Performance Drives Conversions: eTail Connect 2016 UK

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eTail Connect UK 2016, September 13-14, Sapwell House, St. Albans

Last week at eTail Connect in the salubrious surroundings of Sopwell House in St Albans, United Kingdom, I was asked by our colleagues at WBR, the conference organisers, to moderate four group discussion sessions. These centered around the importance of website and mobile performance in driving conversions.

I was fortunate to have impressive characters from the world of eCommerce join me. These included Eimear Sinnott, Head of Online Category Management at House of Fraser; Ryan Thomas, Managing Director at Liberty; Mark Dugdale, Digital & CRM Director at L’Occitane; Sayad Gaffar, Head of International eCommerce at Mothercare; Steve Masterton, Multi-Channel Director at Dunelm; Inge Lok, Head of Digital of Bathstore; and Tony Rivenell Chief Digital Officer at Halfords.

In the spirit of Chatham House rules I won’t share who said what specifically but I thought a quick summary of some key findings that might pique your interest.

Firstly let’s be clear, performance is not the only thing that drives conversion — there are of course other things (things like personalization, price, etc.) — but it’s a big thing that can have a very big impact. People are fickle and will only tolerate slow websites and mobile initiatives to a certain degree before taking their business and eyeballs elsewhere. We all do it! When was the last time you abandoned a website because pages took too long to load?

In two of these sessions in particular we looked at the free service httparchive.org, and across the board it was clear that websites today are so much heavier than they were a year, or two, or three ago. In a bid to satisfy clients and give them a compelling and contextual experience, we now see so much JavaScript, so many high-resolution images, personalization, dynamic content, etc. Ironically, it’s also clear that the “pipe” through which we as website users consume this data is getting smaller and tighter (3G, 4G, WiFi, etc.).

eCommerce Boost – Panel

One of the group members said (and I paraphrase a little here as I didn’t write this down verbatim), “It’s a pain… often users misinterpret site speed as being network speed. We get the blame for poor network access. There really isn’t much we can do about that.” Well… I’d beg to differ. We at Instart Logic (and to be fair probably some other innovative vendors too) have looked at innovative ways not just to produce more performant websites by optimising content, but also at ways of dramatically speeding up network traffic, particularly to mobile apps. This is done by involving (and I’m not going to get too techie here) a new protocol to augment the 20-year-old TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). It’s called DPR (Dynamic Packet Recovery) and has a great advantage in that it employs something called rate limiting.

Here’s a great real world example. On the motorways (“freeways” to our friends in the USA) in Europe, traffic agencies have introduced “variable speed limits.” These slow all traffic down, reduce braking effect and, ironically, the effect of limiting the distance between cars ends up speeding drivers up over the course of their journey. The same can be said for content delivered to mobile apps. Employing rate limiting can have a huge impact on the speed of content delivery. We’ve seen up to 70% faster speeds for mobile apps. My challenge to vendors out there who have apps is this: come and check this stuff out. It’s very fast and a no-obligation trial is available.

However… getting back to performance driving conversion, one of the eCommerce directors present was also keen to point out, “we spend so much time on our website that we do not really sweep the floors at the backend.” They were referring of course to the burgeoning volumes of JavaScript libraries that grow every year as our websites become heavier. “Ah,” said another Chief Digital Officer, “we don’t have that problem, we did a complete re-platform and cut this down massively.”

Well… that can kind of work, but we all know it builds up again, and then you’ve got the same challenge in another year’s time. An analogy I often use here is the one about bailing out a boat: you can bail super fast, but unless you keep bailing, you’re going to fill up again. Getting back to the point, how much effort does it take to replatform? How many consultants did you have to hire to do this? How much manual effort did it take?

So what can be done? Well, to use an old adage, how about working not just harder, but smarter? The application of machine learning technology to provide content optimization, image compression and other innovative ways to deliver content has enabled many large retailers to focus more attention on the front end without having to “sweep the floors” so much.

After the eTail Connect UK, I revisited some of the quick “on the fly” measurements we did of total KB that websites weighed now as opposed to 12 months ago. We ran 9 tests and, on average, these 9 retailer websites were 42% “heavier” than last year. Oh, by the way… the pipe through which users are consuming that data isn’t any bigger than it was 12 months ago. Think about that for a second, we are trying to send almost twice as much data down a pipe that has not grown in size. They do say that the definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!

