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Web Performance is a Journey, Not a Destination

Mehdi Daoudi

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Preparing for Online Events All Year Long

Cyber Monday—the Monday after Thanksgiving in the US—may be a relic of a bygone era of slow, dial-up, at-home Internet connections but remains the biggest online shopping day of the year for US e-commerce sites. While Cyber Monday may make or break the year for some online retailers, online events crucial to an e-tailer’s business happen year round.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and is huge for flower, gift and jewelry sites. Ditto for Mother’s Day a few months later. But an online event doesn’t have to be tied to a holiday. A free-shipping promotion or a sitewide sale can drive hordes of customers to your site all at once. Sites that fail to handle the extra traffic not only lose business on that day, they may lose future customers as well.

While most online retailers in the US held their own this past holiday season, there were some notable casualties along the way. Neiman Marcus’s site was down most of Black Friday and struggled throughout the weekend. Target.com stumbled badly on Cyber Monday, unable to cope with traffic driven by a free-shipping promotion and site-wide discounts of at least 15%. NewEgg.com also had some site outages throughout the weekend.

So what can retail sites do to withstand the high traffic volumes generated by online events and continue to deliver quality user experiences that convert and retain customers? We asked our own in-house digital performance management evangelists for their suggestions to prevent the site outages we saw this past holiday season. Here are our 7 tips to help your site remain available and deliver fast page load times:

  1. Size Matters. We’ve talked in this space before about the importance of image and HTML compression to make your websites smaller and faster. Median e-commerce site size was 1.86m bytes this past holiday season. We’d recommend keeping your sites under 1.5m bytes. Have a lighter-weight version of your site for peak events or at the very least keep your most visited pages lighter-weight than usual. Reduce dynamic content on your homepages or landing pages. Better still, move dynamic content to your CDN. You can also combine CSS and JavaScript files using utilities like Minify and combine images using CSS image sprites. Both these techniques can minimize the number of HTTP requests it takes to load your page, a frequent cause of poor performance under heavy web traffic.
  2. Keep third-party tags in check. Third-party tags, for advertising, social media, affiliate marketing, paid search, site analytics or other purposes can add new digital marketing capabilities to your site but also create new dependencies that can hurt your site’s performance. Use a tag management system to “containerize” your tags and better manage the way they load to reduce page load times.
  3. Test and manage your APIs. This is especially important for mobile sites, which rely heavily on APIs. By integrating with internal and external systems, APIs add necessary functionality to sites but those API calls can also slow down web performance especially when your number of concurrent users goes up.
  4. Mind the back end. If possible, deploy a high-capacity stack of application servers and web servers on peak traffic days. They will take the brunt of the high traffic. You can keep the same database server you normally use. Make sure you continue to test and validate your performance against this stack.
  5. Don’t forget the network: Make sure your network devices such as load balancers, routers and switches can handle the extra traffic you’re expecting. Along the same lines, eliminate single points of failure in your network. If a load balancer array would take your whole network down if it went down, you need a better network design.
  6. Look outside the data center: Make sure your hosting provider, CDN provider, external DNS provider or any third-party you deal with can handle the traffic you’re expecting. Ask the right questions and ensure that the necessary optimizations have been made.
  7. Prepare for failure just the same: Follow steps 1-6 and you hopefully won’t need step 7. But even the best prepared and tested sites can go down at some point under heavy load. Complete all backups and provision additional hardware so if you do go down you can quickly get back up. Have your customer communications—web splash page that tells your customers you’re down, Twitter alerts, discount code for when you’re back up, etc.—ready to go. No one wants to get to this point, but if you’re customers can’t access your site or complete transactions, you’ll want to do everything you can to placate them.

Top 5 desktop sites from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday (Nov. 26-30) based on median webpage response time:

  1. Apple, 1.58s
  2. Amway Global, 1.77s
  3. Costco, 1.86s
  4. Walgreens, 2.31s
  5. Etsy, 2.44s

Top 5 mobile sites from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday (Nov. 26-30) based on median webpage response time:

  1. W. Grainger Inc., 1.08s
  2. Amway Global, 1.28s
  3. Apple, 1.34s
  4. Costco, 1.56s
  5. Systemax, 1.59s

Catchpoint 100% Club

These sites were available 100% of the time from Black Friday to Cyber Monday:

  • Kohls (desktop and mobile)
  • BestBuy (desktop and mobile)
  • com (desktop and mobile)
  • HomeDepot (desktop and mobile)
  • Barnes&Noble (desktop only)
  • QVC (desktop only)
  • Staples (desktop only)
  • Walgreens (desktop only)
  • Amway (desktop only)
  • Sears (mobile only)
  • Dell (mobile only)
  • Grainger (mobile only)
  • Zulily (mobile only)
  • Systemax (mobile only)

The post Preparing for Online Events All Year Long appeared first on Catchpoint's Blog.

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Catchpoint radically transforms the way businesses manage, monitor, and test the performance of online applications. Truly understand and improve user experience with clear visibility into complex, distributed online systems.

Founded in 2008 by four DoubleClick / Google executives with a passion for speed, reliability and overall better online experiences, Catchpoint has now become the most innovative provider of web performance testing and monitoring solutions. We are a team with expertise in designing, building, operating, scaling and monitoring highly transactional Internet services used by thousands of companies and impacting the experience of millions of users. Catchpoint is funded by top-tier venture capital firm, Battery Ventures, which has invested in category leaders such as Akamai, Omniture (Adobe Systems), Optimizely, Tealium, BazaarVoice, Marketo and many more.