Web performance expert Sven Hammar, CEO of Apica System explains why it is important to take web and mobile performance more seriously.
Unresponsive web sites and mobile applications can be compared to a physical shop throwing out its customers and locking its doors. However, there are ways to minimise the risk of slow response times and site crashes.
Considered a hugely important and business critical channel for almost every corporation and organisation, a web site (or mobile application) simply must not slow down, fail or malfunction. Slow response times are as irritating as long queues and lazy cashiers in a physical shop. Even worse, slow response times affect Google rankings, something surprisingly many marketing managers and web masters fail to understand.
A slow response time is normally due to the web site’s content managers not being able to resist the temptation to fill the site with ‘cool’ images, videos or third party content that they cannot control.
Similarly, a crashed website or mobile application is like throwing out your customers and closing your doors without even putting up a ‘Closed’ sign. This is not good news for popular sites as the news of the crash will spread like wildfire in the social media and traditional media, damaging the brand image. E-commerce sites that crash face the prospect of lost revenues. The 40-minute web site crash of Amazon in August is reported to have cost the company $5 million in lost sales.
So what can an organisation do to optimise the quality and security of the web site, speed up its response time, minimise the risk of crashes and facilitate business via the Internet?
Top ten advices for better web performance
1. Reducing the number of high-resolution images and videos on the site will minimise response times. If you cannot do away with the bulky images and videos, then invest in systems that can handle short response times despite a high-resolution content. Use a CDN/ accelerator service to speed up the delivery of rich content such as images and videos to customers.
2. Cache as much static content as possible in the browser. If the page content does not change, customers will not have to download it again from the network the next time they hit the page. This is a cost-effective way to speed up web traffic and gain performance improvements.
3. Perform load tests to verify the site’s performance during various load levels. Test the site frequently before, during and after peak season to ensure the availability of reliable information about the site’s normal performance.
4. Analyse the site’s performance to get detailed information about the load times of various components, and make informed decisions about specific functions that need to be speeded up. Commercial considerations may decide if it makes sense to increase the server capacity. Tests and evaluations show if desired results are attained.
5. Periodically test, monitor and optimise your site to ensure a great consumer experience. Web testing companies can test and optimise your site, simulating peak loads by using ‘synthetic traffic’, and then suggesting improvements. These companies often offer complimentary cloud-based surveillance services.
6. Establish where the maximum performance point for the application lies in a typical scenario. Additional users create a greater need of URLs/second and have to wait or, in a worst case scenario, will not get a response at all at peak load. You will need to consider the likelihood of your website experiencing loads larger than the maximum performance point, and decide whether the system needs to be ramped up.
7. Instability during untested operative situations is a common cause for downtime. It is difficult to foresee what will happen at heavy loads; components that function flawlessly at regular loads may suddenly become bottlenecks. Test the site to determine what causes the crash and track the course of events preceding the crash.
8. Use a queuing technique for the traffic, allowing only the volume that you have tested the site for, and directing the rest to a wait loop. Otherwise all users will get poor response times and in a worst case scenario, the site ceases to function for all users. It is better to serve the customers who are already in the site and let the others get a polite error message.
9. Verify your Internet capacity and check that your estimated maximum traffic volume does not reach your ordered capacity. Make sure you get what you pay for from your Internet supplier and buy more capacity if you need to.
10. Check that the load sharing is working properly. Load sharing distributes loads from different users onto underlying systems uniformly. To avoid errors caused by reconfigurations for instance, one must verify that the load sharing really functions properly and that the underlying servers receive an even load.
Poor design is not the only reason behind the slow down or crash of a website – even popularity can cause the site to crash as it happened to Groupon’s Indian web site when too many customers wanted to get their hands on a cut-price deal on onions. Conduct a risk analysis using load testing and external performance measurements of service quality to ensure that your site can handle a massive influx of customers without crashing.
Preparation is key to avoiding public and embarrassing crashes. Generic website failures and performance problems can be minimised greatly by simply conducting ongoing testing and monitoring of the site and its applications, and having a contingency plan that includes system backup.
Analysing, testing and optimising your web site and mobile applications is both so easy (with affordable and easy-to-use cloud services) and so valuable that it can be compared to checking your spare tyre or fastening your seat belt before a long road trip.
If Amazon and even Google can go down, so can your site.