Victims of Their Own Success? 26 November, 2006 — Stuart Brown

How do the Alexa Top 100 fare in terms of page load times?

Posted in Security & Hacking, Networks
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Page load time is one of the key elements of web usability, and having a lagging response to your website can really dent your popularity. It's easy enough, for most sites, to handle 1,000 visitors a day - but the top sites out there have to handle thousands of requests per minute, so efficiency and capacity are key concerns. Alexa provide a (somewhat inaccurate) listing of the top 100 busiest sites worldwide, so I set up a script to gauge their responsiveness - and to see who came out on top.

Page size


Physical page size is one factor in determining transfer times - a larger page takes longer to transfer. Bear in mind that the figures below exclude images, CSS, javascript, etc - so the actual amount of data transferred could be considerably higher.

A worrying trend in East Asian sites is the rather bloated homepage - Korean company Nate boasts an impressive 257Kb of HTML - 900Kb if you include images! If you're stuck on 56K that's an eye-watering 5 minutes of load time. It's perhaps a mixed blessing, then, that internet access in South Korea is phenomenally quick - with broadband uptake higher than anywhere else in the world, and dense metropolitan areas served by massive net connections.

Little excuse for amazon.com to be leading the way at 114Kb, then (563Kb including images) - perhaps the trouble online on Black Friday in the US could have been averted with a little optimization. In this day and age I suspect it's probably safe enough to ditch the HTML 3.2 compliant tables and opt for more efficient CSS?

10 largest page sizes

Global
SiteSize
1. nate.com 257Kb
2. xinhuanet.com 214Kb
3. sina.com.cn 213Kb
4. daum.net 194Kb
5. sohu.com 179Kb
6. unwants.com 171Kb
7. qq.com 146Kb
8. newsgroup.la 134Kb
9. amazon.com 114Kb
10. tom.com 113Kb
English only
SiteSize
1. amazon.com 114Kb
2. cnn.com 100Kb
3. nytimes.com 99Kb
4. adultfriendfinder.com 76Kb
5. go.com 61Kb
6. ebay.com 55Kb
7. megaupload.com 48Kb
8. rediff.com 48Kb
9. imdb.com 40Kb
10. digg.com 39Kb

10 smallest page sizes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, minimalist Google dominates the charts for smallness - at a featherweight 2.7Kb. Not as light as minimal Facebook, however - but certainly less than both live.com and yahoo.com by a factor of 3-5. It's enough to make all the difference!

Global
SiteSize
1. facebook.com 2.4Kb
2. baidu.com 2.7Kb
3. google.fr 2.7Kb
4. google.com.mx 2.7Kb
5. google.it 2.7Kb
6. google.co.jp 2.7Kb
7. google.cn 2.7Kb
8. google.co.uk 2.7Kb
9. google.com 2.7Kb
10. google.com.br 2.7Kb
English only
SiteSize
1. facebook.com 2.4Kb
2. google.co.uk 2.7Kb
3. google.com 2.7Kb
4. flickr.com 5.2Kb
5. orkut.com 5.8Kb
6. live.com 6.0Kb
7. comcast.net 7.0Kb
8. photobucket.com 9.6Kb
9. yahoo.com 9.8Kb
10. badongo.com 9.8Kb

Page load time


10 longest load times

This is perhaps the crux - actual load times - of what defines the user experience. I suspect it may be the network location - there are a lot of tubes between China and the UK - but it seems the East Asian sites are the worst offenders when it comes to page load times. 57.8s on a 8Mbit connection is quite ridiculous!

Page size may be a factor, as with Amazon at a whopping 4s - excluding images! The minimal home page of ImageShack loads in an average (and somewhat dreary) 11.6s. Craigslist may have made the top 10, with 2.5s - but at least there's no images to be concerned with!

Global
SiteTime
1. sina.com.cn 57.8s
2. taobao.com 37.1s
3. vnet.cn 19.6s
4. gg.com 18.4s
5. tom.com 16.4s
6. sohu.com 13.1s
7. imageshack.us 11.6s
8. newsgroup.la 11.6s
9. soso.com 9.8s
10. sogou.com 7.9s
English only
SiteTime
1. imageshack.us 11.6s
2. about.com 5.3s
3. amazon.com 4.1s
4. fotolog.com 3.2s
5. passport.net 2.7s
6. craigslist.org 2.5s
7. sourceforge.net 2.4s
8. myspace.com 2.7s
9. adultfriendfinder.com 2.2s
10. megaupload.com 2.1s

10 shortest load times

And, so to the fastest sites - unsurprisingly enough, Google dominates the top ten - and with an honorable mention from Wikipedia at the bottom.

