April 5, 2012, 11:46 AM

Monitoring web performance from the user’s perspective

Keynote’s latest tools show the time it takes images to begin appearing on web pages.

Lead Photo

Waiting five seconds for a web page to load may turn off some online consumers, but perhaps not if page images at least begin to render within a half-second. That’s what Keynote Systems Inc. figures in offering a new web site monitoring technology designed to show the time it takes web pages to render images in multiple steps, from when they begin to appear until they are full loaded.

Keynote this week introduced Keynote Transaction Perspective 11, which includes three new user-experience metrics for monitoring the performance of web pages as loaded in the Internet Explorer 9 web browser. The new metrics cover:

● Time to “first paint,” the moment when on-screen rendering of images begins and a user knows that a web page is responding to him;

● Time to full screen, the moment when the user’s browser or screen has completely drawn the page, even if additional rendering continues to be processed “below the fold” or in the bottom of the area of the web page that user must scroll down to see;

● Time to interactive page, the moment when a user can click or swipe content to get to additional content;

● Nine “browser event” metrics based on standards from the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, the web’s technology standards organization, that reveal the web page performance in more granular detail covering separate elements within web applications.

Keynote says its new technology serves the need for web sites to ensure performance beyond just the single metric of full-page-load times. “A single page-load metric is not precise enough to represent how a customer experiences a web page,” Keynote says. “The perception of how quickly a page loads can be quite different from the reality of how it is technically fully loaded.”

It adds: “When users click, they expect to see something happening almost immediately; they want to know the site is responding. The visual cue of seeing something begin to render on the page, as long as it doesn’t take forever to finish, may be enough to hold on to that user. A page load time of four, five or more seconds may be acceptable, if the user sees enough activity happening earlier on.”

Keynote Transaction Perspective 11 monitors web sites by conducting site transactions from web browsers placed at locations throughout the world. Keynote has priced Keynote Transaction Perspective 11 starting at $200 per month.

Jean-Pierre Garbani, vice president and principal analyst for IT infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research Inc., says I.T. professionals at web sites have recently begun to focus more on monitoring web performance from the perspective of the end-user’s experience, and that I.T. pros have an expanding base of monitoring tools to monitor web site user experience. “Infrastructure and operations leaders must have a clear understanding of what quality of service means for their end users,” Garbani said in the 2011 report, “Trends: The diversification of end user experience monitoring.”

Garbani adds that expanded user experience monitoring tools are also available or being developed at companies such as Compuware Gomez and AppDynamics. Compuware addresses such performance issues with what it calls “user experience management” monitoring tools for web pages and mobile apps, a spokeswoman says. AppDynamics did not immediately return a request for comment.

Jonah Kowall, an I.T. operations analyst at technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc., says that Keynote offers an advantage over other companies’ monitoring of web site user experience performance in that it incorporates an extensive amount of benchmark data that lets retailers better compare their performance with other retailers. “Clients I speak with always want to benchmark themselves—against competitors, similar industries, or even similar size businesses. Keynote facilitates this,” he says.

 

Nikki Baird, managing partner at research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC, says such tools are becoming critical for online retailers because they need to ensure their pages are loading properly on all the different types of devices, including smartphones and tablets, that consumers today are using to access web pages. “Also, there are so many plug-ins and third parties that go onto a single page these days, that what used to be simple and straight-forward is now a very complicated endeavor,” she says. “Retailers have to look at the experience through their customers' eyes, not just what their own web servers are telling them.”

Kowall adds, however, that the tools offered by Keynote and others gather information largely from simulated transactions, relying less on data from actual consumer transactions on web sites. Incorporating more data from actual consumer transactions would make such tools even more valuable, he says.

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