Steve Tack is chief technology officer of APM Solutions for Compuware Corp.
We are no longer isolated. Who could have imagined a tiny country like Greece could threaten the world’s economy? A similar interdependence holds true for today’s websites.
In the web’s early days, you hosted a site and all its applications on your own infrastructure which you fully controlled. Today’s web businesses are increasingly comprised of several outside sources that your company must depend on 24/7. Typically these outside sources consist of third-party components that are assembled by the browser. They can include functions like content delivery networks (CDN), advertising networks, video, newsfeeds, shopping carts, web analytics or ratings and review systems.
Just one poorly performing service can cause an entire application to slow down. We all remember the Amazon EC2 problems that wreaked havoc with thousands of websites this year. Similar problems have occurred with Microsoft Office 365 and Akamai, leaving many web businesses feeling helpless. If your website was using a service or application delivered by an affected supplier, it likely lost that capability, experienced a performance slowdown, or shut down entirely. Not good if that service was a checkout function directly linked to your revenue.
We recently conducted research on the number of third-party components used by the typical website. What we found has direct implications for the traffic and revenue of every website. The chart below tells the story: a typical website on the west coast of the US, for example, depends on as many as 12 individual domains to deliver content to users to complete a transaction.
When a visitor opens your web page in their browser, a call goes out to all these domains, many likely from third parties. Think of the Facebook button, or the Bing search box, that email capture function or the YouTube video, even a CDN; they’re all being delivered by an outside service.
As most web businesses know, the average website visitor is increasingly impatient, with nearly a third of them abandoning a web page if it takes longer than five seconds to load. While you can optimize the performance of the application components you deliver, do you have a guarantee that five, 10 or more outside web services will do the same?
So how do you deal with the dark side of third-party content and services and take back control? We’ve found that the best-performing companies follow these three core guidelines:
1. Choose third-party components wisely, within your set business goals
You have a vast and varied choice of outside services, so it’s easy to load up on many that don’t address your business objectives. Determine why a service is necessary and ask:
- How much revenue is it generating?
- How often does my audience use it?
- Does it offer a service level agreement (SLA) guaranteeing performance?
- Is the speed-to-market benefit greater than the downside risks?
2. Create a mitigation strategy
Outsourcing portions of your web business heightens the need for a backup plan. Start by benchmarking the response time and availability of the service prior to signing the contract. Test it prior to launch. With your proof of concept secured, devise a fast-fail program so if the service does crash, it doesn’t take down the entire page or site. For critical features like shopping carts, also consider redundant services.
3. Measure outside services from the end-user’s perspective under all conditions
Convinced that the system is solid at the core, you’re still not home free. Now you must test and monitor it from the most important perspective: your customer’s. This means ensuring users in all relevant geographies have a web experience on par with your site’s performance standards. Testing for peak load periods is also part of this process. Measuring performance from the end-user’s perspective is the only way to know if your customers are having problems.
The interdependency of the web will only accelerate as companies leverage more third-party services to connect with their customers. Making use of these services helps even the smallest web and mobile sites create a unique offering. Being aware of the risks and planning for them, will help you capture the upside and minimize the downside.