Performance is Directly Tied to Third-party Tags. How Do You Track the Impact to Your Business?

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Performance is Directly Tied to Third-party Tags

Today’s digital world has placed a premium on the user experience. Users have become incredibly demanding, willing and able to head to a competitor’s site if just three seconds of latency occur during their time on your site. Such high demand puts web performance at the forefront of your business strategy.

Web performance consists of three main pillars: speed, reliability, and availability. Each is as important as the other; these factors are all vulnerable to the growing complexity of modern websites. Third parties are more prevalent on websites than ever, and each third party represents its own layer of complexity. In order for your website to be running at optimal performance, each third party you’re including must be operating at its maximum efficiency to avoid risking a user experience degradation.

Sounds simple, right? Well, consider this: a look at a third-party requests breakdown by industry in 2016 reveals that banking sites, which are reported to have the lowest third-party presence, average over 62 requests on their homepage. Media sites average over 281 third-party requests — that’s 281 layers of your website that are completely vulnerable to performance hazards.

Third-party components range vary widely in type and purpose; from marketing tags to ad servers to DNS and CDN providers, all of these third parties play a critical role in the functioning and differentiation of your website. So if you can’t afford to let any of these components go, it’s crucial to follow a regimented process to assessing and optimizing your third-party components.

Here are six tips that can help you manage your site’s performance and ensure your brand and profits are protected:

1. Website construction

The way your website is built plays a significant role in its performance, particularly when it’s involving third parties. There are a number of construction techniques that will help minimize the effect of these components on your overall performance, one of which is asynchronous loading. When tags load asynchronously, it means the amount of time it takes for each tag to load doesn’t have impact on first-party content loading, and forces them to load after document complete. So, for example, if an ad is no loading properly on a page, your users can still interact with the page as if it were complete, regardless of how long it takes for that ad to load.

2. SLA management

The bad news: you can’t avoid 100% of the performance issues associated with third-party tags. The good news: this is where SLAs come into play. An SLA, or service-level agreement, is essentially a performance contract in which both parties have agreed to acceptable levels of performance based on particular metrics, and if those levels are not met, the third party will be held accountable. In order to ensure your SLAs are being met, you have to monitor your performance using an analytics tool that will allow you to dissect the data and pinpoint the culprit of an issue.

3. Tag assessment

It’s important to remember that not all tags are absolute requirements for your website to function. While some tags bring marketing value, or add to user experience, if they negatively affect performance in any way, you should consider removing them. Make tag assessments a regular part of your routine and ask yourself if the tags on your site are

  1. meeting performance standards and
  2. contributing to your user experience and business objectives in a positive manner.

These assessments will allow you to identify the tags that can be removed, ultimately decreasing your site’s size and complexity and improving performance.

4. Tag management systems

Oddly enough, one of the best ways to deal with the complexity of third-party components is by deploying a third-party tag management system. Tags can block your page from loading and increase the potential for site instability. Tag management systems take a lot of the burden of third parties off your shoulders by allowing you ensure all of your tags are loading asynchronously, after document complete, and giving you the power to quickly disable those that are not. This is a great way to control the third-party tags and minimize impact on the site. Figure out if a client- or server-side tag manager is right for your site.

5. Contingency plans

As tough as it may be to admit, failures will always be part of performance. It’s impossible to ensure that all of your tags are running properly at all times. For this reason, you should always have a contingency plan in place for when the inevitable strikes. This could include redundancies to cover any gaps should an infrastructure provider go down, or even something as simple as a clear communication strategy to make sure your users are aware of the issue and that you’re working to resolve it.

6. Right solution for application delivery

Modern applications are hybrid in nature, so even if you follow all the measures above, the applications are still rich and heavy compared to five years ago. Third-party tags like A/B testing, RUM, or others are critical components of enterprise applications. Optimizing these tags via a good tag manager is a step in right direction, but still not enough. Select an application delivery service that not only has a CDN component, but also offers content optimizations and visibility into the end point. The ability to intercept the third-party code on the page and optimize it for delivery allows for faster page speed. This can help create a better user experience, something some CDNs cannot provide. If needed, negotiate specific page speed SLAs to ensure optimal performance.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the benefits of using third-party tags outweigh the risks as long as you are aware of their presence and take the right measures to monitor their performance. Construct your website for ease of managing changes, choose the tag manager most suitable for your needs, and pick the application delivery service that will have maximum effect on web and mobile performance. Last, but not least, use a monitoring tool that will continuously monitor your application page speed, and alert you when your site is not meeting the standards set forth.

