Tag: Business of web performance

Core Web Vitals and Web Performance Strategy: A Reality Check

Google’s Core Web Vitals initiative has become a larger part of discussions that we have with customers as they begin setting new performance KPIs for 2021-2022. These conversations center on the values generated by Lighthouse, WebPageTest, and Performance Insights testing, as well as the cumulative data collected by CrUX and Akamai mPulse and how to use the collected information to “improve” these numbers.

Google has delayed the implementation of Core Web Vitals into the Page Rank system twice. The initial rollout was scheduled for 2020, but that was delayed as the initial disruption caused by the pandemic saw many sites halt all innovation and improvement efforts until the challenges of a remote work environment could be overcome. The next target date was set for May 2021, but that has been pushed back to June 2021, with a phase-in period that will last until August 2021

Why the emphasis on improving the Core Web Vitals values? The simple reason is that these values will now be used as a factor in the Google Page Rank algorithm. Any input that modifies an organization’s SEO efforts immediately draws a great deal of attention as these rankings can have a measurable effect on revenue and engagement, depending on the customer.

While conversations may start with the simple request from customers for guidance around what they can do to improve their Core Web Vitals metrics, what may be missed in these conversations is a discussion of the wider context of what the Core Web Vitals metrics represent.

The best place is to define what the Core Web Vitals are (done by Google) and how the data is collected. The criteria for gathering Core Web Vitals in mPulse is:

Visitors who engage with the site and generate Page View or SPA Hard pages and are using recent versions of Chromium-based browsers.

However, there is a separate definition, the one that affects the Page Rank algorithm. For Page Rank data, the collection criteria gets a substantial refinement:

Visitors who engage with the site and generate Page View or SPA Hard pages who (it is assumed) originated from search engine results (preferably generated by Google) and are using the Chrome and Chrome Mobile browsers.

There are a number of caveats in both those statements! When described this way, customers may start to ask how relevant these metrics are for driving real-world performance initiatives and whether improving Core Web Vitals metrics will actually drive improvement in business KPIs like conversion, engagement, and revenue.

During conversations with customer, it is also critical to highlight the notable omissions in the collection of Core Web Vitals metrics. Some of these may cause customers to be even more cautious about applying this data.

  • No Data from WebKit Browsers. None of the browsers based on Webkit (Safari, Mobile Safari, Mobile Safari WebView) collect Cumulative Layout Shift or Largest Contentful Paint values. Recent updates have allowed for the collection of First Contentful Paint, but that is not one of the metrics used in Core Web Vitals. The argument can be made that Safari and Mobile Safari already deliver highly optimized web experiences, but not providing insight into a significant (if not dominant) user population will leave organizations wondering what global performance metrics (i.e., metrics collected by all browser families) they can use to represent and track the experience for all visitors.
  • Limitations in CrUX Data Collection. The data that Google collects for CrUX reporting only originates from Chrome and Chrome Mobile browsers. So, even though Chromium-based browsers, such as Edge and Opera, currently collect Core Web Vitals data, it is not used by Google in Page Rank. This narrow focus may further erode the focus on Core Web Vitals in organizations where Chrome and Chrome Mobile are only one part of a complex browser environment.
  • Performance Delta between Mobile Safari and Chrome Mobile. With only very limited exceptions, Mobile Safari substantially outperforms Chrome Mobile in standard performance measurement metrics (Time to Visually Ready, Page Load, etc.). This forces organizations to focus on optimizing Chrome Mobile performance, which is substantially more challenging due to the diversity in the Android device and OS population. As well, without a proven business reason, getting customers to update their mobile performance experience based on Core Web Vitals data could become challenging once this exception is realized.
  • Exclusion of SPA Soft Navigations. Up until recently, none of the Core Web Vitals metrics were captured for SPA Soft Navigations (see below for changes to Cumulative Layout Shift). This is understandable as the focus for Google is the performance of pages originating from Google Search Results, and navigating from the results will not generate a SPA Soft navigation. However, the performance and experience advantages of SPA Soft Navigations for visitors is almost completely lost to Core Web Vitals.
  • Current Lack of Clear Links Between Core Web Vitals and Business KPIs. Google has been emphasizing the Core Web Vitals as the new the new metrics that companies should use to guide performance decisions. However, there has yet to be much (or any) evidence that can be used to show organizations that improving these metrics leads to increased revenue, conversions, or engagement. Without quantifiable results that link these new performance KPIs to improvements in business KPIs, there may be hesitancy to drive efforts to improve these metrics.

