It’s almost a little jarring, if you stop to think about it. Only two decades ago, the average size of a web page was 14.1 kilobytes. Anything larger was generally considered overdoing it.
As network technology improved and the Internet ingrained itself more and more into our lives, however, that number exploded – today, the average page hovers somewhere around 2 or 3 MB, and there’s no indication that this growth trend is going to stop anytime soon.
And that’s a problem. As you likely already know, mobile devices have overtaken desktops as the most-used Internet platform. And while a desktop browser may not have any difficulty rendering an article that’s upwards of three megabytes in size, smartphones and tablets are an entirely different story.
Screen size aside, when you’re using a mobile browser, chances are fairly high that you aren’t connected to WiFi. You’re using your smartphone’s carrier connection. And that, in turn, means you’re not only driving up the data consumption, but suffering through frustratingly-long load times, to boot.
With the advent of the mobile web, there’s a good chance you need to put your site on a diet. Because if you don’t, the long load times and heavy data load will drive away your audience. So…where exactly does one start here?
“Everyone admits there’s a problem,” explains writer and developer Maciej Cegłowski. “These pages are bad enough on a laptop, but they are hell on mobile devices. So publishers are taking action.”
The irony, continues Cegłowski, is that said publisher action often involves releasing explanations, announcements, or articles that crawl into the double digits in terms of page size. Facebook’s Instant Articles initiative, for example, was promoted through a 41-megabyte video and a 6.8 megabyte article. That seems a little…counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
“This is Facebook’s message to the world,” he continues. “The Internet is slow. Sit and spin…The designers of that Facebook page deserve the ultimate penalty.”
Basically, all of these guides and initiatives and measures to reduce bloat somewhat hilariously serve only to aggravate the problem even further. If you’re going to reduce bloat on your site, you need to take measures into your own hands. You cannot rely on publishers.
To that end, Cegłowski’s got a few words of advice, which we’ve arranged into bullet form:
- Cut down on animations, large images, and needlessly-complex backgrounds. They might look good, but they’re horrendous for mobile browsers to deal with.
- As an addendum to the above, use images in moderation, and only where they improve your content.
- Design your page so that the most important elements download and render first.
- Tracking cookies: Not even once.
- Cut down on advertising, seek a website model that doesn’t require ads, or seek advertisements without complex code. Advertisements are one of the biggest culprits of page bloat on the web.
- Use optimization techniques like image compression.
- Simplify your interface. Just do it.
Cegłowski wraps up his talk by saying that as the web gets faster, we should commit to making websites faster, as well. It’s a valuable sentiment, and one every web designer would do well to remember. After all, the quicker a page loads, the likelier your audience is to stick around.
And the longer they stick around, the likelier it is that they’ll come back later.