Have you ever wondered why some websites load faster than others? Whilst some of the explanation can be directed towards your own broadband speed, that factor is the same for all the websites you visit, so why the difference between sites?

It’s mainly down to the speed of the site you are accessing, which in turn is down to several key elements;

  • Server Speed
  • Website Design
  • File Management

Server Speed

This is pretty much the same as what you experience when you move from your old PC at home to the new one at work (or vice-versa). Computers are different, depending on the mechanics under-the-bonnet. Web servers are just the same, some are faster than others. In fact, computing efficiency, or speed, doubles every 18 months. This is known as Moore’s Law. If you change your PC every two or three years you are potentially less than half the speed ability of more modern computers. As applications get more complex, the files needed to run them get larger, which in turn can slow your computing ability. Web servers are no different so if a website is running on an old server (computer) then they may be serving files to you at a slower rate than if they were on a new model.

Website Design

Some websites look fab, don’t they? Big, in-depth images that really bring the subject to life. Such detail, such vibrancy of colour, such a pain to download. These images may look good but they can take forever to download. That’s the point, when you visit a web page, you are actually downloading all the files that go to make that page look as it does, onto your own computer. Thus, the more pages, the larger the files are, the longer it takes to load a web page. Just look at Wikipedia, they load really quickly don’t they? That’s because they are mainly text and have few, if any, images.

There are of course other factors but as this isn’t a tech site, I’m whizzing through this really quickly but hopefully you get the picture (pun intended ;-)).

File Management

The third element is the way files are stored on a the Web Server. I am definitely not going to go into this in detail here but if you really want to know, leave a question in the Comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer it. In the meantime, there are good ways to store files – small size, share code etc – and efficient ways – on-site, segmented, caching, compression etc.

Page Load Time Test

The whole point of this article was to show you some results, not to bore you with the science behind it. I wanted to demonstrate which bike sites were fast and which were faster. Why? Well, the faster a site loads, the more likely it is for visitors to stay on the site. The average web visitor has no patience for slow websites and as such will simply move onto the next site in the search results. A study by kissmetrics.com showed that after just 3 seconds, 40% of visitors would have left a slow website – in fact, 47% of visitors expect a page to load in under 2sec. Google themselves set a 1.5s page load target. For webmasters this is an important factor in search result rankings, ie. the art of getting to the number one position.

To make this test as fair as we could, we tested every website twice but not consecutively. Instead, we tested every website once and then did them all again. The tool we chose is from the brilliant team at Pingdom.com – http://tools.pingdom.com if you want to try it yourself. The rules of testing were as follows;

  • Tool: Pingdom Tools
  • Test: Amsterdam, Netherlands (nearest to the UK)
  • Browser: Chrome in Incognito form
  • Data Collated: Number of Files, Total Size of Files, Load Time
  • Frequency: Twice
  • Results: Fastest Load Time taken
  • Website: Tested the Home Page using www location
  • Date: 15th Sept 2012
  • Time: 1500hrs to 1600hrs GMT

Please remember we’re cyclists, not scientists. However, if you think the tests were flawed, please let us know and we’ll endeavour to improve upon the testing or even to correct the results if we’ve got it wrong. As with all the best shows, the results are in reverse order for the best ten – believe us when we say there were some really bad ones not on the list.

Top 10 Bike Websites by Page Load Time

#10

  • Website: halfords.com
  • Files: 177
  • Size: 1.2MB
  • Load Time: 1.67s

#9

  • Website: ukbikestore.co.uk
  • Files: 65
  • Size: 620KB
  • Load Time: 1.39s

#8

  • Website: chainreactioncycles.com
  • Files: 160
  • Size: 2.5MB
  • Load Time: 1.38s

#7

  • Website: tredz.co.uk
  • Files: 83
  • Size: 2.1MB
  • Load Time: 1.31s

#6

  • Website: wiggle.co.uk
  • Files: 48
  • Size: 793KB
  • Load Time: 1.07s

#5

  • Website: formbycycles.co.uk
  • Files: 77
  • Size: 1.8MB
  • Load Time: 1.05s

#4

  • Website: cyclesurgery.com
  • Files: 94
  • Size: 2.3MB
  • Load Time: 957ms

#3

  • Website: cyclesuk.com
  • Files: 84
  • Size: 1.3MB
  • Load Time: 924ms

#2

  • Website: ribblecycles.co.uk
  • Files: 68
  • Size: 677KB
  • Load Time: 856ms

#1

  • Website: jejamescycles.co.uk
  • Files: 91
  • Size: 438KB
  • Load Time: 443ms

Conclusion

Before we get to the fastest website, I want to take a moment to say how impressive the results are. All bar one of the top ten are under Google’s target which makes them all, fast websites. This is great news for those of us who spend a lot of time on cycling websites.

The list is also interesting for those websites that are not listed, one of which is Evans Cycles. This is a company with a strong online business, a great website but at 1.71s meant it was in 11th position.

Having the least number of files is no status for having the fastest website. Wiggle use just 48 files to create their home page but they were only in sixth place. This compares to halfords, in 10th, who use 177 files.

However, having the smallest size of files is an indication of a fast website. The site in first place loaded just 438KB whilst Chain Reaction Cycles in 8th place loads a whopping 2.5MB, approx six times more.

So, to the winner, JE James Cycles – a family run business with over 45 years experience and three shops; Rotherham, Sheffield and Chesterfield. Their website loaded in under half a second, in just 443ms. That’s less than 5ms for each of the 91 files they loaded. This is very impressive and makes them a worthy winner.

Bikes.org.uk

For those of you wondering where this site came, well we were, we loaded 43 files, 1.0MB, in just 659ms, which meant we would have come second – but it wasn’t about us!

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.