Google is, however, listening to feedback on the collection of Core Web Vitals. Already there have been changes to the Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) collection methodology that allow it to more accurately reflect long-running pages and SPA sites. This does lead to some optimism that the collection of Core Web Vitals data may evolve over time so that it includes a far broader subset of browsers and customer experiences, reflecting the true reality and complexity of customer interactions on the modern web application.

Exposing the Core Web Vitals metrics to a wider performance audience will lead to customer questions about web performance professionals are using this information to shape performance strategies. Overall, the recommendation thus far is to approach this data with caution and emphasize the current focus these metrics have (affecting Page Rank results), the limitations that exist in the data collection (limited browser support, lack of SPA Soft Navigations, mobile data only from Android), and the lack of substantial verification that improving Core Web Vitals has a quantifiable positive effect on business KPIs.

Web Performance Trends for 2013 – Performance Optimization

As we approach the end of 2012, I will be looking at a few trends that will become important in 2013. In a previous post, I identified optimization as an important performance trend to watch. It is one of the items on a performance checklist that companies can directly influence through the design and implementation of their web and mobile sites.

The key to optimization in any organization is to think of objects transmitted to customers, regardless of where they originate, as having a cost to you and to the customer. So, a site that makes $100,000 in a day and transfers 10 million objects to customers has an object-to-revenue ratio of 100. But, if the site is optimized and only 7.5 million objects are transferred to make $100,000, that ratio goes down to 75; and if the reduction in objects causes revenue go up to $150,000, the ratio drops to 50.

This approach is simplistic and does not include the actual cost to deliver each object, which includes costs for bandwidth, CDN services, customer service providers, etc. as well as revenue generated by third-party ads and services you present to customers. The act of balancing the cost of the site (to develop and manage), the performance you measure, the revenue you generate, the experience your customers have, and the reputation of your brand is an ongoing process that must be closely considered every time someone asks, “And if we add this to the site/app…”.

There is no optimal figure for site optimization. But there are some simple rules:

  • Use Sprites where you can. Combing multiple small images into aggregated image maps that you can use CSS to display gives you a double-plus good improvement – fewer objects to download and more text (HTML, JavaScript, and CSS) that can be delivered to visitors in a compressed format
  • Combine JavaScript and CSS files. Listen to your designers – they will likely try to convince that each file needs to be separate for some arcane reason. Listen and then ask if this is the most efficient way to deploy this particular function or formatting. Ask the developer to produce a cost/benefit analysis of doing it their way versus using something that is already in place
  • Control your third-party services. This means having a sane method for managing these services, and shutting them off if necessary. Have every team that is responsible for the site meet to approve (or deny) the addition of new third-party services. And those who want it better come with a strong cost/benefit analysis.

Optimization is the act of making the sites you create as effective and efficient as the business you run. No matter how “low” the cost to operate a web site is, each object on a site can cost the company more money than it is worth in revenue. And if that object slows the site down, it could turn a profitable transaction into a lost customer.

Pain at Every Level – Web Performance in the Organization

People in every organization are happy (in an unhappy way) to tell you exactly what their level of Web performance pain is. They go into great detail on how every performance issue affects them and and why it makes every day an unpredictable and almost unmanageable challenge.

If you take the personal perspective of Web performance pain, the risk not finding the real problem, the true cause of the pain.

Talking to customers at all levels of organizations has shown that when you ask “where it hurts”, they can tell you exactly what they want you to work on. And once you solve that problem, you get another person from the same organization with a different pain coming to you, complaining that you have ignored them.

A whole-organization focus is required when working to solve a customers Web performance pain. And it starts by asking questions of everyone in a company, not just the one who came to you for the initial diagnosis. Different groups at different levels have different questions.

Here’s a (very basic) list of some of those that you should be prepared to answer as you work to diagnose a company’s Web performance issues.


