Web performance issues start like classic murder mysteries — you see things are afoul, but you can’t figure out why.
It can be frustrating for an organization, which often spends more time on isolating the cause of a performance issue than on actually repairing the problem. It’s equally frustrating for end users, who are most likely customers trying to conduct business with the organization.
Web performance monitoring (WPM) is about more than simply understanding whether a site and its applications are functioning normally.
It’s about having the ability to process, correlate, and normalize the data needed to isolate the problem so you can optimize the user experience. Because identifying performance issues is the primary objective, WPM solutions are deployed by developers as often as IT operations.
What is Web Performance Monitoring?
The importance of Web performance monitoring really can’t be understated, but what does I actually entail? WPM is not a single technology, but rather a range of technologies used to monitor the successful delivery of applications to end-users — with most offerings providing basic services consisting of:
Basic Availability Monitoring: Websites have advanced into complex systems, however, knowing when your site is up or down and monitoring and managing the performance of basic IP services remains crucial.
Speed and Performance Monitoring: WPM measures and benchmarks response times, page load times and user experience metrics, and the factors contributing to the results, to allow you to identify the source of performance bottlenecks and address them before your users are affected.
Transaction Monitoring: Every website has at least one business-critical Web transaction that directly affects revenue — whether it’s an account log-in or shopping cart checkout or something as simple as an information request form. WPM solutions enable you to keep a watchful eye on the performance your organization’s most important transactions.
Mobile Monitoring: The world has become increasingly mobile-centric. WPM solutions provide insight into the performance of mobile websites and ensures they render correctly across today’s litany of mobile devices.
Web Services Monitoring: At this level WPM is focused on the performance of single and multi-step calls to Web services built on SOAP and REST. WPM solutions will identify things like network connectivity errors, socket-based errors, http protocol errors, SSL errors, and authentication errors.
Alerting: WPM not only monitors your websites and applications, but also alerts you in the event of a slowdown or outage so that fixes are made ASAP. Advanced solutions allow you to set performance thresholds – so you are alerted whenever performance slips below what you define as acceptable.
The Importance of the User Experience
The basics of WPM have been laid out above, but how do these metrics add up to what your users are actually experiencing? After all, who cares that your site is available and back-end systems are performing correctly if users abandon a task because they feel that the application is too slow? And so what if a Web page loads in less than 2 seconds if it delivers the wrong content to the visitor?
The user’s experience is quickly becoming the only metric that matters. So, the question for WPM today has evolved into “How do we monitor and measure user experience so that it can be improved?”
Because application design makes extensive use of Web Services, the ability to monitor the processing that takes place within the browser has become critical. While a number alone may indicate a problem, it can’t tell the story of what the user is actually experiencing.
We need to see and capture the performance of each step in the navigation process. This begins when the page’s first pixels become visible in the browser, continues when all content above the fold has been displayed and extends through to the end of a user’s transaction — whether across multiple pages or a single page visit. WPM should capture the playback of the entire experience from the user’s point of view — and provide the ability to measure and monitor the factors contributing to the performance at each stage.
In the end, you need to be able to effectively optimize your site and application performance in a manner that directly improves your users’ perception of performance — WPM needs to provide the toolset to do so.
If you go one step further, and merge Google Analytics data with your WPM metrics, you can produce incredible insight into how changes in performance are affecting visitor behavior. The WPM story suddenly becomes a story of business impact on your brand and your bottom line. And the answer to where to invest your time and dollars on optimization is even clearer.