Search Speed Puts Hotels.com at Top of Web Performance Index

By Abelardo Gonzalez, Web Performance Evangelist, Keynote | November 04, 2013

It’s no surprise that the search feature is a critical one on travel sites. For many it’s the fastest way to get to a specific location, side stepping all the various categories. So this month we focused on search performance on the travel agency sites in the Keynote Lodging Performance Index – Hotels.com, Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity and Orbitz.

First we looked at transactional searches, where a visitor browses a few pages and then does a search. Hotels.com is far and away the winner with a search speed on average at 7.7 seconds. Travelocity comes in last at an average of 13.5 seconds but in fact the other travel sites are only slightly better – Expedia at 11.1 seconds, Priceline at 12.1 and Orbitz at 12.6.
 
Hotels.com also boasts the fastest home page, which helps deliver a fast end-to-end search experience. Focusing on the search experience directly from the home page (as opposed to navigating to the home page then searching) Hotel.com is the fastest at 5.2 seconds.
 
Hotels.com demonstrates a very strong back end search meaning its application servers return with the results page the fastest. Keynote measures this as the “First byte download time” which measures the time from when a request is made to the time the first packet from that request is received.
 
For the slower search speeds, on sites like Travelocity, the first byte download time is significantly higher. The higher first byte download time along with a much larger overall search results page contribute to a slower perceived search result for the user. When numerous objects have to load and sites have to manage multiple elements or assets on a page, speed is always affected.
 
Also impacted is the time to “First Paint” for the search page on Travelocity, at a long six seconds. That means once you have entered your search, nothing shows up for a full six seconds. Many users would give up waiting that long or simply think the site was not responding. Travelocity also comes in with a poor 12 second “Time to Interactive” – the time is takes before a user can interact such as clicking on a link. Again, the delay is caused by the amount of assets waiting to load.   A high performing Web site should endeavor to reduce the “Time to First Paint” and “Time to Interactive” by using intelligent site design and moving page assets that take longer and third party calls until after the onLoad event has happened.
 
Hotels.com is a good example of this intelligent site design, in this case minimizing the objects, such as JavaScript, which can block the “Time to First Paint” and “Time to Interactive”.
 
Regarding search capabilities, the best way to offer a fast response is to optimize the back end search as well as streamline the entire page that is delivered with the search results. As an example, Orbitz offers a pretty average experience. While it offers the lightest overall search results page size, its slow “Time to First Byte” gives a user the perception of a slow experience.
 
Anyone can also sign up for a free weekly email delivery of the Index. Use it to track how your company’s performance is doing against the competition, or just to follow what some of the major names are setting as performance standards. Keynote runs a large number of US and global Indexes, across a range of industries and government, which many organizations use as the benchmark to achieve their own optimum Web performance.

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