  • How am I doing against my competitors?
  • How does performance affect my revenue?
  • If I want to use the Web for more revenue, what do I need to do to make it work?
  • How does Mobile deliver what I need?

VP, Operations

  • How much will it cost me to deliver the necessary Web performance?
  • What is critical for me to deliver now, and what can I delay until the next budget cycle?
  • How do I ensure that Web performance issues don’t affect revenue?
  • Are my partners helping or hindering us?
  • How do I get Marketing to the table to understand the technology boundaries we have?

VP, Marketing

  • How do I effectively use the Web without alienating customers with slow performance?
  • How do I ensure that our design is delivered appropriately to both fixed-Web and mobile users?
  • What parts of the site are customers unsatisfied with due to performance? Do my promotions scale to handle the surge in customers?
  • How do I get Operations to understand that delivering new experiences with leading-edge technology is critical for us to be successful?

Director, Operations

  • I spend most of my time on troubleshooting conference calls. How can I reduce this drain on my time and resources?
  • My team spends most of its time trying to correlate data between 5 different systems. Help!
  • The latest design is putting a massive strain on our infrastructure. Didn’t anyone test this on the production servers before it went live?
  • I know that we need to take a load of our servers, but I don’t know how to choose a CDN. What do I need to do?

Operations Staff, NOC

  • Man, I get a lot of alerts. How do I tell which ones I need to care about?
  • This sure looks like a problem. How do I show the appropriate folks that this issue is their responsibility?
  • Most of the time, the issues I investigate are with one third-party. Who is responsible for fixing this and does it really affect customers?
  • I get bonused on fast MTTR. How can I figure out what the problem is faster?

In the sections above, notice that none of the questions need to be answered with product descriptions. Companies are desperate to understand not how other companies deployed the latest Kazoo to solve their Waka-waka problem, but how they made life easier and more manageable.

Coming to the customer with an open mind and a listening ear is the new hallmark of Web performance.

Black Friday 2011

Black Friday 2010 is upon us.

Now, what are you doing to get your Web site ready for Black Friday 2011?

While this may be a shocking slap in the face, it is a very realistic one. If you take what happened today, and what you think may happen over the next 4 weeks, what will your organization really need to be ready for next year – same time, same place?

You were thinking about that as you got ready for this year, right?

Well, it’s never too early to start planning. Here are some items you should be putting on your January 1 2011 wish-list.

  • Better Web monitoring. What did you get caught without any insight into this year? Where do you need to get more information? Inside or outside the firewall? Third-party components? What surprised you this year?
  • Earlier load testing. Is it less stressful to test your capacity and focus your optimization efforts in Q1 2011 or in October 2011? The advanced customers we work with start running their load tests in April, not September. How much change can you make to your systems by the time you discover a problem in September?
  • Real-world inputs and projected growth. When you take your analytics data and project your growth for next year, are you factoring in macro-economic inputs? No, I’m not an economist, but if the economy isn’t projected to grow as fast, aim your projected growth for the middle of the range for testing, not for the top-end.
  • Test capacity to the maximum. No, this is not mutually exclusive of the previous item. When you test your capacity, you want to make sure that you know exactly how much growth it can take. Even if growth is not projected to break it this year (and you can prove this with load testing), how about in 2012?
  • Mobile Commerce Readiness. Mobile is the latest buzzword. But do you have a real plan to handle a rush of people checking your prices from other stores on Black Friday? And if they want to buy it right there, can they? Mobile is not a separate silo; All sales channels make you money, so stop treating them differently. If you are going mobile, do it with a plan that scales with sales.

Whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels (or bed of broken glass, depending on how your day went). Have a plan. Write it down. Set some deadlines.

Give yourself a head start.

Black Friday 2011 is only 364 days away.

Web Performance Concepts: Customer Anywhere

Companies are beginning to fully grasp the need to measure performance from all perspectives: backbone, last mile, mobile, etc. But this need is often driven by the operational perspective – “We need to know how our application/app is doing from all perspectives”.

While this is admirable, and better than not measuring at all, turning this perspective around will provide companies with a whole new perspective. Measure from all perspectives not just because you can, but because your customers demand performance from all perspectives.

