each month for the previous month.

Here’s an excerpt from October:

So while Norway currently leads the pack with nearly 60Mbps, Brazil comes in at 15Mbps. And Brazil is far from alone at the bottom half of this list.

What’s the key takeaway here?

All the usability testing in the world is meaningless if your customers can’t quickly load your website or mobile web app. 

Get your mobile website under 1MB and you’ll be well positioned against the competition — and you’ll be better serving your customers. Get it under 500 kilobytes and you’ll be on par with Google’s home page; not a bad place to be.

Announcing the top 10 global tourism websites

While I’ve closely studied travel websites for many years (such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies) as part of The Web Globalization Report Card, I’ve not spent much time looking closely at destination websites, such as for cities, regions and countries.  That is, until earlier this year.
For this report we benchmarked 55 country, region, and city tourism websites across six continents. Of those websites, here are the top 10 overall: 
Germany emerged on top driven in large part by its support for a leading 24 languages as well as global consistency and local content.
 
The leading city website is Paris, with support for 11 languages, which may not sound like many languages, but is actually well above the average for city websites.
Which leads me to the key finding of this report: the growing language gap between travel and tourism websites, which I will write about in a later post.
Western Australia came out on top of the regional websites. Shown here, note the globe icon in the header used to highlight the global gateway — a very nice touch.
Tourism websites should lead the travel industry
Language is just one of the areas in which tourism websites need improvement. This report carefully documents the many different types of navigation strategies used by tourism websites and provides best practices that all sites should consider. It also takes a close look at localized content, social media, and support for mobile users (also a weak point).
It’s my hope that this report helps tourism organizations make a stronger case for globalization. After all, the travel and tourism industry is growing at a faster pace than the global economy and by 2017 is projected  by the World Travel and Tourism Council to account for 1 of 9 jobs on this planet. Tourism websites play a key role in attracting travelers and more than half of these travelers do not speak English.
To learn more about the report, click here.

Microsoft: The best global consumer technology website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, I benchmarked the following consumer-oriented technology websites:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Microsoft
  • Nikon
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Xiaomi

Microsoft and Adobe tied this year for the top spot, with Microsoft winning out based on languages supported. Both companies, along with Nikon, made the top 25 list of best global websites. At 43 languages (not including US English), Microsoft leads this category. The web design remains globally consistent; shown below is the home page for Germany:

Microsoft is a conglomerate of loosely related brands, which presents website architecture challenges. That is, how do you support the brand while still letting visitors know that this brand is part of the Microsoft ecosystem?
The following two-level navigation architecture is a clean and lightweight solution, and one that would work well with most companies that support many different brands, while still keeping those brands unified under the parent brand. Shown below are the headers for Surface, Office, and Windows:

The Microsoft global gateway is universal, which means each country/region link is properly displayed in the native language. This gateway is modified for each brand, such as Surface, shown here:

One needed improvement: Promote the global gateway link from the footer into the header (and replace this globe icon with a more generic globe icon):

Adobe
Adobe held steady at 34 languages over the past year.  Adobe continues to support a globally consistent template that is also mobile friendly. Adobe makes excellent use of geolocation to gently alert visitors to the availability of localized websites. Shown here, a French visitor to www.adobe.com is notified that the French website is available, but is also allowed to continue on to the .com site.

This strategy is wise because it leaves users in control; after all, many visitors may indeed want to remain on the .com site, so it’s important to honor that intention.

What about Apple?
Apple made a small but significant addition to its language portfolio last year: Arabic. The website now supports 34 languages, though I believe it should support a great many more, such as Hebrew, Serbian, and Slovenian. Below is the new Arabic-language site for United Arab Emirates:

Apple tweaked its design last week but still, unfortunately, left the global gateway buried in the footer.

More unfortunate, the gateway menu continues to rely on flags.

I’ve been pushing for a number of years to convince Apple to migrate away from using flags. You can read why here. Hopefully we’ll see some movement on this soon.

To learn more about best practices in web globalization, check out the 2017 Report Card.
PS: All purchasers of the Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies!