Monday, 19 March 2012

Calling all Web Teams. . . . Speed Matters! Ok, you know that, but do you know how much?



Why is Website Speed Important? 

Did you know that 47% of web users expect a page load of 2 seconds or less and 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time1. With just a two second wait threshold, online users are inherently impatient and will gladly abandon a slow site in favour of a faster experience elsewhere, most likely a competitor’s site.

There is no denying a correlation between site response times and business impact, and in such a ferociously competitive market space, web performance is a factor too important to be ignored by ecommerce organisations. This blog looks at the difficulties of achieving efficient application delivery and ways to tackle this.


Influencing Factors on Site Speed

In many cases, poorly designed front end applications and websites can lead to poor performance. Often website design in particular is led by style and marketing vision. Users demand an interactive experience… cue embedded videos, flash tools and heavy graphics. This is all very well in theory, but what happens in reality when it comes to delivering and rendering such content over the web? What is the true impact on user experience?

Research shows that four out of five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading2.  It has also been reported that 52% of online shoppers claim that quick page loads are important for their loyalty to a site1. 

The truth is, it’s less about style and more about speed when it comes to delivering a positive online experience: “The speed of website responses is a key factor affecting usability. Raw speed is one of the key attributes that can determine the quality of the user experience. In addition, Google's search engine uses website performance to determine the position of a Web page on search results pages. Therefore, investing in performance improvements will increase the benefits for website owners.” Ray Valdes, Gartner, Q&A: Website Performance and User Experience.

So it seems that achieving that elusive balance between dazzling users with feature-rich, dynamic content and limiting user frustration from slow response times is key to achieving a successful online strategy. It is interesting to know that if Amazon increased their page load time by +100ms they would lose 1% of sales3.  Time really is money when it comes to ecommerce platforms.

In addition, there are other influential factors affecting site performance including latency, poor internet connections and traffic spikes. On an average day a site may load in reasonable time, but what happens on days with extreme traffic loads? I’m thinking about the run up to Valentine’s Day, Sporting Events, Christmas hype and the infamous ‘Manic Monday’ – renowned as the busiest internet shopping day of the year. (According to the Centre for Retail Research, in 2011, a predicted total of £424 million was spent on Christmas presents throughout the day4).

These are the types of events that network teams can prepare for; after all, they happen every year. But what about unexpected traffic peak due to unforeseen circumstances? News and Media sites for instance cannot predict when the next big story will hit, or the repercussions of such on their site metrics.

In some cases, unprecedented demand has brought services down completely. In 2011, traffic to the UCAS Track website was four times the peak per second compared to 2010. This forced it to shut down temporarily, leaving A-Level students anxiously waiting5. This kind of service failure can spark complaints, lose revenue and damage brand reputation.

In the very least, it is critical that Application Delivery environments remain available, regardless of external variables and it is important that they maintain acceptable response times. Web teams need to ask themselves if their network infrastructure and application is engineered to adequately accommodate traffic fluctuations and extreme loads.

Finally, it is worth considering that the ways in which users access websites is dramatically changing and diversifying. Soaring numbers of remote and mobile workers has led to an increase in application access from PDAs. Gartner industry analysts argue that to meet service level expectations, application support and performance management is an essential service, not just a nice-to-have.
David A Willis, Gartner, Hype Cycle for Networking and Communications.

So What’s the Answer?

In an ideal world, web applications would be designed and constructed specifically with speed and load efficiency in mind and all users would have10gig connections. However this is neither realistic nor feasible. So what’s the alternative?

Gartner comments on the important role that the Application Delivery Controller (ADC) or advanced load balancer plays in optimising application performance and availability. “Demand is surging for many network-intensive applications ……The move toward more-complex application environments is fuelling the growth and continued innovation of the [ADC] market.”
  Mark Fabbi, Gartner, Hype Cycle for Networking and communications.


ADCs are application proxies that can improve server performance by offloading server and network processing by using features such as Content Caching and SSL Offload. ADC’s also work to accelerate the delivery of applications by deploying performance enhancing features such as HTTP Compression, Content Re-Writing, Caching and Connection Management.

ADC’s remove the overhead of CPU intensive tasks, allowing services to both run and scale efficiently, without the need to increase servers, bandwidth or network infrastructure.

More information on the Application Delivery Controllers can be found here.


And so to Conclude……..Speed Counts!

Ok, it’s easy to oversimplify, but when it comes appreciating the business value of application speed and performance, we think that deploying an ADC is a no brainer!  

ADC’s optimise the efficiency and speed of application delivery. This in turn can lead to: 
  • Improved end user experience
  • Increased browse time on site
  • Higher transaction and conversion rates
  • Increased brand loyalty and return visits
  • Increased online visibility
  • Reduced bandwidth consumption




Sources

·          1. “eCommerce Web Site Performance Today” Forrester Consulting.
(A commissioned study conducted on behalf of Akamai Technologies, Inc., August 17, 2009)

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