The modern company needs to always keep in mind the concept of Customer Anywhere. The desire to visit your site, check a reservation, compare prices, produce coupons can now occur at the customer’s whim. Smartphones and mobile broadband have freed customers from the wires for the first time.
If I want to shop poolside, I want your site to be as fast over a mobile connection on my Android as it is on my WiFi iPad as it is on my Alienware laptop on ethernet. I don’t care what the excuse is: If it’s not fast, it’s not revenue.

Knowing how a site performs over the wire, in the browser, around the world made “Web” performance a lot harder. The old ways aren’t enough.

How does your “Web” performance strategy work with Customer Anywhere?

Effective Web Performance: What to Manage

One of the traditional areas of frustration for Operations and Development teams in the Web world is that their performance, Web performance, is measured from the outside-in.

The resistance of this camp is strong, and they will appear without warning, even from amongst the most enlightened of companies.

How can they be recognized?

You will hear their battle-cry, their mantra, their fundamental belief that their application, their infrastructure is a misunderstood victim. That if they could only get their one idea across, the whole of the company would be enlightened.
The fundamental tenet of this group is simple and short.

How can we manage the Internet?

The obvious fallacy of this argument is clear to any Web performance professional or business analyst: Customers get to our business across the Internet, not via psychic modem. In order to keep close tabs on the experience of our customers, the site, application, code must be measured from the outside-in.

In order to prevent making enemies and perpetuating already ossified corporate silos, take the initiative. Gently steer the discussion in a new direction by making this incredibly vast problem into one everyone in the company can understand. By adding a single word to the initial question, the fearful and reactive perspective can be dramatically shifted to one that could make the members of this camp see the light.

When you talk to these customers, change the question: How can we manage for the Internet?

Now the focus of the discussion is now proactive – is there something we are missing that could reduce the problems and/or prevent them from ever happening?
Taking the all-encompassing and awe-inspiring challenge that is the Internet and turning it into a Boy Scout moment may reinvigorate the internal conversation, and give people a sense of purpose. Now they will be galvanized to consider whether everything in their power is being done to prevent performance issues before bits hit the Internet.

Effective Web performance hinges on taking the obvious challenges that face all Web sites, and turning them into solutions that mitigate these challenges as much as possible. So, in the next team meeting, the next time you hear someone say that it’s just the Internet, ask what can still be done to manage the application more effectively for the Internet.

Effective Web Performance: Measurement-First or CDN-First?

A hallway conversation this morning brought up a very interesting point about the relationship between Web performance measurements and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). When choosing between a Web performance measurement solution and a CDN, which service should come first?

Companies facing dire and obvious Web performance issues will want immediate results, leading them to fall into the CDN-First camp. Deploying a CDN will have a positive effect on response times, increase user satisfaction, and may even increase customer conversions, in the short term.

In six months, deeper questions may start to be asked. A core question that will need to be answered by CDN-First organizations will be “Are we using the CDN effectively and efficiently?“.

A company that makes the leap to CDN deployment without assessing the overall performance environment of their Web site may be faced with a situation where they can’t tell if they need more, less, or different CDN strategies in order to continue to succeed.

As a result of the buyers remorse that can result from the leap directly to a CDN, I highly recommend the Measurement-First approach when selecting a CDN.
To help you become an advocate for the Measurement-First approach, come to the table during the CDN discussions and ask three questions. The answers will allow your organization to make the best and most appropriate CDN decision.

1. Is the CDN necessary?

In most cases, the answer to this is a resounding yes. But what can happen with a sudden shift to the CDN is that a organization overlooks those things that they can do themselves to gain some initial performance improvements.

Baselining the existing site before deploying a CDN will allow items and elements that need to be improved to be clearly identified. In some cases, an organization can fix some of these on their own to improve performance before investing in a CDN. In other cases, measuring the performance of a site may clearly indicate that third-party content is responsible for the performance issues, which would likely not be fixed by a CDN deployment.

