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Home Depot recently redesigned its home page (www.homedepot.com) in an attempt to "streamline" its web site and "improve sales and traffic." In our opinion, we fear their efforts, though valiant and a treat for the eye, are not yet enough. Before the October redesign, HomeDepot.com's responsiveness was poor, and from our analysis of their new home page they still have performance and accessibility problems to address. Here's why.
On a 56Kbps modem (currently 60% of US users) the HomeDepot.com home page takes 15 to 20 seconds to load useful content (the main navigation table plus a search form), and more than 45 seconds to load the rest of the page. These times are much higher than the 8 to 10 seconds that most users are willing to wait. Without feedback, load times that exceed this range increase bailout rates by 25% or more (see Speed Up Your Site for details).
To speed load time and to make the site more accessible, we'd recommend the following.
<noscript> <ul> <li><a href="appliances.html" title="Go to small appliances area">Appliances</a></li> <li><a href="washers.html" title="Go to washers area">Washers</a></li> ... </ul> </noscript>
The CSS file for their October 2003 redesign is more than 19.7K in size. We'd recommend that they substitute shorthand font and border properties (i.e., font:.9em arial,helvetica,sans-serif; and border:1px solid #fc0;) for the longhand ones that they use and adopt shorthand hex colors where possible (i.e., color:#fc0; instead of color:#FFCC00;).
As a designer, you can also group selectors for common declarations and group declarations for common selectors to save space. Rather than peppering your code with ids and classes, use type selectors high in the document tree and contextual selectors to make your CSS more efficient and easier to maintain.
Layering tables to display content incrementally is a crude form of feedback that can extend the length of time that users are willing to wait for your page. If you can provide useful content or navigation quickly, your users can accomplish tasks while they wait for the rest of your page to load. HomeDepot.com layers their tables which is good, but the external files that precede these tables delay their display. Linear progress bars, time and size estimates, and other performance cues can help users "attune" to the pace of your site. Users like consistency in response rates and fast response times. Useful content that displays quickly, within 1 or 2 seconds, will keep users engaged and coming back for more.
1Andrew B. King, Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (New Riders Publishing, 2003), 412. Surveyed the effect of content encoding on 50 popular sites. On average, HTTP compression (otherwise called content encoding) reduced text files by 75% and bandwidth bills by 37%.
Any trademark or tradenames used in this article are owned exclusively by their owners and they do not endorse or sponsor this site. Home Depot is a registered trademark of Homer TLC, Inc. Optimization Week is not affilliated with Homer TLC, Inc. in any form. All opinions expressed herein are based on information that we believe to be reasonably accurate at the time of publication. If you find any errors or misstatements of fact please contact us.
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Last modified: November 09, 2004