In summary, it’s clear from the CDOs, Heads of eCommerce and Heads of Omni-channel whom I met that not only are these a group of splendid people, but that they are all looking for ways to find the right balance between optimizing their web and mobile initiatives for client stickiness and performance. The goal is to drive conversions and loyalty, but at the same time, paying attention to the burgeoning backend.

At the risk of one analogy too many, or at least returning to my boat analogy earlier, how about an automatic bailing machine which keeps your boat from getting too weighed down, allowing you to concentrate on rowing the boat and, not just getting to where you are going, but getting there way faster than your competition.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll happily get a free performance test turned round to you in 24 hours, showing how much faster your site can be. Best of all, you don’t have to do a thing — just tell me which website you would like a free test for!

See you at the next eTail event!

2016 Holiday Website Optimization

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Website Performance Holiday Kit

The holiday season is the ultimate stress test for some retailers, and for good reason. Key shopping days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Super Saturday can make or break a retailer’s revenue results for an entire calendar year.​ A recent study done by About.com revealed that nearly 20% of U.S. retail sales come during the Holiday shopping season.

It’s never too late to take preventive measures to ensure your website is ready for the rush. Here are some tips to stay up and running during peak traffic periods:

  1. System readiness testing.
    Now is the ideal time to execute load testing to determine how your site will respond under peak traffic from a variety of device types and network conditions, such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones accessing the site from wired, Wi-Fi and cellular connections. Be sure to test performance and download times on diverse networks and devices.
  2. Implement application performance monitoring (APM) tools.
    Mobile and web experiences are personal. Consumers expect relevancy. Understanding the specific devices, touchpoints, and interactions is the only way to know if your digital strategy will directly improve customer experience. You have to anticipate their needs to win and retain their business. APM tools monitor real-time user experiences to ensure your website operates at maximum efficiency.
  3. Put the lock down on hackers.
    Maintaining site security is an ongoing and ever evolving challenge as hackers aim to find holes in website security. 2016 saw the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in history. These breaches can take down a website for days and cost millions.

    With cybercriminals stepping up their attacks amid increasing holiday traffic, it is imperative that retailers implement Web Application Firewalls, DDoS mitigation, and malicious bot detection solutions to offer end-to-end website security.

  4. Optimize for omni-channel experiences.
    Consumers expect a seamless experience across the many different devices they use on a daily basis. If a customer is searching for the perfect gift or price-comparing on a mobile device and moves to a desktop computer to finish purchasing, they should have a consistent experience.

    Retailers should keep in mind that consumers have come to expect web pages to load in three seconds or less on any device, or else run the risk of losing the user’s attention. According to our recent web performance survey, 75% of customer left for a competitor’s site due to slow site speed at peak traffic times.

  5. Think beyond your legacy content delivery network.
    CDNs can provide a huge performance benefit, but legacy CDNs are not going to cut it moving forward. For most online retailers, one of the most common performance pains are third-party content processing. Traditional CDN technology can’t help you with that. And most only provide marginal performance improvement on mobile devices.

    Make sure you’re using a web and mobile application delivery platform that includes a new breed of CDN technology. A solution like AppSpeed accelerates the network, but also provides application-level, third-party content, image, and mobile optimizations, which continuously learns and improves application behavior. You want go beyond the CDN, all the way through to the application execution, versus one that stops short at the network edge.

By taking these preventive measures to get your website holiday ready, you can make a big impact.

For additional tips and tools on how to improve performance this holiday season and into 2017, take a look at the 2016 Website Holiday Ready Kit.

Instart Logic: a Career-Launching Company

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Wealthfront - List of Career-Launching Companies

Following an incredible year of rapid, healthy growth, we’re excited to say that readers of Wealthfront’s Silicon Valley Career Guide will find Instart Logic in this year’s Career-Launching Companies List! We’re pleased to join the ranks of companies like Uber, Snapchat, and Twilio, who have all made this list.

Wealthfront is a wealth management company that’s disrupting the broader financial services industry. Each year, Wealthfront publishes a list of “career-launching” companies to complement their Silicon Valley Career Guide. The guide’s purpose is to help those who are early in their career navigate the quagmire of choosing the right company. It focuses on the theory that the best company to begin a career at is one that has found product/market fit but isn’t too big. It recommends job hunters look at fast-growing, mid-stage startups.

The qualifications to make the list can be found in Wealthfront’s blog and include the following:

“To qualify for our list, a company must be privately held, have a current revenue run rate between $20 million and $300 million, and be on a trajectory to grow at a rate in excess of 50% over at least the next three or four years. This year we’re adding a further qualification: the companies must have compelling unit economics.

