Posting Date: February 05, 2003
Book Lottery! -- Andy King recently wrote Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (visit the companion web site). For reasons not worth explaining, I have exactly two (2) copies of the book. Rather than keeping two books, or selling one on eBay, or trading one one on Trodo, I decided to set up a lottery. Entering is simple. For every good interview question you ask, I will give you one chance to win the book. (If your name is pulled, I'll ship it to you for free!) Why am I doing this? I'm going to take the best questions and send them to Andy. I strongly advise you to ask really hard questions about web site optimization. Andy's a smart cookie and I'd like to challenge him. That's it. Post your questions! (You have two days. I'm going to pull the winner on Saturday.)
Why does a book focused on improving page size down to the white space advocate using the meta keyword and description tags for search engines(no major search engines use them, not have they for years)?
Take your average business (if there is such a thing)...who should handle WSO internally? When should WSO be outsourced?
When I search for 'Web Site Optimization' (not a phrase) on Google, I notice your book's companion site is around 40th in the results. How much time have you spent doing WSO for your book's site? What activities did you focus on for that site, and why?
If you only had an hour (in one shot) to spend on WSO for a given site each year, what would you do for that hour, and why?
If you only had an hour (in one shot) to spend on WSO for a given site each year, what would you do for that hour, and why?
Have new web technologies like XHTML, CSS, Flash, and XML changed the WSO game or the ways search engines work?
What's the ROI for WSO activities? Can you give any examples? Another related question might be "How do you build a business case for doing WSO?"
Oops - would help if I read the book's TOC first - I thought the book was about Search Engine Optimization (i.e. search marketing). Funny how most of the questions still work though...
"I struggle getting developers (or site business owners) to care about usability or even basic code validation - how do you convince people to care about optimization/performance given all the other challenges they're dealing with? Where should this fit on their priority list?"
Have you seen UIE's research on users' perceptions of download speed? Doesn't that really debunk the notion that code/graphic optimization improves usability? Isn't it really all about 'scent of information' and users "feeling" like they are consistently making progress?
528 pages!!?? How much 'optimization' did you do on the manuscript of this book? :-)
Or...WebReference has been a great resource for web developers since the early days of the web. What's the next big thing (after WSO) that developers should be thinking/learning about?
Load in under 20 to 30 seconds (incremental display) with useful content within 2 seconds. - Response Time
Why not just display the 'useful content', which would bring the time down to 2 seconds total?
Can a page load 'too quickly' ?
Sorry, forgot to close my em tag.
Is it just me, or has anyone else reached the point of losing interest as soon as the credits include Jakob?
Great questions, keep 'em coming. My book shows readers why we need speed, and how to get it, mainly from a client-side perspective. And no, it is not about search engine optimization (although this topic is covered in two chapters), but speeding up web sites. Fed up with how slow web sites have become, I decided to do something about it and wrote this book.
Meta keywords/description tags: although they are used less by search engines, they are still important, and are used in search results pages. I also show how to conditionally include them for extreme HTML optimization.
WSO Outsourcing: WSO should be practiced by web designers and developers, or can be outsourced for larger more complex projects. One goal of the book is to enable web designers, authors, graphic artists, and developers to optimize and compress their own content. I can't possibly do it all ;)
Ranking: I spent a couple months putting the site together, and an entire chapter on optimizing the keywords etc. High rankings on Google require inbound links, which I'm gradually acquiring. Hey, give me a break, the book just came out a couple weeks ago! This will improve over time.
more to come...
I am about to hire a web developer to build a site for my new e-business. Here's my question: Other important selection parameters aside, how can non-subject matter experts evaluate the effort and care in site optimization a developer will take when building a site? If, as your book contends, that back-end attention is critical, how do I pick a firm that will do the right things, and how will I know they've done them, if I am not a developer myself?
Every company I contact waxes on about how they pay attention to optimization, in an effort to get it 'covered off' in the client's mind. How do I separate the lip service from someone who will dedicate time and resources to this important endeavour?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts to this perplexing issue for small business owners that know enough to know that optimization is critical, but not enough to how to do it (otherwise we'd likely do it ourselves).
