Holiday Traffic: Not just on the roads
Test and Monitor | Posted November 16, 2012

The holidays are coming, and although the phrase “holiday shopping” probably has you imagining busy parking lots and long checkout lines, virtual traffic experiences conjure up just as much of a punch as that seen in brick and mortar stores. Are you sure you can rely on your APIs under this kind of pressure? Whether using third-party providers or supplying public APIs for others to leverage, are they equipped to handle the holidays? API monitoring is too often neglected, and can be even more so during the hectic holiday season.

Pimpin’ Your Ride Site

A growing number of site owners continue implementing third-party APIs, making widgets of all types practically omnipresent. And with good reason, too: widgets can lead to more conversions, greater total page views, and boosts in sales. On average, the top ecommerce sites boast at least a half-dozen scripts from third parties, and often quite a few more. Publicly available APIs give you quick access to greater functionality and the cool features your users look for.

But, while it’s easy to add that extra luxury package, it’s important to make sure that you are keeping the overall user experience of your site in mind. Decisions about implementing APIs are often made in isolation, without taking into account the others that have already been integrated. While one API may improve customer experience (and hence sales), several stacked together can lead to poor page performance. And while you are indulging in site bling, you may have lost track of just how aerodynamic your ride still is – let’s face it, API benchmarks are often not even part of the vocabulary.

Regardless of how well the rest of the site may be optimized, if one API fails, it can take down the whole enchilada (not to switch food metaphors on you).

What that extra describe the image means

Lest you think our emphasis upon API testing is being exaggerated, here are some sobering holiday shopping statistics:

  • The holiday shopping season can account for up to 40 percent of annual revenue.
  • Even if not selling items directly online, businesses often still see site traffic bump due to increased searches.
  •  By Dec 22, 2011, consumers had spent approximately $32 billion dollars on online purchases, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. This number is projected to be even higher for 2012.
  • More shoppers are browsing and buying directly from their mobile devices than ever before.
  • Downtime during the crucial holiday shopping season can cost companies thousands in lost revenue. For some high-profile businesses, the estimates are as much as $1 million per minute.
  • 40 percent of online shoppers will leave a site that isn’t performing correctly rather than waiting for it to load properly. Online retailers have just eight seconds to capture and engage the consumer’s attention.

 Nervous yet?

In preparation for the crunch, you probably have plans to adjust your normal development process in order to handle the traffic swell. Beginning in early November or even late October, experienced IT teams will put large projects on temporary hold and stop rolling out new features that might impact underlying site framework. Instead, focus is turned toward shoring up existing infrastructure and optimizing what’s already there. A best practice many teams adopt is to monitor and analyze their site performance carefully under normal operations, so they can predict the havoc that the holiday traffic boost may wreak on the site. In theory, this homework can be applied to testing models before the holiday season.

Looking good and being fast, too

With site owners so often unaware of the potential devastation that lies behind the seemingly innocent third-party content on their pages, it becomes even more important to maintain effective API monitoring, ensuring that existing APIs are robust enough to handle traffic surges and remain stable.

Although preventing site outages entirely is a nice goal, the fact is that outages are inevitable. While we know you're focused with laser-like precision on API testing during your development process (right?), you should also make sure you’ve planned for a little damage control as well. Most third-party providers don’t offer comprehensive SLAs that outline compensation procedures in case of extended downtime, nor do they guarantee any form of real-time API monitoring. This makes putting all your faith in the provider a risky proposition.

It’s up to you then. You can guard your online business by maintaining a rigorous API monitoring system. A good feedback loop that analyzes collected data can help teams recognize potential problems far before they become critical or damaging. And if you do find a problem, you can manage them with some tricks of the trade:

  • Deferral: Delayed execution of non-critical scripts through strategic deferral allows the more central data on the page to load and render before moving on to widgets. Although this won’t work for all content (and may make advertisers unhappy to be loaded last), it’s an easy workaround.
  • Tag Management: Also known as script killing, this technique establishes a set time for scripts to load then defers or kills them if they fail.
  • Asynchronous Loading:  This technique allows crucial page content to load in parallel alongside third-party scripts. This allows for revenue-generating ads to load without interfering with primary content.

In addition to these performance practices, maintaining cost-benefit analyses of your third-party tools are a necessary part of API monitoring to ensure whether the performance hit is really worth it. Run regular audits of third-party scripts, making sure to note which performance practices are successful and whether conversion gains are exceeding performance drain. And finally, keep your site optimized for mobile users so you don’t lose all those frantic last-minute holiday shoppers.

Finally, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to nix the unnecessary widget. No matter how well it reads on spec, if performance is lacking then it has to go. Every third-party tool will cost you in performance, and nearly everyone is purported to bring benefits to outweigh that cost. Proactive API monitoring can answer the only question that needs to be asked: Can they support the projected additional 40 percent of anticipated traffic over the holiday season, or will they render your system incapable?