Websites and web applications are the modern equivalents (and sometimes replacements of) storefronts, business cards, road show booths, newspapers, markets, bulletin boards, software installed on the client’s machine, and much more. Being a business-critical component (and sometimes the business itself in the case of SaaS applications), a website or app that experiences any downtime or disruption can have serious financial implications (aka clients and prospects leaving). When something breaks, you need to be notified about it as soon as possible. One of our key duties as IT and operations professionals is to maintain the organization’s systems and keep them running smoothly. This certainly includes the corporate website as well (and some corporations have multiple websites).
In this post, we’ll discuss the most helpful tools to track for website performance so you’ll be able to make sure that the site is up, accessible to clients, and functioning properly.
Website uptime can rightfully be called “the mother of all metrics.” If your site isn’t up, no other metric is relevant. This metric basically tells you when and for how long your site has been down and not accessible to the outside world. It’s critical to have a notifications mechanism in place that will send you an email or SMS (preferably both) once a downtime occurs. Once you receive an alert, you should respond as soon as possible to get the site back online. As soon as the issue is resolved, you need to do a root cause analysis to understand what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.
In addition, after the incident is over and you’ve reached conclusions and responded appropriately to the postmortem of the incident, it’s helpful to look at the incident from a historic perspective. Historic data about outages (when they happened and for how long) will give you an idea of whether uptime is improving or deteriorating so you can act accordingly.
There are many different user flows on your website. Registration, login, submitting something on a contact form, completing a purchase, leaving a comment, etc. In addition to validating that your site is up, you want to make sure that each of these transactions can be completed successfully by the client. There’s no worse possible buying experience than meticulously adding items to your shopping cart, filling in your personal details, and adding your credit card information, only to find out that the checkout page doesn’t work. Or even worse, that your card was apparently billed but no confirmation page appears (oh, the sheer horror). Having a system in place that ensures each of the critical website transactions functions properly gives you confidence and peace of mind.
Page Speed Testing
In 2021, clients expect their websites to load fast. Ten years ago, the expected load time of a webpage was eight seconds. In 2020, we’ve gone down to a staggering three seconds. If your website pages don’t load fast enough, clients and potential prospects are going to bounce. Here are two things to bear in mind regarding page speed:
- Testing the website pages from your local machine isn’t enough. Everything might be fine from your cozy corporate HQ, but the website performance can be drastically different from other locations. That’s why it’s essential to check the page speed from different locations.
- Current page speed doesn’t predict future page speed. Even if all pages respond quickly today, things tend to change and break. The addition of images on the page by the webmaster, a refactoring done to the code by the developer, or a new page with videos added to the website by the marcom person can all have a negative impact on your overall website page speed. That’s why it’s crucial to have continuous monitoring in place. This way, you can tell if something changed for the worse and take action immediately.
Real User Monitoring
- See what the most critical pages on the website are (the most popular ones) and thus help you make sure that they’re always up and load fast.
- See the actual page load time for the real users.
- Tell how well the site performs on mobile vs. desktop browsers.
- Observe historical trends. You want to make sure that you’re in a constant improvement process, performance wise.
Sometimes you work as hard as you can, but things still break. This can be caused because the IT department is understaffed, a change was made hastily, a miscommunication occurred, or a variety of other reasons. The end result is that you find that your website is down, slow, or that users can’t log in. In the past, after solving the issue as quickly as possible, organizations were shy about such incidents and tried to “shove them under the carpet” and just forget that they ever happened.
However, in recent years, companies started to realize that the opposite approach is the more beneficial and correct one. Being open and transparent regarding operational issues is exactly what creates trust and inspires loyalty to the company’s brand among customers. Adding a status page that details the current system status and past incidents is actually a good thing. It shows that you take your website performance seriously. And that you plan to resolve any issues that might happen in the future.
As we’ve seen above, monitoring, maintaining, and improving website performance is business critical. A slow, unresponsive website can cause clients and prospects to take their business elsewhere. Let alone a website with broken transactions—or, even worse, a website that’s totally down and unavailable. Thus, receiving alerts on performance degradation is vital for business continuity. There are several possible metrics and tools you can use to track a website’s performance. The most important ones are uptime monitoring, transaction monitoring, page speed testing, and real user monitoring.
How to Monitor Your Website’s Performance
As IT professionals, we know that our time is limited, and our plate is always full. That’s why It’s important to choose a solution that will provide you with a robust feature set, being able to provider the tools and metrics described above and more. In addition the solution should be a proven, mature and industry-vetted.
Orignially written for SolarWinds