We thought January would be a good time to reflect back on what we saw with our major hospitality sites’ web performance on the Keynote Index over the past year. We’ve looked at some of the winners and not so winners in depth over the months, but sometimes it’s useful to see how particular sites performed over a longer period of time. Some performance numbers change dramatically and quickly, while others happen slowly and in increments.
One thing we do know is that a major site change can make a dramatic difference in site performance – and not always for the best.
Harrah’s spring site change unfortunately put them at the bottom of the index. Following a May 2013 redesign it reached a peak average load time of over seven seconds, before settling in at five to six seconds. Not something visitors are ready to wait for. But Harrah’s made a choice – to add more rich content at the expense of performance.
Meanwhile Accor Hotels degraded gradually throughout the year, and is now resting at just over a five second load time of its home page.
On the other hand, one site that has slowly crept up from the bottom of the index is Hilton. Hilton improved its speed at serving pages which we suspect was achieved through better implementation of CDNs or content optimization such as reducing image file sizes.
At the start of the year, Priceline was a site consistently in the middle of the Index. In January of 2013 the site was somewhat slow but also not very rich in content – the worst of both worlds. But in April there was a change to the look and feel and a more streamlined design helped improve performance time.
In August the performance improvements continued, with the refreshed site design pulling less content and fewer redirects. These changes kept cutting a second then another second off performance times, slowly but surely over the months. By December it was consistently sitting in the top three on the Index, with a sub-two second load time. Priceline also managed to deliver a richer experience without sacrificing performance. Again this usually points to better use of CDNs, optimization of content (such as smaller images) and domain sharding.
The reality for any major site owner is that old saying – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. What was fine a few years ago may now be unacceptable or impacted by new developments. For example, the increase in third party content such as Facebook and Twitter. Incorporating them into your site is highly desirable, but a site owner does not have direct control over them should there be a problem. Knowing how to manage them is now critical to maintain optimum performance.
We recommend you keep testing and monitoring to identify issues early, especially when rolling out a major redesign. Spend some extra time analyzing the data collected by your monitoring, mobile, and load testing tools to avoid unintended effects on your customers’ web experience. Continue the testing and monitoring cycle to achieve best results. It can be small changes in performance – both positive and negative – that eventually make the most impact.
This isn’t going to change in 2014. Sites must now perform effectively across “three screens” (desktop, tablet and mobile) only adding to the complexities for site owners. User expectations continue to rise and just when you think you’ve attained best practices, something new comes along to keep raising the bar.
So onwards and upwards in 2014 in continuing to strive for the best online experience possible.
The Keynote Lodging Performance Index measures and benchmarks the performance of the desktop home pages of the major hotel and travel booking sites from the ten largest US metropolitan areas (Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC) on high-speed links attached to key points on the largest U.S. Internet Service Provider (ISP) backbones. Sites are measured every fifteen minutes.