Selling a product at very low margins can lead to rapid revenue growth, but it doesn’t necessarily imply a great long-term business. We built our list by surveying the partners of the following 14 venture capital firms: Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, DAG Ventures, Greylock Partners, Index Ventures, Lightspeed, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Matrix Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Ribbit Capital, Sequoia Capital, the Social Capital and Spark Capital.”

For us at Instart Logic, this recognition is a testament to the market opportunity, company growth, caliber of the talent and culture of the organization. We are proud of the kind of company we’re building and it’s great to get the recognition from Wealthfront, in addition to recently being ranked #1 on Business Insider’s list as the Best Startup to Work for in the U.S.!

And guess what… Instart Logic is hiring!

View available positions

DDoS Attacks Are Getting Smarter. Are You?

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Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are increasing in size and sophistication. DDoS attacks adversely affect enterprises. Companies on average are hit by 15 DDoS attacks per year, according to a report conducted by A10 Networks with IDG Connect. The report found that one in five companies experience effective downtimes of over 36 hours. Recently, a few high-profile incidents have taken many enterprises offline via DNS and other bot attacks.

Attacks consume network bandwidth and significantly degrade performance, resulting in business disruption. DDoS attacks are designed to interfere with the availability of the network or application. Last week, Dyn was hit by a massive DDoS attack that disrupted major companies like Amazon, Twitter, Etsy and others.

This should be a BIG warning to enterprises and the entire internet community. Even if a website goes down for only a few minutes, eCommerce companies lose sales and, ultimately, customers; media and publishing companies lose subscriptions and ad revenue. The list goes on. There is no doubt that we need a strategy to combat these attacks.

It is important to note there are various types of DDoS attacks. Unfortunately, bad actors do not require a sophisticated skill set to launch an attack.

Types of DDoS Attacks

The following are some of the more common types of attacks:

Volumetric attacks: these Layer 3 attacks flood the network with more traffic than the network can process, causing saturation and unavailability of the service. Enterprises can avoid downtime by using a content delivery network (CDN) that can absorb such attacks.

Application layer attacks: these Layer 7 attacks focus on exhausting web server resources. This causes operational strain, and the application servers become unavailable. Simple CDNs are mostly helpless in such scenarios.

Multi-vector attacks: These sophisticated attacks use a wide variety of attacks targeting the network and servers — generally, a combination of Layer 3 to Layer 7 attacks. Layer 7 attacks are the most difficult to defend against, as they are designed to evade defensive solutions and mitigation services by looking and behaving like normal traffic. Mitigating multi-vector attacks requires sophisticated solutions.

DDoS Prevention & Mitigation Solutions

Thankfully, as the nature of DDoS attacks has evolved, so has the protection technology. But all solutions are not equal. As there is no way to prevent an attempted DDoS attack, the best strategy is to be PROACTIVE.

Below are a few recommendations that can help protect and mitigate against attacks:

Monitoring: get ahead of attacks by proactively monitoring. For organizations that don’t have a team or resources dedicated to monitoring for DDoS attacks around the clock, third-party solutions that specialize in monitoring can reduce the risk of DDoS outages.

Protect all assets: DNS is only one of the critical parts of the infrastructure. Monitoring and protecting all components of the business are important in fighting against multi-vector attacks. This includes VPN, email, origin, CDN and any other assets that sit in a third-party cloud. Build redundancies for critical resources like DNS, so that in the event of an attack, falling back to a redundant service is imperceptible to your users.

Emergency plan: prioritize an incident response plan and create a list of escalation paths with internal and external stakeholders. Test and run fire drills to ensure the right measures are in place and everyone is aware of their responsibilities.

Attack post-mortem: should there be an attack, evaluations afterwards are a must. Document lessons learned, measure the effectiveness of mitigation strategy, and, last but not least, review areas of improvement. Take the steps needed to ensure faster and stronger responses should there be future attacks.

While some organizations are at greater risk than others, DDoS attacks are increasing significantly across all sectors. Further details regarding DDoS protection and insights (updated quarterly) can be downloaded from Instart Logic’s website.

Luckily Help is On the Way

Legacy CDN solutions mainly inspect suspicious spikes in traffic. The truth is, attacks can be small in size and vary in nature. This allows for attackers to remain undetected as they perfect the type of attack before fully launching. This is where outdated simple CDN solutions fail. Instart Logic’s application delivery platform includes an intelligent CDN that improves performance and security. In addition to this, Instart Logic’s partnership with Verisign allows advanced DDoS monitoring and protection as a service for all assets. This integrated solution combines technology from both companies to protect against a variety of DDoS attacks.