1. What is the most common problem to be solved when optimizing web sites?
2. What major web sites do the best job of optimization?
3. There is software that assists and, in some cases, automates the accessibility process. Is there any software that does the same for web site optimization?
4. To what degree can we attribute web site speed to the browser?
5. What type of web sites can benefit most from optimization?
I could create a stunningly beautiful entirely graphical page, or a simple page with no graphics, or something in between.
How do I determine the safe point; the point where a page is acceptably attractive, authoritative and/or creates the right impression, and yet loads fast enough to serve my customers?
I know graphics aren't all there is to optimization, but assuming I've optimized everything else, where do I draw the line with graphics? Are there any *general* guidelines you can share?
Or perhaps to ask it another way, how important are eye candy/garnish graphics to a web page? WebWord does well without a lot of graphics because content is king. I could do without many of Amazon's graphics because I mostly care about product photos, but maybe a slimmer site would seem unprofessional. How do we go about determining appropriate use of graphics/images?
One hour on WSO: I'd pick the low-hanging fruit. Eliminate excess (graphics, multimedia), cut your prose in half, and optimize the rest. (you could install mod_gzip etc. in less than an hour also). The main thing is to make sure that your home page loads quickly.
New technologies: Yes, CSS has made it possible to tranform table-based layouts into CSS-based layouts. Typically this reduces page size by 25 to 50%. The ratio of content to markup improves dramatically.
ROI for WSO: (don't you love those abbrevs) This is akin to asking what is the ROI for usability. Speed is a key component of usability. Small improvements in speed can take critical pages below typical attention thresholds, and dramatically lower bail-out rates and abandoned shopping carts. I talk about this in the book, but compression alone can save 30-50% in size and bandwidth costs. Webmasters who have employed compression and optimization typically save 30 to 50% off their bandwidth costs, and retain more customers, and have improved conversion rates.
Care about Optimization/Performance - WSO is an integral part of usability, utility, and likability. No-one likes to use a slow web site. If you care about usability, speed is a key part of that equation.
UIE's Article: Yes, I've read that. That is poorly supported elsewhere, I spend the first chapter showing why response times are important, summarizing key research into HCI and response times. However, there are factors that can affect how we perceive delays, like feedback and task complexity. Attunability is another interesting area of research, with users adjusting "subjective time bases" based on the pace of particular systems. If Domino's usually delivers in under 30 minutes, and then one day took an hour, you'd certainly notice it.
528 pages: Yeah, my editor kidded me over that. We did trim and condense a fair amount, but there is a lot to cover, and I wanted a font size that everyone could easily read. There is also a sample chapter from another book in the end. Next big thing? I'd say delta compression and wireless optimization.
Can a page load too quickly? As far as I'm concerned, no. But according to the response time research that I read, and mention briefly in the book, you can have response times that are too fast, and this increases errors. But on the web, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
I have some long prose pages, and I wonder at what point should they be broken into separate pages. I hate the scroll....but I hate the little chunks per page.
These will not be shortened; they are the length they are. So, what is the optimal number of words per separate html document?
Do you feel that information architecture (in this case I mean the categorisation of web pages for findability) can have an effect on site optimisation? I suppose I'm asking if things like intuitive URLs and labels can reduce the need for extra context on a page.
How would you separate site optimisation and usability/IA? Is it something between those disciplines and design/dev? Who should have the final say?
(please excuse limey spelling)
I know one of the big load time eaters are long streams of formatted text and most every weblog out there uses this method to display their content.
On one hand this is good because it shows that the blogger is actually blogging enough content for you to check back, on the other hand it is an annoyance because long columns of text often have to load before other elements (especially includes and stylesheets) even become apparent in the design.
How can the weblog be optimized to load better but also show first-timers that work is being done?
What is the best overall way to optimize a webpage?
What is your take on the issue of web images being a max of 72 dpi?
What is the worst thing one could do to try and optimize a website?
What are the downsides of stripping out every non-printable space, tab, and line break from an HTML document, so the entire code essentially resides on a single line? I thought Netscape 4 had trouble with very long HTML lines.
