Tag: Effective Web Performance

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.

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.

Web Performance: On the edge of performance

A decade of working in the Web performance industry can leave one with the idea that no matter how good a site is, there is always the opportunity to be better, be faster. However, I am beginning to believe, just from my personal experience on the Internet, that speed has reached its peak with the current technologies we have.

This does not bode well for an Internet that is shifting more directly to true read/write, data/interaction heavy Web sites. This needs to have home broadband that is not only fast, but which has equality for inbound and outbound connection speeds.

But will faster home broadband really make that much of a difference? Or will faster networks just show that even with the best connectivity to the Internet money can buy, Web sites are actually hurting themselves with poor design and inefficient data interaction designs?

For companies on the edge of Web performance, who are trying to push their ability to improve the customer experience as hard as possible, who are moving hard and fast to the read/write web, here are some ways you can ensure that you can still deliver the customer experience your visitors expect.

Confirm your customers’ bandwidth

This is pretty easy. Most reasonably powerful Web analytics tools can confirm this for you, breaking it down by dialup, and high broadband type. It’s a great way to ensure that your preconceptions about how your customers interact with your Web site meets the reality of their world.

It is also a way to see just how unbalanced your customers’ inbound and outbound connection speeds. If it is clear that traffic is coming from connection types or broadband providers that are heavily weighted towards download, then optimization exercises cannot ignore the effect of data uploads on the customer experience.

Design for customers’ bandwidth

Now that you’ve confirmed the structure of your customers’ bandwidth, ensure that your site and data interaction design are designed with this in mind. Data that uses a number of inefficient data calls behind the scenes in order to be more AJAXy may hurt itself when it tries to make those calls over a network that’s optimized for download and not upload.

Measure from the customer perspective

Web performance measurement has been around a long time. But understanding how the site performs from the perspective of true (not simulated) customer connectivity, right where they live and work, will highlight how your optimizations may or may not be working as expected.

Measurements from high-throughput, high-quality datacenter connections give you some insight into performance under the best possible circumstances. Measure from the customer’s desktop, and even the most thoughtfully planned optimization efforts may have been like attacking a mammoth with a closed safety pin: ineffective and it annoys the mammoth [to paraphrase Hugh Macleod].

As well as synthetic measurements, measure performance right from within the browser. Understanding how long it takes pages to render, how long it takes to show content above the fold, and to gather discrete times on complex Flash and AJAX events within the page will give you even more control over finding those things you can fix.


In the end, even assuming your customers have the best connectivity, and you have taken all the necessary precautions to get Web performance right, don’t assume that the technology can save you from bad design and slow applications.
Be constantly vigilant. And measure everything.

Methodology Before Measurement

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.

Galileo Galilei

The greatest challenge facing companies today is not finding ways to measure performance. The key issue is one of understanding what should be measured and validating that there is agreement on what the purpose of the measurement is.

Organizations are complex. And with complexity arises the need to gather data for different purposes. In my series discussing Why Web Measurements?, I broke organizations down into four groups, each one having distinctly different needs for measurements and data.

While this series focuses on Web performance, the four categories (Customer Generation, Customer Retention, Business Operations, and Technical Operations) can be broadly applied to all aspects of your business.
In each of the four categories, whether it is for Web performance or financial analysis, determining what and why to measure is a critical predecessor to the establishment of measurements and the examination of data.

2009 will be a year of reflection and retrenchment. Companies will be examining all aspects of their business, all of their relationships with vendors, all of the ways they measure themselves. The question that must be asked before succumbing to the rushing panic of cost-cutting and layoffs is: Do you fundamentally understand why and what you measure and what it is really telling you?

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