Fathead.com, a web-only sports and entertainment decal retailer, has been giving its mobile site some new coaching, and it’s making a difference, according the AppDynamics/Mobile Strategies 360 weekly performance index.

Fathead.com jumped four positions in the weekly index on 4G networks from No. 22 to No. 18 for the week ending Nov. 22. The index monitors the site speed and general performance of 30 mobile sites.

Despite a 200-kilobyte increase in its home page weight, the retailer rose in the rankings. That’s likely because there was a significant decrease in the number of elements loaded on the home page, such as images or buttons, to 216 from 257 a week earlier, says Peter Kacandes, senior product marketing manager, mobile, web and synthetics, for AppDynamics.

Because of this, even though what AppDynamics calls the visually complete time, or the time it takes the home page to fully load,  nearly doubled from 8.8 to 16.6 seconds, more of the page was loaded sooner. AppDynamics considers not just how long it takes for a home page to fully load but also how quickly content is loaded over time to determine a Speed Score for each site in the index.

Because of Fathead.com’s much more efficient rendering of content over time, its overall Speed Score improved slightly to 5.6 seconds for the week ending Nov. 22, from 6.7 seconds a week earlier.

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Michael Layne, director of Internet marketing for Fathead, confirms the retailer launched a new version of Fathead.com on Nov. 17 and he says the new site is performing better. He adds that Fathead’s strategy is to load content that is immediately visible (also known as content in the viewport) as quickly as possible. “Since our focus is on the viewport and what visitors can see and use on load, we’re happy to have a better initial impression and let other elements load later or as needed,” he says.

Fathead last year moved from a pure responsive design site to a site that uses responsive design combined with dynamic serving. This technique, like responsive design, uses one code base that automatically tailors the look of a website to the device the consumer is using—but does so in a way that minimizes the performance impact. Instead of sending the entire website code to a smartphone and letting the smartphone decide what to display to a consumer, as in pure responsive design, Fathead’s servers now detect the device the consumer is using, and, if it’s a smartphone, only sends the smartphone-optimized website code. Fathead used vendor Yottaa for this hybrid form of responsive design. Outdoor apparel and equipment gear retailer Moosejaw also uses Yottaa.

“The big change was rebuilding Fathead.com as a responsive web site knowing what we could leverage with dynamic serving based on our experience with Yottaa,” Layne says. “This is what I would call a next generation responsive web site. We’ve been seeing the same kinds of performance indicators and overall improvement you noticed and expect that to get better,” Layne says.  “Especially since we turned off Yottaa at launch to establish a baseline and then turned on their optimization service later in the week.”

The exclusive AppDynamics/Mobile Strategies 360 Index tracks key mobile site metrics across a range of sites to calculate a weekly average Speed Score on both 3G and 4G mobile carrier networks. The index represents a snapshot of mobile site performance across industries, including retailers such as HSN.com, insurance companies such as NorthwesternMutual.com and restaurants such as McDonalds.com.

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AppDynamics each week measures performance metrics of both 3G and 4G networks for each of the 30 sites in the index to determine each site’s Speed Score.

They include:

First render: The time, (in seconds) it takes until the web browser starts drawing the visual elements of a home page.

Visually complete: The time (in seconds) it takes until the web browser has completed drawing the visual elements of a home page.

Number of elements loaded: The number of resources loaded by a home page.

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Complete load: The size of the home page when all data is loaded (in megabytes).

Using these metrics, the index calculates the Speed Score. The Speed Score is a ratio that rewards businesses for displaying more visual content on the mobile home page earlier rather than later. The earlier a mobile site home page looks complete to a consumer, the better the mobile experience for the visitor, even if a few remaining elements are displayed later. A site with a higher ratio of content displayed earlier will have a better Speed Score than a site with the same visually complete time but a longer first render time.

For example, site A may have a visually complete home page load time of three seconds, loading 90% of its content in the first second and the remaining 10% in seconds two and three. Site B may have the same three-second visually complete time, but present zero content in the first two seconds and 100% in the third second. The sites have identical visually complete times, but Site A will be perceived as much faster, and will earn a better Speed Score as a result.

The index displays the average across the 30 mobile sites for each metric as well as the average Speed Score on both 3G and 4G networks for each mobile site.

For the week ended Nov. 22, the average Speed Score for 3G was 9.4 seconds compared to 9.3 seconds the previous week. The average first render was 6.6 seconds, the same as a week earlier.

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Visually complete average was 15.2 seconds compared to 14.6 seconds the previous week. Average number of elements loaded was 101.8, compared with 102.1 seconds a week earlier. Average home page weight was 1.5 megabytes the same as the previous week.

On 4G, the average Speed Score was 5.3 seconds, the same as the previous week. The average first render was 3.7 seconds compared with 3.8 seconds the previous week.

Visually complete average time was 8.6 seconds compared with 8.2 seconds the previous week. Average number of elements loaded was 101.5 versus 102.1 a week earlier. And average home page weight was 1.5 megabytes, the same as the previous week.

The index is accompanied by a chart on MobileStrategies360.com that is refreshed weekly to illustrate how each mobile site performs as well as index averages. Click here to access the performance chart for the week ending Nov. 22, 2015.

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