August 11, 2011, 11:26 AM

How to keep that popular feature from crashing your site

The right mix of monitoring and coding keeps sites loading fast, a Forrester analyst says.

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Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri says he advises retailers to plan ahead for how they would address performance problems of any of individual application that relies on making data calls to external domains.

With many retail web pages offering a slew of interactive features like customer reviews and videos—including many that pull data from external web servers—it’s becoming more of a challenge to ensure that web pages don’t slow to a crawl if one of those features encounters performance problems.

The challenge is significantly amplified by the widespread use on e-commerce sites of technology applications, such as Google Analytics and hosted shopping carts, constantly make data calls to external web domains—and any one of those applications can also run into performance issues, such as slower download speeds or failure to load, that could slow down a retailer’s web site.

“Your site is essentially being held hostage by those domains,” says Mike Gualtieri, a principal analyst specializing in web application technology at Forrester Research Inc. However, there are ways to avoid such hiccups, he says.

Gualtieri says he advises retailers to plan ahead for how they would address performance problems of any of individual application that relies on making data calls to external domains. To mitigate the negative impact of a card processor being down, for example, a retailer could write code ahead of time to allow its shopping cart to continue taking orders and batching them for later transfer to the processor once its system is back online.

For other applications less crucial to taking orders, such as a customer reviews feature, a retailer could develop software code that automatically prevents data calls to a non-performing domain that hosts the review content. In that case, the review content simply won’t get displayed on the retailer’s site and it also won’t cause the retailer’s web pages to slow down or stop loading, Gualtieri says. He adds that retailers could also write code to automatically show a “Reviews temporarily unavailable” message to placate visitors without hurting page performance.

“Retailers have to have a strategy for handling these problems,” Gualtieri says. While many retailers lack enough I.T. staff to address these issues, he says there are technology vendors, such as Blaze Software and Yotaa Inc., which have introduced systems that adjust software code to prevent individual web page features or applications from preventing full pages from loading properly.

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