Bytes and Pixels (Web Page Sizes)
Part of How Do They Do That With HTML? by Carl Tashian

I started looking into the topic of web page sizes the other day. The question I had was: As of late 2000, is there an accepted standard for web page widths or byte sizes? People have faster Internet connections and bigger monitors than they had in 1995, or even last year, but what's the average these days?

Byte Sizes

First, lets talk about byte sizes. With DSL and cable modems and other fast Internet connections, web pages have gotten bigger and bigger, no question about it. The first thing I found while looking into byte sizes was an old article from Web Pages That Suck, written in August 1999. The author, Vincent Flanders, looked at 20 front pages from the "top 50" most visited sites on the Internet at the time (I'm not sure where his list came from...). He used Web Site Garage to determine the byte sizes of each front page (including all the graphics), and made a big table showing byte sizes and loading times. In the end, his determination was that an "average" web page should be 49,024 bytes, and that the largest web site should be no more than 63,338 bytes.

Web Site Minimum Width (pixels) Total Size (bytes)
google.com 454 12116
news.com 590 83215
aol.com 605 87248
amazon.com 607 81638
ebay.com 617 99474
lycos.com 619 28979
msn.com 619  
eonline.com 622 331711
earthlink.com 635 82904
nationalgeo.com 641 114259
barnesandnoble.com 670 115249
yahoo.com 675 24447
etrade.com 686 39093
excite.com 695 44373
slashdot.org 695 61507
abcnews.com 706 142636
fool.com 747 99363
altavista.com 750 42523
salon.com 752 138750
buy.com 755 121075
thestreet.com 770 147988
cnbc.com 772 73705
msnbc.com 773  
cnn.com 774 216888
cbsnews.com 785 159193
netscape.com 786 96677
average 685 104559
Measured November 14, 2000.
Well, times have changed, Vinny.

I went to Web Site Garage to do my own testing. I randomly chose 26 popular sites and I measured the total byte size of each front page. Yes, the sample size is small, but these sites are among the most popular on the Internet, so they should give a good measure of what the "average" user is expected to have.

As far as byte sizes are concerned, I came up with numbers that, in some cases, were more than double the values determined a year before by Mr. Flanders. The table at right shows the sites, with byte sizes and minimum widths (which I'll talk about in a minute). The high and low values for each column are shaded .

Google is, by far, the smallest big web site in the world, weighing in at only 12,116 bytes. Because of this, it's also the start page for my browser. The Google philosophy is that you should be able to find anything on the Internet by entering a search term. This approach doesn't provide any information on the start page, like weather reports or news items, but if I type "Boston weather", I can get a weather report within one or two clicks.

On the other end of the scale, we have sites like cnn.com (216,888 bytes) and eonline.com (331,711 bytes). CNN tries to provide as much information as possible on their front page, which is probably a good idea for a news organization. E! Online loves Flash animations, but in the time it takes their 300kb page to load, I've fallen asleep. Any way you look at it, it is way too big.

The average page size is 102kb. This number can be deceiving, however, and there are a few things you should keep in mind about it. First, most of these popular sites have a great speed advantage over your site: They use "Global Traffic Management" providers like Akamai to make their site load from one of many severs distributed throughout the world. It's unlikely that your web provider has this kind of service-- big sites pay big bucks for it.

Also, people will be more patient with a big site, like CNN, because they know they're getting wall-to-wall content. The byte size of any site should be justified, because no one wants to wait for a 100kb photograph of a random friend of yours to load-- and if that 100kb photo happens to be on your front page, most people will turn away before it starts loading.

So if you can keep your page way under 100kb, that's great. The front page of my web site, with all text and graphics, is around 25kb, and I would expect that to be an average size for a personal home page. Notice how much I'm able to do with my site in 25kb: I have a background graphic, menu graphics (complete with rollovers), a title graphic, and a few reasonably large icons. It is by no means a text-only web page.

Think minimal. Give people what they may want, and no more.

Browser Width

The table also shows a "minimum width" value for each site. If you haven't guessed already, this value is the smallest width (in pixels) a web browser can be resized to before any information is hidden from view. It's the point at which the page is too wide to fit completely the browser window. Note that web page heights aren't as important, because we're so used to vertically scrolling, from e-mail to word processors to web pages, that these sites can be as tall as they wish.

Is it time to start ignoring people who have 640 x 480 pixel displays? Many of these sites say no, as their widths fall around the lower 600s. Notice that aol.com is 605 pixels wide, perhaps suggesting that AOL believes they still have a significant number of 640 x 480 users.

Typically, the next largest display size after 640 x 480 is 800 x 600. CNN and Netscape, whose widths reach into the high 700s, fully expect their users to have 800 x 600 pixel displays, and at that size they are practically filling the entire screen. They are large and in charge.

Personally, I think the average, in the high 600s, is where most sites should be. I don't think it's necessary to design for 640 x 480 displays anymore, unless your site is likely to be used by many people with really old computers or very bad vision. In general, if you can accommodate 80% of your audience, you're doing a really good job.

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