In the IT world, the final weeks of summer mean just one thing: it’s time to get ready for the holidays.
For some online businesses, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year—for e-commerce sites, it can be a stressful IT nightmare.
Nothing can shatter the promise of high sales numbers more definitively than a down website, long page load times and broken links. It is during the holiday season that load tolerance gets tested and customer service lines get bombarded—often because slow website performance leads users to click ‘purchase’ more than once.
For many companies, technical issues and downtime on Cyber Monday (News - Alert) can lead to multimillion dollar losses and frustrated customers.
It is up to IT to make websites ready for the holiday e-commerce season and to monitor site performance throughout. Here’s how to get your website holiday ready:
1. Start Monitoring Everything Now
Sometimes the faults and deficiencies in a website take time to reveal themselves. Companies pour energy into monitoring their website just before the holidays only to discover a serious error that, with enough time, might have been apparent and fixable months before.
Monitoring systems are supposed to be preventative medicine—they are best at identifying and addressing risks before they ever become a problem.
IT administrators may prioritize some website metrics over other metrics, but a few—especially before and during the holiday season—are critical.
As hinted above, uptime is the most important metric, and it is more complicated to monitor than you might expect. You can check the availability of any site by trying to visit, but that provides a rather incomplete view of website performance. You need to monitor uptime in real-time, and you need to check if availability differs among mirror servers in multiple locations. What a New Yorker experiences can actually differ from what a visitor in London or Beijing experiences. So cover yourself. Monitor your website’s international availability from your customer’s point of view.
2. Monitor Data that Relates Closely to User Experience
If you don’t have uptime, you don’t have a user experience. But once you have covered that base, focus on factors that will influence people’s impression of your website.
From an IT perspective, the single most important facets of user experience in e-commerce are arguably page speed and full page load times. Keep in mind that whatever you sell, there is probably another website that sells the same product or something similar. Therefore, if your website is slow, visitors are probably heading to a different online shop.
Use ping requests and loading time measurements (the time it takes to download source code) to track page speed, and then find a solution to measure full page load times in a browser. You need to be sure that images, videos, flash content and all embedded materials come up quickly. To interest selective holiday shoppers, a 30 percent discount offer or product video needs to load instantly. Just as uptime can vary for international visitors, load times can vary too, so investigate load times in different places around the world.
Also, test your site thoroughly for error messages and test shopping cart features such as logins and transactions for every imaginable problem. If you do not already do this regularly, start now—not the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Remember, the more ways people can interact with your website, the more things that can go wrong. Keep your site content-rich, but keep it all working.
3. The Fine Details
If you’re confident that your site will be up and the content will load quickly, it’s time to focus on the nitty-gritty details that can make a big difference. Again, the key is to address them as early as possible.
For instance, how much free disk space do you have on your servers? Log files, database entries, video and photo uploads, among other items, can sap space rather quickly. Imagine if you generate a significant amount of buzz on your web page with a user-generated video contest, only to find that the same content has jammed your server on Cyber Monday. Throughout the fall, keep a steady eye on CPU loads to avoid server failures when the holiday action begins. In fact, simulate a high workload to test how your server will handle holiday activity.
Do all your links work? A variety of free or inexpensive web applications can make sure. They will scan for broken links, which are notorious for frustrating customers. You also may be able to track the results of these link tests with your primary monitoring solution.
Also, keep an eye for the little things that can disappoint or annoy a customer. Having a website makes you a de facto publisher, and customers will expect proper grammar, spelling and up-to-date content. This sounds obvious, and perhaps you have quality control measures in place, but remember how expansive a website can become. Particularly on large ecommerce sites, there is an extraordinary amount of written content in places that may be nine or ten clicks away from the homepage. Find them and clean them up.
Although the ROI might not be apparent immediately, the monitoring and preparation you begin now can help to ensure a lucrative holiday season. Think of your website as a high-performing athlete. Rigorous preparation and performance tracking is what makes an athlete ready for the Olympic Games. If you’re in ecommerce, the holidays are your Olympics—monitor your systems, correct problems and go for the gold when Cyber Monday comes.
Christian Twardawa is the Chief Operating Officer for Paessler AG. Paessler AG leads the industry in providing the most powerful, affordable and easy-to-use network monitoring and testing solutions. The company’s suite of just-right software products deliver peace of mind, confidence and convenience for businesses of all sizes – from Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) to large enterprises, including more than 70% of the Fortune 100 companies. For more information, visit www.paessler.com.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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