Our fragmented attention spans are so fickle that if something doesn't grab us in the first few seconds, we're likely to turn away.
Research by Web performance monitoring company Catchpoint Systems suggests that news sites may be in trouble because publishers are putting too many assets on their Web pages, forcing the content and the advertisements to load too slowly.
Catchpoint Systems measured how much time it takes to load pages at top sites, noting how many items were on the page and the average total downloaded bytes. Even though the measurements were in milliseconds, Catchpoint Systems' director of Web performance engineering Leo Vasiliou said any delay could hurt advertisers who are trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
"We've got short attention spans, and at 1/100th of a second, our brain will begin to want to think about something else," Vasiliou said.
As expected, search engines loaded the quickest. Travel-related pages and Internet retailers loaded at about the same speeds, with retailers loading slightly faster. But overall, news sites tended to load the slowest. Among the sites the company looked at, The Financial Times took about 29.5 seconds to load, followed by Bloomberg's pages, which averaged about 27 seconds. CNN (18.8 seconds), The Wall Street Journal's homepage (18.6 seconds) and Boston.com (17.9 seconds) rounded out the top five.
Vasiliou noted that most people won't realize a site isn't finished loading because everything that initially appears in their browser window shows up quite quickly. The reason why the majority of news sites take so long to fully load is because many items outside the screen frame take much longer to download.
With the growth of video advertising, these items are increasingly made up of more bytes of data, Vasiliou pointed out. The user may click away from the page or scroll down too quickly before a display ad appears. And, as the industry moves toward viewability measurements, it can be bad for publisher and advertiser alike.
"There is a marketing paradox here, as these third-party elements, many of which are geared toward monetization, can actually drive traffic away by slowing the sites' load times," Vasiliou said.
The charts below show that news sites contain far more bytes of data and, as expected, more assets on their pages compared to other types of Web pages. As a result, they take the longest to load.