Measurement-First policy helps clearly identify the geographies that have the worst performance before deploying the CDN. If performance in the US is acceptable, while performance in Europe or Asia-Pacific is intolerable, then the CDN deployment may initially be targeted to respond to the greatest pain first.
Understanding the current performance of your existing site can reduce the cost of the initial deployment and maximize the the long term effectiveness of the deployment.

2. Which CDN is best for us?

For a complex modern Web site, content comes in many different shapes, sizes, and formats. The thing is, so do CDNs. As I’ve discussed before, understanding what the CDNs vying for your business do and do well is as critical as the process of vetting their effectiveness compared to delivering the site yourself. The performance boost given to you site by a CDN may vary by region, leading your team to select one CDN for Europe and another for the Asia-Pacific region.

CDN performance can also vary based on the content you are asking them to accelerate. One CDN may be good at streaming media, while another may be better at static content (JS, CSS, Images, etc.), while yet another is better at accelerating the delivery of dynamic content.

Choose your CDN(s) based on what you need them to deliver. In some cases, one size does not fit all.

3. Is the CDN delivering?

This may look like a question for after the purchase has been completed and the solution deployed, but you will never know if the solution is working effectively unless you have a baseline of your performance before the deployment, and from your origin servers after deployment.

Measuring the performance of the CDNs under all conditions and from all perspectives (Datacenter, Last Mile, and from within the Browser) doesn’t stop with the selection of a CDN(s). It becomes even more critical once the CDN solution(s) is rolled into production in order to ensure that the level of service that was promised during the sales cycle is delivered once you become a customer.

Constantly validate the performance of the CDN-accelerated site with the performance of the non-accelerated origin site. Have regular meetings with, and channels of communication into, your CDN(s) to discuss not only existing performance, but how changes you and/or the CDN provider are planning may affect performance in the future.


CDNs are a critical component for any Web business that wants to scale and deliver services to a national or global audience. But selecting a CDN should come after you have a very strong understanding of the current performance of your own Web site.

After you have measured and identified the items you can do to improve your own performance, your team will have greater insight into the areas of your site where the services of a CDN(s) can have the greatest impact.

The Measurement-First approach to selecting a CDN will ensure that you select a set of services that exactly meets the unique performance challenges of your site.

Effective Web Performance: An Introduction and A Manifesto

Every so often, you wake up and realize that the world has changed around you. Or, to say it better, your view of the world has changed so profoundly, but also so subtly and slowly that it is imperceptible unless you take the time to look back at where you came from.

Six years ago, if you had asked me what the most important problems in Web performance were, I would have reeled off a list that was focused on technology and configuration: HTTP compression, HTTP persistent connections, caching, etc. In fact, six years on, these are still the concepts that dominate Web performance conversations.

Slowly, glacially, shaped by six years of working with customers and clients, listening to the Web performance conversations that flow across the Web and within companies, I realize that technology is only one component of the Web performance solution.

Web Performance is NOT Just Technology

Most organizations focus too much of their efforts on solving the technical problems because they are discrete, easy to track, and produce quantifiable results.

Fair enough.

But a highly tuned engine with a rusted chassis, four flat wheels, and a voided warranty still has a Web performance problem, even if it is technically sound.
Web Performance VennThe complexity of the issue arises from the terminology used. Web performance, in current parlance, refers almost completely to the delivery of the site in an appropriate and measurable manner.

Web performance is not simply the generation and delivery of HTML and other objects. Web performance is conversation that defines the basic nature of any Web site.
Approaching Web performance, as I had for so many years, as a technical problem with a discrete solution overlooks the true nature of Web performance. A culture of effective Web performance absorbs a number of different inputs, and then ensures that the site performs across many different vectors, not just the two-dimensional response/success over time graph.

Web Performance is Culture and Communication

Web performance is an issue of culture. And at the root of all cultures lies communication.

The Web performance conversation has three components, each one shaping the potential response to the problem and providing elements of the solution.

1. Technical Capabilities

Technical organizations spend a great deal of their time defining what they can’t do. In an organization that has a culture of effective Web performance, the technical teams provide clear definitions of the current capabilities, and clearly demonstrate how far they can take the organization down the chosen path, hopefully without spending all of the company’s treasure.

