Puzzling web habits across the globe - part 1

The Internet unites people from across the globe, but that doesn't mean that all surfing experiences are created equal. We set out to learn how surfing differs from country to country. Our results were surprising, and a little puzzling too.

At Clicktale, we used our In-Page Web Analytics service to collect and analyze data from over 1 million visitors during the months of May and June 2008.

For starters, we wondered:

How fast are Internet speeds around the globe?

We measured Internet speeds using the average page loading speeds from each country. As you can see from figure 1 below, page loading speeds vary between 1.1 and 5.5 seconds. Israeli and Dutch surfers have the quickest page loads while Chinese and Brazilian surfers have the slowest. In fact, the Chinese experience Internet speeds that are 5 times slower than the Dutch!

Page Loading Speed per Country

Figure 1: Average Page Loading Speeds across the globe.

For most countries, the page loading speed falls somewhere between 1.6 and 3 seconds. The variation in Internet speed may be caused by several factors:

  • The disparity in the underlying communication infrastructures between countries.
  • Broadband vs. dial-up penetration in each country.
  • The speed of the computers used to surf the web.
  • The types of websites being visited by the different populations. Rich-media websites containing photos and movies would take much longer to load than plain html sites.
  • The locations of websites being visited. Sites that are hosted physically near the surfer may provide faster page loading speeds.

Do you have any other ideas that might explain the Internet speed disparity across the globe? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Next, we were curious:

How much time do visitors spend browsing a web page?

From Figure 2 below, you can see that web surfers from most countries spend between 19 and 27 seconds on average per page. Dutch and Israeli surfers are the fastest, while Brazilian and Chinese surfers prefer to take their time in each page. In fact, a Chinese surfer will spend three times as long as a Dutch or Israeli surfer on a typical web page!

Time In-Page per Country

Figure 2: The average time visitors from across the globe browse a typical web page.

So what can explain such a large time variation?

We have some theories:

  • Maybe it's cultural. Perhaps web surfers from certain countries pay more attention to details and are simply more thorough.
  • Maybe it has something to do with language. Since most websites are written in English, perhaps English proficiency plays a role.
  • Or perhaps it has something to do with Internet speed. We have a clue that it might be, since in both Figure 1 and Figure 2, the Dutch and Israelis were located on the left of the graph and the Brazilians and Chinese were located on the right of the graph, signifying that the two might be related.

To test the effect of Internet speed on browsing times inside the page, we ran a linear regression and the results were very surprising.

In Figure 3 below, you can see that there is a strong linear relationship between Time In-Page and Page Loading Speed. In statistical terms, the R-Squared is a remarkably high 91%, which means that almost all the variation in Time In-Page is explained by the regression. The exact statistical relationship is:

Time In-Page = 5.84 x Page Loading Speed + 8.47

Amazingly, this means that for every added second it takes to load a page, a web surfer spends an extra 6 seconds browsing it.

Who would have thought that slower Internet speeds can increase web page browsing times six-fold!

Time In-Page vs Page Loading Speed

Figure 3: Cross-country comparison of the average time visitors spent browsing a single web page vs. the average time it takes a web page to load.

In figure 3 it is hard to identify specific countries because of the steep regression slope. So, let's re-graph the data and stretch out the x-axis for a more magnified view:

Time In-Page vs Page Loading Speed - Zoomed

Figure 4: Cross-country comparison of the average time visitors spent browsing a single web page vs. the average time it takes a web page to load.

In Figure 4 we see that the relationship between Internet speed and Time In-Page is truly global: every country is positioned close to the regression line - except for India which we will further discuss in Part 2 of this blog post.

So, why does Internet speed have a 6-fold effect on the time surfers spend in-page?

Perhaps it has something to do with human psychology. When Internet speed is slower, a person waits longer for a page to load and they treat that page as a bigger investment. They would like to earn a better "return", so they spend more time in each page and study it more thoroughly.

In a similar vein, in a slower Internet environment, web surfers might be more hesitant to navigate away from the current page due to the high cost of waiting for the next page to load. Fast Internet speeds means that there is a low cost to changing pages, visitors spend less time per page, thinking that they can always go back.

Recapping Our Main Findings

  • Internet speed has a 6-fold effect on the time surfers spend in-page. This means that for every added second it takes to load a page, a web surfer spends an extra 6 seconds browsing it.
  • Dutch and Israeli surfers outsurf all other countries, with extremely fast Internet speeds and short times in-page. They spend 1/3rd as much time as the Chinese do in browsing a typical web page.
  • The Chinese experience the slowest Internet speed, which is 5 times slower than that of the Dutch.

So, what do you think?

If you have any thoughts or insights about the above findings, we would love to hear them. You can record your observations in the comments section below.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will further investigate browsing anomalies from across the globe and explain how our findings can be relevant to your website.

You are invited to visit Clicktale to learn how our In-Page Web Analytics can help you understand what your website visitors are doing inside your web pages.

Talk to us to explore how customer experience analytics can improve your business