snail on sidewalk
PHOTO: Wolfgang Hasselmann

Website design is still more amateur than professional. Most websites would not pass a basic quality control test.

There is nothing more basic on the web than the speed at which a page downloads. Fast downloading pages have passed the first mark of quality. Slow downloading pages fail.

In 2019, Backlinko, a search engine optimization company, analyzed five million desktop and mobile pages to learn which factors impact page speed. Key findings:

  • Desktop pages were on average taking 10.3 seconds to load.
  • Mobile pages were on average taking 27.3 seconds to load.

It’s hard to actually believe these figures. They don’t seem credible but if you follow the link at the bottom of this page you will see that Backlinko back up their estimates with a lot of hard data and research.

For years best practice has been that it should not take more than two seconds for a page to download on desktop and no more than three seconds for mobile. These are the upper limits. Could it be that millions of people out there using standard smartphones are essentially banned from using millions of websites because they are so slow to load?

“The average connection speed for U.S. mobile users has increased steadily in the past 10 years; meanwhile, the load times for mobile web pages over the same period have more than doubled,” Kathryn Whitenton wrote for Nielsen Norman in May 2020.

In the last 10 years, the internet has gotten roughly 20 times faster. That’s not a typo. Twenty times faster. That doesn’t make sense. If the internet has gotten 20 times faster, how come a great many websites have gotten slower?

Because of terrible, lazy, bloated design. Digital is a horribly wasteful industry. Digital crap may not smell but it sure does stink. And because the internet has gotten so much faster, we as an industry have been able to hide our bad, lazy, self-obsessed, ego-driven behavior.

I remember back in 1997, sitting in a restaurant in Galway discussing the best way to optimize images. In 2020, I still find images on websites that are over a megabyte in weight. Eight out of 10 people I meet in digital could care less about page weight or performance. Why are we such slow learners?

Imagine if people in the digital industry were designing cars. We have all these super-amazing highways that we can drive our cars down. We’d have designed cars that looked like Ferraris. But once you put you foot on the accelerator they’d behave like tractors trundling down the superhighway spewing out fume and toxins on the way.

Because these super-heavy websites come at a great and increasing cost to the environment. I calculated that if you have a webpage that is 4 MB (the current average page weight) and if it is downloaded 600,000 times, you’d need to plant one tree to deal with the resulting pollution. Because one tree can absorb about 10 kg of CO2 per year and that’s the amount of pollution downloading such a page 600,000 times causes.

We are killing the web and we are killing the planet because of our endlessly wasteful, lazy, ego-driven web design and development. Are we OK with that?