2. Business Objectives

Just as the technical organization has to define what they can do with what they have, the business organization has to come to the table with a clear definition of what they want to achieve. If a business goal is clearly stated to the technical team, then a conversation about where there may be challenges and opportunities can occur. When business and IT talk and listen, a company is becoming far more effective at delivering the best site they can.

3. Customer Expectations

Neglected, forgotten, nay, even ignored, the role of the customers’ expectations in the Web performance equation is just as critical as the other two participants. With clear business objectives and defined technical capabilities, a site can still be seen as a Web performance failure if the expectations of the customer are not met. And it is not simply listening to customer and providing everything they want. It’s understanding why they need a feature/function/option in order to be more successful at what they do, and balancing that against the other two players in the conversation.

Now What?

But where does an organization that wants to take Web performance beyond the technical problem, and into the realm of the strategic solution go?

Do a search on any search engine and you will find page upon page of technical solutions to a supposedly technical problem. Web performance is not solely a technical problem. In many cases, the site is configured and tweaked and tuned and accelerated to such a degree that you have to wonder if is under-performing out of spite more than any other reason.

Scratch the surface. Look beyond the shiny toys and massively-scaled infrastructure and you will find that technology is not the issue. The demand placed on the site by the business are bogging the site down in ways that no amount of tuning could improve.

Perhaps the business goals of the site, the need to support the business, have pushed the technology to its breaking point or beyond, but the technology team cannot clearly articulate what the problem or solution is.

Maybe customers, used to competitors delivering one level of Web performance and experience are simply not happy with the site, no matter how tuned it is and how clearly the call to action may be.

Making a Web site perform effectively means stepping back and asking some key questions:

  • Why do we have a site?
  • How does this site help our business?
  • Why do our customers use our site?
  • Do we like using our site?
  • What are our competitors doing?
  • What are the best Web companies doing?

These seem like silly questions. But you may be surprised by the differing answers you get.

And from there, the conversation can start.


Simply put, Web performance is not about understanding how to make your site faster. Web performance is about understanding what you can do to make your site betterAn effective Web site is one that is shaped by a culture of effective Web performance.

Striving to make a better, more effective Web site may lead to such profound cultural and organizational changes that the process ends up making a better company. A company where the Web site is seen as an active conversation shared with employees, shareholders, investors, and customers.

A conversation where you explain what can be done, why you are doing it, and how you will do it. A conversation where you listen to what must be done, how it is expected to work, and what the customer defines as success.

So when you wake up six years from now, and realize that the day you stopped treating your Web site as a technical problem that needed to be fixed, and started seeing it as an opportunity to create a more effective business, I hope you smile.

Effective Web Performance: Positively Managing Performance Issues

The moment a Web site goes live, the publishers lose control of the performance.

When I say lose control of the performance, I mean that despite everything that has been done to ensure scalability and capacity, the Web is inherently an infrastructure that is out of anyone’s direct ability to manage.

This is something that needs to be accepted. And while the datacenter is only that part of an application/infrastructure/network that can be directly managed by the Web site’s owners, a company has to accept that the real datacenter is the Internet. Not a datacenter that is on the Internet; the Internet as the datacenter.

Now that your head is spinning, let’s step back and consider this idea for a minute. The whole concept of the Internet being the datacenter makes operations and IT folks very uncomfortable. Why? There is no way for one company to manage the Internet. As a result, the general perspective is that the Internet can’t be trusted, and all that can be done is manage what can be managed directly.

Ignoring the Internet allows many organizations to leave the entire Internet out of their application or performance planning. They will measure and monitor, and they may even employ third-parties to help improve performance. When the shiny exterior is peeled back, it’s pretty clear that these organizations have built their entire performance culture on the assumption that if a problem exists on the Internet, there is nothing that can be done by them to fix it.

This may be effectively true. And it is not positive way to ensure effective Web performance

Having a what-if, emergency response plan in place is never a bad idea. If a problem appears on the Internet, and it affects your Web site, what are you going to do about it? Whine and moan and point fingers? Or take actions that effectively and clearly communicate to customers the steps you are taking to make things right?
Wait. Managing the Internet through customer communication?

I argue that besides working feverishly behind the scenes to resolve the problem, customer communication is the next most critical component of any Web performance issue management plan.

