Ban the Bloat: 5 Reasons to Watch Your Page Weight

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I’m stunned. I’ve written several web page bloat articles over the years but it’s all been in vain. According to Pingdom, a performance monitoring service, total web page file sizes have increased by 25% during the past 12 months.

The average web page now weighs 784KB compared to 626KB in November 2010. Remember that’s an average: 50% of sites will exceed that size. To put it into context, a single page can be 10% of the browser application which was downloaded to render it.

The Pingdom article concludes that the main culprits are:

  • JavaScript: an increase of 44.7% (103KB to 149KB)
  • images: an increase of 21.2% (372KB to 451KB)

But why? HTML5 technologies are far more common. I would have expected a minor increase in HTML and CSS code — especially to cater for CSS3 vendor-prefixes — but shouldn’t JavaScript and image sizes should be dropping? There’s less need for image-generated gradients, coded animations, rounded corners, shadows, etc.

I also expected Flash usage to drop but it’s increased from 77KB to 87KB (13%). I suspect it’s primarily used in advertising, but HTML5 alternatives and Adobe abandoning mobile platforms are yet to have an effect.

So, is the problem that designers and developers rarely worry about page bloat? Anyone moving into the industry within the past five years has enjoyed the luxury of reliable broadband. Those who experienced the pain of dial-up connections often needed to optimize every byte — I can remember omitting closing tags and attribute quotes just to squeeze pages further.

Obviously the situation has progressed and few people would limit themselves to the 50KB maximum developers adhered to during the late 1990s. But there are many good reasons why you should habitually minimize your file sizes…

1. Search Engine Optimization
If two sites have similar content and page-ranks, the one which loads faster will gain a higher position in Google.

2. Reduced Cost
Smaller file sizes result in reduced hosting costs, bandwidth charges and user time. These factors are never free and, the more popular your site becomes, the more you’ll be charged.

3. Slow Connectivity
Just because you have fast unlimited access, don’t assume everyone else is sitting on a fat pipe. The situation is especially dire in the western countries which are dependent on aging copper telephone networks. A proportion your market will have a slow connection — or even dial-up — because that’s the best they can get.

4. Mobile Access is Increasing
Web access from smartphones tablets are popular. Eventually, they’re expected to overtake desktop browsing. Even those with reasonable 3G access will be waiting 30 seconds for your 1MB monolithic page to appear. Is that progress?

5. Developing Markets
Unlike the West, Asia and Africa will experience explosive internet growth during the next decade. The relative area sizes and population distributions mean that slow or mobile connectivity are the only option for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps those markets aren’t important to you now, but they will be. Besides, unlike the west, many of those economies aren’t bankrupt … they may become your only market!

Finally, let’s not forget that smaller file sizes normally results in more responsive applications. That’s good for everyone.

Let’s hope Pingdom’s 2012 report shows a big reduction in file sizes.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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