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The Shangri-La of travel sites would feature speed and ease. Years after the first travel site appeared on the Internet we have to ask: "Are we there yet?" To find out, we compared the home pages of Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity for speed and accessibility. How did these travel sites fare?
To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, there must be some mistake. We have travel promises to keep, but miles to go before we make our reservation. While all of the sites did not meet our speed and accessibility guidelines, one in particular flew above the rest and gave holiday bells a shake. Expedia had the fastest load times and was the most accessible.
We analyzed the home pages of Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, and Travelocity.com to see how well they comply with the speed guidelines published in our book Speed Up Your Site. The home pages were analyzed using our free Web Page Analyzer plus a tool that takes into account dynamically generated content. The results of our analysis are listed in Table 1.
*The download times were measured on a slow Macintosh PowerBook with a fast 56Kbps connection. The first number is the time it takes for useful content to display in seconds. The second figure is the time it takes for the entire page to load (i.e., useful content/entire page)
1A 9,972 byte html file is loaded into one iFrame in Expedia.com.
height attributes on its main navigation bar (see Figure 1).
Travelocity was the only site that utilized text for its navigational tabs (see Figure 2). This explains in part their lower HTTP request count of 42. The tabs could be done with Douglas Bowman's Sliding Doors of CSS method to incorporate rollovers and simplify the code.
head of their HTML document (16,397 bytes to 6,132 bytes). Typically gzip compression saves 80% to 85% off of HTML file size, due in part to its regularity. See our Use HTTP Compression Speed Tweak of the Week for more details.
We analyzed these three travel home pages for the five key elements typically included in accessible web pages. Expedia and Travelocity used
alt attribute values for most of their images. The images without
alt text were either ads, or they provided text links just below the image (see Figure 3). Travelocity did not use alternate text on some images, including their logo. Orbitz used only three
alt attribute values (see Figure 4). The first image in a page is a good place to include a descriptive sentence for screen readers to quickly orient themselves when they first load a web page. None of the travel sites used the other four accessibility features we tested (see Table 2).
|Travel Site||Alt attributes?||Skip to content link?||Link title attributes?||Accesskey attributes?||Tabindex attributes?|
To improve accessibility convert graphical rollover menus to text and CSS2 for higher speed and better accessibility. For the remaining images, add descriptive
alt attribute values to functional images, and blank
alt attribute values to non-functional images. Our other suggested solutions can be found in our presidential homepage review.
All of these travel pages scored poorly in our accessibility tests, although Expedia and Travelocity used
alt attribute values effectively.
Size-wise the Expedia home page weighs in at 122K while Orbitz came in second at 143.7K, due in part to its use of HTTP compression. Travelocity weighed in at 168.1K, but Travelocity.com's initial load time was over 43% faster than Orbitz (without a compression-aware browser). This is due in part to Travelocity's lower HTTP request load, and Orbitz.com's use of a single large content table. Travelocity requires the fewest HTTP requests (42) while Orbitz requires the most (62). These travel sites need a first-class upgrade.
Andy King is the founder of five developer-related sites including this one, and the author of Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization from New Riders Publishing. He publishes the monthly Bandwidth Report, Speed Tweak of the Week, and the semi-weekly WebReference Update.
Any trademark or tradenames used in this article are owned exclusively by their owners and they do not endorse or sponsor this site. Optimization Week and the author are not affilliated with Expedia Inc., Orbitz LLC, or Travelocity.com LP. 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