Web performance issue management plan. You have one, don’t you?
Well, when you get around to it, here are some concepts that should be built into the plan.

Effectively monitor your site

How can measurement and monitoring be part of issue management? Well, isn’t it always good policy to detect and begin investigating problems before your customers do?

Key to the measurement plan is monitoring the parts of your application that customers use. A homepage test will not give you vital information on issues with your authentication process, and is the same as saying the car starts, while ignoring the four flat tires.

If you aren’t effectively monitoring your site, your business is at risk.

Measure where the customers are

If your organization is focused on what it can control, then it will want to measure from locations that are controlled, and can provide stable, consistent, repeatable data.

Hate to break this to you, Sparky, but my Internet connection isn’t an OC-48 provisioned through a large carrier with a written SLA. Real people have provider networks that are congested, under-built, and deliver bandwidth using the old best effort approach.

Some customers may have given up on wires altogether, and access the site through wireless broadband or mobile devices.

Understand how your customers use your site. Then plan your response to managing the Internet from the outside-in.

Test with what your customers use

The greatest cop-out any Web site can make is Our site is best viewed using…
I’m sorry. This isn’t good enough.

Customers demand that your site work the way they want it to, not the other way around. If a customer wants to use Safari on a Mac, or Chromium on Linux, then understanding how the site performs and responds with these browsers is critical.
The one-browser/one-platform world no longer exists. If a large number of customers with one particular configuration indicate that they are having a problem with the new site, what is the proper reaction?

And why did this happen in the first place?

Monitor and respond to social media

No, this isn’t just here for buzzwords and SEO. In the last year, Twitter and Facebook have become the de-facto soapboxes for people who want to announce that their favorite site isn’t working. Wouldn’t hurt to monitor these sites for issues that might not be detected by traditional performance monitoring.

This approach means that you have to be willing to accept responsibility when something affects your site performance or availability, even if it isn’t your fault. No need to tell folks exactly what the problem is, but acknowledging that there is a legitimate issue that you recognize will go a long way toward making visitors/customers more understanding of the situation.

Get your message out effectively

Communicating about a performance issue means that the Marketing and PR teams will have to be brought in.

What? Marketing and Operations/IT working together? Yes. In a situation where there is a major outage or issue, Marketing will DEMAND to be involved. Wouldn’t it be easier if these two parts of the organization knew each other and a plan for responding to critical performance issues?

If Marketing understands the degree of the problem, what it will take to fix, and what is being done about it, they can craft a message that handles any question that might come in, while acknowledging that there is an issue.

A corollary to this: If there is an issue, don’t deny it exists. Denying a problem when it clear to anyone using the site that there is one is worse than saying nothing at all.


Practicing effective Web performance means a company understands that directly managing the Internet is impossible, but having a process to respond to Internet performance issues is critical. A Web performance incident plan shows that you understand that stuff happens on the Internet and you’re working on it.

Effective Web Performance

Slap up some measurements. Look at some graphs. Make a few calls. Your site is faster. You’re a hero.

Effective Web performance is something that requires planning, preparation, execution, and the willingness to try more than once to get things right. I have discussed this problem before, but wanted to expand my thoughts into some steps that I have seen work effectively in organizations that have effectively established Web performance improvement strategies that work.

This process, in its simplest form, consists of five steps. Each step seems simple, but skipping any one of them will likely leave your Web performance process only half-baked, unable to help your team effectively improve the site.

1. Identification – What do we want/need to measure?

We want to measure everything. From everywhere.

This is an ineffective approach to Web performance measurement. This approach leads to a mass of data flowing towards you, causing your team to turn and flee, finding any way possible to hide from the coming onslaught.

Work with your team to carefully chose your Web performance targets. Identify two or three things about your site’s performance that you want to explore. Make these items discrete and clearly understood by everyone on your team. Clearly state their importance to improving Web performance. Get everyone to sign off on this.

Now, what was just said above will not be easy. There will be disagreements among people, among different parts of the organization, about which items are the most crucial to measure. This is a good thing.