Is there a way to prevent caching of text in a page, using the typical META tags and HTTP header mods, but still cache the images, included js files, and included css files? It is my understanding that the usual cache prevention code forces a redownload of everything included on the page.
Weblog optimization/long text? - Many of the weblogs I view source have lots of embedded formatting, like font tags and complex CSS classes. Many weblogs are also by their very nature verbose :) I'd advocate using higher-level type selectors in CSS, contectual selectors, and to be brief in decks and point to longer stories for those who want to read more. Writing succinct headlines is also important.
In general, cut your prose as much as possible, especially on high-traffic pages. Users don't read as fast on the screen. On the web, users are information foraging, trying to maximize the value of their time. They flit about like hummingbirds, looking for nuggets that interest them. One study I read showed that on average, users spend about 1 second per page, and rarely stay more than 10 seconds. Once they find an article they want, they'll stay longer.
Some more answers:
Major web sites best at WSO? Yahoo.com has the most highly optimized home page I've seen. They use URL abbreviation to save nearly 30% off their home page HTML. View source to see what I mean. But even Yahoo has bloated up, they have nearly 300 links on their front page. WebReference.com of course :) I like most anything from Zeldman and company, very clean and CSS-based. Though there's always room for improvement.
Graphics to text ratio? It depends on the type of site. For informational sites like WebWord.com or news-related sites, the graphics should be kept to a minimum. With the advent of widespread support of CSS, you can now create many pleasing effects without graphics. I cite a study in the book on this ratio. For shorter delays users prefer documents that include graphics, for longer delays users prefer text-only documents.
Tradeoff between Information Architecture (IA) and Web Site Optimization (WSO)? - Great question. Yes, there is a tradeoff for some techniques between IA and WSO, and with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Good IA has a logical hierarchy and clear, unambiguous labels. Some WSO techniques uses short abbreviated names and URLs to achieve savings, which can preclude descriptive terms. SEO also can conflict with IA and WSO, with some sites sacrificing logical hierarchy to create keyword-filled directory and file names. Balancing these three disciplines is an art in itself. For high traffic pages like home pages, I favor speed over IA and SEO. In the book, I discuss mapping techniques that you can use to have the best of both worlds. The book gives you the tools you can use to optimize your content. How far you go is up to you.
Optimum page length? - Great question. I haven't seen any studies specific to this, although I have some observations. I assume you mean for readability and usability, and not for SEO. For a multipage article, we found at WebReference.com that page views dropped off dramatically after 4 or 5 pages. When we made an article longer, fewer people read pages 6 or higher. Also, page length is related to page size, and without feedback you need to make sure your pages load in at most 8 to 10 seconds. That is about 30 to 34K total. With a 10K banner and a logo say, that is a maximum of 20K.
Optimal line length is another story. There are a number of guidelines on this, dating back to the 1800's. Max optimal line length for print is 1.5 x the length of the lower case alphabet. Jakob would trim this by 25% for onscreen reading. This article from Human Factors International on optimal line length found that people prefer moderate line lengths, but read faster at longer lengths. Of course, when you make your line lengths shorter, your page length increases, and people will have to scroll more.
Mike C won the book!
Thanks to everyone for participating. More to follow...
Oh, that's hard. I just saw your book lottery invitation and now I have to realize that it's to late :-( What's about a renewal :)
Say, you've got two copies of the book. Why not give away the other one, too?
To me, it's pretty much a given that a sub-single-second load time is very important (even though at the moment my own site takes longer to load).
Here's my question.
How can I convince other people (quickly, and without boring them to sleep) just how important it is for a web page to load quickly?
I must admit this is a good discussion. I tend to code for speed myself; I've noticed many of my pages bloating up significantly lately, as I edit using "pretty-print"ed page source (indentation that makes it clear what went where and why) but removing most of that would indeed speed the pages up considerably. Another concern I have is not related directly to WSO...but to website security. I need a way (that works in not only 4.x-5.x browsers, but works in the ultramodern 6.x and higher browsers) that prevents page-source viewing. I have yet to find anything that actually still works, at least with Mozilla-based browsers (or even MSIE 5.5!) Can anyone help me on this?