Learn more about Instart Logic:

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.

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.

Speed Perception Results are In

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We are excited to reveal the first results from the SpeedPerception challenge! We had over 5,000 sessions completed, with over 50,000 valid data points.

We tested three hypotheses, of which two were confirmed:

  • No single metric can explain human choices with 90%+ accuracy
  • Visual metrics will perform better than non-visual/network metrics
  • Users will not wait until “visual complete” to make a determination

For those of you unaware, SpeedPerception is a free, open-source, benchmark dataset of how people perceive above-the-fold rendering and webpage loading processes, which can be used to better understand the perceptual aspects of end-user web experience. The benchmark we’ve posted on Github can provide a quantitative basis to compare different algorithms. Our hope is that this data will spur computer scientists and web performance engineers to make progress quantifying perceived web performance.

Thank you to everyone who participated. While we’ve posted the initial findings on Github, we will be releasing additional results. We appreciate feedback on both the study and results, and suggestions for next steps. If you want to analyze the data yourself and test your own hypotheses, the data and code are all available on Github. Please do share any results and conclusions with us.

Thanks to Parvez Ahammad, Clark Gao, Prasenjit Dey, Pat Meenan and the entire web performance community for helping make this study a reality.

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The Problem with Mobile Shopping

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Online stores are leaving money on the table. With a few changes to their mobile presence, retailers could be improving conversions. There are currently 2.6 billion smartphone users around the world — and this number is expected to more than double by 2020. Mobile is no longer an “emerging trend,” it is a reality that’s here to stay. And mobile shopping is growing exponentially. According to the Demandware Shopping Index, phones represented more than 90% of shopping site growth in the first quarter of 2016. More and more people are shopping primarily on mobile.

What is really interesting is that time spent per visit has actually declined by 9% over the past year. In this dual scenario of short attention spans and exploding mobile traffic, mobile shopping applications must optimize the user experience in order to monetize visits and convert visitors into loyal customers. This is the reality that retailers, both online and offline, must meet.

At Instart Logic, we recently conducted a survey of online shoppers to uncover the barriers consumers face while shopping online. The survey intended to uncover why, with mobile traffic trending up so sharply, there isn’t a corresponding increase in mobile purchases. We found nearly 50% of survey respondents would research a product on a phone, but then make the purchase using a desktop or laptop computer.

When a customer feels it necessary to switch devices as an additional step in the purchasing process, it reduces the likelihood they’ll finish making their purchase. Fewer sales means less revenue.

Our study found two key barriers customers face browsing retail mobile applications: suboptimal user experience, and security concerns.

Customers faced with slow load times and difficult navigation over mobile prefer to complete their purchases on their desktop computer or laptop, with the wider screen, easier navigation and faster network speeds. Furthermore, given the huge variety of store options available online, if relevant content is not available fast enough, shoppers abandon slow sites and go elsewhere.

We all know that site performance impacts revenue. In other words, improved loading time is a key factor in converting visitors to customers and retaining them. The quality of the user experience is as important as the quality of the merchandise offered.

We also found users perceived shopping on mobile to be less secure than shopping with a desktop or laptop. Customers are concerned about storing and accessing their credit card information on mobile. Not addressing these concerns is leaving money on the table, as 43% of those surveyed said they would shop more on mobile if they felt the experience was more secure.

Online stores need to understand that applications with fast load times, evident, full-featured security, and straightforward navigation will lead to greater revenue. What retailers need to grasp is that a mobile-first digital strategy is key.

We are helping Demandware customers to optimize the performance and improve the user experience of mobile applications based on end user client-side characteristics. The solution counters the challenge of consumers’ multi-device purchasing habits – browse on mobile, purchase on laptop – improving successful mobile conversion rates. The solution provides retailers the following benefits:

  • It automatically optimizes application delivery at runtime, ensuring visitors get individually-tailored user experiences.
  • It is easy, requiring no changes to site or application code. Retailers can focus on merchandise quality and building rich user experiences.
  • It is very scalable and adaptable to all types of sites and applications. Retailers can add complexity or modify code without worrying about the impact to the application’s performance.
  • It is highly secure and PCI-compliant application delivery, ensuring applications are not under threat or vulnerable to malware.

With speed, security and a clean, organized app being the biggest concerns inhibiting customers from purchasing on their mobile devices, retailers must improve these factors in order to elevate the user experience and not miss out on potential revenue.