Perhaps the greatest single hindrance to Web performance improvement is the lack of communication. An active debate is better than quiet acceptance and a grudging belief that you are going the wrong way. Corporate silos and a culture of assurance will not allow your company to make the decisions you need to have an effective Web performance strategy.

2. Selection – What data will we need to collect?

In order to identify a Web performance issue (which is far more important than trying to solve it), the data that will be examined will need to be decided on. This sounds easy – response time and success rate. We’re done.

Now, if your team wants to be effective, they have to understand the complexity of what they are measuring. Then an assessment of what useful data can be extract to isolate the specific performance issue under study can be made.
Choose your metrics carefully, as the wrong data is worse than no data.

3. Execution – How will we collect the data?

Once what is to be measured is decided on, the mechanics of collecting the data can be decided on. In today’s Web performance measurement environment, there are solutions to meet every preferred approach.

  • Active Synthetic Monitoring. This is the old man of the methods, having been around the longest. A URL or business process is selected, scripted, and them pushed out to an existing measurement network that is managed/controlled. These have the advantage of providing static, consistent metrics that can be used as baselines for long-term trending. However, they are locked to a single process, and do not respond or indicate where your customers are going now.
  • Passive User Monitoring – Browser-Side. A relative newcomer to the measurement field, this process allows companies to tag pages and follow the customer performance experience as they move through a site. This methodology can also be used to discretely measure the browser-side performance of page components that may be invisible to other measurement collection methods. It does have a weakness in that it is sometimes hard to sell within an organization because of its perceived similarity to Web analytics approaches and its need to develop an effective tagging strategy.
  • Passive User Monitoring – Server-Side. This methods follows customers as they move through a site, but collects data from a users interaction with the site, rather than with the browser. Great for providing details of how customers moved through a site and how long it took to move from page to page. It is weak in providing data on how long it took for data to be delivered to the customer, and how long it took their browser to process and render the requested data.

Organizations often choose one of the methods, and stay with it. This has the effect of seeing the world through hammer goggles: If all you have is a hammer, then every problem you need to solve has to be turned into a nail.

Successful organizations have a complex, correlative approach to effective Web performance analysis. One that links performance data from multiple inputs and finds a way to link the relationships between different data sets.

If your team isn’t ready for the correlative approach, then at least keep an open mind. Not every Web performance problem is a nail.

4. Information – How do we make the data useful?

Your team now has a great lump of data, collected in a way that is understood, and providing details about things they care about.
Now what?

Web performance data is simply the raw facts that come out of the measurement systems. It is critical that during the process of determining why, what and how to measure that you also decided how you were going to process the data to produce metrics that made sense to your team.
Strategies include:

  • Feeding the data into a business analytics tool
  • Producing daily/weekly/monthly reports on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that your team uses to measure Web performance
  • Annotate change, for better or worse
  • Correlate. Correlate. Correlate. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Providing a lot of raw data is the same as a vacuum – a whole bunch of nothing.

5. Action – How do we make meaningful Web performance changes?

Data has been collected and processed into meaningful data. People throughout the organization are having a-ha moments, coming up with ideas or realizations about the overall performance of the site. There are cries to just do something.
Stick to the plan. And assume that the plan will evolve in the presence of new information.

Prioritizing Web performance improvements falls into the age-old battle between the behemoths of the online business: business and IT.
Business will want to focus on issues that have the greatest effect on the bottom-line. IT will want to focus on the issues that have the greatest effect on technology.
They’re both wrong. And they’re both right.

Your online business is just that: a business that, regardless of its mission, based on technology. Effective Web performance relies on these two forces being in balance. The business cannot be successful without a sound and tuned online platform, and the technology needed to deliver the online platform cannot exist without the revenue that comes from the business done on that platform.

Effective Web performance relies on prioritizing issues so that they can be done within the business and technology plans. And an effective organization is one that has communicated (there’s that word again) what those plans are. Everyone needs to understand that the business makes decisions that effect technology and vice-versa. And that if these decisions are made in isolation, the whole organization will either implode or explode.


Effective Web performance is hard work. It takes a committed organization that understands that running an online business requires that everyone have access to the information they need, collected in a meaningful way, to meet the goals that everyone has agreed to.

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