Indian portal rediff.com is a surprise entry - being the unusual combination of quick loading yet large sized, there must be a lot of processing power and bandwidth behind that site!

Global
SiteTime
1. google.co.uk 0.17s
2. google.de 0.17s
3. google.fr 0.18s
4. google.co.in 0.18s
5. google.co.jp 0.18s
6. google.com.br 0.18s
7. google.pl 0.18s
8. google.es 0.18s
9. google.ca 0.19s
10. wikipedia.org 0.22s
English only
SiteTime
1. google.co.uk 0.17s
2. google.ca 0.19s
3. wikipedia.org 0.22s
4. rediff.com 0.30s
5. google.com 0.39s
6. bbc.co.uk 0.42s
7. flickr.com 0.64s
8. yahoo.com 0.70s
9. live.com 0.74s
10. aol.com 0.82s

Page transfer rate


10 highest page transfer rates

Transfer rate is not so much a measure of usability but that of sheer bandwidth - the lead site, free.fr, manages an impressive (and sustained through the test period) 205Kb per second for each page load - but wasn't amongst the top 10 fastest. Why not? Even at 205Kb/s, 60 Kb of HTML still takes 0.29s - 50% slower than Google's response.

Major news sites bbc.co.uk, cnn.com, and nytimes.com all have impressive bandwidth at their disposal too - but the text-heavy homepages mean their overall response times take a hit.

Global
SiteTime
1. free.fr 205Kb/s
2. rediff.com 199Kb/s
3. wikipedia.org 180Kb/s
4. bbc.co.uk 140Kb/s
5. onet.pl 117Kb/s
6. cnn.com 102Kb/s
7. xinhuanet.com 102Kb/s
8. nytimes.com 99Kb/s
9. ebay.com.cn 95Kb/s
10. rambler.ru 83Kb/s
English only
SiteTime
1. rediff.com 199Kb/s
2. wikipedia.org 180Kb/s
3. bbc.co.uk 140Kb/s
4. cnn.com 102Kb/s
5. nytimes.com 99Kb/s
6. amazon.com 0.42s
7. aol.com 54Kb/s
8. imdb.com 47Kb/s
9. youtube.com 42Kb/s
10. msn.com 35Kb/s

10 slowest page transfer rates

Perhaps it's the 20 hops required to get to China, or the stupidly slow response rates of the routers once you get to China (I'm seeing response rates between 600-1000ms, for about 5 hops), but even the minimal design of China Google-clone soso.com chugs along. Perhaps it's the great firewall of China purposefully slowing external traffic to a crawl?

Regardless, the East Asian sites are slow by all other standards, although Facebook, with all it's minimal glory, did manage an impressively slow average transfer rate, with the 2.4Kb taking over a second to load. Google.com also made the Top 10 (English) sites - although I do feel this particular metric has a bias against smaller homepages (see caveats, below)

Global
SiteTime
1. soso.com 0.5Kb/s
2. sogou.com 1.2Kb/s
3. baidu.com 1.6Kb/s
4. discuss.com.hk 1.8Kb/s
5. facebook.com 1.8Kb/s
6. mixi.jp 2.3Kb/s
7. 3721.com 2.6Kb/s
8. taobao.com 3.0Kb/s
9. imageshack.us 3.8Kb/s
10. passport.net 3.9Kb/s
English only
SiteTime
1. facebook.com 1.8Kb/s
2. imageshack.us 3.8Kb/s
3. passport.net 3.9Kb/s
4. orkut.com 4.6Kb/s
5. comcast.net 7.4Kb/s
6. geocities.com 7.6Kb/s
7. photobucket.com 7.6Kb/s
8. live.com 8.0Kb/s
9. flickr.com 8.2Kb/s
10. google.com 8.3Kb/s

Caveats and Methodology