May 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Google outage caused slowdown in online retail sites, Gomez says

A recent networking glitch that Google says caused a traffic jam in its Internet servers led to a drop in performance at many retail web sites, with some transaction speeds four times slower than usual, site performance measuring firm Gomez reports.

A networking glitch that Google says caused a traffic jam in its Internet servers led to a drop in performance at many retail web sites, with some transaction speeds four times slower than usual, site performance measuring firm Gomez Inc. reports.

The May 14 outage occurred for about an hour starting at 7:48 a.m. Pacific time, Urs Hoelzle, Google’s senior vice president of operations, said in a Google blog posting last week. “An error in one of our systems caused us to direct some of our web traffic through Asia, which created a traffic jam,” he says. “As a result, about 14% of our users experienced slow services or even interruptions. “

Although some reports suggested the problem primarily impacted users of Google’s home page and e-mail service, Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at Gomez, says many online retailers that use Google Analytics and other Google applications experienced site-wide interruptions while trying to transmit information to and from Google’s servers. That’s because as a retailer’s web servers were waiting to complete transmission with Google’s servers, the slowdown could affect how the retailer’s web pages loaded for visitors, Mouline says.

Retailers contacted by Internet Retailer reported mixed results. Ronald Yau, a web site administrator for CoffeeServ Inc.’s CoffeeForLess.com, which uses Google Analytics, said the Google outage was the likely cause of an increase in the bounce rate and a decrease in the conversion rate his site recorded on Thursday, May 14. Yau adds, however, that despite the lower performance that day, CoffeeForLess still managed to record more transactions and a higher average order value than on the previous Thursday.

But computer products retailer CableOrganizer.com, which also uses Google Analytics, didn’t notice any problems stemming from the Google outage, says marketing director Juan Ribero.

He notes that CableOrganizer configures its infrastructure so that third-party applications like Google Analytics load information after content is already loaded from programs that are essential to the online shopping experience, Ribero says. “We load our non-essential programs and the ones that rely on third-party platforms last so that if there is a problem with them, it is virtually imperceptible to the user because the critical and visible parts of the page have already loaded before the transmission call is made out to Google” and other applications, he says.

Mouline notes that retailers can indeed maintain site performance as perceived by web site visitors by making applications that are not required for a consumer to shop online, such as Google Analytics, transmit data after essential applications like merchandise displays. But he notes that retailers should continue to test site performance from the user’s viewpoint to ensure that pages load properly, even if some non-essential and third-party applications are not.

CableOrganizer.com is No. 430 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; CoffeeForLess.com is No. 483.

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