May 4, 2005, 12:00 AM

What last-mile web performance monitoring told Benchmark Brands

Up to 65% of FootSmart.com’s visitors use dial-up connections, but tracking site performance at the user interface showed home page availability on dial-up only 82%. Performance monitoring also helped find the solution.

 

Monitoring web site availability and response time from the web’s backbone, the Internet’s distribution network, is one way for retailers to gauge web site performance – but it doesn’t tell the whole story, as FootSmart.com discovered. The retail web site of Benchmark Brands found a significant gap between performance as measured from the backbone and what visitors – particularly those on dial-up – experienced on the site.

“Across the backbone, we had 100% success in loading. Full pages were loading in less than 1.5 seconds,” Gavin Galtere, application development and network operations director at Benchmark Brands, tells Internet Retailer. However, a recent web site redesign that loaded pages with more data had Galtere concerned about what was happening at the user end.

After switching to performance monitoring service Gomez Inc. for its last-mile monitoring – a service he wasn’t getting from his former provider – Galtere confirmed those suspicions within a day of implementation. Last mile monitoring showed that with connections timing out because of the heavier pages, only 82% of visitors using dial-up successfully logged onto the home page their first try. The success rate in logging onto other points of entry to the site via search was only 92%.

The dial-up issue was key because Benchmark Brands knew from its own research that 60% to 65% of its audience accessed the site using dial-up connections. So while some of those visitors initially unsuccessful on logging on through dial-up may have later tried and been successful, the failure to connect initially represented potential revenue loss. “There was a severe difference between what the end user on broadband was experiencing and what the end user on dial-up was experiencing,” says Galtere. “We realized we had a huge opportunity in terms of low-hanging fruit to be able to lift our top line.”

Galtere says much of the page weight creating the problem for dial-up users was in new code written into the pages for various tracking and reporting purposes. Eliminating too much of that code in an effort to lighten pages would mean losing that functionality. To find a solution, Galtere used Gomez to run a head to head test of the performance of web site pages on which code had been compressed against pages served up on the servers of an outside content accelerator network.

The outside delivery network, Akamai Technologies, ultimately improved performance more than in-house efforts at code compression, he found. The data gave Galtere what he needed to secure funding approval from senior management to bring in Akamai, which FootSmart already was using in a limited fashion for page caching, on an expanded basis.

Within 3 months of the full-time implementation of last-mile testing from Gomez and content delivery services from Akamai, FootSmart.com saw a 10% increase in sales. The shopping cart abandonment rate dropped by 7%, home-page dial up downloads went from about 50 seconds to 12 seconds and homepage availability on dial-up up went from 82% to 99.6%. Galtere notes that due to other initiatives such as online marketing campaigns launched during that time, the new technology implementation can’t be pinpointed as the entire reason for the 10% lift, but he estimates it’s responsible for about 3% of the total increase in sales.

 

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