Business Insider Names Instart Logic an “Enterprise Startup to Bet Your Career on in 2017”

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Enterprise Startup to Bet Your Career on in 2017

With the new year quickly approaching, people are increasingly contemplating what they want to accomplish in 2017 and how they plan to grow and better themselves. For many people, professional development is top of mind. In 2017, millions of people will join new companies in hopes of sharpening skills, expanding their networks, and gaining valuable experience.

Finding the right company to accomplish these goals at can be challenging, but luckily, Business Insider has published a list of “51 Enterprise Startups to Bet Your Career on in 2017” to help, and Instart Logic made the list!

Instart Logic is joined by other notable enterprise startups like Slack, Nginx, Asana, and ThousandEyes. Business Insider noted that the companies on the list had a spectacular 2016 – all having launched new and disruptive technologies, raised more funding, and signed new partnerships. Most importantly, these organizations are setting themselves up for an even bigger and more successful 2017. Business Insider highlighted Instart Logic’s $140 million of capital raised and our breakthrough Bot Defense solution.

Inclusion in this list nicely complements Instart Logic’s recent awards and recognitions, particularly our inclusion in Wealthfront’s 2017 Career-Launching Companies List. Other recent recognition includes the Red Herring Global 100 Award and Business Insider’s #1 Startup to Work for in America in 2015 award.

2016 has been a great year and we expect 2017 to be even better! Check out our open positions if you’re interested in joining us on this exciting ride!

View Available Positions

Part 1: User Experience Ad Blocking and its Impact on the Broader Ad Ecosystem

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Skip Ad

Within the past year, consumers have begun to question the usefulness of online advertising and whether ads have any relevance or add anything of value to the online viewing experience. This has been evidenced by the ever-increasing adoption of ad blockers — browser extensions that prevent ads from being displayed. Adobe estimates the use of ad blockers grew globally by 41% over the past 12 months.

Rise of Ad Blockers

Through a multi-article series, we will look at the impact of ad blocking on the online advertising ecosystem.

Rise of Ad Blockers and Impact on Revenue

eMarketer predicts 1 of every 3 internet users will use ad blockers by 2017, more than twice the 15% that did in 2014. Adobe estimates ad blockers have globally cost advertisers $22B in revenue during 2015.

Ad blockers are here to stay and will continue impacting the ad industry. As part of establishing a broader dialog, in the articles to follow we will be covering ad blocking’s implications in the following areas:

  • User experience/performance
  • Business model and economics
  • Transparency of metrics and ROI
  • Security and fraud, especially malvertising and click fraud

In this post we dive deeper into the impact of ad blockers on the user experience — more specifically, why users feel the need to block ads and whether ad blockers actually improve the user experience.

Why Users are Blocking Ads and the Industry Response

Proponents claim ad blockers improve user experience. Ad blockers remove unwanted intrusive ads that interrupt the online viewing experience. Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the UK found that the main reasons people block ads include:

Rise of Ad Blockers

  • ads are often interruptive, annoying and irrelevant
  • ads slow down web performance
  • targeted ads raise privacy concerns

The IAB believes that ad blocking is a threat to the ad industry and is working to set industry standards to improve the user experience through the DEAL and LEAN initiatives to get publishers to clean up their sites to improve the online ad experience.

DEAL stands for Detect ad blocking through an IAB-provided script, Explain the value of ads, Ask for consumers to change behavior, and Lift restrictions or Limit access to content based on the consumer’s choice. LEAN stands for Light, Encrypted, AdChoice-supported, Non-invasive.

Ad blocking is forcing publishers to improve the quality of ads, which is good for user experience. According to Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next (DCN), “Ad blocking is a symptom of a larger consumer issue. The solution has to be a better consumer experience.”

Does Ad Blocking Actually Improve Performance?

It seems logical to expect that if you block ads, there’s less data for the browser to load, so performance should improve.

PubNation studied websites impacted by Adblock, a popular ad-blocking browser extension, and found average page load times decrease from 7.7 seconds to 3.6 seconds when AdBlock is installed. However, Catchpoint found that although many websites load faster with ad blockers, the same could not be said for mobile sites. In their study, 7 of the top 20 mobile sites had worse performance with ad blockers.

