May 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Getting googled takes on new meaning for e-retailers when Google falters

A networking glitch in May impacted site performance for many online retailers that use Google Analytics and other Google applications, according to web site performance measurement company Gomez.

If Google’s Internet servers go down, can it hurt the shopping experience on the typical online retail site? That depends, experts say, on how a site connects with Google applications.

On May 14, Google Inc. experienced a networking glitch that caused a traffic jam in its Internet servers. The problem lasted 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 post.

“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 web performance monitoring firm Gomez Inc., 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 waited to complete transmissions with Google’s servers, the slowdown could affect how the retailer’s web pages loaded for visitors, Mouline says.

Bouncing around

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 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 Google’s traffic jam, says marketing director Juan Ribero.

He notes that CableOrganizer configures its infrastructure so that third-party applications like Google Analytics load information only after content is loaded from programs that consumers need to browse and shop online, 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 retailers can maintain performance as perceived by shoppers by making applications not required for shopping, such as Google Analytics, send data after essential apps like merchandise displays. He notes retailers should continue to test performance from the user’s viewpoint to ensure pages load properly, even if some non-essential and third-party apps aren’t working.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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