Who wins the web performance ashes – the ECB or Cricket Australia?

At the time of writing, the fate of England’s cricket team down under still hangs in the balance. But it’s not looking good for them.

So we thought we’d see if England could get a win in the web performance ashes: is the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) website faster than Cricket Australia? We ran a number of tests in Chrome using Performance Analyser at 2Mbps and took the median run.

Here’s what we found.

Early wickets

We began by looking at render start time – how fast non-white content is painted to the page. Getting something in front of visitors early is important to the user experience, and it was an early breakthrough for Australia. While neither site did particularly well, it was 2.31 seconds for Australia against a disappointing 4.39 seconds for England.

Decision review

However, when we looked more closely, it wasn’t so clear-cut. The filmstrip below shows that Cricket Australia displayed nothing more than a grey box up until 6.3 seconds. Although this might serve to reassure visitors that there’s some kind of progress, it’s not especially useful. The ECB site, while it was slow to display content, did show usable content from the outset, well ahead of the Australians.

So I’d probably give this one to England. But I’m probably biased, so perhaps we’ll call it a draw.

Visually complete

As important as it is to start displaying content early, it’s also good to build a complete above-the-fold page as soon as possible. Here, Cricket Australia is at a bit of a disadvantage, as it carries a lot of banner ads, some of which are animated.

Twenty-five seconds in, both sites look like they’re pretty much there.

Sure enough, Cricket Australia is visually complete less than half a second later.

However, the ECB site doesn’t do so well. In cricketing terms, it drops what should have been an easy catch as most of the text on the page disappears for about a second and a half.

The reason is that the ECB is using a number of custom fonts, some of which are added by a script. The result is that the text is initially displayed using a fallback font, with a ‘flash of invisible text’ (FOIT) as the custom font is discovered and swapped in.

The waterfall chart extract below shows that the font files are among the final objects to load on the page:

In the end, it’s close – the ECB’s 26.9 seconds to Australia’s 25.4. But it’s still a clear win for Australia.

Speed Index

Speed Index is an indication of the rate at which a page becomes visually complete (the lower the score, the better). As such, it’s a pretty good guide to the experience it delivers.

In this case, the scores are quite interesting: 7,289 for the ECB compared to 7,887 for Cricket Australia. So it’s a win for the ECB despite the fact that Cricket Australia has a faster render start time and time to visually complete. The reason is that the ECB site is faster to build up a complete page – as we saw, the Cricket Australia site just displayed a grey box for about 4 seconds.

However, the animated ads on the Australian site are artificially inflating its Speed Index score. Since the scores are very close, if we count this as a win for England, it’s a lucky one.

Total load time

In Performance Analyser, we wait until there are two seconds of no network activity after the onload event to measure overall load time. This is so we don’t miss any resources that are added on the onload event.

This time, there’s no doubt: Australia’s 23.79 seconds to England’s 31.95, with load times for both sites pushed out by very large volumes of third-party content.

Overall, then, it looks like a narrow victory for Australia, with no comfort for England fans who care as much about web performance as they do about cricket. 

Published date:  14 December 2017

Written by:  Alex Painter

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