One of the fundamental truths about web performance and user experience is that maintaining consistently excellent levels of both becomes more and more challenging as the complexity of a website increases. And of course, one of the biggest reasons why online systems have gotten so complex in recent years has been the increasing prevalence of third parties that are hosted on websites. While obviously of paramount importance, every third party represents another layer of performance and another component that must be operating at maximum efficiency in order for the hosting site to achieve top-notch performance and availability.
Let’s say that a site requires 99.99% availability from each of its third parties that it hosts. Even if every third party meets that requirement, the likelihood of the hosting site experiencing a failure has just decreased its overall availability:
Of course, most sites don’t host only five third parties. In fact, a look at third party requests by industry shows that even banking sites, which have the lowest third party presence by far, still average over 62 third party requests on their homepages. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, media sites average over 281 third party requests.
The need for media sites to load up their pages with external requests is obvious—advertising has always been the driving force behind revenue generation for media (even dating back to when media was exclusively a print medium), and so they have to have an abundance of requests from ad serving platforms.
Advertisements, however, are just one type of third party content. Others include infrastructure services (e.g. CDNs and DNS providers); dynamic content designed to attract more users such as images and video, tracking and retargeting tags; indirect tag loading; and of course social media content such as share buttons, commenting functionality, and login portals.
Given all of these external requests, how can WebOps professionals ensure that their sites and the revenue generated by them are secure? Here are five tips that can keep your site up and running, and protect your revenue streams:
The most basic way to protect your first party content from third party performance failures is by building your site in such a way that the third parties have minimal effect on the overall site performance. This means loading any tags asynchronously so that their load times will not disrupt the loading of any first party content, and putting them in after the document is complete. This will ensure that even if an image or ad is not loading correctly, your end users will still be able to interact with the page.
Unfortunately, not every third party can be separated from the end user experience. When it comes to certain IaaS and SaaS tools—like CDNs and DNS providers—their functionality is directly tied to the page load. For these third party vendors, you must remain vigilant with your Service Level Agreements. There’s no way to be 100% sure that a third party will perform properly every single time, so you have to hold them accountable when they fall below acceptable levels. Accomplishing this means using a robust performance analytics tool that will not only alert you whenever a third party fails to perform as expected, but will also allow you to pinpoint the exact source of any performance problem that does arise.
Along the same lines, your IT and Business teams should be performing regular tag assessments to make sure that all of the third parties which live on your page are a) meeting performance expectations and b) still a net positive with regard to your business objectives. In other words, if a tracking pixel is creating a drag on your site’s performance, is it at least providing a valuable service? If the performance degradation is costing you more money than the tag is worth, then it’s time to either drop it or reconfigure it. Doing this requires not only a digital analytics platform that offers detailed performance metrics, but also an understanding of what effect a drop in performance will have on your bottom line.
Before implementing a new third party service, you have to have a complete idea of who and what you are dealing with. You wouldn’t let just anyone into your house, so why would host just anyone on your site?
Tag Management Systems
In a bit of irony, the best way to ensure that your third party tags are all performing optimally is by using another third party service—a tag management system. As we’ve seen, there are literally hundreds of tags that live on the average website, so the ability to manage them all in one place is extremely valuable. By using a TMS, you will be able to ensure that all of your tags are loading async and after document complete, and quickly disable any that are not.
Look, while we’re all constantly striving for perfection, the very nature of the modern internet means that failures are an unavoidable fact of life. From time to time, your site is going to be affected by either a first- or third-party performance issue, so you want to be fully prepared when it does. Have redundancies in place for any infrastructure providers that you rely on, be vigilant with the monitoring of those providers, and make sure that you have the ability to switch quickly and seamlessly in the event that one goes down.