Instart Logic also ran a test on ad blocker impact on web performance and found that performance varies depending on the type of site. For media sites with many ads, ad blockers can help improve performance. However, for eCommerce sites that typically have few ads, performance can decrease because of ad blockers. For example, Apple.com and Etsy.com, both of which have minimal if any ads, had slower render times. The reason is that the ad blocker scans the web page for ads whether or not there are any, which takes a bit of time. If it finds and blocks many ads, the smaller amount of data that the browser receives more than makes up for the additional time the ad blocker introduces. If there are no ads, no time is saved so the overall load time is actually greater.

Other studies have shown ad blockers can impede a website’s normal functionality by blindly blocking any sort of pop-up without caring if it’s an ad or not. Oriel, a London-based ad tech company, performed tests on the top 100 sites in the UK. They found that ad blockers often hindered normal website functions such as checking in for a flight online or tracking an eCommerce order.

Improving the Online Ad Experience is Moving in the Right Direction

Adobe reported that 38% of US consumers said the online ad experience has improved over the past two years and 68% said the experience was improving or not getting worse. Publishers are realizing they need to create an engaging experience for users. eMarketer and Hubspot found that consumers are more likely to engage with rich media ads, video ads and native ads than the traditional banner ads. Native ads in particular have a higher engagement rate, as they take on the look and feel of the website and do not detract from the content. Personalization through data can make ads more relevant for a user. Adobe’s study found that when done correctly, 78% of consumers like personalized ads.

Ad blocking has shed light on the user experience, compelling publishers to improve the online ad experience. However, this is only a short term win. The bottom line is that consumers can’t have abundant, satisfying, high-quality content without publishers being able to generate ad revenue.

We will explore business model economics in our next article.

Partying with 3rd Party Content

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JavaScript Interception

Web applications are increasingly built with many third party JavaScript libraries. Despite using a content delivery network (CDN), a web application can experience slowness if it uses third-party JavaScripts that download slowly. In other words, the benefit of using a CDN is not automatically extended to the third-party JavaScript content used by the web application.

Instart Logic’s AppSpeed performance suite offers JavaScript Interception that really shines here. It extends the benefits of a CDN to third-party JavaScript in web applications by transforming these elements in HTML in a way that makes the browser send the requests for third-party JavaScript to Instart Logic’s Network instead of the third party’s origin.

JavaScript Interception

In many cases, this leads to remarkable improvements in page render and load times due to savings around DNS lookup, SSL connection setup, and of course the use of Instart Logic’s superior application delivery service. Learn more about how client-side JavaScript Interception works.

Identifying Suitable Scripts

Not all third-party JavaScripts are suitable to be cached. This may be due to HTTP cache control directives from the third-party origin or the presence of cookies.

When a third-party origin indicates a script should not be cached via the HTTP Cache-Control header as in the example below, we need to honor it and hence cannot apply JavaScript Interception on it.

Cache-Control: private

Another example is a third-party response that sets a cookie for tracking purposes, as shown below. This indicates that the third-party origin expects subsequent requests for it to carry this cookie. Here, if the domain of the request is changed to customer.com, the browser cannot set the cookie in the third-party domain as expected by the third-party origin. Hence we need to avoid applying JavaScript interception here too.

Set-Cookie: abc=123; Domain=thirdparty.com

It is necessary to identify the right set of JavaScript resources which can be intercepted and cached from a customer’s web application. As you rightly guess, manually identifying these scripts is impractical considering the fact that web applications change frequently and may have hundreds of pages.

Smart Learning

So, what does a customer do to identify which third-party scripts can be served via Instart Logic’s JavaScript Interception feature? The answer is “nothing!”. JavaScript Interception intelligently learns about customers’ web pages and serves only the right set of third-party scripts via Instart Logic’s network.

We call this Smart Learning. This process uses advanced machine learning to build a set of JavaScript URL patterns that are good candidates for applying JavaScript Interception, while scripts with cookie or cacheability issues are automatically blacklisted. Instart Logic’s Nanovisor technology makes this happen fairly quickly by learning from scripts present in page requests from real users, after which the feature gets applied to subsequent page requests. The learning continues even while the feature is in action on customer’s pages. This is important to ensure best performance and maintain functional correctness of pages, despite changing pages and scripts.

Smart Learning

Leveraging Nanovisor Technology

This magic is possible only because of Instart Logic’s disruptive Nanovisor technology that has deep insights into the way the browser handles JavaScript and other content. Nanovisor is a thin JavaScript virtualization layer that leverages the power of modern browsers. It is the brain behind many of Instart Logic’s endpoint-aware application delivery features.

The future is exciting, as we release more innovative features that leverage the Nanovisor technology in the Instart Logic platform.