By Ken Godskind
May 6, 2010
For many business and government entities, online interactions have become of greater and greater importance because of their impact on the organization. User interactions through the Web channel touch point drive a wide variety of business activity from online prospecting, to retail e-commerce, to online financial services, and even business networks and communities through sites like Twitter, Facebook and other services like Manta. Users can define any number of potential groups including prospects, customers, partners, suppliers, or even employees.
For employees who rely on their company’s internal Web portals to track hours, submit billing, or deliver project management updates, the reliability of these sites is critical for daily operations and productivity. Meanwhile, for public-facing applications that drive e-commerce, Web site performance and usability are key to maximizing sales results and customer satisfaction.
One thing is true for every user that interacts with a company online. They expect the application to not only work successfully, but also to work quickly.
But how does one define fast? How long does it take for a user to get frustrated and leave a Web site? Studies have shown that a customer can be won or lost over the Internet in just a matter of seconds. Even just a slight increase in the response time of your Web site can impact page views, conversion, sales and overall customer satisfaction.
The user threshold in terms of patience to wait for a Web site to load is constantly shrinking. Most recently, Forrester Research released a report that user expectation for an e-commerce site to load is two seconds, and 40 percent of online shoppers will wait no more than three seconds before abandoning the site. It’s impossible to identify one magic number that will work for all Web sites and all users. But the important thing to realize is that Web site speed matters and can affect your bottom line.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Just listen to Google. The search engine king has announced that Web site response time is now officially a part of their search rankings algorithm. This means that the speed of a company’s Web site can now impact its overall SEO, a process that businesses invest significant time and money trying to improve.
It is important for businesses to make sure every component, from Web site core applications, to their content delivery networks, to their ad partners to other third-party participants, are working well together to deliver a good user experience.
Here are some important things to keep in mind about your organization’s Web performance strategy.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. In today’s Web 2.0 environment, applications work from within the Web browser. It is important to monitor the performance of your Web site with tools that have visibility on the user experience your Web applications are delivering from inside the browser. Businesses should experience their Web site the way users outside the company walls do.
Load testing to ensure you can scale when you need to. Planning for a big marketing campaign or new product launch? Expanding your employee base by 10 percent? All these scenarios are likely to increase the amount of traffic hitting your site, so make sure load testing is part of your planning. Test the limits of your Web site in advance to make sure it can handle the extra traffic without slowing down or crumbling altogether.
Determine your Plan B. Sometimes even extensive planning can’t prevent a malfunction, so be prepared to react gracefully when a problem does occur. This could include a dummy Web site page with a friendly or humorous message to acknowledge your awareness of the issue and let visitors know it is being addressed. Or you can make sure your users have alternative ways of contacting you if they can’t reach you online.
Third-party content can impact your site’s performance. Most businesses rely on third-party content providers to fulfill some aspect of their Web site, whether it is to feed in product reviews, Twitter updates, or even for Facebook connect. As the proprietor of your Web site, you are responsible for watching these participants and making sure they are doing a good job for your end users. It’s not just your own team, but these participants as well, who play a role in the end user experience. And their shortcomings could reflect poorly on your organization, should they prevent users from interacting with your site.
Appoint a Web performance evangelist. Lastly, one of the most important things for business leaders is determine who in the organization will be the corporate sponsor for Web site performance. There should be an executive level employee or internal team that can stress the importance of performance and availability to the rest of the organization. It should be their responsibility to always be thinking about how something will impact Web performance and the user experience, and ensuring the positive Web visibility of the company.
Your Web site is one of the most important touch points between you and your users. Making performance a priority in your organization can be done with a conscious effort, individuals dedicated to the process, and regular reporting, tracking and measurement.
Ken Godskind is the chief strategy officer at AlertSite, a leading provider of Web performance management solutions. For more information, please visit the company blog, http://blog.AlertSite.com.